Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Writing, with Niki Walker

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Niki Walker

Why Do We Fight? (OwlKids) by Niki Walker tackles a tough subject — explaining the nature of conflict to young people. From protests to strikes and wars to ambushes, Why Do We Fight? uses real life examples to open discussions with kids about the personal and political factors of clashes of all kinds.

Today we speak with Niki about the impetus for this book, whether conflict can ever be a good thing and the famous activists and politicians whose thoughts and quotations are included in Why Do We Fight?.

Open Book:

Tell us about your book, Why Do We Fight?

Niki Walker:

It’s a non-fiction book aimed at helping ten- to fourteen-year olds explore the age-old question in the title (although adults have told it me they’ve found it helpful too). I’ve often described Why Do We Fight? as a “roadmap” or “toolkit” for understanding conflict. It doesn’t tell kids what to think about conflicts. Instead, it shows them how to think about conflicts and all the issues connected with them, so kids can arrive at their own informed opinions.

The book unpacks the massive topic of global conflicts into manageable chunks, and it relates the issues and concepts involved in large-scale conflicts — like power dynamics and social justice — to experiences in kids’ everyday lives, to make them easier to relate to and understand.

The big goal of the book is to give readers enough background knowledge about conflicts in general that they’ll be able to go out into the world and make sense of any specific conflict they choose. They’ll know what questions to ask, where to look for and find answers to those questions, and how to think about those answers in a way that deepens their understanding.


Why is it important to talk to kids about these kinds of conflicts?


Understanding why conflicts come up and how they escalate or get resolved is something I think we all need to understand if we’re going to have a say in how our governments represent us and get along in the world. It’s important for future citizens and leaders to recognize that there are many ways to settle disputes, and it’s something kids can apply to their own lives, as well.


Is conflict necessarily a bad thing? Is there such a thing as positive conflict?


The short answer I came up with from my research is: conflict is disagreement, and whether it’s a “good” or “bad” thing depends on what people make of it. It can be violent and unpleasant, or it can be a chance for change. Gandhi said it better than I can: “Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress.” !

I think when we talk about a conflict, we tend to focus on the way the people involved are trying to resolve it, whether it’s with protests, riots, war, negotiations, sanctions, and so on. When you think of a conflict in that way, then whether it’s a “good” or “bad” thing depends on how it’s handled.

If you focus on the outcomes, there are lots of examples of positive conflict. Consider the movements Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Nelson Mandela led, for example.


Some parents might feel hesitant to discuss tricky subjects until kids are older. Do you think it helps to speak to children about conflict when they are younger?


Every kid is different, so I think parents are the best judges of what their kids can handle and when. That being said, I think that, as parents, we often shy away from tricky subjects because we worry we’ll somehow scar kids by discussing them. We feel like we need to protect them from unpleasant realities, but we don’t have to get into the gruesome details in order for kids to understand the nuts and bolts of conflicts.

And then there’s that fear of getting the tough questions we just can’t answer. Conflicts are not easy things for adults to figure out for ourselves, never mind trying to explain them in terms kids will understand and relate to, so we avoid going there. I tried to anticipate every “why” possible when it comes to conflicts, and to give kids (and their parents) some insights into them. I’m hoping that the book makes the subject less daunting for anyone who wants to tackle discussing it.


How did you select the quotations (from diverse voices including the Dalai Lama and Baruch Spinoza) included in the book?


I picked quotations that resonated with me, that made me stop and have an a-ha moment. I think each one really speaks to the chapter it opens, as well as to the book as a whole, and challenges readers to think about war and conflict and peace in a way that maybe they haven’t before.


What are you working on now?


I’ve been working on an outline for a book on the future of energy, for the same 10- to 14-year-old audience, and hope to get a green light and start writing in the New Year. I’m also doing some work for OSSLT (Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test).

Niki Walker is constantly curious about what’s happening in the world and why, and how to share these often complex concepts with children. She has authored more than twenty books and edited over one hundred more, including the critically acclaimed Off to Class by Susan Hughes (Owlkids, 2011). She has also contributed to projects for the CBC, Oxford University Press, and more. She lives in Toronto, Canada.

For more information about Why Do We Fight? please visit the OwlKids website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

Check out all the On Writing interviews in our archives.

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