t’s easier to listen to children talking about climate change than adults. When my seven year old daughter Annie says to me “if we don’t act the world is going to crumble,” I feel instantly guilty and sick. When an adult says something similar I drift off mid sentence and wonder what to have to lunch. It’s perhaps partly because of this far from admirable state of affairs that Hendrikus van Hensbergen has aimed his new handbook at 9 to 12 year olds instead of at their useless parents.
Arranged into seven chapters (nature, clean air, food etc) and with a foreword by Robert Macfarlane, it’s a mix of directional interviews with young people and handy tips on how children of all ages can make all sorts of difference, from making bird feeders to setting up action groups and lobbying schools and MPs for change.
My daughter is a bit younger than its intended audience but she’s immediately captivated by the fact the book features children talking straight to children “because people often think children can’t do things”. We read the first chapter on nature and learn how to make a bird feeder, conduct a wildlife survey and how she might encourage her primary school to conduct a field trips for her classmates.
We learn how to make a hedgehog hole in the garden and to organise a walk to school day. She thinks she might suggest a litter pick up in the park to her school teacher. Small things, perhaps, but manageable, and almost as easy as putting out the recycling.
How You Can Save The Planet cannily understands that adults may not by themselves opt to take a train instead of a plane on holiday or give up meat for a week but they may well do so if their 10 year old insists on it.
It’s not only concerned with birds and hedgehogs, either: beneath the chatty, positive testimonies with young activists such as Deep, Amelia and Yetunde, some of whom were teenagers when they properly encountered nature for the first time, there is a strong emphasis on structural change.
Van Hensbergen gently encourages children to form campaign groups, to persuade pre-existing campaign groups to be more child friendly, to lobby supermarkets on their environmental policies, to organise river and beach cleans. Rather than settle for inspirational platitudes, he offers proper advice on how to identify goals and realise them. Perhaps next time he can write a book for adults?
I’m less a fan of instructional stories for children: kids can sniff a moral in a story a mile off. When We Went Wild, an illustrated story book for 4-5 year olds by the conservationist Isabella Tree, and about a mixed race farming couple who ditch the chemicals and re-wild their land, falls into this well intentioned but sanctimonious trend. But my daughter surprised me. The final picture is of a bucolic paradise full of birds, flowers and happy smiling people. “I’d quite like to live somewhere like that,” she said. Ouch.
Start Saving the Planet: How to Organise a Clothing Swap Shop
Put together a team and create a Whats App group so you can communicate easily.
Find a space for your swap shop. It could be at home, school or even the community centre. Make sure to get permission first.
Before you open, you’ll need to collect a stock. Advertise a period of time and a place for people to donate their unwanted clothing. You’ll need to wash them and you’ll also need a hanging rail to display them.
Decide on the opening hours for your shop and a rota for your team.
Give your shop a catchy name: create a brand.
Advertise with posters at school or produce a fashion show or photo shoot to promote the shop.
Create a clothes donation box and get started swapping clothes!
If your shop really takes off, why not take it online and set up a website or a newsletter?
Remember: If there are 1000 students in your school and they all visited your swap shop once and bought one less cotton T shirt as a result, you would save 2.7 million litres of water. That represents a year’s drinking water for 2500 people in a country experiencing water scarcity.
How You Can Save The Planet by Hendrikus van Hensbergen (Puffin, £7.99) Buy it here
When We Went Wild by Isabella Tree, illustrated by Allira Tee (Ivy Kids, £7.99) Buy it here