Macmillan Children’s Books, £4.99, ISBN 978-0-330-45095-9
Environmental Science, 2009
Environmental activism… well, I do appreciate the sentiment, and I do support it. But at the same time, if you ask me to live the right way – farm my own food, make my own compost heap, use limited electricity, walk everywhere, spend less time online, and switch off the air-conditioner and the refrigerator – I think I would rather spend the rest of my life being known as a bad guy. On the other hand, I’m all for training kids to live this way from young – I’m old, I’m set in my ways, but kids are dumb and can be easily brainwashed into spending the rest of their lives on a diet of organic legumes, so more power to books like Dave Reay’s Your Planet Needs You! (which is subtitled A Kid’s Guide to Going Green). Start them young – it’s for the good of the planet!
This book describes the greenhouse effect and its effects as well as causes through the eyes of kids. We have Maximus, a superhero whose titles are Saviour of Worlds, Protector of Humankind, and Chocolate Fanatic. For the sake of this book, however, he has to be taught about the greenhouse effect by a couple of kids, Henry and Flora. He’s like Johnny Bravo pretending to be Captain Planet, in other words, but kids dig being the bossy and knowing one over adults, so this approach may go down well when it comes to its intended audience. Judging from the jargon present here, I’d say it’s probably better understood and appreciated by kids around 10 to 13, although parents may want to stick around to explain terms that the kids may not understand. (Or just tell them to Google stuff up – that works too.)
The facts are fine, although people who don’t believe in the greenhouse effect may find this book completely irrelevant at best and leftist propaganda at worst. However, the author’s approach is quite hilarious at times. Maximus, a grown-up guy, is fascinated by the fact that Henry’s house is more environmentally friendly (uses less heat) than the average house, and proceeds to offer his hand through Henry’s bedroom window so that the boy can join him in a wonderful place where the FBI can never catch them… oh, wait.
Your Planet Needs You! ultimately falls into the same trap that damns environmental activism to being mostly a Westerner’s crazy whim in the eyes of anyone who isn’t a Westerner: it becomes unnecessarily patronizing in its depiction of people in less developed countries. Once again, these poor people are depicted as the ones who would suffer the most when the ice poles melt and the tides rise, and naturally, it is up to the brilliant, wise, and sagacious Westerners to fly down from their well-insulated castles in the sky to tsk-tsk at how sad the lives of those people are. In this case, I don’t blame Dave Reay for this approach – he’s writing for Western kids, after all. But it will be nice if there are more of such books that don’t put people in less developed countries on the martyr platform – kids, if you don’t log off from Tumblr and start building that compost heap, those dark-skinned people from Bangladesh will die. This kind of attitude creates a breed of pushy, arrogant, and insensitive Western environmental activists who assume that they know better than and thus can speak for the natives, and this kind of attitude actually alienates the natives from the cause.
Also, for a book which promises on the cover that it is going to guide kids on how to go green, the balance between background information and tips is off. There are far more background information here than tips and advice, making me wonder whether a kid who is quickly bored of all the big words would ever get the message. Also, some of the tips are expensive. Installing solar panels and wind turbine in the house – good luck getting Anna to convince her single-mom who works two jobs a day to pull off that one! The bulk of this advice assumes that everyone lives in a house (not in an apartment complex) with a bit of land to plant crops and such, and it’s safe to cycle or walk everywhere. And environmental activists wonder why some people think that these activists are living in cuckoo land with no connection with reality.
It’s a pity. I’m hoping that this one would somehow offer more practical tips that kids can apply more easily to their lives, but Your Planet Needs You! may end up creating more people like me – armchair supporters of the green movement whose lives however may not necessarily allow them to accommodate the changes needed to make the world a better place without creating more negatives than positives in their own lives. Environmental activism, like the healthy food for kids movement, is a sound cause, but it has to deal with the Gordion knot of issues related to socioeconomics and cultural economics. Therefore, telling kids about wind turbine and solar panels is great, but let’s be realistic here – those things may as well be the moon where most kids and their families are concerned. Dave Reay should have kept things to a less ambitious scale and tell kids more about the things that they can actually do to make a difference.