Using books to share positive environmental news
Published on: 12 February 2024
Don't Panic! We CAN Save the Planet author James Campbell shares how books can give children a sense of agency in the climate crisis.
Photo: Ant Jones, Box River Studio
Books are a great way to talk about positive environmental news. There is always something positive in a book. When I was researching and writing Don't Panic! We CAN Save the Planet!, I spoke to a lot of children about what they were worried about. In the last 29 years, I have visited over 3,000 schools.
I love doing author visits, mostly because I enjoy the interaction with the children. Children can be really original thinkers, and when you pile them in an assembly hall and start slinging questions at them, they usually provide some pretty interesting responses.
So when I asked them about the things that they worried about the most, I wasn't surprised to find that the answers included:
- "Ducks with swords."
- "Not being able to get a tan."
- "Robot hoovers taking over the world."
- "Really horrible smells spreading all around the planet, because our next-door neighbour has something disgusting in their house, and you can smell it from our kitchen, and if that smell spread around the world then everyone would know about it and be sick immediately."
But for every child with a particularly weird phobia, I found that there were far more who were anxious about climate change, plastic pollution and loss of biodiversity. They were also anxious that most grown-ups aren't doing very much about these things.
As an educator, if you choose to talk to children about the crises we face, how can you do so in a positive way? A way that doesn't traumatise? A way that gives them agency?
These aren't easy questions to answer. It's hard to talk to kids about complex and frightening issues – to be honest about what is happening, while also assuring them that all hope isn't lost – and the climate crisis is no exception.
It's a good idea to get young people reading about all these issues, which is why I wrote Don't Panic! We CAN Save the Planet! With this book, I wanted to make something that was practical and funny – that used laughter as an antidote to fear, that kept kids entertained and engaged, and that channelled their concerns into positive action.
Other books to try
There are lots of books which help readers to see what's happening in our world. So many books educate and inspire children about positive environmental news.
Let's start with the classics: The Lorax by Dr Seuss. Dr Seuss' wonderful story tells of how the Onceler's greed and stupidity leads people to chop down all the truffula trees in the land. But there is one who speaks for trees! And can one person make a difference? This book says so much about positive change.
Old Enough to Save the Planet by Loll Kirby and Adelina Lirius is a book that is perfect for inspiring children to become climate campaigners. It's similar to my book in that at the back there is a list of things that children can actually do. Which is what we need – actual action!
A book to read about environmental changes to the sea is Song of the Dolphin Boy by Elizabeth Laird. Finn has always felt different and when he dives in to swim with dolphins he feels surprisingly at home. This is a thrilling and heart-wrenching adventure about plastic pollution and environmental crises.
Pic: Hannah Jesse
I was privileged to spend an entertaining evening with the much-missed Marcus Sedgwick a few years ago and Floodland is one of his best books. The story imagines that global warming has caused the sea levels to rise so much that most of England is underwater. Norwich is an island and children must risk their lives trying to find a way to safety. It shows how dramatically the climate crisis might change our world if we don't do something to stop it.
And another favourite of mine is the intriguing story Curse of The Dearmad by Emma Mylrea, which on the surface is about a world in which mer-people called gillies mix with regular folk. Pollution is causing their gills to be infected and the story tells of an intrepid group who set out to the only place that might have the answer.
This book is an adventure story with a great plot and characters; and it has subtle hints of climate change and environmental disaster. Then the interesting conversations start – and that is exactly what good books do.
Don't Panic! We CAN Save the Planet! by James Campbell, illustrated by Rob Jones, is out now.