Concern about the environment and climate change has resulted in a burgeoning of children’s books relating to these. Are they all worth the paper they’re printed on? Many focus on individual responsibility and what can be done at a local level – clean up the beach; reduce, reuse, recycle etc but don’t necessarily tackle the wider political issues. There are some great picture books about how getting rid of plastic in the oceans and on the seashore demonstrate that everyone can play a part in protecting sea and shore and the wildlife that inhabits them. These include Clean Up! by Nathan Bryon and Dapo Adeola and Fiona Lumbers’ Clem and Crab which put across the message ‘Lots of small actions added together can make a big difference.’
When Greta Thunberg says ‘No-one is too small to make a difference’ she’s talking about protest and ‘speaking truth to power’ not just about the differences that we can make in our lifestyles, important though these conscious actions are. Unless there is political change on a global scale, the small local actions won’t be enough to save the planet. Understanding who and what are causing climate change is vital. At what point do we make children aware of this in the literature created for their consumption? For children in many parts of the world – for example, where there there has been frequent severe flooding or forest fires, they will already be aware in their own lives.
There are some recent books that raise awareness and take that further step of encouraging activism, for example Naomi Klein’s How to Change Everything. The Young Human’s Guide to Protecting the Planet and Each Other in which she says: ‘kids are often taught about environmentalism not in terms of how whole industries and economic systems cause climate change but in terms of things individuals can do, such as recycling and riding a bike instead of driving a car. These actions are important, and we all need to do our part. But unless they are combined with bigger changes, they won’t really rock business’s boat – and therefore they won’t make a significant impact on climate change.’
It’s necessary to make children and young people feel empowered by gaining understanding and the wide-ranging subject of the environment in children’s literature is something I’m sure I’ll be returning to in future blogposts.
The Gifts of Reading inspired by Robert Macfarlane, curated by Jennie Orchard
We Played with Fire by Catherine Barter
Step Sister by Jennifer Donnelly
Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk, translated from Antonia Lloyd-Jones