I wrote Generation Hope (Scholastic) as a call to arms for young activists. It covers all sorts of timely issues – including climate change, mental health, animal welfare, pollution and homelessness – and features dozens of change-agents around the world, ranging in age from 7 to 19 years old. I learn a great deal from every non-fiction book I write, but this one was particularly eye-opening for a number of reasons. Here are some of my top take-aways:
You’re Never Too Young to Make a Difference. An activist is someone who takes action, and all the kids profiled in this book were willing to take matters into their own hands in some way. Mari Copeny, for one, didn’t listen when people dismissed her for being a kid and managed to turn her youth into an asset. At age 8, she wrote to then U.S. President Barack Obama about the contaminated water in her hometown. He was so impressed that he went to see her in person and did something about it!
Start Small. All the young activists in this book started small and that’s an excellent strategy for everyone. Swedish teen Greta Thunberg started her activist journey with a solo school strike that evolved into the global #FridaysForFuture movement. Thomas Truby, founder of the Rubbish Club, started by picking up one piece of litter alongside a road in Scotland. Shon Griffin of Philadelphia, USA, became an animal advocate after befriending a stray cat. Simply find one thing that makes you mad or sad and take it from there.
One Day or Day One? Generation Hope activists aren’t waiting to grow up to take action – for them, the future is now. That’s good advice for older people, too. Far too many of us put things off until tomorrow or when the timing is better. I’m guilty of this myself, like when I told people I wanted to open my own animal sanctuary “one day”. Writing about activist Zoe Rosenberg, who started her sanctuary at age 10, inspired me to take steps towards making my dream a reality.
Don’t Feed the Trolls! I was astonished to discover how many young people in Generation Hope were bullied at some point or had ‘trolls” post mean comments about them online. Yet they refused to be victims and their rage and frustration became a catalyst for their activism. Young activists often have an amazing ability to ignore negative feedback, a skill I wish I’d had when I was their age. The best advice for dealing with trolls? Ignore them!
Being Unique is Your Superpower. Greta Thunberg once said being on the autism spectrum was her “superpower”. What a revelation! I think this is a great attitude, to view our so-called “weaknesses” as strengths and opportunities in disguise. It’s the kind of wisdom that usually comes with age, so it’s especially poignant when it comes from a teenager. So be yourself and be proud. What’s your superpower?
Be Kind. I believe that a lack of compassion and empathy is at the heart of many of today’s problems, so it was fantastic to learn about the role young people are playing in the international kindness movement. Generation Hope published in April 2020, when most of the world was on lockdown due to Covid-19. It was a challenging time, yet also a time that inspired great acts of generosity and selflessness. The pandemic has been a reminder that there is only one race – the human race – and we all need to help each other.
Generation Hope is an Attitude, Not an Age. This book has given me new hope for the future, but not because I’m expecting the next generation to fix everything that’s wrong with the planet. I realized that it’s time for all Earthlings to start caring about the environment and other living things and to put activism at the heart of everything we do. The question I now find myself asking: is this helping or harming the planet? Inspired by Generation Hope, I’m trying some new things, like litter-picking on weekends, fostering cats, wasting less and buying more stuff second-hand. Most of all, I’m trying to be kinder – something all of us can do!