I was asked on last year to develop a curriculum for a charitable organization. Specifically, I was asked to develop a curriculum that would get its audience to prayerfully consider sponsoring a child in an underdeveloped country. So I became a student for weeks and months—a student of other cultures, other rituals and traditions, and others’ history as I immersed myself in sites and books about places and faces that do not look like my own.
The project never panned out; at the end of the day, the company had other initiatives that were thought of as a higher priority—at least at the time—such that allotting the resources to this project was delayed. But, as I thought about the work I had created, the education I had gained, and what had transpired in my head and heart over some wonderful books, I was starkly reminded of how limited American studies of other cultures can sometimes be. This is not about giving a condescending nod to those less fortunate; we are missing out.
So, when author Aliona Gibson asked me to consider reviewing her picture book Justice Pon di Road, I jumped at the chance to learn more about the world around me through a child’s eyes. (Yes, I know about and use some of Sonlight’s curriculum, but I also know that there are those who love to read and learn with their children without subscribing to a formal package).
Upon a first read, Justice Pon di Road is a narrative tale, told with the same simplicity of a Goodnight Moon or a Blueberries for Sal. Based upon a true story, the very young Justice travels with his mother to Jamaica, his father’s homeland. Through a casual stroll “pon di road,” i.e., on the road, we see Jamaica through the eyes of Justice and his mom: we are introduced to delicacies like calilou, breadfruit, and ackee, Jamaica’s national dish. We meet Tony, the owner of the fruit cart. We are introduced to the exotic fruits of the region: naseberries, guava, and mango. We wonder at the goats and roosters that freely travel “pon di road,” even amidst careening cars! We are even treated to a brief glimpse of the famous white-sand beaches through the masterful artwork of illustrator Andy Chou. I actually felt as if, for a brief moment, I was immersed in a totally different space than where I physically enjoyed this story.
As I mentioned previously, the plot of Justice Pon di Road, such as it is, is straightforward. I believe, however, that a book’s true power is in its ability to make you ponder its deeper message, even if only for a few minutes; to this end, Justice Pon di Road does not disappoint. In a day and age when many of us might not know our neighbors, Justice Pon di Road is a refreshing look at community, and how, ideally, each of the adults within the community impacts the community at large. Each individual plays a small role in Justice’s life and, perhaps consequently, in the life and heart of his mother. It leaves you to ponder, who are the people that form your child’s environment, and what do their daily acts of service—beyond their words—teach your child? In following Justice’s adventures, we see heartfelt gestures of love and kindness and the creation of memories that last a lifetime.
This book is definitely a foundation for a solid unit study on Jamaica. At the book’s end, Ms. Gibson includes a map of Jamaica, and a brief biography of the country’s national heroes and most notable people. This is just the starting point for opportunities to search out recipes and experiment with foods, to listen to music, and to perhaps even notebook and illustrate your own student’s adventures “pon di road.” I could foresee coupling the reading of this book with another bit of fun-based-upon-facts, the movie “Cool Runnings,” which chronicles the formation of the Jamaican Olympic bobsled team.
Finally, Ms. Gibson also offers the reader a glossary of terms as the book is full of terms and phrases written in a native tongue. If you have little or no exposure to this dialect, you might not capture the full delight of this adventure through the streets of Jamaica. There are a couple of links here and here that might help you with general pronunciation of Jamaican patois terms.