In 2012, leaders from around the world gathered in Brazil for the Rio +20 Summit to discuss the world's future in the face of the worsening environmental crisis. Most of the speeches weren't memorable, until José Mujica, Uruguay's 40th president, rose to speak. It's the transformative magic of those few minutes that editor Yoshimi Kusaba, translator Andrew Wong, and illustrator Gaku Nakafawa have sought to recreate in this book for children ages 4 - 8.
An introductory page tells us about the summit and the unique role that President Mujica had there as someone who walks his talk, donating most of his salary to the poor and choosing not to live in the presidential palace but rather on his farm with his wife. Nakafawa then gives us two pages of cartoon panels showing him plowing, greeting and feeding his dog, making a cup of coffee, changing his shirt and donning a jacket, and calling out "I'm off to Rio!" His wife wishes him a safe trip and asks him to feed the chickens on the way out, which he does. His little Volkswagen Bug starts up with a vroom and a bang. You can see more about the truth behind that detail in this short, upbeat video:
The rest of the book draws directly from Mujica's speech at the summit, powerfully translated by Andrew Wong. Nakafawa accompanies the words with eye-catching, cartoon-style pictures, like one showing businessmen (yes, they're all men) grabbing for money while women, elders, and children hang on for dear life to geometric shapes or free fall through the air. We see greed and vulnerability inextricably juxtaposed. In another place, a man in rags with a cane stands atop a pile of junk, the sky a fiery glow, as we read that "we cannot continue living our lives as we do today. ... The one who is truly poor is the one who needs infinitely more — wanting and wanting always more."
But the images the speech conjures are not all this grim. As Mujica calls for a change in our way of life, we see rural landscapes lovingly tended and people content with each other, their animals, and a simple but abundant harvest. Mujica reminds the world leaders, and us, that "economic growth and progress must add to human happiness, not take away from it. Having satisfying relationships with others. Raising children. Making friends. Spreading love in the world. These are the building blocks of our happiness as humans."
Mujica's integrity and humility brings to mind other great leaders — Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Greta Thunberg, and many more — who care more about living in harmony with others and the Earth than about fame or fortune. This inspiring read would make an excellent holiday gift. It is available for pre-order, pending a December 10, 2019, release.
(Please note: The cover graphic for this book has not been finalized and may differ from the one pictured here.)