Children’s books can do more to inspire the new generation of Earth warriors



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Gary Haq, University of York

A changing climate means the frequency of extreme weather events such as heat waves, flooding, hurricanes and wildfires has become a common occurrence. Temperatures are increasing on the land and in the ocean, the sea level is rising and amounts of snow and ice are diminishing, as greenhouse gas emissions and concentrations have increased. Unfortunately, children and young people are taking the brunt of climate change and this will continue into the future.

Doctors are seeing the serious effects of global warming on children’s health and are concerned that it could reverse the progress made over the past 25 years in reducing global child deaths. Not only that, children are at risk of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety due to natural disasters caused by climate change.

A UNICEF survey of children aged nine to 18 in 14 countries showed that children are deeply concerned about global issues affecting their peers and them personally, including climate change. Children across all countries feel marginalised because their voices are not being heard nor that their opinions considered.

Environmental diversity

Given the enormity of the climate challenge, it is surprising how limited coverage of our changing climate receives in current children’s fiction. The children’s publishing sector is booming. UK sales of children’s books rose by 16% in 2016 with sales totalling £365m. Globally, children’s book sales have risen steadily across all age categories.

Some picture books do explain climate change (such as The Magic School Bus and Climate Change by Joanne Cole and Bruce Degen). And there are plenty of young adult novels that feature dystopian climate futures (such as Carbon Diaries by Saci Lloyd). But few fiction books for eight to 11-year-olds discuss the issue.

In my view, the lack of “environmental diversity” in children’s literature is just as important as the debate about the lack of cultural and social diversity. After all, children will be responsible for the future protection of our fragile planet, and so their knowledge and engagement are critical.

Connecting with nature.
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Stories not only develop children’s literacy but convey beliefs, attitudes and social norms which, in turn, shape children’s perceptions of reality. They allow children to move from a position of powerlessness to a position of possibility. Through fiction, children are able to explore different perspectives and actions beyond what they know by living in the story world of characters for whom they care.

Through literature, children can develop a better understanding of global issues and engage in critical inquiry about themselves in the world. And so combining narrative structure with factual information has the power to take children beyond what is on the page. This could allow them to expand their understanding of difficult scientific concepts such as climate change.

Earth warriors

As children engage in the printed word, they can be inspired to make a difference in the real world. This is what a group of Portuguese children is doing after watching their district burn because of the worst forest fires in their country’s history. The fires that occurred in June 2017 have been linked to climate change, and killed over 60 people. The children are now seeking crowdfunding to take a major climate change case to the European Court of Human Rights alleging that the states’ failure to tackle climate change threatens their right to life.

When I decided to write my first children’s novel, I never intended it to be an eco-themed book. But given that I am an environmental researcher, it seemed the most natural thing to do. The result is My Dad, the Earth Warrior, a funny story about the relationship between a boy called Hero and his dad who have grown apart since the death of his mother. Then one day dad has a freak accident and wakes up claiming to be an Earth warrior sent to protect Mother Earth. This plunges Hero into an increasingly bizarre and dangerous world.

Climate change can be a dark, apocalyptic issue to discuss in a story to overcome this, I did not make it a central topic but used the changing weather as an underlying theme throughout this book. The persona of the Earth warrior provides an alternative perspective on our relationship with the natural world. At the end of the book, I encourage readers to join the tribe and become Earth warriors. I hope by taking a humorous approach to a serious topic, I can not only engage and entertain children but also inspire them to think beyond the book. This is something that writer and illustrator Megan Herbert has done by teaming up with climatologist, Michael Mann, for their crowdfunded picture book The Tantrum that Saved the World.

The ConversationWe need children to care about the planet if they are to the tackle climate challenge that lies ahead. Storytelling can play a part in raising awareness and inspiring children and young adults to take action and become the next generation of Earth warriors.

Gary Haq, SEI Associate, Stockholm Environment Institute, University of York

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Book Review: Currently Reading – Print is Dead, by Jeff Gomez


I have been reading ‘Print is Dead – Books in our Digital Age,’ by Jeff Gomez. I have now completed the fourth chapter ‘Generation Download.’ In this chapter, Gomez begins by comparing what has happened with the music industry with what has begun to happen with books and reading. A generation that has embraced a digital way of life, along with the gadgets that go with it, is out-growing the traditional book and craving digital technology and digital forms of entertainment. Music itself did not die with the coming of the digital world, only the form in which it was presented. The same resistance that the music industry applied to digital technology before it embraced it, is now being witnessed in the book industry – though I would argue that ebooks are taking a little longer to take off. Gomez argues that it is only a matter of time before an acceptable digital format is found that will have ebooks off and running, along with some form or forms of digital devices on which ebooks will be accessed. Perhaps the growing boom in Tablets and Ebook Readers is an indication that that time is now upon us.

Certainly I am a convert, having been previously a doubter of ebooks and the way they were accessed. More mobile forms of accessing ebooks, such as the Kindle, iPad and even Notebooks, have enabled me to transform my thinking, from one in opposition to being one who has fully embraced the technology. Being able to carry vast libraries on mobile devices is simply breathtaking to me and incredibly appealing. Not having to have huge spaces devoted to a large library and actually having the space to store a huge library is simply brilliant – I had long ago ran out of room for my books and needed to cull quite a number, which I did reluctantly. Now I am able to recall those dismissed books via the digital medium and not loose them again. Old friends are again welcome.

In the following chapter, ‘Generation Upload,’ the focus is on the savvy Internet user (which is generally most connected folk these days) who not only downloads material but also uploads modified material, uniquely created material and so on. This has been so with music and video, with the various play lists, mash ups, parodies and the like, as well as comments, contributions, etc. Will the same happen with books is the question raised by Gomez and predicted. Just how far consumer interaction will be with ebooks is yet to be seen, as also the form it will take. There are opportunities already existing for commenting and reviewing, with developments being made in the way of sharing quotes (Pinterest interaction, Quotista, etc), and likely many more ways yet to be invented or passed on convincingly to the masses.

‘On Demand Everything,’ the next chapter in the book, brings the attention of the reader to what we already know – we expect to be able to get pretty much everything whenever we want it and that better be soon. No longer do we need to wait for our media to arrive at given timeslots on the television, our CD music to arrive in the mail, etc. We now have the ability to access it all as soon as we want it and then to keep it in mobile gadgets that we can take with us and access whenever we wish. This then is surely the future of books. Gomez believes we will want to be able to divide large books into bits and pieces that we can access and use in whatever way we like – which would certainly be true of some forms of literature. However, it is unlikely that we would want to divide up novels for example, into little pieces. The ability to bookmark, highlight and clip pieces of text (among other possibilities) for various uses, is certainly increasing the appeal of ebooks and bringing them a more familiar feel, which will I think increase their usefulness considerably. Being able to find quotes, parcels of text and the like via search capabilities, cataloguing, etc, will all be very valuable tools that will bring ebooks into the realm of what is now possible with music, videos, etc.

In the next chapter, ‘Ebooks and the Revolution that Didn’t Happen,’ Gomez examines the reasons why Ebooks didn’t take off when they first appeared – which doesn’t mean they won’t take off at some point (which I do believe will happen at some point). His arguments certainly capture some of my own thoughts at the time of their first appearance, so if I was typical of people (at least of my age) at that time he may very well have hit the nail on the head. Some of the original issues still exist, such as the number of file types and matching them with the various readers and access to the files across a variety of devices. Perhaps when these issues are thought through with a bit more commonsense ebooks will become more popular sooner rather than later.

See also:
http://www.dontcallhome.com/books.html (Website of Jeff Gomez)
Podcast (Excerpts from the Book)
Google Books
Amazon

Changing the World: December 9 – Time Capsule


Today’s suggestion is a very interesting one and is all about preserving memories of our current culture by burying a time capsule. The time capsule is of course buried and dug up at some point in the future by another generation (or more) into the future.

What a great idea and I would suggest a good one for a family to do. Perhaps it could be an extension of a family history project.

For more information visit:

http://www.naa.gov.au/services/family-historians/looking-after/time-capsules.aspx 

A response to reading ‘365 Ways to Change the World,’ by Michael Norton