I am so very impressed by Miranda Paul’s latest book, SPEAK UP (Clarion, illustrated by Ebony Glenn).
This one is an excellent tool for teaching kids the whens and hows, but what I’m most impressed by is that Miranda manages to give the subject the depth it deserves (in rhyme!) while keeping the tone light and sweet, gentle and encouraging, rather than frightening in any way.
Ebony Glenn’s illustrations match the tone beautifully and include a multi-ethnic cast of characters we follow through a typical school day and a number of situations in which somebody does or should speak up. One of the kids uses a hearing device, which I thought was especially cool in a book on this topic. Each page is colorful, bright and clear, and just as charming as we’ve come to expect from Ebony.
Parents/Caregivers, if you’ve found yourself stuck for the right words to help empower your kiddos in a simple way, you’ll love this book. But, people, the back matter. The back matter! Worth the price of the book, all by itself. Here’s what you’ll find:
1. Author’s note in which Miranda reveals what a quiet child she was … until she began singing/acting, and about the experience that led to the book (below).
2. A list of Real Kids Who Spoke Up, quick profiles of people as familiar as Nelson Mandela and Malala Yousafzai. But also included are kids you may never have heard of, like Acacia Woodley and Christian Bucks.
3. A list of specific, kid-centric situations, letting kids know when they should speak up and, just as importantly, when they shouldn’t.
4. A list of ways (13!) for kids who are still finding their voices to speak up without saying a word.
I wondered what had sparked this idea for Miranda. So I asked.
JE: Miranda, what sparked this idea for you? Was there an incident of some kind, or was it more of a slow burning inside of you?
MP: I’d been tinkering with a song/poem called SPEAK UP for some time years ago when my son’s teacher reached out with words that made my heart drop—Don’t worry, your son’s OK, but I want to tell you about an incident that happened today.
One of my son’s friends told him a secret—that he’d brought a weapon to school. My son hadn’t seen it, so he wasn’t sure if it was true. Moreover, my son didn’t have a ton of friends so he didn’t want to put that friendship in Jeopardy. But he remembered me telling him that, “If ssomeone could get hurt, you have to blurt.” So he told his teacher, and they were able to find and remove the weapon safely. Speaking up meant the whole school stayed safe that day. I wish these kinds of scenarios weren’t the reality for our babies, but I’m forever proud that he recognized a situation in which telling was the right thing to do.
Issues that plague children around the world have been bubbling a cauldron of emotions inside of me for decades. Speaking up about injustice has been a part of my life since age sixteen, when I attended my first rally/protest and saw how actions and voices can change policies, legislations, prejudices and violence toward individuals and groups. While SPEAK UP primarily empowers children with actionable items that fit their everyday lives, the message for any reader is one of empowerment. Never doubt that one voice speaking up can make a difference. My son and I will certainly never forget the power of a single choice.
Amen! Thanks, Miranda.