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Want your kids to be more environmentally aware? Look no further

Ancient native American wisdom shares that humanity’s greatest guide is nature and the means to protect this delicate balance and best serve the needs of the community is through the children. For children, of course, have always represented our future. To this end, a pledge was taken by the Native Americans to their people and their way of life. It reads thus:

No law, no decision, nothing of any kind will be agreed by this council that will harm the children.

The council gathered around a small fire in the centre of their community to make this pledge and it soon became known symbolically as The Children’s Fire. I do not need to spell out the importance of this to our lives today. Unwittingly, we continue to harm our children and their descendants as we harm our environment. What can be done to counter this? A great many things, and I think most of us know where to begin if we choose to be courageous enough to make these changes in our lives. But I’d like to share four wonderful books with you today that can open the eyes of our little eco-warriors, and in turn open our own hearts.

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Fittingly, the creator of The Little Hummingbird , Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, is himself a native Indian from North Columbia. As well as dedicating his book to indigenous people from all around the world, The Little Hummingbird also includes a message from Wangari Maathai (1940-2011), an inspirational environmental activist who founded Kenya’s Green Belt movement and pioneered the planting of millions of trees to counter deforestation.

This simple, elegantly illustrated and sparsely worded fable tells the tale of the great forest that once caught on fire. The animals and birds of the forest were thrown into great panic and turmoil, fleeing from the raging flames as far as they could go. Yet one creature and one alone stayed.

Little Hummingbird did not abandon the forest. She flew as fast as she could to the stream. She picked up a single drop of water in her beak. Little Hummingbird flew back and let the water fall onto the ferocious fire.’

The other creatures watched, terrified, as Little Hummingbird flew back and forth, back and forth.

Finally, Big Bear said, “Little Hummingbird, what are you doing?” ‘

Her answer?

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Including some facts at the back of the book about the amazing abilities of the hummingbird (for example, did you know that they hover in midair by flapping their wings more than fifty times per second?), The Little Hummingbird is a joy from start to finish.

‘One of the greatest lessons I have learned is that all people – young or old, big or small, girl or boy – have power.We can achieve the life we want for ourselves and our families when we pay attention to protecting our environment. We must not wait for others to do it.’

Wangari Maathai

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John Burningham’s Oi! Get off our train is a firm favourite amongst my children, especially my five year old. It tells the story of a young boy who goes to sleep one night with his model train set at the end of the bed. Before he knows it, he finds himself as driver of the train, picking up an assortment of creatures one by one on his journey such as an elephant, a crane and a seal. At first, the boy is reluctant to let the animals join him (shouting ‘Oi! Get off our train!), but once he hears of their plights, he relents.

The crane, for example, says ‘I live in the marshes and they are draining the water out of them. I can’t live on dry land and soon there will be none of us left. And the seal pleads ‘If I stay in the sea I won’t have enough to eat because people are making the water very dirty and they are catching too many fish, and soon there will be none of us left.’

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So the boy and all his new creature friends, who are facing difficulty at the hands of humans in one way or another, continue along their journey, playing games as they go until the boy concedes he must get back home as he has school in the morning. He wakes safely in his bed, wondering if this was all a dream. But when his mother comes in, she tells him ‘There’s an elephant in the hall, a seal in the bath, a crane in the washing, a tiger on the stairs and a polar bear by the fridge. Is it anything to do with you?’

A modern environmental parable for children, with a gentle wink at the crossover between imagination and reality, Oi! Get off my train will doubtless have the young reader asking questions, wanting to know more.

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Once I was a cardboard box…but now I’m a book about polar bears is a non-fiction offering from Anton Poitier. Made from recycled paper, this clever book has a dual function: to provide the reader with lots of interesting tidbits of information and pictures about polar bears (e.g. Did you know that cubs are born around november and the mother stays with them in the maternity den for four or five months and during all that time she doesn’t eat, drink or poo!) and also to go through the process of how the book made its transformative journey from a cardboard box .

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At the end of each double-page spread, a column is dedicated to this journey, bringing alive the recycling process in a practical, entertaining and easily understandable way. Whilst in no way a book explicitly devoted to global warming and the dangers faced by these species, right at the back the young reader is introduced to the concept of rising temperatures and melting ice and how, in 2008, the polar bear was officially declared an endangered species. Finally, Once I was a cardboard box readers are encouraged to do what they can to play their role in helping to combat this, with some practical tips on where to start.

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Theodor Geisel, or Dr Seuss as he is far commonly known, needs no introduction. Beloved of generations of children and adults alike, his books are quirky, fun, colourful and inimitable. But underlying many of his works lies something more profound, a deeper moral undercurrent that indeed many great writer’s for children weave into their text. The Lorax is no exception to this. Whilst popularised to an even greater extent by a 2012 movie, the book itself takes the reader through a journey that the film is unable to do: from confusion to joy to anger through to sadness and then, just as one believes all is lost, finishing on a note of profound hope.

The Lorax once lived in a plentiful green land surrounded by Brown Bar-ba-loots, humming-fish, Swomee-Swans and beautiful Truffala Trees, the fruit of which feeds the surrounding creatures. But into this paradisiacal land arrives the Once-ler:

‘But those trees! Those trees! Those Truffala Trees!

All my life I’d been searching for trees such trees as these.

The touch of their tufts was much softer than silk.

And the had the sweet smell of fresh butterfly milk.

I felt a great leaping of joy in my heart.

I knew just what I’d do! I unloaded my cart.’

And so begins the chopping down of the Truffala trees in great numbers in order to use their soft tufts to knit a ‘thneed’ (‘It’s a shirt. It’s a sock. It’s a glove. It’s a hat. But it has other uses. Yes, far beyond that. You can use it for carpets. For pillows! For sheets! Or curtains! Or covers for bicycle seats!’)

The Lorax tries every way he knows how to prevent the Once-ler from continuing in this destructive vein. But people keep buying the thneeds, and where there is demand he must drive the supply.

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It isn’t long before there is no more food for the Brown Bar-ba-loots and the Lorax has to sends them off, wishing them luck. And, with a cynical nod in the direction of many a natural-resource devouring corporation, The Once-ler ‘felt sad as I watched them all go. BUT…business is business! And business must grow regardless of crummies in tummies, you know.‘ Eventually, all the creatures are pushed out of their natural habitat until the very last of the Truffula trees is cut down with a ‘sickening smack.’

And just like that, there are ‘No more trees. No more Thneeds. No more work to be done,’ and all the workers drive away under ‘the smoke-smuggered stars’ and the ‘bad-smelling sky.’ So too do all the creatures disappear, as well as the Lorax who vanishes through a hole in the smog.

As we believe all is lost for this once-beautiful land, in true Seuss style, he pulls one last trick out of his bag for this wonderful story. Many years later, the Once-ler throws down something from his tower to a boy who has happened upon this desolate wasteland:

‘It’s a Truffula Seed. It’s the last one of all!

You’re in charge of the last of the Truffula Seeds.

And Truffula Trees are what everyone needs.

Plant a new Truffula. Treat it with care.

Give it clean water. And feed it fresh air.

Grow a forest. Protect it from axes that hack.

Then the Lorax and all of his friends may come back.’

If you don’t already own a copy of The Lorax, buy it without delay. This life-affirming, call-to-action book is a timeless parable of how we, like the Lorax, must play our roles in protecting our planet.

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