Be the Change: A Grandfather Gandhi Story by Arun Gandhi & Bethany Hegedus, illustrated by Evan Turk

Be the Change: A Grandfather Gandhi Story
illustrated by Evan Turk
Purchased for my school library with grant funding
Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mohandas K. Gandhi, lived with his grandfather in his service village for two years (1946-1948) from the ages of 12 - 14. As an adult, he was a journalist for the Times of India for 30 years and continues work as a socio-political activist. Hearing him speak about healing and forgiveness after witnessing the terror attacks of 9/11, Bethany Hegedus, with the goal of “bringing something good into the world,” asked Arun to partner with her to “turn his unique insights and memories of his grandfather, and the impact they had on his life, into books.” From this came Grandfather Gandhi in 2014 and Be the Change: A Grandfather Gandhi Story, published in 2016.

Be the Change focuses on one of the eleven vows of ashram living, the one that Arun found the most challenging: not to waste. Hegedus and Gandhi illustrate the importance of this vow with the story of a “nubby pencil” that young Arun tossed aside as he walked home from his lessons, “tired of not understanding” his grandfather’s teachings on nonviolence. That evening, when Arun asks his grandfather for a new pencil, believing he, as a Gandhi, is owed one. His grandfather reminds Arun of his vow not to waste, telling him that it is not the pencil, but Arun himself that is important in this moment. Gandhi tells Arun that he must find the nub of a pencil he tossed aside, despite the darkness of night.
In an interview with the Guardian from 2017, Arun says, “When I finally found the pencil and brought it to him, my grandfather said: ‘Now I want you to sit here and learn two very important lessons,’” recalls Arun. “‘The first is that in the making of a simple thing like a pencil, we use a lot of the world’s natural resources, and throwing them away is violence against nature. The second lesson is that because we over-consume all these things, we are depriving people elsewhere of these resources, and they have to live in poverty, and that is violence against humanity.’ “That was the first time I realised that the little things we do every day – overconsumption, judging people – are a form of passive violence.”

In Be the Change, Arun and Hegedus unpack this concept over the course of several pages, with Gandhi explaining that, when resources are low, people hoard and, "those who are forced to do without may eventually strike out. Fighting occurs." Still struggling to understand, Gandhi suggests Arun make a "tree of violence." This visual representation of thoughts and actions is ultimately what allows Arun to see how throwing away his pencil could hurt others. The book closes with Arun sharing his grandfather's saying, "Be the change you wish to see in the world," and his commitment to following his grandfather's example.

As Hegedus and Gandhi write in their authors' note, "Examining and understanding passive violence is not an easy task," and I found that to be very true. I read this book a couple of times, then read interviews with Arun Gandhi and writing about his grandfather in an effort to grasp this concept. This book came into my library right around the time our sixth graders (and I) became interested in Greta Thunberg and her environmental activism. Connecting Gandhi's ideas on passive violence and Thunberg's pointed discussion of the radical damage we are doing to our environment made understanding that much easier.  I am grateful for both these leaders and especially grateful for formats like this picture book that allow me to share these ideas with my students.

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