“I Am Not An Environmentalist.”

When I was probably ten years old, I saved a young maple tree in my back yard. Possibly growing nature’s way, from a scattered seed rather than a planted bucket, the tree was tall and spindly. When we’d moved into the house it was shorter than seven year old me, but it quickly caught up and overtook every member of our family. It was about ten feet tall when my father decided to cut it down – it was smack in the middle of our yard, and we had several trees already. Slicing through the two-inch diameter trunk would have been easy for any of the saws kept in our garage, but I’d grown attached to that tree. I begged for it’s life, and my wish was granted.

The yard now gets almost no sun at all, instead of a little bit of sun in the afternoon.

Maple

As part of  my research for my critical thesis at Spalding, I wrote and conducted a survey of children ages 4-18 that I called “Environmental Reading Habits.” The questions were simple enough, most of them multiple choice and having little to do with the environment. But the last question – “List some nonfiction or fiction books you’ve read that touch on environmental topics” – was the most interesting to me.

Many answers included The Lorax, Magic School Bus Books, Eye Witness, and National Geographic. Quite a few said “none,” “n/a,” “I don’t think I have ever read a book like that.” But one answer caught me off guard. Rather than simply saying “none,” one participant wrote, “No, I am not an environmentalist.” I got stuck on this and couldn’t stop thinking about it. Unlike the kids who were answering my questions, I could list a few dozen books that dealt explicitly with conservation or environmentalism. Did that make me an environmentalist? I had never thought of myself as one before. Was every kid who listed Hoot an environmentalist? It was an interesting question that I couldn’t get out of my head.

Something about that tiny maple tree in my yard inspired me to want to keep it there. I don’t think I knew that the tree would provide more oxygen to our yard, or that songbirds would make homes in its branches, or that squirrels would leap through its leaves. But I could remember when the tree was smaller than I was, and that made me feel protective of it. I think that’s how environmentalism really should be. The world might be older than we are, but we are stronger than its individual parts. It is fragile and struggling to hold on, and more than our lists of facts on its (many) benefits, it simply needs our protection.

Environmentalism

So I think my answer is no. I am not an environmentalist. I am not, by training or trade, a scientist, an activist, or a crusader for the earth. What I am is someone who loves the earth and wants to protect it, just like that tiny maple tree.

Maybe that’s a problem. Maybe people can’t tell the difference between these two things, and if they aren’t an environmentalist they don’t believe they can do anything to make a difference.

If you think that, I’m sorry, but you are so wrong.

Start recycling. Grow some food. Use Energy Star when you replace things. Buy things second hand, or know where they come from when you buy new things. Stop making the world that we all live on a party issue and going against it simply because you’ve been told it’s “liberal.”

Plant a tree.

Or protect the one that’s already there, planted by the wind.

Photo used under Creative Commons License from The Value Web

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Good Childrens’ Nonfiction?

Another round up of mini-reviews, but this time focusing solely on nonfiction for kids! Nonfiction usually isn’t followed by a “!”. It’s usually thought of as dull, dry writing full of boring facts – and a lot of the time that’s what it is. But it doesn’t have to be! Good nonfiction can be just as engaging for any age as good fiction, with the added bonus that when you finish reading, you might just go out into the world and change it for the better.

This blog has been neglected recently as I’m in the throes of work on my critical thesis for my MFA from Spalding University. I’ve been looking at environmentalism in both fiction and nonfiction books for children of all ages, and the sad truth is that there just isn’t much out there that is informative, engaging, and entertaining for kids. I think there are probably a lot of parents and teachers out there who have realized this, too, so I thought I would share a quick list of the books I’ve found that DO seem to do a great job of communicating facts to the age group they are marketed for.

The Eye of the WhaleThe Eye of the Whale: A Rescue Story by Jennifer O’Connell is a great, really short picture book telling the story of a whale that was caught in some fishing line/crab netting. Divers cut the whale loose, and it appeared to thank each of them for their help. Great for really young kids because it is narrative nonfiction – true story.

A Place for Turtles by Melissa Stewart would be great for lower grade kids. Each page talks about a different type of turtle in the US and how humans have damaged their habitat – but also how humans can help the turtles survive. This one is mostly facts, but they are told with simple language and great illustrations (which show diversity in humans, too!), so I think it would engage young children. It could also be a good way to teach children that turtles are not pets and they shouldn’t bring them home. (This book is just one in Stewart’s A Place For… series – check them out!)

a chicken followed me homeA Chicken Followed Me Home!: Questions and Answers About a Familiar Foul by Robin Page is just a great book! It’s a picture book with a question about chickens on each page, and the answers are clear and conversational. The pictures are lovely and the book would be great to teach kids of any age about backyard chickens.

case-of-the-vanishing-honeybeesThe Case of the Vanishing Honey Bees by Sanda Markle is a toss up for me on this list. It’s in picture book format and full of great, macro photographs of honey bees, but it is heavy on text and long on new vocabulary words. However, the information is very clear in explaining the problem of Colony Collapse Disorder, some of the probably causes for it, and best of all why honey bees are so important and we need them so much. Suggested for older elementary and middle grades. (This is one in a series of Scientific Mysteries.)

Eyes Wide Open: Going Behind the Environmental Headlines by Paul Fleischman is a great resource for teens (and adults too!) that digs deeper into the environmental topics of the day to show how the problem started and what is keeping it from getting fixed in a way that incorporates politics, psychology, and history. Recommended for anyone.

 

 

As another part of my research for this paper, I’m conducting an anonymous survey of kids ages 4-18. If you fall into that age group or you know or have kids who do, please take quick minute to fill out this very brief questionnaire. It would really help me out!

For more books that deal with environmental topics in both fiction and nonfiction, I suggest looking at the list of Green Earth Book Award winners chosen each year by the Nature Generation. What is your favorite book about the environment? Tell me in the comments!