If there is a formula for creating an engaged young citizen, it might look something like this: take one child with a curious and empathetic disposition, and add a lot of reading materials. With that in mind, two new books aim to encourage kids into action, with varying degrees of success.
First up, Janet Wilson offers Our Earth, which carries the torch lit by One Peace, her 2009 title about young peace activists. In the new book, Wilson offers portraits of young environmental activists who are initiating change in their communities.
Wilson profiles 10 preteens and teens, including the now well-known William Kamkwamba of Malawi, who brought electricity to his village by constructing a windmill from spare parts, and Janine Licare of Costa Rica, who co-founded Kids Saving the Rainforest after watching tiny monkeys try to cross a busy road to escape their ruined habitat.
Wilson’s painted illustrations are warm and beautifully rendered. The words, on the other hand, while easily digestible, provide only the most basic information about each subject and provide little instruction on how an inspired reader might get involved. Helpfully, Wilson has included the names of Web sites at the end of each profile where one can go to fill in any blanks. Do not expect an activist how-to: Our Earth is best taken as a beautiful picture book that contains little nibbles of information about inspirational kids and important causes.
If a how-to book is what you’re after, look no further than Yes You Can! from siblings Jane Drake and Ann Love. This is a deeper read, full of examples and rich history, as well as step-by-step checklists and instructions. Covering a range of environmental and social causes, the book examines how youth can begin to make change on a community, national, and global level. The writers make use of their own activist backgrounds, delving into topics you might expect – e.g., the importance of thorough research, media-savviness, and event-planning – but also some of the less glamourous aspects of activism, such as moderating disagreements with co-activists, handling criticism from opponents, and muddling through when you are just too discouraged to continue.
The book’s historical timelines are not only fascinating in their own right (smoking was banned in a number of countries in 1600 A.D.: who knew?), but provide context for the causes highlighted. Also helpful are real-world examples (both Canadian and not) of individuals and organizations making change (including Pollution Probe, co-founded by Love herself).
The lists, historical precedents, and solid examples are a good place to begin, but they are at times too vague, and young readers may need some help connecting the dots (for example, the book describes the features of a great poster, but does not offer an example). And conspicuously absent is a solid list of online resources. But for a young person raring to get involved, a solid starting point may be all that’s needed.