Growing Up Elizabeth May: The Making of an Activist
Growing Up Elizabeth May: The Making of an Activist
As she got older, when she saw things people did that hurt the forests or the streams or the air or the water, Elizabeth would get an “I have to” feeling. You’ve probably had that feeling, too. It’s a feeling that nudges you from the inside. It upsets your stomach and niggles at your brain, and it won’t go away until you do something.
When Elizabeth got it in her head that something in the environment needed to be protected or someone needed help, there was no stopping her. She was like a detective searching for the truth. She researched the facts until she knew everything she could about the problem.
Elizabeth was like a scientist. She looked at the topic from every angle so she understood all the arguments for and against. She didn’t just believe what she heard – she had to confirm the evidence for herself
Elisabeth was like a journalist. She contacted everyone involved in an issue. She phoned people, wrote letters to people (that was before emails and texting) and met with people face-to-face. Then she wrote down what she had learned and shared it with everyone.
Elizabeth was like a linguist. She learned big scientific words-words most people don’t even try to say-like strontium-90 and organophosphates. She learned to use the right words at the right time so people took notice and realized that she knew what she was talking about.
Elizabeth was like a historian. She studied the background of her topics, how a problem got started and who was involved from the beginning. She didn’t stop looking for information until she was certain she knew the whole story.
After all that you might think Elizabeth was a superhero, because when she did all these things it was sort of like putting on a cape or picking up a wand. When she stepped out to make change, she was well prepared and ready for anything. But Elizabeth wasn’t magical. She had courage and determination, and she didn’t believe anyone who told her she couldn’t make a difference.
Regardless of age or gender, when asked to imagine a politician, most people, unfortunately, still picture a stuffy white guy in a suit who’s concerned more with being popular than taking on efforts that are crucial but may not appeal to the general public. Bringing her roots in environmental activism to the political sphere, Elizabeth May demonstrates how you can win the public’s approval while staying true to yourself, a tough task for any politician, but even more difficult for female politicians even to this day.
Through a mix of biography and personal stories from Elizabeth May and her daughter Cate on finding their way into activism, readers learn how May discovered her passion for environmental causes at a young age and how youth today are contributing to, and continuing, the work. The story of how May’s mother, Stephanie, educated herself on issues she felt were important and wouldn’t give up even when she was belittled by people with much more power than she had, is inspiring and shows how she was a strong role model for the young Elizabeth May.
Through the use of black and white photos from May’s childhood in Connecticut that paint a picture of May’s family life as well her and her mother’s grassroots activities, readers will see that, regardless of age or education, anyone can become a change-maker. Photos highlighting important people and key events throughout May’s lifetime that inspired and continue to inspire May, including Martin Luther King, Malala Yousafzai, and President Barack Obama, provide important background as well as inspiration for young minds. Colour photos of young activists just finding their passions captioned with why they’ve chosen their causes are found throughout the text and reinforce the fact that anyone can find a passion, and even the youngest person can make a difference. Sections titled “Advice for Future Activist” will be very helpful as readers identify and work towards supporting a cause important to them. For those looking for quick inspiration, brightly coloured quotes from activists past and present are imbedded in the margins and add colour and additional inspiration throughout the book.
Growing Up Elizabeth May: The Making of an Activist paints a complete picture of Elizabeth May from her young activist beginnings, fostered by her mother though both words and actions, guiding her actions and career choices, beginning as a lawyer tackling environmental issues, and into politics where she could direct policies and laws. Breaking down the path May took from living on a farm in Connecticut to leading the federal Green Party in Canada, Growing Up Elizabeth May makes the extraordinary seem possible. The story of May’s mother is as impressive as that of May’s. Also impressive are the boxes highlighting what kids in Canada are doing to support causes close to their hearts. By showing the small actions that build up to impressive change, Growing Up Elizabeth May will inspire actions great and small, all having a positive effect on the country and the world.
From May’s declaring that she hated airplanes ‘because they scratch the sky’ to her research into the impact chemicals have on the land (the latter spurred on by the death of one of her lambs when she was a child), it’s clear that May was brought up to be aware of what was happening around her and to identify what small actions she could take to make a difference. Cate’s praise of her mother, set out from the main text, demonstrates that the need to act when something isn’t fair or right has been passed down through three generations.
The book touches on a number of different causes that inspired May and her mother to take action, some that will likely be unfamiliar to young readers. Terms that may be unfamiliar to readers, from the civil rights movement to chemicals and political terminology, are clearly explained in the glossary. All words found in the glossary are in bold and italicized font in the text, letting readers know they can go to the glossary for definitions when needed.
A list of “sparks”, actions readers can take that seem small but can have a great impact, is included at the back of the book. The “sparks” would make a great classroom poster, and many could be used to ignite discussion amongst students considering what they would be willing to do and what actions they could take immediately. Regardless of their current interest in social causes, readers will be inspired by the story of Elizabeth May, the youth who are currently taking action to support causes important to them, and how easy it can be to make a real difference.
Crystal Sutherland (MLIS, MEd (Literacy) is the librarian at the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women in Halifax, Nova Scotia.