Thursday, April 24, 2003

Five fundamentals guide book, group

'America's Promise' dedicated to kids

By Samantha Critchell
The Associated Press

Alma Powell's first children's book sort of wrote itself.

America's Promise (HarperCollins; $15.99) is based on the five fundamental resources Powell says all children should have as tools to become exemplary adults: caring grown-ups to guide them, safe places to spend their time, a healthy start, marketable skills and opportunities to serve communities.

They're the same five principles on which America's Promise: The Alliance for Youth is based. Alma Powell is the organization's co-chairwoman and her husband, Secretary of State Colin Powell, was the group's founding chairman; he led America's Promise from 1997 until he joined the Bush administration.

"I wanted to have the five promises illustrated for children and put them in the context of a child's life," says Alma Powell. "I wanted children to know what should be there for them."

"And telling them (the children) the things we're (adults) going to do, gives the kids a sense of self-assurance and security."

In the book illustrated by Marsha Winborn, Momma Bear is starting a new job and she must drop off little Honey and Benji - and the red wagon that Benji brings everywhere - at a day-care center in their new neighborhood.

Although hesitant at first, it doesn't take long for the little bears to make friends and start having fun at the Mayberry Community Play and Learn House. After all, who wouldn't like playing checkers and Ping-Pong, reading books on Mrs. Mayberry's lap and eating fruit salad?

But the bears and their pals, including raccoons and some large rodents, are willing to interrupt their play time when it becomes clear the town's big bison of a mayor needs help cleaning up an empty lot to make way for a playground.

As a team - and with support from the adults around them - the youngsters get the job done.

It was a conscious decision to have the story focus on a family with a working mother and feature different animals, Powell says, to show that families come in all shapes and sizes but can be equally strong and loving.

The first-time author notes the many symbols she included: all the adults wear red, white and blue; the bison, who is the rock of the community, represents the United States; and Benji's red wagon is not only a bridge between today's children and children from previous generations, it's also a place to hold kids' treasures and store their troubles. When the load gets too heavy, an adult can take a turn at the handle and pull the child and his wagon through, she explains.

The red wagon is America's Promise trademark symbol and Colin Powell is known to sometimes wear a wagon pin on his lapel.

My Little Wagon (Haper Collins; $6.99) also is the name of a companion board book to America's Promise that is geared toward preschoolers.

America's Promise formed in 1997, with a mission "to mobilize people from every sector of American life to build the character and competence of our nation's youth" by fulfilling the five promises. The group has more than 400 partners, including corporations, foundations, youth organizations and government agencies.

Powell says the time was right to do the books because she wanted to remind the public that America's Promise is alive and well. "Our work never ends ... and we're a people with a short attention span."

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