GSD&M, Austin / PROJECT AMPLIFY / 2021
In 2019, the United States detained more than 300,000 children. Stories collected by human rights advocates revealed shocking and deplorable conditions at the border. Children reported hunger, cold and sickness while being forced to sleep on concrete floors without access to bathing or clean clothes for days upon weeks.
Our brief was simple—make the voices of the children heard. Despite the fact that hundreds of sworn declarations from children had been filed in federal court, their stories were lost amidst the partisan debate with many Americans unaware or apathetic.
Our objective for this pro-bono project was to present their stories in an accessible format in order to change hearts and minds. To do that, we knew the issue would have to be reframed as a humanitarian, not a political, matter while making an emotional connection with the American public at large.
Despite the fact that hundreds of pages of sworn testimonies from the children were publicly available, they might as well have been invisible to the American public. Our idea was to turn these black-and-white legal declarations into a vibrant children’s book.
Pouring over the declarations, we pulled out impactful quotes and organized them by common themes until a cohesive narrative emerged. Sadly, we did not write a single word.
Why a children’s book? These harrowing, heartbreaking stories have no place in a traditional children’s picture book. But that’s exactly why it had to be a children’s book. Because it’s a children’s story, but it’s also a story no child should tell. And placing their words in this context would not only allow people to connect emotionally but also serve as a reminder of how fundamentally wrong it is for children to be treated this way.
First of all, we knew the children were not being heard. A CNN study found that 62% of Republicans shockingly approved of the way migrants were being treated even after the children’s declarations became public. We believed that if Americans were presented with these stories in an unbiased, accessible format, those attitudes would start to shift.
Second, even if Americans were on our side, policy-based appeals wouldn’t work. Polls compiled by FiveThirtyEight and Morning Consult/Politico indicated that while 64% of Americans opposed the family separation policy, the “Abolish ICE” movement, which called for the dismantling of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, was wildly unpopular with 54% of Americans and 79% of Republicans opposed.
In short, appeals rooted in politics were not going to be persuasive. Given this data, our approach was to put the issue in a familial context by targeting parents, children and educators through a children’s book.
Hear My Voice/Escucha mi voz is a children’s book that tells the stories of 61 children detained at the border, whose voices were taken from publicly available court documents and curated into a single narrative. Their words were then brought to life through the powerful artwork of 17 Latinx artists, including Caldecott medal winner Yuyi Morales and Pura Belpré Award winner Raúl the Third. With a foreword by Michael Garcia Bochenek of Human Rights Watch, the book also includes a reader’s guide for children and families plus simple ways to help. The bilingual book is English on one side, Spanish on the other, with both languages meeting in the middle.
Published by Workman, the book was released on April 13 and is now available wherever books are sold including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, independent bookstores, Target and more. Most importantly, 100% of royalties directly benefit children in migration.
Given that the book was released just two days before the final Cannes deadline, results are still preliminary. But early returns are promising.
Even prior to release, the book received praise from critics, including coveted “starred reviews” from the industry’s two most influential publications in Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews, which called it “a heartrending but vital work” and “a powerful, critical document.”
The book was also given the Gold Standard by the Junior Library Guild, which informs the purchases of more than 24,000 school and public librarians nationwide where it’s already being adopted as curriculum and taught in schools.
Finally, the book was named to several “new and noteworthy” lists for the month of April, shot to #1 in Children’s Hispanic & Latino Books on Amazon and was among the top-200 of all books on Amazon. A second printing has already been ordered.