“Activism is the power to spark the compassion and the empathy of the whole world,” says the young narrator of The Artivist. the stunning and important new children’s book from architect turned Disney Imagineer turned best-selling author/illustrator Nikkolas Smith.
I”ve really been excited for its release because I believe one of our greatest obligations as parents is to teach our kids to be the change they want to see in the world, and this book will help us with that beautifully.
In the story, a child’s mural about love goes viral (an experience based on Smith’s own personal story), and helps the young artist realize that his art gives him the power to be a positive force for change. He describes the issues that concern him, and they will certainly be familiar to any parent who has had conversations with our kids about the issues that they care about: Global warming, gun violence, deforestation, gentrification, human rights, kindness toward others.
Even better, he describes in the most simple terms some of the things kids can do, whether looking deeper at what needs fixing, “painting what every person deserves,” or simply being a good listener to hear what others are concerned about and why.
It’s the perfect book at the perfect time, considering our children are growing up among the most most educated, most diverse, most engaged generation yet. In fact, a lot of the imagery will be familiar to even younger kids, whether it’s a protest they may have seen on TV, a portrait of unhoused people, or a community refrigerator like one in your own neighborhood,
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All images © Pengin Random House
If Nikkolas Smith’s gorgeously evocative painting style seems familiar, you may recognize it from his illustrations in I Am Ruby Bridges, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever: The Courage to Dream, and the bestselling The 1619 Project: Born on the Water, the children’s adaptation of Nikole Hannah-Jones’s Pulitzer-winning exploration of Black history in America. Or hey, maybe you’ve just admired his gorgeous new Disneyland mural in Venice Beach, California.
In fact, Smith says in an Instagram video about the book, the project “all started as artist therapy” for him.
He then explains that all kids have some kind of artistic ability — poetry, dance, music, singing, drawing — that can be put to good use for change. Artivism “can really can be a roadmap for how we can fix these things,” he says.
As a parent, I think it’s a perfect book for reading aloud with kids of any age really, to kick off conversations about issues they care about. Animals? Safe schools? Girls in sports? People being nice to each other? Every answer is a good answer.