Severn and the Day She Silenced the World is the story of Severn Cullis-Suzuki and the path that led her to Rio de Janeiro at the age of 12 to speak to world leaders at the 1992 Earth Summit. The daughter of environmentalist David Suzuki and writer Tara Cullis, Severn was raised to respect nature and her place within it. The story begins with David and Tara giving shelter to members of an indigenous family escaping danger in Brazil due to their protests of the destruction of rainforest homelands. Inspired by their story, Severn and her friends start the Environmental Children’s Organization (ECO). Though they have early fundraising success, Severn sets her sights higher. She wants to travel to Rio to make the voices of children heard at the Earth Summit.
Ultimately, Severn and her friends raise enough money for three adults and four ECO members to attend the summit. They enlist the help of Raffi, a children’s singer, and speak with many powerful people, including U.S. Senator Al Gore, Canadian Environment Minister Jean Charest and the American head of UNICEF, James Grant. ECO’s reputation grows throughout the conference, and it is James Grant who gives Severn the chance to speak at the final UN Plenary Session, where she gives her famous speech.
This book is very readable both by students themselves and as a read-aloud. Though it definitely achieves its goal of inspiring students with its message, there is room for critical thinking. Would Severn’s cause have reached the heights it did if she had not had her parents’ contacts? The book also offers an opportunity for comparison to another Canadian child activist, Shannen Koostachin, who is featured in another book in this series, Shannen and the Dream for a School.
I adored this book both as an educator and as a former child activist growing up at the same time and in the same place as Severn. I would highly recommend this book as part of a biographical collection or for an environmental issues unit.
Jennifer Johnston is a member of the Ottawa-Carleton Teacher Local.