Following on from the round up on Monday of children’s books with a green theme, today I’m delighted to bring you a guest post from someone who has a particular interest in picture books with an environmental theme: Virginia Lowe, a colleague with whom I’ve enjoyed lots of helpful and interesting discussions online about all sorts of children’s books. Without further ado, I’ll hand you over to Virginia:
“Most picture books have a story involving a young character facing a problem, which he/she solves, usually without outside help. Most environmental stories say it is almost too late, one person can’t solve it alone, and the only answer is political.
You can see at once that these two narratives will be difficult to blend. And yet we do need to alert the young to the environment’s problems, without depressing them too much, but rather empowering them.
There are several ways of tackling this problem, and almost all involve the use of fantasy.
For the youngest, there is the simplicity of Oi! Get off our Train by John Burningham, in which a little boy either dreams or imagines that he and his toy dog are on a train, and are approached by various endangered animals who ask to join, because ‘soon there will be none of us left’. Another dream is Chris Van Allsberg’s Just a Dream. The boy in this sees the technological future as exciting and has no time for recycling, collecting rubbish or planting trees. But a trip to the future shows that it isn’t all that he expected, so he begins doing all he can.
One of the most satisfying is now forty years old – Barbapapa’s Ark (Tison and Taylor). In this the barbapapas (large blobby shape-changers) gather up all the animals, who are being hunted or killed by pollution, and take them to a ‘quiet green planet’. The people back on earth miss the animals, so they clean up the world with solar power, underground factories and transport, tree planting – and the barbapapas return with the animals.
Another, the first book to introduce sustainability to many a child for many years, is Dr Seuss’s The Lorax. Others which are well known are Graham Base’s Uno’s Garden and The Waterhole – both in their different ways extolling the natural world and its inhabitants.
There are a couple of non-fantasy ones as well. Jeannie Baker’s Window, in her beautiful meticulous collage made of natural materials, is one. In this a boy grows up in the country, but year by year the city stretches closer and closer, until his house is part of the city. Ironically, young children tend to prefer the city pictures – they can identify McDonald’s for instance. So Baker went on to write a sequel Belonging – again seen every two years through a child’s window. The girl watches, and helps, while her patch of inner city is transformed into greenness and serenity.
One Child by Christopher Cheng with stunning pictures by Steven Woolman, shows that one child can make a difference, not only by recycling and saving power and water herself, but by marching in protests, and speaking out to others.
Finally there is a recent book that seems to have managed to combine the two narratives – the picture book one, and the sustainability one. In The Tomorrow Book by Jackie French, a bookish little prince is left alone with his butler while his family take off on a trip. All the children come and ask for advice – how to save water and power, how to recycle, how to make room for the animals. It is illustrated in recycled collage by Sue DeGennero. French ends, positively, but telling us in her afterword ‘Tomorrow is going to be fun’.”
Thank you, Virginia! What a lot of richness you’ve brought to this week’s theme, with many more books to look out for and explore. I’m particularly delighted to see the inclusion of the Barbapapas – as it happens I’m working on a post about them for next month!
Dr Virginia Lowe is the proprietor of Create a Kids’ Book – a manuscript assessment agency. It also runs e-courses on writing a novel or chapter book, and on writing and/or illustrating a picture book (ten modules, with feedback to the exercises for each). Also workshops (mainly in Melbourne) and a free monthly bulletin on writing/illustrating for children, and children’s literature generally. Her book, Stories, Pictures and Reality: Two Children Tell studies the book-responses of a girl and a boy, from birth to independent reading. www.createakidsbook.com.