September 2, 2015
By Bill Hohlfeld
In her new children’s book Joelito’s Big Decision, Ann Berlak takes on the daunting but necessary task of introducing American youth to the concept of personal responsibility when making consumer choices. Her fictional fast food chain, Mac Manns, is representative of an ever growing number of fast food and retail outlets that reap substantial profits for CEOs and shareholders by neglecting to pay their workers a living wage.
Ms. Berlak is successful in taking what could have been a dry, finger wagging homily, and makes it come alive for school age children by the clever incorporation of matters of importance to them, by something as simple as their parents having enough time to watch them play soccer. Yet subtle references to larger issues like our shrinking manufacturing base open the door for some in depth discussions.
Ann manages to accomplish all this while gently rebuking us adults for maybe not spending enough time looking for alternative choices (such as a local small business) and for what may possibly be the greatest shortcoming of our generation, forgetting our own roots. She reminds us that now, more than ever, we need to pass down to our children the economic lessons of the past which our own parents and grandparents learned for us.
The author is aided in her efforts by the artistic talents of illustrator Daniel Camacho, whose work is both vivid and flowing. His familiarity with elementary and middle school students is evident. The work is further enhanced in that it is presented in both English and Spanish, and for that we can thank Jose’ Antonio Galloso for his contribution as translator. His years of experience as a bilingual poet and teacher are put to good use here. This entire collaborative effort comes off well.
In a global economy where in Denmark, one pays approximately 15% more for a burger than we do in the United States, but the worker makes nearly double the salary (and the franchise does not fail) the “fight for fifteen” certainly raises legitimate questions. To raise those questions in the classroom is a special mission, and is well executed by Ms. Berlak who has taken her 50 years of experience in the field of education and produced a work which speaks of social and economic justice at a time when that conversation is sorely needed.
For more information on Joelito’s Big Decision, contact Tim Sheard, editor @www.hardballpress.com