Image of children sitting on the floor in a classroom, raising their arms.

Review: Something, Someday & Greta Thunberg

Cover of Something, Someday by Amanda Gorman & Christian Robinson

The Child as Activist

Review of Something, Someday by Amanda Gorman (author) and Christian Robinson (artist) (New York: Viking, 2023) and Greta Thunberg by Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara (author) and Anke Weckmann (artist) (London: Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2020).

Reviewed By Maughn Rollins Gregory

Aristotle taught about a special kind of knowledge that is different from knowing about the way things are. What he called phronesis or practical wisdom is the ability to figure out the right or the best thing to do in a particular, unique situation. Two books for young children show us that pretty often, doing the right thing involves recognizing and criticizing something wrong in the world around us, and that children sometimes have more practical wisdom than adults.

You’re told
That what’s going on
Is very, very sad.
But you’re not just sad.

You’re scared.
And confused.
You’re angry.

The first thing to notice about the vibrant picture book Something, Someday (Viking, 2023) is how the artwork and text continually separate and fuse, like oil and vinegar in a salad dressing shaker. The art, by Newbery Medalist Christian Robinson, tells the story of a particular, Black child, in a particular place and time (an urban apartment complex), confronting a particular problem (the grounds are strewn with garbage), who tries to do something about it (remove the garbage and plant a vegetable and flower garden), who enlists the help of others and meets particular setbacks (the first plants die), but ultimately succeeds in a particularly satisfying way (a community meal made from the garden produce).

Illustrated page from Something, Someday by Amanda Gorman & Christian Robinson

From Something, Someday by Amanda Gorman & Christian Robinson © 2023 by Viking

The narrative, by the first National Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman, is detached from any such particularity. It is, in fact, a string of affirmational aphorisms.

You are told that this is too big for you,
But you’ve seen the tiniest things
Make a huge difference.


You’re told to sit and wait,
But you know people
Have already waited
Too long.

The second thing to notice is that Gorman’s text is addressed to “you,” the reader – but now text and image come together to make clear that in this case, “you” is a child. Here are some of the affirmations she delivers to “you” (my paraphrases):

  • It’s good that you notice when something around you is not right.
  • It’s alright to be sad, afraid, confused, and angry when that happens.
  • If you think you can make a difference, go ahead and try!
  • Some may say you’re too small, or it’s none of your business, or what you’re trying won’t work, but sometimes it’s OK to ignore them.
  • Some ways you try to help won’t work, or won’t work the first time, or the first several times. You’ll probably have to try different things to see what works.
  • You might start out alone, but there are probably others who believe in what you’re trying to do and want to do it with you.
  • Finding out what works and making a difference is deeply meaningful.
  • Taken together, they make a pretty good formula for practical wisdom. Except that, as Aristotle pointed out, practical wisdom isn’t formulaic. To be practically wise is to be able to figure out how to act (and not act) in situations that are new and unique, that change over time, and are unpredictable. So, there is always some intellectual and emotional work to do. Maybe I am too small to take this on – am I? Maybe this really is none of my business – is it? Who can I really count on to understand what I’m trying to do and help me do it?

    Two of the founders of philosophy for children, Ann Margaret Sharp and Gareth B. Matthews, wrote that when children think philosophically, they inevitably will, and unquestionably should engage in social criticism. Indeed, sensitivity to injustice and ugliness is a philosophical capacity that tends to be keenest in childhood. Though we sometimes shield children from harsh realities, we also need to nurture their ethical, political, and aesthetic impulses.

    Illustrated page from Something, Someday by Amanda Gorman & Christian Robinson

    From Something, Someday by Amanda Gorman & Christian Robinson © 2023 by Viking

    In some ways, the bio-board-book Greta Thunberg, by author Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara and artist Anke Weckmann (Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2020) is a stark contrast to Something, Someday. The wrong it shows children confronting is global rather than local; the protagonist is strident rather than subtle; it doesn’t end happily; and it is a true story. In other ways, the two books tell the same story: a child recognizes an important environmental problem, is initially discouraged from taking action by the adults in their life, comes up with a strategy to address the problem, and is joined by like-minded others to push that strategy as far as they can.

    Part of the genius of Greta Thunberg is how both text and artwork convey Greta’s life and her life’s message in ways that are detailed and complex, but accessible for young readers and those being read to. Older children and adults can read Thunberg’s own words in a 2019 book of her collected speeches, in which now, the “you” is the adult:

    Hardly anyone ever mention[s] that we are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction, with about 200 species going extinct every single day.[…] Erosion of fertile topsoil. Deforestation of our great forests. Toxic air pollution. Loss of insects and wildlife. The acidification of our oceans. And I agree with you, I’m too young to do this. We children shouldn’t have to do this. But since almost no one is doing anything, and our very future is at risk, we feel like we have to continue.


    Adults keep saying: ‘We owe it to the young people to give them hope.’

    But I don’t want your hope.
    I don’t want you to be hopeful.
    I want you to panic.
    I want you to feel the fear I feel every day.
    And then I want you to act.
    I want you to act as you would in a crisis.
    I want you to act as if our house is on fire.
    Because it is.

    But Greta hadn’t planned on becoming an internationally-recognized political gadfly. She learned about climate change in school, at the age of eight, and her first accomplishment was to persuade her parents to make lifestyle changes to reduce their carbon footprint. When she was fifteen, Greta won a writing competition about the environment and her essay was published in the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet. She was contacted by other activists, who discussed ideas for bringing attention to the climate crisis. Greta liked the idea of a school strike, inspired by the school walkouts organized by the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, to protest legislative inaction on gun control after the mass shooting at their school. But Greta couldn’t interest anyone else in the idea, so she planned her own, one-child strike. On August 20, 2018, instead of attending school, she sat down outside the Swedish Parliament and handed out fliers listing facts about the climate crisis.

    Illustrated page from Greta Thunberg by Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara & Anke Weckmann

    From Greta Thunberg by Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara & Anke Weckmann © 2020 Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
    Skolstrejk för klimatet = School Strike for Climate

    One of the challenges Greta faced came from her own parents, who “did not support the idea of school striking and said that if I were to do this I would have to do it completely by myself and with no support from them” – which she did. She posted about her school strike on social media and contacted some local journalists, whose articles helped her social media campaign go viral. Before long, children across Sweden and in many other countries were joining Greta in Friday School Strikes. The next year, Greta sailed on a carbon-free yacht to speak to the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit, where she told some difficult truths:

    This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope? How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!

    This speech brought Greta’s message to even more young people around the world, who began local Friday School Strikes and massive, multi-city protests with over a million students each. In response to this, Greta said, “If a few children can get headlines all over the world just by not going to school for a few weeks, imagine what we all could do together if we wanted to. So everyone out there: it is now time for civil disobedience.”

    Illustrated page from Greta Thunberg by Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara & Anke Weckmann

    From Greta Thunberg by Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara & Anke Weckmann © 2020 Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

    Children comprise a disenfranchised minority group. As Greta explained, “Many of us who will be affected the most by this crisis, people like me, are not allowed to vote. Nor are we in a position to shape the decisions of business, politics, engineering, media, education or science.” That children should be given that position is stipulated in Article 12 of in the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989):

    States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.

    This is, in part, why Matthews and others have called for children’s philosophical thinking and writing to be given public venues. It is also an impetus behind the contemporary “action civics” education movement, which invites young people to read their world critically and find ways to make differences that matter to them.

    Greta’s story also demonstrates some of the challenges and gifts that neurodiverse children bring to activism. For almost four years before her school strike campaign, Greta suffered from depression and selective mutism. She stopped playing the piano and lost 22 lbs. over two months when she refused to eat much (portrayed in the book by Vegara and Weckmann). She was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, which she characterized as “not a disease, it’s a gift,” and a “superpower,” because of how it enables her to focus, to see issues as “black and white,” and to act on her own sometimes, without social (and sometimes without family) support.

    Neither Something, Someday nor Greta Thunberg provides a formula for child activism. What these books offer is the invitation for children to be conscientious – to follow their conscience – and to develop practical wisdom in working for social change. Indeed, the two books can be used together, to help us think about how working for social change depends on the context: What will we count as progress? What rules might we have to break? How can we try to get others to pay attention? How will we answer those who say we’re too small, that it’s none of our business, or that what we’re trying won’t work? What will we do when this work makes us confused, afraid, or angry? These books also prod adults to think of social change as children’s work, and to join them in honest appraisals of troubling situations, in strategizing, and in risk assessment. “Imagine what we all could do together if we wanted to.”

    Illustrated page from Something, Someday by Amanda Gorman & Christian Robinson

    From Something, Someday by Amanda Gorman & Christian Robinson © 2023 by Viking


    Facing History and Ourselves (2019) How the Parkland Students Pulled off a Massive National Protest
        in Only 5 Weeks. URL =

    Leonard, Jill (2020) Who is Greta Thunberg? Penguin Workshop.
    Thunberg, Greta (2019) No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference. Penguin Books.