Severn and the Day She Silenced the World by Janet Wilson

United Nations: International Day of the Girl Child, October 11

Severn and the Day She Silenced the World

Janet Wilson, Author

Second Story Press, Nonfiction, Mar. 14, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 9-13

Themes: Severn Cullis-Suzuki, Child Environmental Activist, UN Earth Summit in Rio, Speech

Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Severn Cullis-Suzuki was one of a handful of children given the chance to speak at the closing of the very first Earth Summit in Rio d Janeiro, Brazil, in June of 1992.  It was a day that the media, world leaders and the world took notice. U.S. Vice President Al Gore was famously quoted as saying: “That was the best speech I heard all week!”

Politicians and environmentalists had gathered at the Summit to find solutions to problems such as air pollution and the shrinking rainforests. But for all their talk, they could find little to agree on. It took Severn’s clear, bright voice — challenging the adults of the world to take action — to bring home what was at stake.

As the daughter of environmentalists David Suzuki and Tara Cullis, Severn Suzuki loved that natural world. At age nine, she traveled with her parents to the Amazon and saw the terrible consequences of rainforest destruction on the land and for the indigenous tribes. Back home in Vancouver, she and her  friends were inspired to start the Environmental Children’s Organization (ECO). They raised money to buy water filters to clean the polluted drinking water for children in the rainforest. When they learned about the Earth Summit in Rio, they began a serious fund-raising campaign. They faced obstacles, but they also had a lot of community support. ECO wanted world leaders to hear from children about their concerns for their future — an auspicious goal for three of the ECO members attending.

Why I like this book:

Janet Wilson’s writes empowering and timely books about young people who see injustices around them and take action. Wilson focuses on ordinary children who are making major contributions in their communities and in their world. Severn and her four friends show kids that they don’t have to be adults to make a difference.

Although Severn’s story is nonfiction, it reads like a story. There are photos, the ECO newsletters, newspaper articles, Severn’s diary entries and the recorded seven-minute speech before the Earth Summit. Wilson worked closely with Severn to recreate her time in history.

Severn and her friends are passionate about their work with ECO. They learn how to work as a team  which contributes to ECO’s success. They set goals, choose their projects, develop plans, target key audiences with their message, and raise funds. These girls are committed to telling adults a truth they need to hear — a truth that flows directly from their hearts.

Most important, their work fuels their future environmental interests in high school and shapes their future career paths as activists in many different ways. Severn received the UN Environment Program’s Global 500 Award in Beijing and continued her role as an environmental activist speaking around the world. At Yale University she received her degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and from the University of Victoria in British Columbia she studied Ethnoecology. Her sister, Sarika, became a marine biologist. The other members of ECO also followed similar service paths.

Severn’s riveting seven-minute speech touched the hearts of the world leaders. Her message in 1992 is even more relevant today and continues to receive thousands of hits on YouTube 25 years later.

Resources: This is an excellent classroom book as it humanizes child activism. Make sure you read the Epilogue, Severn Says, Where Are They Now?, Useful Links, and a Glossary at the end of the book. “Today, youth all over the world continue to stand up and speak out for environmental, social, and intergenerational justice. They still want adults to listen and to change their way,” says Janet Wilson. Check out the United Nation’s International Day of the Girl Child website for resources, activities and events.

Janet Wilson is an author and illustrator of many children’s books. Severn and the Day She Silenced the World is part of Wilson’s “Kid’s Power” series. Her first book Shannen and the Dream for a School, won the First Nation Communities Read and was nominated for the Silver Birch Award. Wilson has also written a series picture book series about child activism: 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.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.