It’s time to be honest with children
Three years ago my world was turned upside down by the arrival of our little boy, Rafael. I was propelled headlong into the world of parenting, with all of its joys and challenges. And I re-entered the world of children’s books, something I was really looking forward to, as I had been an avid reader as a child. Whilst I loved lots of the funny books we found, I was really surprised at how few of the books dealt with the issue of the state of our environment; most of them simply ignored it.
Having a little boy, he was drawn to anything with wheels on, and books about trains, trucks, diggers and cars can be found in every corner of our home, but none of them addresses the air pollution issue we have or even feature electric vehicles. And all I see when I see Thomas the Tank Engine chuffing along is air pollution!
And like most families, we also have lots of books about the many amazing animals and biospheres we have on our planet. But not one of them addresses how endangered they all are. In my child’s eyes, there are tigers, polar bears and sharks on every street corner, all having a great time.
They are also led to believe that farms are really happy places for the animals and for the farmers, and that garbage trucks are great! Sadly having grown up on a farm, I know very well that this isn’t quite true, and we all know that our landfill sites are full to the brim and our throw-away lifestyles are causing havoc in every inch of our planet.
There are a few which have done a great job at tackling these issues head-on. The Lorax is, of course, an amazing book, and my other favourites are The Last Tiger, Dear Greenpeace, The Unexpected Visitor, The Trouble with Dragons, Oi Get Off My Train, Here We Are and Dinosaurs and all that Rubbish. And there are others. But there are not enough of them, and many of these brilliant books do not talk about what we can all do about these issues, which seem so big and far away from our lives.
Many people would say that we shouldn’t scare children with this sort of honesty or that there is nothing they can do, but I wholeheartedly disagree. Our environment is in such a state that we have to be honest because these children will grow up and ask us why we weren’t honest and why we didn’t tell them what they could actually do about it.
I also think we need to retire the books that tell them it is all fine, and feature dirty vehicles, wasteful habits or instil apathy. We don’t have the time for them anymore. I might put together a blacklist actually and share it with my local library!! I also believe that our school curriculum could do more to educate on the fact that climate change is human-induced. But that is a whole other subject!
And that is why I started my Be The Change Book series, which is a series of books about key environmental issues, making those issues simple for a younger audience, and telling them how they can make a difference to the issue. All with humour, hopefully! My first one, Finn the Fortunate Tiger Shark and his Fantastic Friends, is about a tiger shark who eats plastic, gets poorly, and whose friends get the local community involved in helping to solve the issue. I hope it will make children laugh, make them care about how they use plastic and what their family buys, realise how powerful they can be, and makes them want to know more. Jeremy Irons recorded the audiobook for me, and Joss Stone gave me the most wonderful song, Oceans, to use on there too. All profits from the book and the audiobook are going to Greenpeace and the Social Plastic Foundation.
I launched Finn the Fortunate Tiger Shark on March 4thin a rather unconventional way! I decided I wanted to give the book away to anyone who came and helped to clean a beach with me in West Sussex. It turned into Britain’s Biggest Beach Clean with 650 people turning up in the cold and wet to pick up rubbish. We then spelt out ACT NOW on the beach to send a message to the world of how powerful we all are to make a change, including the companies and the policymakers. The Government announced they would be trialling the plastic bottle return scheme later this, three weeks later, and I like to think that all the people who came to the beach clean were a part of the pressure the Government felt to move on this issue. You can see our video here.
The next book features a Springer Spaniel named Spyke and is about air pollution and what we can all do about that, and will be out later this year. More information about the series here.
What inspired you to start the Be The Change series?
Our children are going to inherit a planet with a very volatile climatic system. I think the chart below says it all. You can do this chart yourself and look at the data they have used here; https://github.com/gschivley/climate-life-events.
I don’t think we can rely on technology to save us. I think we need to tune in to our instincts and true feelings again, something that so many of us have lost. Our instincts about what we need, about what makes us truly happy and peaceful, and who we are. I know this sounds hippyish, but it is true and simple. And how we start to do that is to reconnect with nature in any way we can and that works for us. Walking, lying on the ground (I can often be found lying down in Wimbledon common or on the beach in Shoreham), just looking at the trees or the flowers we have around us in cities and in the countryside, thinking about what they do for us, understanding where our food comes from, the process it goes through, where all our things come from and go to. We’ve lost a lot of empathy for nature over the years and it is not surprising at all given the lifestyles so many of us lead – busy making ends meet, working all hours, juggling parenthood with careers. I believe we need to find ways to do this very quickly, and there are many great things happening to help us do this. Forest school, for me, is the most powerful of them all, helping our youngest connect with nature and see it up close and personal, but there are many others such as the rewilding sites springing up across the UK, the open streets projects, the growing permaculture revolution, and charities like Roots and Shoots. But making that connection early on for our children I also see as essential, and that is why I see early years books as so important to send the right message and inspire them to make a change.
To read more about Georgina’s work in sustainability visit http://www.georginastevens.org.