The new non-fiction book Our Future was released in the same month as the wave of global climate strikes inspired by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg; but in this roundup of modern youth activists – who are tackling a whole range of social issues – Thunberg herself is only mentioned in a modest sidenote.
While perhaps surprising, it’s a testament to the impressive variety of young voices being raised across the globe, which author-illustrator Janet Wilson has celebrated in the preceding three books in this series (Our Earth: How Kids Are Saving the Planet, Our Rights: How Kids Are Changing the World, and Our Heroes: How Kids Are Making a Difference). In Our Future, their passion, imagination, and positivity are reflected in a visually arresting design that combines photographs, colourful sidebars, and Wilson’s own mixed-media encaustic illustrations.
Featured activists range from Canadian Autumn Peltier, who recently spoke at the UN on the pressing need to address water pollution, to Tiassa Mutunkei, who fights for animal conservation in Kenya. There is a dizzying spectrum of issues including oil pipelines, racial inequality, and gun violence. For those inspired to join their ranks, there’s advice on how to affect change (find your passion, write letters, work with an activist organization, organize rallies, and lobby the powerful).
Some content may present a challenge for readers at the younger end of the book’s stated 7–12 audience. For instance, many parents and teachers will want to assist in discussions around the teenage sisters from Bali who went on a hunger strike to get their government to ban plastic bags, the 13-year-old who attempted suicide after enduring severe bullying, and a Samoan initiative encouraging molested children to report their abusers.
But if there’s a lot to unpack, it’s because Wilson doesn’t attempt to sweeten or simplify the massive challenges being tackled by a generation that’s proving to be as tough as it is hopeful. According to UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, the largest generation in history may yet create “a wave for action such as the world has never seen” – and we owe it to them to help amplify their voices even as we open our ears.