How can books introduce environmental concerns to children?

Published on: 19 March 2024

At BookTrust, we know that books are an important way of introducing children to the world around them. We asked Lucy McRobert to discuss their role in engaging children in environmental concerns.

Children growing up nowadays have access to a simply astronomical amount of information, way more than I had growing up in the 90s, and an inconceivable amount compared to the generation before that.

They are bombarded on every sensory level with information overload, through televisions, phones, tablets, games consoles, advertising, school, social media. I find it hugely reassuring, therefore, when my five-year-old daughter befriends a ladybird in the garden, or wants to pick blackberries, or points out the first flowers of spring, or runs her hand along the rough bark of a tree. These are experiences that every generation of children had access to, and they are mindful, grounding, and not reliant on WiFi or a screen. 

I feel the same reassurance when children choose to pick up a book and lose themselves and their imaginations in a world away from their own. Generations of children have been inspired by books, and there’s more choice now than ever before.

New titles are being released on a daily basis, making the market very diverse. There really is something for every child now, especially with many publishers now creating stories and books that appeal to neurodivergent children, or kids with disabilities.

Keeping children connected to nature

When it comes to the natural world, there’s no denying that things are not going well. Wildlife is in freefall, with the UK being one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world. The State of Nature Report 2023 showed that across the UK species studied have declined on average by 19% since 1970, and nearly one in six species are threatened with extinction from Great Britain 

Going hand-in-hand with this, we’re seeing a national trend (particularly in our towns and cities) that children are losing their connection with nature – a connection that is vital to their physical and mental wellbeing, and their emotional development. A study done by The Wildlife Trusts in 2015 showed that

57% of parents said their children spend a little less or a lot less time outdoors than they did, and less than half (46%) of children aged 8-15 had looked for wildflowers with a parent. Even fewer (42%) had ever listened for birdsong together.

Nature words were being removed from the Oxford Junior Dictionary, including acorn, adder, bluebell, bramble and conker. Imagine your kids growing up in a world where a blackberry is a phone, not a fruit, and ‘chatrooms’ are more important than dandelions.  

And to top it off, there’s another element to this, too, which is that with the availability of information, with a climate and biodiversity crisis, and with a loss of nature connection, children are having to confront bigger and scarier topics than I ever did as a child. They are aware of climate change, of extreme weather events, of extinctions – and they’re scared by these things. There’s even a term for it – ‘ecoanxiety’ – and it’s very real.  

How books can help

I believe that books can play a huge role in tackling many of the issues we’re seeing here. The right characters and stories can help explain these topics in a way that makes them accessible to kids, helps them to understand how they can make a difference to the world, reconnects them with the world around them, and most importantly, empowers them to take action for their environments. That’s why I wrote Blue’s Planet: Australia – because I believe that you’re never too young to save the world! 

Making global environmental issues relevant to children whilst protecting them from the associated anxieties is a tricky balance: children need to be inspired, not left feeling helpless.

So when I first started imagining Blue, I wanted to create the sort of character who I would have wanted to read about as a kid. I hoped that Blue and her stories would bridge the gap for children between loving nature and animals and understanding the issues that they face (like climate change, amongst many others).  

I wanted Blue herself to be completely relatable: ordinary, a little quirky, self-conscious (she’s a pre-teen after all!), but also show children that it’s okay to stand up for what you believe in, even if that does make you a little different. It’s okay to have different hobbies or interests.

I want Blue to be part of a much wider genre that dismantles the high school myth that there are ‘cool’ and ‘uncool’ kids, and makes all children feel empowered to fight for what they love. That’s the kind of role model I wanted to have growing up, and that’s where books are hugely important.

Inspiring young readers

I had plenty of television and screentime when I was younger, but it’s the books I read with my mum and dad that I remember. Those characters are the ones that shaped me and inspired me. The right story told by the right voice has the power to shape a generation; but if even a handful of kids decide to take up environmental causes, or even just spend more time in nature, that’s a win, too. 

Blue gets to go on some wild adventures with her family. Not every kid will have those opportunities – I didn’t when I was growing up – but just as important are the adventures you create back home. The world around us is a wonderful place when you stop to appreciate it. Here in the UK, there are amazing animals with fascinating stories of their own, but so many of them are in trouble. Blue believes that

‘You’re never too young to save the world.

That counts for every child, no matter what they believe or where they grew up. I believe that all young people can make a difference for their local environments; the books we write and read with them can inspire and empower them. 

Blue’s Planet: Australia by Lucy McRobert, illustrated by Alisha Monnin, is out now. 

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