Because it actually is Earth Day I don't want to just write about another book or post another list of books. I want to do something different to mark the day. So, after making efforts to seek out environmental children's literature over the last few years, I'm going to pull together a few impressions.
- Impression 1. Environmental children's literature tends to be nonfiction. Nonfiction, of course, is created to transfer information not to, say, transform it into a world within which readers can live a story line, which is what fiction does. There is nothing wrong with nonfiction, by the way.
- Impression 2. In environmental children's literature, the environment is something that's not part of our general day-to-day life. It's outside children's general experience. They need to learn a lot of facts about. Thus all the nonfiction.
- Impression 3. When children's environmental literature is fiction, it often involves evil big companies vs. small good guys. Now, some people may say, "Gail, that is reality." I'm open to that. However, in literature it is a cliche. You don't have to read/see many story lines like this before you become numb to them. Also, kids are well aware that in reality they can't fight big companies. Adults think children are our future and will save us, but kids know they need to get things like driver's licenses and degrees and be able to vote before that will happen.
- Impression 4. In environmental children's literature, the environment is something that's not part of our general day-to-day life. The only way we can do anything to support it is to fight the large companies that are out to destroy it, which is why we see that in books.
- Impression 5. There's a lot less environmental nonfiction for YAs. Environmental fiction for them tends to be climate fiction. It may turn up in thrillers or could be the barely addressed backstory for a dystopian world.
- Impression 6. In environmental fiction for YAs, the environment is something that's not part of our general day-to-day life. Because it's not part of our general day-to-day life, something terrible is going to happen. Now, some people may say, "Gail, that is reality." I'm open to that. However, in literature it is a cliche. You don't have to read/see many story lines like this before you become numb to them. You don't have to be out of your teen years before you begin to wonder if climate fiction isn't just entertainment, because there's so much of it.
- Impression 7. In children's environmental fiction at all age levels, environmentalism is rarely presented as a lifestyle that is here and part of readers' lives.
Things I Would Like To See In Children's Environmental Literature
- Family having to find charging stations for electric cars or having to remember to charge.
- Neighborhood wildlife getting into the trash and recycling that have been out at the curb and mixing them.
- Parents having jobs such as owning companies that install solar panels or working at water treatment plants.
- Teen summer jobs at nature camps or with landscapers who specialize in native plantings.
These additions would need to support setting or character or some other element of the story, because everything in a piece of fiction must support the story. But, otherwise, they would be treated as unremarkable.
I'm talking no child characters working to save endangered species and no teenagers dealing with the repercussions of adults trashing the environment in the past. I'm talking characters just living sustainable lives.
Why Isn't That Happening In Books, Gail?
I can only speculate, something I rather enjoy doing here at Original Content.
- Environmentalism became politicized at some point, and the conflicts that caused slowed the environmental movement on the personal level.
- The United States experienced economic recessions in the early 1980s and 1990s and a big one in 2008. Environmentalism may not be perceived as an immediate problem the way losing a job is, and interest in the personal and government changes required to create a sustainable lifestyle may have decreased during those times.
- Because of politicizing and economic insecurity, environmentalism never become an unremarkable norm in our culture, though we've been talking about it for decades.
- Literature reflects the culture that produces it, thus we don't see an environmentally sustainable lifestyle as a book norm.
In the meantime, children's fiction continues to present environmentalism as something that has bad guys and good guys, not everyday guys kids actually see in their lives.
Feel free to offer book suggestions that contradict my impression of what is going on with environmental children's books in the comments. They could become the subject of future Environmental Book Club posts.