More than 2,400 years ago, Aristophanes complained about the youth of his community, “…they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders …” In the intervening centuries, the world has seen many changes, but the propensity of adults to complain about younger generations has remained constant. Of course, there are always teens showing up to prove them wrong — the Marquis de Lafayette serving as a general in George Washington’s army at 19, young Mary Shelley creating a new genre of literature with her science fiction masterpiece, “Frankenstein,” or Barbara Johns fighting school segregation.
One teenager much in the news today is Sweden’s Greta Thunberg, a leading activist on the issue of climate change. She has led school strikes and traveled the world in a zero-carbon boat, speaking at rallies and conferences. “No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference,” is a collection of her speeches. There’s a little repetition, but her knowledge and passion shine through as she urges us to do the needed work to save the planet.
Several decades before Greta, another girl penned messages of hope and resilience from the confines of a hidden apartment. Anne Frank died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp not knowing the words she wrote in her diary would inspire readers well into the 21st century. Ari Folman and David Polonsky provide a new format for her life story with “Anne Frank’s Diary, the Graphic Adaptation.” The new version adds immediacy and depth to this tale of the Holocaust.
“We Are Displaced” brings another familiar name into the spotlight. Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai shares her experience with fleeing her home country after being shot by the Taliban for the crime of going to school while female. Since then, she has worked on behalf of displaced people around the world, especially girls seeking an education. A few of those young women share their own stories here, as well. They have endured hardship and trauma. Some are orphaned. Yet they find ways to move forward, striving to create the lives of which their parents dreamed.
Jack Andraka was fortunate to have supportive parents who could help him obtain resources for his science experiments. “Breakthrough: How One Teen Innovator Is Changing the World,” recounts how the death of a close family friend from pancreatic cancer motivated him to work on developing a test for early detection of the disease. While events since the publication of the book have caused Andraka to realize his work was more preliminary than he first thought, this account of his hard work and dedication is impressive.
In “Girl Code: Gaming, Going Viral and Getting It Done,” two teen girls share their story of becoming empowered, through coding, to address issues primarily affecting women and girls. At a coding camp, Andrea Gonzalez and Sophie Houser were assigned to collaborate on a project and came up with the idea of taking the stigma out of menstruation with a game called Tampon Run. Their creation went viral and they followed it up with another one centered on the issue of catcalling.
In the wake of the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, a movement was born, as many surviving students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School organized to combat gun violence. Two teachers, Melissa Falkowski and Eric Garner, have compiled writings from student journalists at the school. “We Say #neverAgain” discusses the event and its effect on the kids, the staff, their families and the community. It also covers the efforts of student organizers to make social change, including their outreach to teens in other cities across the country. In the back is a list of tips for building an effective movement.
“#NotYourPrincess, Voices of Native American Women” contains writings, artwork and interviews giving indigenous young women from Canada and the United States a forum to share the truth of their lives. The voices are varied and reflect a diversity of experiences as they speak of history, justice and hopes for the future. A common theme is the work of living authentically in a society that too often defines Native Americans by stereotypes. As poet Isabella Fillspipe says, “You will never influence the world trying to be like it.” Wise words for all of us.