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Books for Children
In this section you will find our Book Reviews of those works aimed at Children. The topics covered will be resource depletion and global warming. Kids are never too young to have a gentle introduction to these ideas as long as it is fun, non-scary, hopeful and not "pushy". Let them make up their own minds but give them all the information they need. All of these books have been purchased for Post-Carbon Girl and she will guide us...
"Why are the Ice Caps Melting?" by Anne Rockwell - Illustrated by Paul Meisel
ISBN-13: 978-0-06-054671-7 or ISBN-10: 0-06-054671-9. "Why are the Ice Caps Melting? - The Dangers of Global Warming" by Anne Rockwell (illustrated by Paul Meisel) was published by Harper Collins in 2006. This is a "Stage 2" book from their "Let's-Read-And-Find-Out Science". Stage 1 books explain simple science concepts for pre-schoolers whilst Stage 2 explores more challenging concepts. Other books in the series cover what happened to the dinosaurs and what happens to rubbish. The review copy is a paperback with 36 pages of bright and colourful illustrations - everything you would expect really. So your very youngsters from age 3 will probably enjoy this aspect before they grow to understand the words. Thankfully the authors decided to use Penguins rather than the hackneyed old cliché of Polar Bears. Despite this they chose the phrase "global warming" rather than the technically more accurate "climate change". We guess this is because this is an easier concept for children to grasp.
There is a technical credit for a Professor Mark Cane from the Earth Observatory at Columbia University. The book is North American in origin so watch the spelling. It kicks off with an explanation of the greenhouse effect which correctly identifies water vapour carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorocarbons as greenhouse gasses. It goes onto explain how it is only a small imbalance in this system that will lead to warming. We see where all these gases come from and how it is the fault of too many people, too many cars and too much waste. The book goes onto immediately identify melting sea ice (cue polar bear illustration) with alarming rises in sea levels - neither of which are strictly accurate (but never mind). This mistake is quickly forgotten as we move on to examine the real threat to agriculture and biodiversity. Next we discover the sceptic's view about climate change before reaching a surprising conclusion - even if these doubters are right it is still a "good idea" to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. BRILLIANT! It is funny how such a frank description of the problem rarely enters adult discourse.
Onto solutions - we can plant trees and stop deforestation. Oddly the next page describes the impact upon the oceanic plankton, to touch upon feedback loops, before the next page goes back to solutions. Here it repeats the bit about planting trees before suggesting using less aerosol sprays. It goes on to suggest walking and cycling more. They also suggest that children write to something called "representatitives in Congress". Americans really don't know how to internationalise books! Not even children's books. It makes you roll your eyes. Further advice to children includes buying more energy efficient appliances, turning down the heat, turning down the air-conditioner, turn off appliances when not in use, not buying pre-packaged foods and doing more recycling.
The book goes on to suggest that children take up a career in science so that they can better understand how to preserve life on Earth. At the end there are a couple of pages of activities where it is suggested the children measure the temperature inside and outside of an actual greenhouse. There is also a suggestion that children make a list of things they do everyday that produce greenhouse gasses, and those that don't, with a suggestion that there are plenty of fun things to do that are benign. And there you have it. Probably not the sort of bedtime story to read to the nippers but rather one to have on the shelf for when they are older and more curious. The structure of the book could have been better and it only looks at the things that young children can do rather than what they can ask their parents to do. Other than this, given that such books are in short supply we would recommend it amongst any pile of science books aimed at kids around the age of seven.
"Hope & the Magic Martian" by Helen Moore and Louise Rouse
ISBN 9780-9549165-7-2. "Hope and the Magic Martian" is by Helen Moore and Louise Rouse. It is a small 102 page paperback 'novel' published by Lollypop Publishing Ltd in 2008. The blurb on the back reads "What can ten year-old Hope MacGregor do about global warming? A Martian boy with a loving heart shows we can all change the story that shapes out future." Once again we have a book only suitable for children in the 7 to 12 year-old age group. It's lack of colour illustrations also means that it has little value for very young children but may be used as a bedtime story for some. The story starts at Hope's birthday when she turns ten. He dad gives her a telescope and through it she can see Mars. Little Hope wants to meet a Martian and wished very hard for this to come true. Meanwhile, on Mars, the real Martians are studying Earth. A father explains to his Martian son (Martin Love) about life on Earth. As they look through the telescope they notice that Earth's ice caps seem smaller now than before. "They'll end up like us, if they are not careful." says the Martian dad. He goes on to tell his son the story of the Red Planet... Of how the Martians over-exploited the water and the planet turned into a dust bowl as they fought wars over the few remaining precious resources. So Martin flies to Earth to meet Hope. When Hope touches Martin's spaceship she shrinks to Martin's size - for he is only an inch high - and off they go for an adventure in Martin's spaceship that not only resembles a snowball, but it can travel so fast that no time will pass.
They go to the North Pole and meet a Polar Bear cub call Little Faith - who can talk to them. They have a meeting with all the other Artic animals who, one by one, explain how the crazy weather is effecting their food supply and their abilities to make homes and raise families. To understand it they call upon the Artic People who come and explain global warming to them. They also explain how the lives of the Artic Peoples has been effected by outsiders coming in and exploiting their reserves of oil, gas, gold and silver. The outsiders says that the Artic People are old-fashioned and stupid for talking to the animals. The outsiders now say that the only thing that matters is money. Hope is so upset she wants to go home. At home she discusses what she has learnt with Martin and they agree that something must be done. However, Hope is unsure as she believes that no one will listen to her.
She asks her family to start recycling and then starts to think about all the packaging and waste around her. Martin teaches Hope that all life is like water droplets caught in a spider's web - they are all joined together with all the creatures she met in the Artic and all her family. Next day Hope suggests that she cycles to school instead of being driven. She switched off the TV as she see how all life is joined by the threads of the web. Everything effects everything else. Hope's mother doesn't believe in aliens so she couldn't see Martin, however, Hope's father can. They meet and agree to do something about global warming. First out come the bicycles.... When they get to school they persuade the other children to try cycling too. The ideas for saving energy starts to spread through the school and the teachers take part in an Energy Action meeting. Suddenly all the children are alive with ideas: use the train for holidays, growing their own veggies, fitting double-glazing, getting a wind-turbine, and so on. Hope's Granny tells her all about the second world war, rationing and the Dig for Victory campaign. She is invited to the school to tell this story and the children become enthusiastic about digging for victory. The school starts its own vegetable garden with composting and rainwater recycling. An area was put aside for a wild flower meadow to encourage birds, bees and butterflies. Soon the school gets and energy efficiency make-over for a local builder. A wind-turbine is erected there.
The Newspapers start covering the story and the Town Mayor comes to open the wind-turbine. Hope asks the Mayor what everyone else in the town is doing. The Mayor thought about it and then started an Energy Action team within the Council. More allotments sprung into use and cycle lanes appeared. Public transport was improved and people walked and cycled more. Everyone in the town started to feel healthier. Doing these things also seemed to make people feel happier. The town comes alive with street parties, markets, barbecues, fairs and concerts. The good news spreads to other towns as the ideas become viral. Hope is invited to go to the House of Commons by her MP to meet the Prime Minister. Hope comes to believe that everything she made happen is as a result of the Martian's magic. But Martin is unwell and has to go home to Mars. Before he leaves Hope he makes her understand that it was her who made the changes happen. It is she, and many like her, who will keep it going. She never needed a Martian to make this happen. She only had to understand what was wrong. She only had to have hope that she could make the world a better place. This is a humbling story of Transition for children. The process described is exactly the one described by the Transition Network for Transition Initiatives. As such this book is an inspiration for all of us. It is only sad that grown ups seem have such little of that important element. Hope. Recommended.
"The Polar Bears' Home" by Lara Bergen - Illustrated by Vincent Nguyen
ISBN-13: 978-1-4169-6787-3. "The Polar Bears' Home - A Story about Global Warming" by Lara Bergen (illustrated by Vincent Nguyen) was published by Simon & Schuster Inc in 2008. This is a very thin paperback with only 24 pages. The book tries so hard to be 'green' it is almost a parody of itself. Putting aside the obvious cliché of making the entire book about Polar Bears, the book has a "Little Green Books" logo in one corner, its made from 100% recycled paper and brims over with phrases like "environmentally friendly" and "Earth-friendly". And all that is just on the back cover. The blurb says "Come along on an Arctic adventure with a young girl as she learns about polar bears and the effects of global warming." The illustrations are big and colourful whilst the text is minimal and large sized. The recommended age group is 4 to 6 years of age. The books starts with a description of the Artic through the eyes of a child who lives there. She goes on a boat ride with her father and meet two polar bear cubs. The father explains all about the breeding cycle and the lives of polar bears. The two cubs in the story appear to be alone and abandoned.
The little girl asks if she can care for them but the father points out that they grow very big and that would not be practical. He goes on to describe the threat to the bears from global warming. This is caused by human burning oil and coal. It emits a gas which forms a "tent around the earth and traps in extra heat". We learn how the shorter Arctic winters threaten polar bear survival. Then the cubs' mother appears and rescues the two offspring. The human father and daughter follow them. We conclude that these bears, and many like them, need our help. Children can contribute by recycling, tree planting and switching off electrical appliances when not in use. This book comes over as a simplified version of the "Why are the Ice Caps Melting" (covered above) book by Anne Rockwell. It too is written for a North American audience so its simplistic solutions may be a revelation for kids in Kentucky but seem somehow lacklustre to children from Tokyo, Stockholm or London. This aside, this is a fun and simple little book for the very young and deserves a place in every child's bookshelf. Probably a good starter for those early bed-time stories.
"Dinosaurs and all that rubbish" by Michael Foreman
ISBN 978-0-140-55260-7. "Dinosaurs and all that Rubbish" was written and illustrated by Michael Foreman. This 28 page large format paperback was first published by Puffin Books in 1972 and it looks as if it has been in continual reprint ever since. In a world where there are so few good 'environmental' books for the very young child this book is a shining exception. It is delightfully simple and manages to bring dinosaurs into a story about mankind's folly. Now, hands up, which one of you kids doesn't like dinosaurs? Heah? Perfect. Genius. This book is 38 years old. Thirty-eight years old! It is an official classic but it looks like it could have been written yesterday. It comes from an era so very early in the evolution of the environmental movement. Maybe a more naive time. Probably the perfect time to write simple children's stories. The magic of this one is that it manages to keep it simple and imaginative without repeating any dumb clichés. The story goes like this: a man dreams of a single star. He wants to go there but no matter how high he climbs in the trees he cannot reach it. So he decides to turn all his industrial might to building a spaceship for the journey. To build the rocket the man must cut down all the trees, dig up all the coal and burn anything that comes to hand. So the factories pour out smoke, fumes and rubbish. The land is ruined but the man gets his spaceship and takes off. He gets to that distant star but finds there is no life there. No grass. No trees. No flowers....
... But there is another far-off star in the black sky. So the man decides to go and visit THAT star next. Meanwhile, back on Earth, the smouldering ruins awaken the sleeping dinosaurs. The dinosaurs go "pooh" at the smell and decide to clear up the mess that men had made. As the rubbish was cleared all the green plants started to grow again as the man-made world yielded to blossoms - and vanished beneath greenery. The man lands back on the Earth, but he doesn't know where he is. He finds a paradise and is delighted. He says it is HIS paradise. One of the dinosaurs stops to point out that although they have the same size brain, the dinosaur has a bigger heart and so would never have destroyed paradise as man had done. The man realises he is back on Earth. He realises the dinosaur is right and ask if he can have a small part of the Earth back. The dinosaur says "no" because the Earth belongs to everyone. Then they head off into the sunset for a happy ending with man and all the dinosaurs happy at their new arrangement. You don't get much better than this. The words are simple and the illustrations big and simple. The story is simplicity itself it just makes you wonder why you didn't think of it first. Kids will enjoy it without even realising that the message is an environmental one. For kids this is obvious too. It is only us grown-ups who need to be reminded of the fact that we share one precious resource.
"The Lorax" by Dr Seuss
ISBN 978-0-00-730582-7. "The Lorax" by Dr Seuss is 62 pages long in large format hardback and was first published by Harper Collins in 1971. The blurb on the back says "'I speak for the trees.' The Lorax is the original eco-warrior and his message rings loud today. In this fable about the dangers of destroying our forests, he tries to save the trees from the wicked Once-ler's axe." If you are familiar with the Dr Seuss-brand of "zany" illustrations coupled with insane rhyming then you will know what you are in store for here. This is yet another classic. Suitable for children of all ages - your nipper will probably benefit from this at bedtime from the tender age of only four. The story goes like this: the place is "The Street of the Lifted Lorax". Why was the Lorax lifted away? Only the old Once-ler can tell us - if you pay him. Once upon a time (the Once-ler tells us) the area had many tall Truffula Trees. Along came the Once-ler who cut down the trees to make a "Thneed". As soon as he had finished the first then the Lorax appears from the stump of one of the trees. The Lorax asks what a "thneed" was? The 'thneed' appears to be an all-purpose material which people will use for everything from socks to pillow-cases. The Lorax laughs and says that no one ever wants a thneed. But just then someone buys one. The Once-ler ignores the Lorax and calls in all of his family to make money out of thneeds. So a factory was built to churn out the thneeds and the air is full of the sound of falling Truffula Trees.
Machines are invented to cut the trees down even quicker hence robbing the Bar-ba-loots of their homes. So the Lorax reappears and warns the Once-ler that he is destroying the fruit of the trees and the Bar-ba-lots are all starving. The Once-ler felt sad as the Bar-ba-lots all had to leave but said "business is business" and "business must grow" regardless of the starving animals. The Once-ler enterprise grew and grew.
Everything got bigger and bigger. He said "I biggered my money, which everyone needs". The Lorax came again and complained about the air pollution. It was killing the Swomee-Swans. The water pollution was killing the Humming-Fish. So the Fish and Swans are leaving. Then the Once-ler became angry at the Lorax and yelled that 'All you do is yap-yap and say "Bad! Bad! Bad! Bad!" Well, I have my rights sir and I'm telling you I intend to go on doing just what I do'. So things got bigger and bigger and bigger because the Once-ler believed that everyone needed a Thneed. Then, that day, the last Truffula Tree was felled. So the Thneed factory closed leaving the Once-ler alone with the Lorax. Finally the Lora leaves. His last memorial was a stone with the word "Unless" carved into it. The years passed and the Once-ler's factory fell to the ground. But now the Once-ler understands this word: "UNLESS someone like you care a whole lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not." Then the Once-ler gives the final Truffula Tree seed to the person listening to his story and tells him to go and regrow the forest. And protect it from men with axes. Then maybe the Lorax will return with all of his friends. There is not much you can do to improve on a story like that. Despite its age it seems timeless. It is an obvious tale told with all the magic that only Dr Seuss could muster. We see how easy it is to convince ourselves that what WE are doing is what everyone needs. Hence our pursuit of money is a good thing. A salutary lesson for all - young and old. Recommended.
"Winston of Churchill - One Bear's Battle Against Global Warming" by Jean Davies Okimoto
ISBN-10: 1-57061-543-8 & ISBN-13: 978-157061-543-6. "Winston of Churchill - One Bear's Battle Against Global Warming" was written by Jean Davies Okimoto and illustrated by Jeremiah Trammel. This 32 page hardback book was published by Sasquatch Books in 2007. For ages 6 and up. The dust cover bristles with no less than FIVE testimonials from the likes of The Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth. It also boasts a "Green Earth Book Award" from the "Newton Marasco Foundation" (don't ask). So loads of 'green' credentials for this little book about - well, yeah, there's the first problem - polar bears. The "Churchill" of the title is on the shores of Hudson Bay north of Winnipeg in Canada. Notwithstanding the actual place name the author has also taken to giving her lead polar bear character all of the characteristics of Britain's famous wartime leader. The story goes like this: Winston lives in the Canadian province of Manitoba.....
He has all the leadership potential of the real Sir Winston Churchill. He calls the bears together to talk about the loss of their homes due to melting ice. He gives a speech ending in "We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds. We shall fight in the fields and in the streets. We shall fight on the hills. We shall never surrender." Winston blames the warming on people with their cars and the deforestation of the area.
To explain it all he passes out a little booklet he wrote on global warming. In it he details the greenhouse effect caused by carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. Clearly people need to burn less fossil fuels, make less waste and plant more trees. So he plans a protest march against the tourists who come to the area. All the bears agree apart from Winston's wife. She won't go unless he agrees to give up his cigars. So, next day (and after Winston starts chewing on a stick rather than a cigar) the tourists are greeted by a protest march of polar bears..... That's it.... Hardly very profound. No doubt many small children will find it appealing but how many of them get the jokes about Sir Winston Churchill? How many will find that really influential and memorable at the age of six? This book has pretty pictures but a dumb story. We don't need protest marches or cartoon polar bears. Most polar bear populations have yet to suffer at all due to climate change. This is just a massive cliché and doesn't really help a great deal. Better luck next time.