No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference by Greta Thunberg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book is the collected speeches of 16-year-old Swedish girl, Greta Thunberg. The eleven speeches date from September 2018 to April 2019. It’s an extremely short time-frame and, as you might expect, the book is short. You can finish the whole thing in an hour, or two at most.
The themes are repeated – the climate crisis obviously being the main one, but also Greta’s school striking, the arguments and hatred levelled against her and other students who have striked, her autism and her Swedish background.
Having watched videos of one or two of her speeches, I knew some of these words well and her distinctive Swedish softly-spoken monotone voice has somehow caught the world so well that I defy anyone to read this book and not hear it in her voice.
In one ‘speech’ (‘I’m Too Young to Do This’) written for Facebook, Greta addresses the criticisms levelled at her – she’s not writing her own speeches, she’s paid to do this, she’s being used by others as a pawn, she’s in league with other organisations etc. She dispels any credence to these myths and makes clear she works for no one, is paid nothing, writes her own speeches and makes her own decisions.
All this is very important, because while just one speech comes across as written by an astute but very normal teenager with an intelligent mind (and as a teacher I’ve seen thousands of these over the last 30 years), when you read the whole collection you realise that Greta Thunberg is something rather more special. The speeches are exemplary models of how to grab attention and say something important. She taps in to heads – no mean feat for someone with Asperger’s who is self-confessed ‘not social’. This is no ordinary young woman and it is no surprise that she’s caught the world’s imagination.
I’ve given speeches in many different contexts, including, like Greta, a TEDx talk. When you focus on one specific subject it is hard to find new ways of saying the same thing. Greta manages to find new metaphors and different approaches to all of her speeches which means each new time she says something, you need to listen. I feel quite certain that very soon these speeches will end up in GCSE and A level English language papers for students to study; I certainly hope so.
It’s too easy to be condescending. I could easily say she is going to grow up to be a fine speechwriter, speaker and activist and that she’s highly impressive for one so young. But the fact is, she’s already a fine speechwriter, speaker and activist right now. And she’s impressive just as she is, right now. Make her a forty-year-old Hollywood star, or hardline politician or jounralist, and you wouldn’t make her any more impressive.
Most importantly, she’s changed the world. We have a champion for environmental issues that we did not have before. Just as Malala made a difference as a champion for the educational rights of girls, so Greta has made the rich and pompous have to begin taking a stand in the right direction for the environment. There’s much to do, but she’s contributed more than most to the change so far.
It is usual, when writing reviews, to refer to the author by the surname. I have not done this with Greta because to do so runs the risk of dehumanising her and so make her distant. It is absolutely vital we do not do so because then we push her to the wings, trivialise her message and make her irrelevant. This young girl has achieved more in one year than most of the rest of us have achieved in a lifetime. Her message is arguably the single most important message of the 21st Century – our planet is dying, we’re killing it, we have to stop before it is too late. We can’t afford to let Greta be a momentary titillation, a plaything to amuse us adults for a while before we can comfortably forget what she said. Indeed, in my opinion, she needs to be awarded a Nobel Prize. She deserves it, beyond a doubt.
Greta sometimes refers to the crisis as ‘our house is on fire’. She sensibly speaks of how, if a reality, we wouldn’t sit in our burning homes talking about how nice it would be if we could stop the burning and make our homes nice again. She says we would panic, rush around saving as much as we could and making sure no one was left in danger, before it was too late. Our house really is on fire, Greta says. We have to stop talking and start saving as much as we can.
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Social Entrepreneur, educationalist, bestselling author and journalist, D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. Listen to his life story in interview with the BBC here.
D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, he is available for one-to-one mentoring and runs a course on the psychology of writing.
Ken writes for a number of publications around the world. Past reviewer for Paste magazine, The Doughnut, E2D and United Airways, and currently reviews for Lancashire Life magazine and Northern Arts Review.