Our 2019 Children’s Books of the Year stand out from an increasingly troubling crowd
Many accounts of international charity work show the principals going from success to success. A just-published (Aug. 15) book, Peter Greer’s The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good (Bethany House, 2013, with Anna Haggard), is impressively different. Greer honestly shows the dangers of pride, burnout, disillusionment, and marital stress when we concentrate so hard on achieving a philanthropic objective that we run over people on the way.
Greer, president and CEO of Hope International, provides some indicting specific detail, as in this account of how “the United Nations and some big nongovernmental agencies (NGOs) distributed blankets during a cold, rainy period in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo. Step one: Tack NGO logos on telephone poles and plaster bumper stickers on cars. Step two: Wait for a CNN news crew to arrive: “Each NGO wanted the spotlight; the leaders began debating who would give the blankets while being filmed.”
Greer writes, “Blankets were piled in our van, ready to go. Yet the refugees went without blankets for two days.” Then came truly sad news: CNN wasn’t coming. “Because we were no longer competing for media coverage, the larger NGOs finally granted permission for us to distribute the blankets. … Our partner organization herded a few Congolese with the ‘right look’—those with torn clothes and emaciated faces. … To capture the perfect pictures, they made the Congolese repeatedly walk back and forth as we handed blankets to them.”
Greer then gives “the part of this story that still causes my stomach to churn.” He writes, “I bestowed my blankets on people who orderly shuffled through a line. … A photographer snapped pictures, and I smiled wide for the camera as I did ‘God’s work.’ And the thought running through my head was not about the people receiving the blankets. I thought, I can’t wait until the people back home see these photos of me. When I saw the photos a few weeks later, I trashed them. … I recognized myself as playacting.”
Good stuff. Hard stuff. Necessary stuff from (based on my limited experience) a good group. Maybe CEOs of some bigger nonprofits will do less public relations and more self-examination.
Four easy-reading books
The Oxford Dictionary of Reference & Allusion, written by lexicographers Andrew Delahunty & Sheila Dignen (Oxford, 2012) is a pleasant book to have at bedside so you can learn about—to cite a typical two-page mix—Narnia, “nasty, brutish, and short,” “naughty but nice,” Nautilus, Nazarite, Nebuchadnezzar, nectar, Nefertiti, Nelson (Admiral Horatio), Nemesis, and Nepenthe.
Eduardo Galeano’s Children of the Days (Nation Books, 2013) is a left-wing publisher’s imitation of a Catholic calendar of saints’ days. For example, on Oct. 9 we should remember the words of a woman who saw the corpse of Castro comrade Che Guevara, killed by Bolivian soldiers: She and other peasants “walked over here and he looked at us. He was always looking at us. He was really nice.” Except when he was torturing others.
Sean Chercover’s The Trinity Game (Thomas & Mercer, 2012) is a page-turning novel about a scamming televangelist who suddenly receives a real prophetic gift. No Joke: Making Jewish Humor by Ruth R. Wisse (Princeton, 2013) analyzes the comedic style that Jerry Seinfeld and Jon Stewart pushed to cultural dominance. Wisse gives examples such as the joke about Mrs. Rosenberg buying a chicken for a Sabbath dinner (and it could be Mrs. O’Brien searching for the right Christmas turkey): “She is not satisfied with an examination from across the counter, but asks the butcher to hand her the bird. She lifts each wing and sniffs suspiciously, then one leg at a time, and finally the orifice. The butcher, who has tired of her performance, says, ‘Frankly, Mrs. Rosenberg, I don’t know which of us could pass your test!’” —M.O.