The chair of TRU’s Department of English and Modern Languages, George Johnson, recently had his first children’s book published by UK publisher Dixi Books. Titled How Hope Became an Activist, Johnson said he wrote the story to give voice to social justice for kids.
“I wanted to cover some topics that I didn’t see in the picture books I was reading to my own kids, such as activism,” Johnson says. “I wanted to normalize the word activist and take away the stigma sometimes attached to it. We all need to be activists now. We’ve got major issues facing us from the pandemic to the environmental crisis and it’s no longer enough to hope or wish for change for the better.”
Johnson was inspired to begin writing children’s books because of his own long-standing commitment to social justice and his realization that kids are not being exposed to certain themes in the books commonly available to them.
“Right now, especially, we all need these stories about hope and we need to start shifting the narrative towards more empathy and compassion for those in circumstances different from our own.”
Johnson has a lifelong track record of social justice activism and was able to work his passion into his writing career. How Hope Became an Activist was based on a skit he wrote to raise awareness about sweatshop labour titled Martha’s Donning A“wear”ness. The skit was performed across Kamloops with help from some young friends.
“I believe that kids can make a difference, and it seems even more relevant now with everything that is going on,” Johnson says.
Johnson’s hope is that adults will read his picture books to children and a seed will be planted, “inspiring, encouraging and empowering them to make a change and giving them hope that their small acts can make the world a better place.”
How Hope Became an Activist is the first book in a series Johnson has created focusing on how kids from diverse backgrounds can band together and become activists by helping to save bees or volunteering at a food bank. The next book in the series is entitled How Ben “Bee”came an Environmentalist.
November is Fairtrade month and Johnson will donate $1 from each copy of How Hope Became an Activist to Fairtrade Canada. You can buy a copy at The Smorgasbord, The Art We Are, The Book Place, Chapters or online.
Johnson will be discussing the importance of activism in literature and the need to engage children through reading so that we can build hope and develop empathy and community at two talks: at the Kamloops Library on Thursday, Nov. 26 at 6:30 p.m.; and online through a TRU Gift of Learning presentation on Wednesday, Dec. 2 at 7 p.m.