By Shanna Bernier
I have spent most of my adult life working with children and youth. I am a parent to two young girls. I have heard folks say many times, with the best of intentions, that youth are tomorrow’s leaders. I think the gatekeepers of “leadership” are inadvertently holding kids back. I do not think kids are leaders of the future. I think they can lead us right now.
Last Friday millions of children, youth, and adults skipped school and work to march for climate justice. If you missed this news story amidst all the tragedy and distressing things going on throughout the world, I forgive you. The news was hard last week. This movement began with Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden. In August 2018 she began skipping school on Fridays and camping outside the Swedish Parliament demanding that her government and other governments make rapid changes to emissions and other human-caused pollutions in order to combat rapid climate changes that are affecting our planet. “The climate crisis has already been solved. We already have all the facts and solutions,” Thunberg says. “All we have to do is to wake up and change.” Her story and simple actions inspired kids in more than 112 countries to skip school last Friday and to march in the streets for action.
I believe that children are powerful leaders. They are innovative and emboldened, and they have everything to lose if our world does not get better. Teaching kids that they can make a difference in their communities by standing up for injustice is one of the most powerful actions a parent can take.
If you are a serial reader of Good Reads, and therefore a serial reader of my YA – Kid-lit version, which happens every 5 or 6 weeks, then you know that the purpose of this column is to review books and to recommend specific volumes which are available at our local Lennoxville Library. That is always part of my objective, but I also take very seriously the hats I wear as a parent, a youth worker and an educator. I use the library and its collection as a jumping off point for many conversations. Books are one of many tools for talking about the hard stuff that kids are facing in the world. I want my children, and the youth I work with to feel that they have an important voice in the world. One of the more tired and frustrating phrases I hear, is that the youth are the future leaders (of the Church, government, education system, etc). Youth have a voice of passion and wisdom in the world today, and waiting to act doesn’t benefit anyone except those who hold power in the status quo.
So many good books encourage empowerment, activism, strength and leadership. I have written about some of them before. Munch’s Paperbag Princess, Gilman’s Jillian Jiggs and A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara are all treasures.
The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade was written by Grammy-nominated children’s musician Justin Roberts, and is illustrated with vibrant artwork from award-winning illustrator Christian Robinson. It tells the tale of an observant young girl, Sally, who sees unsettling and hurtful things happening in her school and community. She finds the courage to stand up against the pain she is seeing. “I’m tired of seeing this terrible stuff. Stop hurting each other! This is enough!” What follows in the story gives me goosebumps every time I read it. Everyone in the cafeteria stops, and stands in solidarity with her. In a moment reminiscent of the resistant hand raising in The Hunger Games when District 11 pays homage to heroine Katniss, all the little kids and adults in her cafeteria stand and raise their hands. They stand together, but a child leads them. This book is beautiful, with colourful illustrations depicting the diverse tapestry of human beings. I recommend reading this book and talking to kids about what they want to do for the world, not when they are grown up, but now as kids. If one little girl skipping school can make millions of people pay more attention to a global crisis, then I have faith that we should be letting the kids run the show, because so far the grown-ups have not been solving the problems. Go inspire a kid! Take them to the library, read a good book and empower them to change the world even if they are the smallest one in the smallest grade.