Andrea Beaty on getting kids engaged in politics

Published on: 05 November 2019 Author: Andrea Beaty

Author Andrea Beaty talks to us about her perfect partnership, her new book Sofia Valdez, Future Prez and gives us her top tips on engaging kids in politics.

Andrea Beaty and Sophia Valdez Future Prez

Working with illustrator David Roberts, is like playing the world’s best game of tag. We take turns building on the Questioneers’ universe which began with the text of Iggy Peck, Architect. David took that plain text and created a whole classroom of quirky, talented and passionate kids, each with a complete personality and backstory. He did not share that backstory with me. Still, those characters were so intriguing that I started thinking of stories for them. I followed the clues tucked into his art to figure out who these kids were and what made them tick. I wrote more stories and David created even more magnificent illustrations filled with even more clues to those kids and their personalities. This process has led us to a series of best-selling picture books and chapter books, plus project books which can help kids explore their own talents and passions. It has been one of the greatest adventures of my life.

Our most recent round of tag led us to a young girl named Sofia Valdez. Sofia Valdez, Futre Prez is, at its heart, a story about bravery. Sofia is raised by her grandfather who is very involved in the community. Each week, Sofia and Abuelo help the elderly people of Blue River Creek by bringing groceries, taking the pets for a walk or just stopping by for a treat and a talk. These small acts of kindness build in Sofia a sense of empathy and caring for others. One day, after a treacherous adventure on the way home from school, Abuelo gets hurt and Sofia decides to do something to help. She wants to build a park so that all the people of Blue River Creek can have a safe and beautiful place to gather. Everyone thinks it’s a great idea. In fact, they all say, “Let us know when it’s done!”

It’s up to Sofia to figure out how to get it done. That’s an enormous and daunting task for a girl in second grade. Though she is scared and young, Sofia laces up her shoes and heads to City Hall. Sofia has to be brave. She learns that being brave means doing the thing you must do, “Though your heart cracks with fear. Though you’re just in grade two.”

Sophia Valdez Future Prez Illustration © 2019 David Roberts, Text © 2019 Andrea BeattySofia Valdez Future Prez Illustration © 2019 David Roberts, Text © 2019 Andrea Beatty 

Writing this story made me think a lot about bravery. We so often equate bravery with enormous acts of heroism. But in thinking of it that way, we dismiss the small acts of kindness which, I believe, hold the most important acts of heroism. It's those small, personal moments that connect us and make a deep difference in our families, communities, countries and planet. They build the foundation that supports our societies and even our political systems.

We live in tumultuous times. Globally, people are stressed out and scared about the futures of their countries and the fates of the people they love. Kids internalise this as anxiety but don't know what to do with it. As adults, we want to protect kids from stress and from the problems of the world. Where we so often go wrong is assuming that we can shield kids. But we can't. They are intuitive creatures and they recognize problems, often before we do. Our jobs as caregivers, leaders and gatekeepers is to give kids a way to process the world and help them find a way to play a role in the world. They are capable and eager and full of love and hope. They want to be helpers and, frankly, we need their help. They are, after all, the people who are going to have to fix all the problems we adults are unable or unwilling to fix. But how do we do that?

  1. Model behaviour: First, we must model behaviour by leading, always, with kindness. Kindness to everyone no matter how much they are like us or different from us. Books are the greatest tool to help in this endeavour – they are like empathy machines which help us see the world through the eyes of others. It is very difficult to hate others once we have seen the world through their eyes.

  2. Include kids: Include kids in events that help the community. Even very young kids can play a role and learn that they have talents to offer. What could be more empowering? It's how we teach kids that helping is not just for others to do. Everybody can do something to help.

  3. Provide the tools they need: Give kids the tools necessary to become the best citizens—and by extension leaders—they can be. That means teaching them how to access and assess information. The Questioneers have a slogan: Read. Question. Think. These are the skills every person needs to master. Teach them to be sceptical consumers of information and to be aware of bias. There is ALWAYS help at the library in this regard. Teach kids how to use the library.

  4. Look around: Becoming socially involved grows from this. Talk with kids about the good things going on in the town. Talk with them about the problems. Help them understand social structures like local government and non-profit organizations which work to help the society. Go meet the town leaders. Take your kids with you every time you vote! And be that person who gets well informed and votes EVERY SINGLE TIME. Show them citizenry in action. And teach them that THEY are the citizenry. THEY are affected by what goes on and they can affect what goes on in a society. Teach them that what they do does not just affect them but it makes a difference in the lives of their families, neighbours, complete strangers and the rest of life on the planet. Becoming involved in that process is the very definition of politics. Politicians are not magical unicorns from other planets. Well, some of them are. But the good ones, the real leaders, are just normal people who lace up their shoes like Sofia and set about solving a problem to help someone they love.

Sophia Valdez Future Prez Illustration © 2019 David RobertsSofia Valdez Future Prez Illustration © 2019 David Roberts

Kids are so much stronger and smarter than we think. If we let them, they will show us how to lead. This is why David and I wrote this as the dedication of Sofia Valdez, Future Prez.

"This book is dedicated to you. You are braver than you know and mightier than you can ever imagine. Be bold."

Sofia Valdez, Future Prez by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts is out 26 November (Abrams Books for Young Readers)

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