by Janet Wilson
Second Story Press, 2014
Severn Cullis-Suzuki, daughter of Tara Cullis and David Suzuki, has been an advocate for environmental awareness and social justice for decades. In 1992, at age twelve, Severn gave a powerful speech at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro: a moment when the words of a child held the leaders of the world at attention. Severn and the Day She Silenced the World, a new volume in the Kids’ Power series, traces the events leading up to Severn’s speech.
Although Severn is the main character, she is not alone in her quest to make adults understand children’s concerns about the state of the world. Readers meet Severn’s family and her friends, the girls who form ECO (the Environmental Children’s Organization): Vanessa Suttie, Michelle Quigg, Morgan Geisler, and Tove Fenger. We see how hard the girls work to attend the Earth Summit. The author makes no pretence that activism is easy: rather, she emphasizes how strong, patient, and committed activists must be. But this point is not meant to discourage readers; instead, the author demonstrates that anyone can get involved in a cause and that even small contributions make a positive difference.
The lead-up to Severn’s speech forms the core of the book, but the text has much more to offer. We learn about the work that goes on behind the scenes — the letter writing, the grant applications, the fundraising, and the fun of working with friends toward an important goal. We also see that the journey can be a struggle: Severn faces setbacks, and people say no to her before others say yes. These are important points for any activist to understand. Readers will likely want to hear Severn’s speech, which is easily found online. Those inspired by the speech may then want to consult the book’s excellent back matter, which includes a glossary, resources for further research, and follow-up information on the girls of ECO.
The book is a work of creative nonfiction, and the author explains that while the events of the story are “true,” some elements of the narrative — such as the dialogue and people’s memories — involve conjecture and reconstruction. I was pleased to see this gloss on the conventions of a genre that is still not well understood; I felt it added to the book’s credibility.
I greatly enjoyed Severn and the Day She Silenced the World and hope it becomes a fixture in classrooms, school libraries, and public libraries. It is readable and accessible, and it communicates a vital message: not only that kids can accomplish a great deal when they work together, but that it’s important for kids to be passionate about the Earth and social justice for the sake of their own futures.
This review was originally published in Resource Links, June 2014.