Since hearing about Elle Harris, the nine-year-old author of the upcoming humanist book Elle the Humanist, from my coworker Emily Newman—who, incidentally, helped to edit the book—I’ve tried to recollect the remarkable things I did at nine. But then I remember that I was just a boy living an easy life in central Nigeria, whose immediate life goals included convincing my parents to get me another bicycle, memorizing chapters of the Bible to please my parents, and getting into boarding school. I was nothing like Elle, with a fully formed opinion of the world, one’s place in it, and how to make it better. So I was excited to chat with the young author and her father, Doug, about her book, their Kickstarter campaign, and how she discovered humanism.
Innanoshe Akuson: Congratulations on your upcoming book, Elle the Humanist. How does it feel to finally see this project that you have worked so hard on for many months with your father, Doug, come to fruition?
Elle Harris: Thank you! I am so excited. I’ve watched my older sister, Bailey, share her love of science with the world with her Stardust books since I was four. I always dreamed of sharing the things that I love with people as she does, and I hope I can do that with this book.
I loved working on the book with my dad. He never tells me what to believe or think—he’ll help me, but he always tells me I have to figure it out myself. Writing the book together was fun because I got to talk to him about how I was feeling and what I thought about being a good person, and I really liked the conversations that I had with my religious friends at school while we were writing it.
IA: Are there any lessons you learned about life, humanism, or goodness while writing this book that you’d like to share with our readers?
EH: Trying to be a good person and trying to help other people always makes me happy, but when I talked to my dad about it and wrote down my feelings for the book, I started to understand it better. My mom and dad have always taught us the “Platinum Rule” (treat others as they would like to be treated), but writing about it helped me understand how it works for me.
I also learned a lot about how to talk to my friends about being a good person even though I don’t believe the same things they do. Some of them are Mormon, some of them are Christian, but even though I don’t have a religion, a lot of the same things make us happy.
IA: Doug, how active of a role did you play in helping Elle discover humanism, and how would you encourage other parents to go about teaching their children about humanism?
Doug Harris: Our main goal is to teach the children how to think about happiness and ethics, so we work hard to teach our children the scientific method for learning and hope to help them become skilled skeptics and freethinkers. We’ve found the fundamentals of humanism to be a very simple way to help our children understand that people can lead ethical lives, full of meaning, without religion.
We’ve also developed and used a few very simple family lessons that have been very helpful:
- World religions—from my favorite god, Poseidon, to a review of all of the most prominent modern religions.
- The Platinum Rule, along with a review of the evolution of the Golden Rule from various philosophies and religions throughout human history.
- Seven Secular Virtues.
- Nonreligious labels and how to talk to friends about being nonreligious. My favorite part of having these discussions with our children is watching them figure out what they believe and think for themselves.
IA: What would you like humanists to know about Elle the Humanist and your ongoing Kickstarter campaign, Doug?
DH: We’ve been absolutely amazed by the support that we’ve received already. We passed our funding goal in hours! Almost every major secular organization has come out in support of the project and we are so grateful.
The messages we’ve been receiving from parents about the need for a book like this have been very touching. Here’s a note from one mother from the day we launched: “Just yesterday, I was thinking of how much I wanted a book like this for my little one—and [for my] friends’ kids—as I’m raising her [as a] secular humanist in the Bible belt. Love the art style and topic.”
People can pre-order the book, and get some bonus rewards, through Kickstarter for a couple of more weeks, and the book will be officially released in September. We hope to raise enough money with the Kickstarter to be able to offer foreign-language translations of the book, starting with Spanish, Portuguese, German, and French.
IA: That’s impressive! Congratulations on meeting and surpassing your funding goals.
Elle the Humanist talks about being a good person and making the world better, but seeing the state of the world as it is right now, Elle, how are you making the world a better place, and how would you encourage your peers to join you on such a path?
EH: We can all try to make the world a better place in small ways, like being kind to our friends and family. It makes us feel good when we are nice or when we help someone who’s having a bad day.
I also really hope my book helps other children like me who don’t have a religion. I hope it helps them understand that they’re not alone, and they should be proud to call themselves humanists, or whatever they want to call themselves. I hope it helps them know that it can be fun to talk to their religious friends about being a good person and trying to make the world a better place without going to a church!
You can support Elle and Doug’s book, Elle the Humanist, through their Kickstarter campaign (accessible here) and/or share the campaign with your network.