Kid Lit Review of “Gandhi for Kids: His Life and Ideas with 21 Activities” by Ellen Mahoney

This book is part of the excellent series by Chicago Review Press featuring educational content plus twenty-one related activities.

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Gandhi is remembered in India for his tireless work to help India achieve independence from Britain. Inside his country, Gandhi is considered to be the Father of the Nation. Outside of India, Gandhi is primarily known for his advocacy of nonviolence as a method of protest. In particular, Gandhi greatly influenced Martin Luther King, Jr., who called Gandhi “the guiding light of our technique of nonviolent social change.” Gandhi’s actual first name was Mohandas, but most people know him by the name given to him from midlife on, “Mahatma” which means “Great Soul.”

The book begins with a time line that starts in 1869, the year of Gandhi’s birth, and goes to 1948, the year in which Gandhi was assassinated at age 78.

Gandhi had a fascinating life, but most Americans don’t know much about him. (I astounded a 12- and 14- year old by pointing out that Gandhi was married at age 13 – to an older woman, no less – she was 14.) Also kids might find interesting the fact that, as a young boy, Gandhi was shy and fearful, frightened by the idea of thieves, ghosts, snakes, spiders, and even the dark. He hated leaving the safety of his home.

Yet Gandhi managed to overcome his fears, and grew up to work for Indian rights in both India and South Africa. He spoke to huge crowds advocating freedom and nonviolence, and organized marches, boycotts, fasts, and protests. He was a prolific writer, not just about political issues but on health matters. He also spent a total of nearly six years in prison.

In 1893, at age 23, Gandhi, now a lawyer, left for South Africa after receiving a job offer there. Shocked at the treatment of Indians by the racist white government, Gandhi began speaking about nonviolence as a means of protest. In 1894 he founded the Natal Indian Congress to fight for Indians’ rights. Gandhi eventually called his strategy of passive resistance “satyagraha,” which means “firmness for truth and love.”

Gandhi as a young attorney in South Africa

Gandhi as a young attorney in South Africa

Gandhi moved back to India in 1915, where he received a hero’s welcome and continued his work for social reform and independence from colonial rule by Great Britain. He used fasting, a boycott of British products, and most notably, a protest against British control of salt. As the author explains:

“Gandhi was angry that the British government controlled one of India’s basic resources and necessities for food – salt. India was surrounded by salty ocean waters, and salt was readily available from the ocean or from shallow salt pans typically located along the coast.

But the British would not allow Indians to collect, produce, or sell their own salt. . . . According to imposed salt laws, Indians could only buy salt from the British. Plus salt was heavily taxed, which made it difficult for Indians to afford it.”

On March 12, 1930, Gandhi, now aged 60, began his historic Salt March. He led around 80 others (including an American journalist) on a 24-day, 240-mile trek to the seaside town of Dandi. When he arrived, he committed the illegal act of scooping up a small handful of salt from the mud in the beach. This simple symbolic act made headlines around the world and ignited a campaign of mass civil disobedience.

Gandhi on the Salt March

Gandhi on the Salt March

Gandhi, needless to say, was taken to jail. But a female Indian poet, Sarojini Naidu, took over the protest and led nearly 2500 marchers to the Dharasana Salt Works. British-led police brutally clubbed the marchers upon their arrival, even though the protesters did not fight back or even try to defend themselves. Once again the news was broadcast to the world.

Gandhi continued to agitate, get arrested, and go on protest fasts that were increasingly harmful to his health. In 1947, Britain finally enacted the Indian Independence Act that declared British India would be divided into the two countries of India and Pakistan (the latter country designated for Muslim peoples). Gandhi was opposed to the separation, fearing it would cause more problems, which it did, and which remain to this day. Gandhi, now elderly and frail, worked hard to prevent a civil war in India until his assassination on January 30, 1948.

Prime Minister Nehru said upon announcing Gandhi’s death:

“The light that has illumined this country for these many years will illumine this country for many more years, and a thousand years later that light will still be seen in this country, and the world will see it and it will give solace to innumerable hearts.”

Besides Gandhi’s influence on Martin Luther King, Jr., others profoundly influenced by Gandhi included Nelson Mandela, the 14th Dalai Lama, and the Myanmar freedom activist, Aung San Suu Kyi.

Like the other books in this series, this one includes projects for kids that extend the lessons imparted in its history to other subject areas. The 21 activities included to help learn about Gandhi’s world are, to me, the best I’ve seen in this series so far. One of them teaches basic yoga poses. Another explains how to make Rangoli sand art (an ancient Indian folk art). Others include how to create a toran (a welcoming door hanging), instructions for making a Dija Candleholder (a traditional Indian lamp made of baked clay), a recipe for Nan Khatai cookies (buttery cookies popular in India), how to create a henna hand design (worn by brides when they marry), and how to spin thread from a cotton boll (you can apparently order cotton bolls online – who knew!)

Example of Randoli sand art from festivalls.weebly.com

Example of Randoli sand art from festivalls.weebly.com

There are a number of very interesting sidebars to explain concepts such as Hinduism and Hindu deities, the idea of the sacred cow, the ashram, and the spiritual origins of the nonviolence movement.

A pronunciation guide, glossary, and annotated list of relevant websites are at the back of the book.

Evaluation: This book and the others in the series provide an outstanding supplement to school materials for kids. The author said that she wanted to write about Gandhi for young readers because of the importance of his message of nonviolence in our world today where we witness violence on a daily basis, and this book will surely inspire readers with both the text and the activities. Besides the informative narration of the main story, there are plenty of photos and graphics and sidebars and boxes that mix it up and keep it interesting.

Rating: 5/5

Published by the Chicago Review Press, 2016

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2 Responses to Kid Lit Review of “Gandhi for Kids: His Life and Ideas with 21 Activities” by Ellen Mahoney

  1. BermudaOnion says:

    I wish we had a leader like Gandhi today. This book looks and sounds amazing.

  2. Ditto what Kathy said. I’m buying this book for my grandson and plan to do all 21 activities with him. Thank you for sharing this important book!

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