I love activity books. I really loved this one by Kirsten Liepmann and Karen Ng. The book took on some big topics – poverty and hunger; peace and justice; and diversity and inclusion – and gave kids information to understand the issues and activities to show them they can make a difference.
I interview Kirsten about how the book came to be and the importance of children and how they are the leaders of today – and the future.
Q. Can you please tell me why you decided to create this book?
A. This book really started from a friendship and a shared passion for social impact. Karen and I met in 2015 at business school at the University of Oxford and, among other things, bonded over a drive to help make our world a better place.
After we finished our studies, Karen continued her career in impact investing and I in education, but we were both wondering what else we could do.
The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals had been recently adopted, and we were discussing how there were so many critical challenges facing our world, yet many people were unaware, felt removed, or relied on governments to handle these global challenges.
Karen proposed that we try to create something to help address this. We started to toss around ideas of ways that we could not only help inform children but empower them. We thought of craft kits, a website, a narrative story, but ultimately landed on an activity book.
This, we felt, was something that could set children up for action and something that they could bring into the world around them, mark up, and make their own.
Q. How long did it take from idea to publishing? What changes did it see? This was part of a Kickstarter campaign. Can you explain a bit about that?
A. Once we decided to work on an activity book together, we ran a Kickstarter campaign in 2017 to test if there were readers interested in the idea. We are grateful to have received support from more than 400 backers from around the world, who pre-ordered copies of the book before it was published.
This provided us with sufficient funds to embark on what we thought would be a self-publishing journey to bring our vision to life.
As Karen and I were living in London and California respectively at the time, we developed the content and collaborated with the book’s illustrator entirely remotely. At the same time, we were lucky enough that our Kickstarter campaign caught the eye of a few publishers.
We found a great partner with Studio Press from Bonnier Books out of the U.K. We worked with them to release the first edition of our book in 2018 under the title Little Book for Big Changes. I went to London to work with Karen on packing and shipping books directly to our Kickstarter supporters. It was quite surreal to see each other in person!
Finally, this past year, we were delighted to hear that Kids Can Press from Canada was interested in creating an edition of our book for readers in the U.S. and Canada, called 100 Ways to Make the World a Better Place. This has been an amazing experience, since Kids Can Press aligns so well with our values and is helping our book make its way around the world.
Q. Why is this book important now?
A. We wrote this book recognizing that the challenges facing our world are complicated and will not be solved in one, five, even 10 years. And yet, the urgency to work on solutions is high. This past year has been a stark reminder of that as we face a global pandemic, raging wildfires, challenges to racial equity and threats to human rights.
Q. What do you hope children will achieve by reading this book and participating in activities?
A. We would like our young readers to feel a sense of ownership and confidence that they can make a difference. Our book is full of ideas and activities – some providing children with knowledge about these global issues, others empowering them with concrete ways to create change. We hope that children can find topics they are interested in and connect with others to address the issues that they are passionate about.
Q. Why is it important to connect with children to help make the world better?
A. To begin with, children are incredibly creative and innovative problem solvers. They can also push adults’ thinking and inspire adults’ actions. People often talk about preparing children to be the leaders of tomorrow, but they can also be leaders of today.
Children are affected by these global challenges just as much as adults, if not more so, and it’s important that we support building a culture and mindset that recognizes both their interests as well as their partnership.
Q. How did you come up with the activities for the book? And the additional tips and ideas?
A. It was not easy, but it was a lot of fun! We often did some creative brainstorming together, thinking about what we would want children to know or experience to better understand these global challenges. We tried to create activities that would resonate, by drawing upon what we were seeing in the actions of adults in governments, corporations, and non-profits and pulling upon what we knew about education and working with children.
We did some research to find out what information and activities were already out there for children for inspiration to build upon or to fill in gaps. We also talked directly with experts in each of the issue areas we were addressing in our book not only to check our accuracy but to learn what they thought was important to share.
Q. How many ideas did you come up initially and how many made it into the book?
A. Too many! And to be honest, it was hard to whittle down. We focused on including a variety of activities that empower children to learn, think and act. We also tried to find a balance between activities they can do on their own and ones that are more fun to do with friends.
For example, in the chapter about food and nutrition, we included a word scramble to support children in learning about the importance of different nutrients, a recipe that uses leftovers to reduce food waste, and a guide to organize a food drive with their community.
We ended up with 36 guided activities, three per chapter, and 108 additional ideas for activities, nine at the end of each chapter. These additional ideas are around how children can learn more, change their habits, show kindness, engage their communities, use their voices, or donate and volunteer.
Q. What are the benefits of these activities for children?
A. The activities in our book support children at various points in empowering them to make positive changes in the world. We have activities that support children in building their knowledge, developing empathy, and engaging with their communities. We also have activities that help them take action and concrete steps towards way that they can contribute to and improve the world.
Q. When you think of children reading this book, what do you hope for?
A. We hope our young readers feel a sense of ownership and confidence that they can make a difference. First, we hope that children have fun with this book and find the activities and content engaging. We hope that they find the topics interesting and share it with their friends and family.
We hope that they are inspired and gain the confidence to explore and try taking action to address issues they are passionate about. Finally, our book just scratches the surface of these global challenges, so we hope that their curiosity is sparked by one, or many, topics and they are motivated to learn and do more.
Q. How will you view this book’s success?
A. In terms of reach, honestly, it’s already been more successful than we ever set out for. We have more readers than we imagined, and we have been published in three languages and several countries. Of course, we always love to see this all grow more.
Q. What has been the response from the book so far?
A. We love to hear from our readers. And so far, we have had positive responses. One reader has told us he loves our book. When he first got it, he built the first aid kit with his grandfather. He’d carry our book around wherever he went, just taking on one chapter after another. Another young reader was motivated to start initiatives with her local community. We’ve also heard from parents saying that it’s been a great conversation starter with their children on challenges facing people and our planet.
Q. This book tackles big ideas – poverty and hunger; peace and justice; and diversity and inclusion. Why did you decide on these topics? Why are they important? How can one person make a change?
A. We started with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. We read through each to understand what they were about and what actions they expected from the UN member states. We then pulled themes from across the goals as well as the issues we were aware of from our careers, contacts, and current events.
We debated if we should just focus on one or two topics, but we also understood that they were all so interrelated. Improvements in education can also lead to improvements in equity, inclusion, poverty, and even climate change. We decided that our book might be a “first taste” or overview of these topics, and children might find ones that they connect with and choose to dive deeper into.
Q. What do you want kids to know about making a difference?
Just because these are big and complex challenges we are tackling, does not mean that we have to wait for big and complex actions to solve them.
Q. How can parents help?
A. Parents, or any caregivers, can help by believing in and trusting their children. Empower them by giving them space to explore and question and learn with them. Some of our activities need some parent supervision, but our book is really about sparking children’s ideas, inspiration, curiosity, and creativity, and adults can be incredible supporters of that. Take them on a supermarket scavenger hunt for fair trade products, work with them to find additional resources if they want to learn more about ocean conservation or help them gather the courage to ask neighbors to participate in a food drive they are organizing.
Q. Anything advise to children looking to make the world better?
A. Making the world a better place is about positive change, and change can be hard. They should try and be courageous to step outside of their comfort zone, but they can also look for help and partners in this work. We haven’t figured out the answers to all these global challenges, so a lot of this is about exploring and being creative. And, as mentioned before, we shouldn’t and can’t wait for a big complex solution to these complex problems. All acts, big or seemingly small, make a difference and help make the world better.
Q. Anything else you would like to say?
A. Just a huge thank you to everyone who has supported us, our book, and the importance of engaging children. From those who first believed in the concept on Kickstarter to those who just purchased the book yesterday – thank you! We couldn’t have gotten this far without you.