mosaic invited two junior reporters to interview Tim Huff, author of the Compassion Series books, which are being used in elementary schools across Canada to educate and inspire children around challenging topics. Book 1 is entitled The Cardboard Shack Beneath the Bridge: Helping Children Understand Homelessness. Book 2 is entitled, It’s Hard Not To Stare: Helping Children Understand Disabilities.
Tim Huff is the founder and currently serves as the creative and development lead of Youth Unlimited’s Compassion Series. The Compassion Series books are available in 27 countries around the world. Book 3, The Honour Drum: Sharing the Truth and Beauty of Canada’s Indigenous People with Children will be released later this year. For more information visit www.compassionseries.com
SOPHIE: What gave you the idea to write about compassion?
TIM: Lots of years ago when my kids were 8 and 4 years old, we were walking down the street and passed by sleeping bags and a homeless person sleeping on the street and some other stuff. My kids kept asking, “Daddy, why is that stuff there? Who is that person laying there?” Now, I actually cared for and worked with homeless people and I had a hard time answering their questions, so I thought I would make a little book… this started just as some coloured photocopies for my own children, but as it turned out, people were interested enough that they wanted to make it into a book for all kinds of people. I actually took care of homeless people for over 20 years and worked on the street and walked past people who look just like this. I also worked wit kids with disabilities for many years. I worked with deaf children for 14 summers at a camp and I married a woman I met at the camp. She can hear but both her parents are deaf. Her first language is sign language.
SOPHIE: What are some things kids can do to help people with disabilities?
TIM: At the end of this book [It’s Hard Not to Stare], it says to not be afraid to ask if you can help with some simple task. There’s a famous guy named [former Lieutenant Governor of Ontario] David Onley and he had a position in the government. He uses a mobility scooter. Since he was three years old, he’s had a disability. He told me he sometimes wished people would ask him if they could just help get things off the shelf or make things simpler. It’s not about thinking, “This person has a disability, I should not even talk about it or not notice it.” It’s about being compassionate, which is being kind and thoughtful and then asking if you can do something. So, if you see someone with a disability and you feel you’re safe, and the adult you’re with thinks it’s safe, you can ask, “Can I help you with something?” or if it’s a friend of yours… play or do something that makes it so they’re having fun.
SOPHIE: How do people become homeless?
TIM: When we talk about this book in schools, we don’t always explain all the ways people become homeless because sometimes they’re so sad it’s better for mommy and daddy to explain it. I will tell you that they have sad situations at home, and it makes it so that they feel like they need to leave their homes. Often that’s what happens. Sometimes relatives are not nice to them or things are very difficult or they’re feeling hurt in some way and they don’t know what to do and don’t have other people to help them, so they wind up on the streets. That’s why we have to be compassionate, to show we care about them. It’s complicated isn’t it?
SOPHIE: What are some things you can donate to help homeless people?
TIM: There are lots of things you can do. With your school or with your mom and dad or with your church, you can look up all kinds of things. If you’re on a computer and you type in “homeless” and “Toronto” all kinds of things [ways to help] would pop up… some groups donate food. I used to run something called Light Patrol and we would go out in a fancy mobile home and drive around and hand out food, drinks and sleeping bags and talk to them and be friends with them. There are lots of places you can donate to.
SOPHIE: If you see a person with a guide dog, what should you do?
TIM: I always compliment the person and tell them their dog is beautiful because I love big dogs. I have a big dog. But you don’t go and pet the dog until you ask if that’s okay first. The dog is actually working… It has learned lots of rules about what it’s allowed to do and not do… A lot of people I know who are blind or deaf sometimes use trainer dogs. I like to ask questions about how the dog was trained. How it knows what to do? How does it know to stop? Can it tell the streetlights by itself? You can ask lots and lots of questions.
MAKAIO: What’s your favourite colour?
TIM: When my kids used to ask me that, my answer would always be, “for what?” For food, it’s not blue, but for the sky it’s blue. In general, it’s blue.