March 2, 2020

Parents are upset that kids are upset by climate change books


Amabella of Big Little Lies—pioneering child afflicted by climate-change anxiety (Still from HBO)

In a recent piece in the Guardian, Patrick Barkham writes up what he calls the “Greta Thunberg effect”—the creation of a new canon of children’s books about climate change, which prompts him to ask:

Who wants heavy-handed moral tales for bedtime? What if eco-doom just generates despair? And how many big picture books are dull-but-worthy Christmas presents that lie unread by real children?

The question essentially is: are publishers foisting these books on consumers or is there a real desire on the part of children to read them.

The panel of experts collected to provide their take on the issue are Jill Coleman, the director of children’s books at BookTrust, a British reading charity, Kate Wilson, the managing director of British children’s book publisher, Nosy Crow, and two authors: Ben Hoare and Lucy Mangan.

Coleman and Wilson argue that children are interested and the books are good. Hoare and Mangan think that fiction is a preferable vehicle to non-fiction, with Mangan especially worried that moral instruction in environmental non-fiction is too heavy handed, blunt, and obvious.

Which brings us back to the point of the article. Namely, what is it? Is the issue whether or not kids wanted the book in the first place, if they are too anxiety-provoking, or if they are just plain boring?

It seems frankly, that the latter is the main issue motivating the think-piece based on a telling passage in the last graf:

It seems unfair to pick on one but in Miranda Krestovnikoff’s The Sea, for instance, we learn that kelp, for instance, can grow 30 metres tall. How high is that in real life? How do children relate to that?

Kelp—it’s unrelatable. [The faraway crack of another little piece of the polar ice cap sinking into the sea rings in the distance.]

This sounds a bit like an adult who is becoming unhinged by the mind-numbing routine of reading a couple 200-word books over and over and over again—something that frankly gives yours truly some amount of apprehension about the whole project of procreating, too (that and, you know, the climate disaster).

Despite what sounds like a real distaste for dull moralizing children’s books (“We read Pankhurst’s worthy-sounding Fantastically Great Women Who Saved The Planet. To my surprise, Milly and Esme love it”), all of that hard-work is paying off. Apparently, his eight-year-old said: “You’ll learn hundreds of lovely new things” from Hoare’s Anthology of Intriguing Animals, which is certainly a more eloquent and lucid sentence than I’ve uttered all week. Kudos to the good dad for reading with his kids a lot. Unfortunately, the apocalypse looks like it will continue to be sort of boring as its slouching figure approaches.



Athena Bryan is an editor at Melville House.