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Kids & Nature

Trends in Canadian Books on the Environment

By Peter Croskery

Volume 19 Number 4
1991 September

CM environment reviewer Peter Croskery looks at this year's crop of environmental publications for children and asks whether we are simply making our children feel guilty for a mess they didn't create.

Within the past several years there has been a noticeable shift in the content and style of natural history materials being prepared for Canadian children. Where as previous publications tended to emphasize a pastoral element with an "innocent" child making an "important" discovery while exploring the outdoors, many of today's books have a stronger pedantic message: children must act now to save the environment. It may be that the publishing industry has moved too far in this new direction.

Typical of the "innocent discovery" style of nature books is Lena and the Whale. It has a strong child heroine, an excellent story-line and is beautifully packaged with illustrations and binding. Young children in the three-to six-year range will enjoy this book. (They always do.) Furthermore, it combines a simple story-line with a subtle message. We can help wildlife, but wildlife must be free.

Among the other recent publications are the "Katie and Orbie Save the Planet" series, a collaboration by father and daughter Ben and Susan Wicks, and Zebo and the Dirty Planet by Kim Fernandes. These are the more pedantic style, where the central message dominates at the cost of the story's entertainment value. Suitable for the same age group, they don't compare in children's entertainment value to Lena and the Whale.

First in the "Katie and Orbie Save the Planet" series is Katie and Orbie Pick Up Garbage. Katie "adopts" Orbie, who is abandoned by his (its) mother who comes from another planet where the environment is not suitable for sustaining life. Together Katie and Orbie "tackle" popular environmental issues as Katie teaches Orbie how to be a more responsible "human." Other books in the series include Katie and Orbie Switch Off Lights, Katie and Orbie Save Water and Katie and Orbie Plant a Tree.

As a parent, I noticed the Ben Wicks name, and in thumbing through the books I found they had that delightful Wicks artwork. But the content is too dictatorial or preachy for my children, and, besides, I don't want to have to explain to my pre-schoolers why any mom would desert her child.

Zebo and the Dirty Planet is a hardcover high-gloss production. The illustrations are photographs of plasticine art (Fimo) and are attractive. The text is acceptable but definitely not the book's strength. Had the text and message been downplayed and the target audience a little younger, this book would have strong appeal. As it stands, it seems like a scare message to convince children that it's their fault, or responsibility, the planet is so screwed up.

Young children have a lot to learn. They're trying to develop vocabulary, understand their relationships with other people, accept the order of society's routines, learn to read, and develop some basic sense of responsibility. They're trying to do all of these things at the same time. To burden them with profound environmental messages, in my opinion, is too much too soon. The message should be left until children reach at least grade 3. All a very young child needs to know is that nature is wonderful. From that sense of wonder will come the desire to understand and act responsibly.

The Crabtree Environmental series by Bobbie Kalman targets its message at eight-to twelve-year-olds. Both Reducing, Reusing, & Recycling and Buried in Garbage are good review books of their respective topics, done at a level suitable for young readers. Hardcover, with numerous photos, the books are almost textbook in style. Children looking for ideas and information will find these a good source. They weren't designed or intended to be light reading but they would be positive additions to a classroom library.

Another new innovation of recent years is the use of different imagery as the means of illustrating children's literature. Previously mentioned Zebo and the Dirty Planet uses plasticine style art. Growing Wild by Constance Perenyi uses collages of torn and cut paper for illustrating the "aging" or "evolution" of a manicured city lawn into an unkempt wild environment. The illustrations are great.

Sometimes when we concentrate so much effort on conveying our message we don't see the hidden secondary messages. This is a serious flaw of Growing Wild. Although it is important, and each of us can do something to help improve wildlife habitat in urban settings, it isn't necessarily wrong to cut your lawn. I can see my pre-schoolers asking me why I cut the lawn after my reading them Growing Wild. Do we really want young children to believe that their parents cutting the lawn is environmentally insensitive?

Although printed in Canada, Growing Wild is very much an American book. Listed in the back are agencies that might provide more information on how to cultivate wildlife habitat in the urban landscape; all are American. Why the Canadian publisher didn't attempt to add several Canadian sources to the list is unknown.

For older readers, including adults, the past year was a continuation of the advocacy towards personal action. Publishers seemed to release fewer large-format nature books or high quality identification guides. Although good quality coffee table books will always be popular, the public is much more discriminating and selective than it used to be. We have been deluged with such largeformat books for years and any new release has to be really good if it's going to replace the book currently sitting on the coffee table. And there are enough good field guides.

The Harmony Foundation's publication, Community Workshops for the Environment: An Organizer's Manual, Warner Troyer's Preserving Our World: A Consumer's Guide to the Brundtland Report and What We Can Do for the Environment from Environment Canada are typical of recent publications for the closet consumer advocate who wants to put personal action to work in a quiet family way.

At the same time, Canadian publishers are marketing a series of books for older children along the same theme. The philosophy is simple: if parents are concerned their children will be, too. Trash Attack by Candace Savage, The Kids' Green Plan by Janet Grant and The Canadian Junior Green Guide are examples of this year's environmental action publications that parallel adult publications but are designed for kids. I think it is safe to say that an advocate of any cause will always look first toward his/her immediate family for converts.

Any parent with a personal commitment to the environment can't help but find children's environmental action literature attractive. Unfortunately, this is a relatively new market and parents are finding some of this material attractive, not so much for its content as for its general theme. It should be remembered that a number of this year's environmental action books have not received strongly positive reviews.

In keeping with the publishing industry's increased emphasis on personal environmental action, two new magazines have recently started, Earthkeeper and Canadian Environmental Network Bulletin. Of the two, Earthkeeper is the more commercial magazine in both production and content. Canadian Environmental Network Bulletin is a newsletter/newspaper containing information on events and activities pertaining to the environment. It lacks the "feature article" format of commercial magazines, which in itself is a refreshing change. The Canadian Environmental Network Bulletin would be a valuable addition to any environmentalist's reference collection.

Earthkeeper's features appear well written and are of general interest, but it will find itself in direct competition with already established magazines such as the Canadian Nature Federation's Nature Canada, the Federation of Ontario Naturalist's Seasons and even Camden House's Harrowsmith.

The "environmental treat" of the past year isn't a publication. It's an audio product. Evergreen Everblue: An Ecology Album for the 90s by Raffi will be enjoyed by anyone over the age of eight. Its songs are in a slow ballad style that convey important basic messages. Several of the songs have catchy phrases that will help sell the message.

In summary, environmental literature underwent a major shift in the past year. For adults, advocacy for action was the strongest element of environmental publications. For children, more direct environmental messages were presented at the cost of entertainment. Books of the past year did not make the significant contributions to the ecology cause that the 1990 publishing year did.

Peter Croskery, a regular CM environment reviewer, worked for almost twenty years as a wildlife biologist in northern Ontario banding geese and Ring-billed Gulls, trapping and tagging Black Bears, and studying the Common Loon. He has worked with school teachers helping to bring wildlife awareness into the classroom and his writing has appeared in scientific journals, Nature Canada, Teaching Today and Chickadee, among others. Now started on a new career as Mr. Mom to his two preschool children, Peter instructs part time at the Ridgetown College of Agricultural Technology and is pursuing several writing projects. He lives in Grimsby, Ontario.


Atwood, Margaret. For the Birds. Illustrated by John Bianchi. Toronto, Ground wood Books/Douglas & McIntyre, 1990. 54pp, paper, $12.95, ISBN 0-88894-8295. (Earth Care Books). CIP Reviewed vol. XIX/2 March 1991, p. 93.

Buma, Joan Wheaton. Hands on Nature: Year-Round Activities for Kids. Don Mills (Ont.), Addison-Wesley, 1991. 94pp, paper, $11.95, ISBN 0-201-57915-4. CIP Reviewed vol. XIX/3 May 1991, p. 162.

Canadian Environmental Network Bulletin. Vol. 2, no. 3 June 1991). 6 issues (32 pp)/ $25.00 (GST included). Available from Canadian Environmental Network, P.O. Box 1289, Station B. Ottawa, Ont. K1P 5R3; (613) 563-2078.

The Canadian junior Green Guide. Teri Degler and Pollution Probe; poetry by Dennis Lee. Toronto, McClelland & Stewart, 1990. 120pp, paper, $12.95, ISBN 0-7710-7157-4. CIP Reviewed vol. XIX/2 March 1991, p.107.

Carmanah Valley I, II and III. Vancouver, Western Canada Wilderness Committee/Wondertree Learning Centre, 1990. Video games (three 3 1/2 in. diskettes for Macintosh; HyperCard stack and wildlife index) $25.00 plus $2.00 for shipping. Available from Carmanah Valley Program, c to Wondertree Learning Center; Box 35243, Station E, Vancouver, ED.C. V6M 4G4. Reviewed this issue.

Community Work shops for the Environment: An Organizer's Manual. Ottawa, Harmony Foundation of Canada, 1990. 58pp, paper, $15.00, ISBN 0-929010-03-5. Distributed by Harmony Foundation of Canada, P.O. Box 4016, Station C, Ottawa, Ont. KEY 4P2. CIP Reviewed vol. XIX/1 January 1991, p.22.

Connections: Finding out about the Environment. Narrated by David Suzuki. Toronto, General Paperbacks, 1990. 40-minute audiocassette and 32 page activity book, $9.99, ISBN 0-77367376-1. Reviewed vol. XIX/1 January 1991, p.25.

Earthkeeper. Vol. 1, no. 4 (March/April 1991) and vol. 1, no. 5 (May/June 1991). 6 issues (56pp)/$24.00 plus GST. Available from Earthkeeper Inc 99 Edinburgh Road South, Guelph, Ont. N1H 5P5; (519) 763-9357.

Environmental Resource Directory. Toronto, Public Focus, 1990. 180pp, looseleaf binder, $50.00 two-year subscription ($35.00 for individuals, schools, non-profit organizations and public libraries). Includes three biannual updates. Reviewed vol. XIX/2 March 1991, p. 83.

Fernandes, Kim. Zebo and the Dirty Planet. Toronto, Annick Press, 1991. 32pp, library binding, ISBN 1-55037-183 5 (library binding) $1495, ISBN 1-55037 180-0 (paper) $4.95. Distributed by Fire fly Books. CIP

Grant, Janet. The Kids' Green Plan: How to Write Your Own Plan to Save the Environment. Markham (Ont.), Pembroke Publishing, 1990. 32pp, paper, $4.95, ISBN 0-921217-56-0. CIP Reviewed vol. XIX/2 March 1991, p. 94.

Herridge, Doug and Susan Hughes. The Environmental Detective Kit. Toronto, Somerville House, 1991. 80pp, paper, $12.95,ISBN 006107408-X. Distributed by HarperCollins. Reviewed this issue.

Johnson, Gordon K. Environmental Tips: How You Can Save This Planet. Calgary, Detselig Enterprises, 1990. 169pp, paper, $13.95, ISBN 1-55059-011-1. Reviewed vol. XVIII/6 November 1990, p. 277.

Kalman, Bobbie. Reducing Reusing, & Recycling. M i ssi ssauga (Ont . ), Crab tree Publishing,1991. 32pp, paper-bound boards, $19.95, ISBN 046505-426-6. (The Crabtree Environment series). CIP

Kalman, Bobbie and Canine Schaub. Buried in Garbage. Mississauga (Ont.), Cabtree publishing,1991. 32pp, paper bound boards, $19.95, ISBN 086505424-X. (The Crabtree Environment series). CIP

Kessler, Deirdre. Lena and the Whale. Illustrated by P. John Burden. Charlottetown, Ragweed Press, 1991. 24pp, paper, $5.95, ISBN 0-921556-13-6. Distributed by University of Toronto Press. CIP

Link Science: A Hands-on Approach to the Environment. The Nomad Scientists. Markham (Ont.), Pembroke Publishing, 1990. 95pp, paper, $12.95, ISBN 0921117-57-9. CIP Reviewed vol. XIX/2 March 1991, p. 85. 1

MacLeod, Elizabeth. The Recycling Book. Illustrated by Jane Kurisu. Toronto, Greey de Pencier, 1991. 48pp, paper, $7.95, ISBN 092077558-6. CIP Reviewed this issue.

Mason, Adrienne. The Green Classroom. Markham (Ont.), Pembroke Publishing, 1991. 120pp, paper, $12.95, ISBN 0921217-60-9. CIP Reviewed vol. XIX/3 May 1991, p. 165.

Perenyi, Constance. Growing Wild: Inviting Wildlife into Your Yard. Pickering (Ont.), Silvio Mattacchione & Co., 1991. 39pp, paper, $8.95, ISBN 1895270-05-7. Distributed by Firefly Books. CIP

Raffi. Evergreen Everblue. Troubadour Records Ltd., 1990. cassette ($12.83), compact disc ($19.98). Distributed by MCA Records Canada, 2450 Victoria Park Avenue, Willowdale, Ont. M2J 4A2

Savage,Candace. Trash attack. Illustrated by Steve Beinicke. Toronto, Groundwood Books/Douglas & Mclntyre, 1990. 56pp, paper, $12.95, ISBN 0-88894-826. (Earth Care Books). CIP Reviewed vol. XIX/2 March 1991, p. 95.

Troyer, Warner. Preserving Our World: A consumer's Guide to the Brundtland Report. Willowdale (Ont.), Firefly Books/ Warglen International Communications, 1990. 131pp, paper, $9.95, ISBN 09694539. Reviewed vol. XIX March 1991, p. 107.

What We Can Do for Our Environment. Ottawa, Environment Canada, 1990. 48pp, paper, ISBN 0-662-17535-2. Free copies available from Inquiry Centre, Environment Canada, 351 St. Joseph Blvd., Hull, Que. K1A OH3; (819) 997-2800.

Wicks, Susan. Katie and Orbie Pick Up Garbage. Illustrated by Ben Wicks. Toronto, Key Porter Books, 1991. 15pp, paper, $4.95, ISBN 155013-322-5. (Katie and Orbie Save the Planet series). CIP

Wicks, Susan. Xatie and Orbie Plant a Tree. Illustrated by Ben Wicks. Toronto, Key Porter Books, 1991. 15pp, paper, $4.95, ISBN 1-55013-324-1. (Katie and Orbie Save the Planet series). CIP

Wicks, Susan. Katie and Orbie Save Water. Illustrated by Ben Wicks. Toronto, Key Porter Books, 1991. 15pp, paper, $4.95, ISBN 155013324-1. (Katie and Orbie Save the Planet series). CIP

Wicks, Susan. Katie and Orbie Switch Off Lights. Illustrated by Ben Wicks. Toronto, Key Porter Books, 1991. 15pp, paper, $4.95, ISBN 155013-326-8. (Katie and Orbie Save the Planet series). CIP

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