Thursday, October 06, 2022

Environmental Book Club

What I usually see in middle grade environmental books are stories about kids fighting a big bad company that's doing nasty environmental things to endanger something like an animal or a wetland. Very formulaic and predictable. With The First Rule of Climate Club by Carrie Firestone we're talking more of an us-against-the-world thing. Some may find it a bit pedantic, but it's far more sophisticated than other books of this type that I've read.

First off, I feel I should point out that while the book's publisher is marketing it as middle grade, the library I borrowed it from classified it as "Teen." The kids are 8th graders and have access to more social media than I would expect from true middle graders and more freedom to get around. None of this means middle grade students shouldn't read it or like it, just that the more mature characters help explain their access to more mature situations. By mature I don't mean engaging in sex, but understanding racism and that they have the ability to become involved with environmentalism in realistic ways.

Mary Kate is a student in a pilot science class involving climate science in a town near Hartford, Connecticut. She has students from Hartford attending school with her. Living in this area, I can tell you that this is realistic. The kids seem gung-ho for environmentalism, but this makes sense, because they had to apply to attend the class. Only kids who can prove they have an interest and reason to be there are there. 

The kids have various interests, meaning environmentalism is covered in a more whole life type of way then in the "let's save the little wild rodent from the big bad oil company" kind of books. Food waste, composting, fast fashion, electric vehicles are among the topics pulled into the story. One of the things I particularly like about this book is that many of the things covered, such as composting and fast fashion, middle grade and above students could make part of their lives now.

Another topic Firestone covers--the connection between climate/environmentalism and race. Embarrassed to say that I was not aware of that. And my trash was going to the Hartford incinerator she writes about. (Interesting sidenote--before the incinerator came to Hartford, there was an enormous landfill there, known as Mt. Trashmore. It was right along a major highway north of the city. Landfills are not supposed to smell, but this one most definitely did.)

Another important aspect Firestone touches on--the potential for knowledge of climate change to cause anxiety in children. This isn't a book that just takes the attitude that children can and will fix everything for us.

The chapters in this story are very short and often in different formats--sometimes a traditional narrative, sometimes a podcast, sometimes a letter. I do like to move along when I'm reading.

This really is a book that should be valuable for a number of reasons. I hope it makes the short-list for the Connecticut Book Award next year, being both by a Connecticut author and set in Connecticut.


Ms. Yingling said...

This looked just the same to me, so hopefully you won't have major problems after you get the image issue fixed. I thought the level of social media for 8th graders was just right. You wouldn't believe some of the things they get up to! And they TELL me that they haven't told their parents about their accounts. Definitely alarming. Have you see Dimopoulos' Turn the Tide or Dee's Haven Jacobs Saves the Planet? I liked both of those better. I'm a big fan of making tweens aware of climate issues and things that we can all do on a daily basis.

Gail Gauthier said...

I had not even heard of those books but will look for them now.