The Author Spotlight highlights the work of various authors of compassionate children’s books, young adult novels, and other literature, giving them a chance to share their stories, experiences, and processes and to inspire compassionate teachers and their students to take action for animals through education.
Stewart Mitchell’s time working in the food service industry got him thinking about the origins of his food and ultimately led him to go vegan in 2011, but the human rights and animal rights activist now known to his more than 24,000 Instagram followers as Vigilante Vegan admits, “I realized that being vegan wasn’t enough.” So he started holding demonstrations and organizing protests to raise his community’s awareness of the inhumane treatment of animals used for food and clothing. In 2017, he self-published a children’s book called Kayla the Vegan, about a young girl whose classmates find it odd that she’s vegan. Kayla shows her peers how being compassionate by eating healthy foods that don’t harm animals benefits everyone. Two years later, his Liberation Summer, the story of a young adult named Jayden who learns about the cruelty in the factory-farming industry and the existence of food deserts in low-income communities, was published. Both books emphasize the importance of having empathy for others, including animals.
We asked Mitchell about his inspiration for his two books, his tips on empowering young people to have compassion for animals, his creative activism, and more.
Sometimes it’s hard to get adults to listen to what we are saying in regard to animals and our planet, because they don’t want to do the work necessary to create change. Children’s minds are still developing, and they’re curious about the world around us. It’s our responsibility to give them the proper tools and knowledge to create positive change.
What inspired you to write Kayla the Vegan and Liberation Summer?
It’s important that we teach young children compassion and respect for all beings, since they will be the ones to inherit the planet. I thought books would be a good resource for kids.
Where did you get the ideas for your books? Are the characters modeled after people you know?
Kayla the Vegan was inspired by Genesis Butler, a young animal rights activist. Liberation Summer is loosely based on my own experiences working in food service.
How does reading books about compassion for animals benefit children?
Adults always try to encourage children to read, and I thought if I could write a book about kids centered on veganism and make the characters relatable, it would be easy for them to understand why it’s important to extend love and compassion to animals.
What has been the response to your books from young people, teachers, activists, etc.?
I’ve gotten good and great responses from people from all walks of life and professions, especially for Kayla the Vegan. A lot of mothers have reached out to thank me for writing the book, which feels truly amazing!
What challenges, if any, do you face as a vegan author of humane books, and how do you overcome them?
One challenge was trying to get the books published through a publishing company. Most publishers didn’t want children’s books, and the ones that did kindly passed on my idea. That’s one of the main reasons why the books were self-published.
How do you inform young people about animal issues without “preaching” in your books?
I think I’ve simplified the message enough so that people can understand how easy it is to avoid harming animals, while introducing alternatives to food and clothing. Kayla speaks in a compassionate way that doesn’t berate people for not being vegan—she helps children understand her message through love and kindness. Liberation Summer shows people how you can systemically change things by setting an example, without shoving your ideas or beliefs down others’ throats.
Do you experience “compassion fatigue”? If so, how do you remedy it?
We live in a very uncompassionate world, so it’s easy to experience fatigue or burnout. I try to find new ways to advocate for animals consistently, whether it’s through writing, creating activism stickers, or taking action through my latest venture, V.O.I.C.E.4change. V.O.I.C.E.4change is a group that I started to center activism around performing arts. We use spoken word, poetry, and song to advocate for animals. I try to make activism engaging and fun, whether it’s through a book, poetry, or another form of art. We have to find new ways to get people’s attention and make them aware of the suffering endured by animals so that they’ll make better and more ethical choices! I think repeating the same methods can eventually lead to burnout, and we have to learn how to make activism fun. Not all vegans are angry!
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start writing books for young people about compassion for animals but isn’t sure where to begin?
Think of ways you would have wanted someone to talk to you when you were a child, and put that down on paper.
Is there anything else you’d like educators to know about you or your work?
I’m not perfect. I do the best that I can with my writing. I write books because I care deeply about children and animals. Sometimes it’s hard to get adults to listen to what we’re saying in regard to animals and our planet, because they don’t want to do the work necessary to create change. Children’s minds are still developing, and they’re curious about the world around us. It’s our responsibility to give them the proper tools and knowledge to create positive change.