________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 2 . . . . September 12, 2008

cover Try This at Home: Planet-friendly Projects for Kids.

Jackie Farquhar.
Toronto, ON: Owlkids Publishing, 2008.
93 pp., pbk., $14.95.
ISBN 978-2-89579-192-8.

Subject Headings:
Environmental education-Activity programs-Juvenile literature.
Environmental protection-Juvenile literature.

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Barbara McMillan.

*** /4


Project 1: Use an Iron-On to Make a Statement

Wear It’s At: Got some old threads that could use a makeover? Take your favorite phrase and turn that dull shirt into a go-to tee! (p. 12)

Your eco footprint gives you an idea of how your daily decisions impact the environment. It’s like a report card v you find out what you’re really good at and what you can improve on. Once you understand how your choices affect the Earth, it’s easier to get moving and save the planet (p. 37).

Stop Your Engines!

Who: Anna Talman, a 9-year old from Edmonton, Alberta

What She Did: Anna started up an organization named ECO-AIR (Edmonton’s Children-Organized Anti-Idling Recruiters). The group is trying to put an end to car idling — that’s when people leave their car and truck engines running while they’re waiting around in driveways, outside schools, or in parking lots. Leaving an engine running for no reason is a waste of fuel and causes pollution. Anna went to the Edmonton city council two times to try to get a law passed that would ban idling (p. 45).


I didn’t think twice when asked to review Try This at Home. My two children grew up reading Chickadee and Owl magazines, and I’m always interested in knowing about new ways to live a greener, “planet friendly” life. As the excerpts indicate, readers of Try This at Home are presented three types of information. First, there are the projects, 19 in total, that focus on what the authors refer to as “eco chic” (“turning old stuff into new”) and small actions that bring about big results, like making a pizza from produce and herbs harvested from your own garden. The second kind of information is the science knowledge that is presented in subsections of the book with the following headings: “If you love this planet,” which is focused on the meaning of ecological footprint; “Your green guide,” which is a glossary of “green” terminology; and “Site-seeing – A quick green guide to the web.” Finally, there are vignettes of three “enviro-activists” including the aforementioned Anna Talman, as well as Stephen Henderson, a 16-year-old from Ponteland, England who collects used vegetable oil from restaurants in order to make biodiesel to power his father’s farm machinery, and Avery Hairston, a 15-year-old from New York City who created the eco-friendly charity, RelightNY, which encourages people to replace their incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs and which gives compact fluorescent bulbs to families unable to afford the cost of such a change.

      What one quickly realizes is that the projects suggested by the authors may encourage recycling, but in light of the spirited style and fashion consciousness of today’s adolescents, I don’t expect to see many “stylish wrist warmers” made from the tops of socks, belts covered with duct tape in a checkerboard pattern, or gifts placed in a cereal box tied up with video tape. There are several suggestions for projects that raise questions about their “greenness.” What, for example, happens to the apple and pear used as painted stamps to decorate the canvas shopping bag on page 19? The coloured hand soaps shown on pages 30 and 31 began as bars of Ivory or Dove soap. Is it “planet friendly” to add oatmeal, food colouring, and water and to use the energy required by a microwave and freezer in order to convert one form of hand soap into another?

      Given the sophistication of the featured enviro-activists, I can’t help but wonder why the editors of Owl Magazine didn’t create a book that showcased the ideas of “kids” whose awareness, ability, and desire to act for the planet seem to have been underestimated. Such an approach, coupled with the information on ecological footprints as well as both print-based and web-based resources, could have resulted in a book that would actually guide individuals in their development as environmental stewards and would direct parents and teachers toward environmentally sound, purposeful, and sustainable activities.

Recommended with reservations.

Barbara McMillan is a teacher educator and a professor of science education in the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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