Emma Reynolds’ graphic novel Drawn To Change The World tells the true stories of 16 youth activists from around the globe and their mission to create a better planet

There’s no doubt Drawn to Change the World is an ambitious book. Some three years in the making, it has brought together the voices of 16 youth activists on environment and climate change, with the stories of their campaigns told by 16 artists through a graphic novel format. For author Emma Reynolds, this was a labour of love – all-consuming work.

While Greta Thunberg is among the stories told, she is somewhere in the middle because Reynolds has drawn out a longer seam with a global reach. “It was important for me to show people that although she’s done incredible work, she didn’t start it,” says Reynolds. “I really wanted to highlight indigenous activists. There are activists of colour, people of colour from all over the world who have been fighting for this not just since 2018 but for decades.”

Drawing on hope: a graphic novel on conservation
Natasha Donovan’s graphic story about Autumn Pelter. Top: The story of Melati and Isabel Wijsen, drawn by Ann Maulina

The book is organised as a loose timeline and begins with Autumn Pelter, who began a campaign for clean water for Canada’s First Nation communities when she was just eight years old. Activists include Melati and Isabel Wijsen, sisters who began the Bye Bye Plastic Bags movement in Bali, and Leah Namugerwa the young Ugandan who devised an internationally successful tree planting initiative. Reynolds has also included brave young people who face very real threats in their home countries by the mere act of speaking up on environmental issues.

Researching and speaking to all the youth activists was complex. Reynolds read and researched, also reaching out direct – often via social media – and interviewing the activists to hear their stories. She is grateful, she says, for the “amazing team” at HarperAlley (HarperCollins graphic novel arm) who supported the project with the mountain of admin required in liaising with the 16 artists around the globe.

The artists get star billing alongside the activists. From Indonesian Ann Maulina to Ghanaian Natasha Nayo to American illustrator and author Derick Brooks, each one has a mini biography within Drawn to Change the World. As an artist herself, Reynolds was determined to give their creativity exposure. “It’s inspiring for kids to see people who look like them and think: ‘I could do that when I grow up’,” says Reynolds.  “This book was a massive team effort,” she adds. “I know it’s got my name on the front but it’s a humungous team effort.”

While Reynolds trained as an illustrator, she spent some six years working within animation as a character designer for children’s TV before switching to her dream author/illustrator role. Her background, and storyboarding skills were useful when it came to translating interviews into storylines. These were then “reverse engineered” into a workable script so that each of the artists could draw their youth activist story.

Drawing on hope: a graphic novel on conservation
Leah Namugerwa’s tree planting conservation story, told in vivid graphic form by Natasha Nayo

The graphic novel format works brilliantly here, packing in information in a succinct and compelling way – telling us not just about the campaigns, but also the campaigners, their world and their motivations. “Picture books and graphic novels are my favourite books to read. I just think they are such a unique art form,” says Reynolds. “Really good for tough topics as well.” And climate change is a tough topic – especially for this age 8-12 group who have seen and read so much grim news in their short lives. This is where Emma Reynolds came in with the whole idea – she wanted to counter the forces of what she calls “doomism”.

Readers can also find out more about what each youth activist is doing now, choose to follow them on social media or via their websites. This, along with further material on climate change – timelines, background detail, further reading and glossary of terms – add up to a handbook to inspire the next generation of change makers.

Reynolds, who has form on this herself as founder of global illustrator campaign #KidLitForClimate, says positive messages are vital. “It was really important to me to have the book make young people feel that they have agency,” she says. “I’m not saying we have to put everything on their shoulders and they have to fix it – it’s that they do have agency.”

Drawn To Change The World Cover

Drawn to Change the World by Emma Reynolds, published by HarperCollins (£8.99) – is available to order online.

Further reading: In conversation with graphic novelist Jerry Craft