Thirty-year-old Toronto lawyer and Tyne Valley native Dustin Milligan displays children’s educational books from his just completed series on the Charter of Rights for Children. The final four books in the series, including one set in Prince Edward Island, are set for a July 1 launch.
TYNE VALLEY -- The mission was straight-forward enough: a Human Rights working group from McGill law school would go into elementary schools in Montreal and give presentations on the Canadian Charter of Rights.
In his first year of law school in 2007, Tyne Valley native, Dustin Milligan was part of one of those working groups.
“We were so busy that we really had no time to do any sense of preparation before going into these schools,” recalls the 30 year-old associate lawyer with the Toronto law firm Matthews Abogabo.
At the end of his first year in law school, Milligan suggested the working group create their own resource materials for their presentations.
“No one really took me up on the offer, so I just went home that summer and I started drafting the first story,” he said of what has grown into a 14-book children’s series on the Canadian Charter of Rights.
Each book deals with a particular section of the Charter or, in the case of Section 15, of different elements of that section. Section 15 deals with equality rights and Milligan has penned books based on race, sex, sexual orientation, age, mental and physical disability and religion.
“It’s been a long process, a seven-year process in total,” Milligan said of a project which comes to completion with the launch of the final four books in the series on July 1.
Canada’s Charter of Rights was enacted in 1982. Milligan’s parents, Keith and Debbie, went to Ottawa for the signing of the document. His father was leader of the opposition in the P.E.I. Legislature at the time.
All of the speaking parts throughout the series are in rhyme. There’s a note for parents and educators at the back of the book as well as questions for readers to measure their comprehension of the message.
Within two weeks of submitting the manuscript for the first eight books in the series to publishers in 2010, Milligan had captured the interest of Ottawa-based children’s educational publishing company, DC Canada. The first six books in the series were released two years ago and four more were released last year. Already about 10,000 copies have been sold.
Each of the books is set in a different Canadian province or territory. The Two Two-Eyed Potatoes is set in P.E.I. and is one of the books to be released July 1. There was an early release of 300 copies of the book on Wednesday in Toronto during a World Pride Week event. The book addresses equality based on sexual orientation.
Milligan said the illustrations for the books, done by three Ottawa-based illustrators chosen by the publisher helped him branch out into schools with his written word and with positive results.
Another of the books set for a July 1 release is Bario LeBlieux. It addresses language rights. As with each of the books in the series, Milligan puns Canadian icons in his writing. Bario LeBlieux, for instance, is a hockey player who is gradually losing his French language because of attending English school. Bario has a teammate, Sidney Crossberry, and there’s a commentator, Don Berry, who reminds players to keep their sticks on the ice.
Throughout the series, the messages always come back to the Charter of Rights.
Rachel Noye, a Grade 3 teacher at Bloomfield Elementary School recently read Bario LeBlieux to her French Immersion class. A week later her students were still talking about it. “They got the point that he was losing his language and his heritage,” she said of the story’s blueberry hockey player.
“They’re fantastic; I love the series,” Noye exclaimed. “All of (Milligan’s) stories are engaging.”
“I’d love to see this as part of the curriculum or school library,” Noye said.
Milligan admits feedback has been positive. He told of one teacher suggesting the series besides educating children about the Charter, could serve as the guidebook to anti-bullying.
Milligan said he didn’t write about all the rights in the Charter, just the ones he felt were most important to have conveyed to children.