Only One State in America Includes the Study of Climate Change for All Grades
Ms. Renkl is a contributing Opinion writer who covers flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South. NASHVILLE One afternoon in late March, family friends discovered a female cardinal resting on their patio, unable to fly. I couldnt tell for sure from , but I thought perhaps the bird had flown into a window. I forwarded the picture to the experts at , which is near my friends house, and asked for advice. They recommended shutting the bird into a container slightly bigger than a shoe box, adding some sticks and paper towels to keep her from slipping, and then setting the box in a warm, dark place. If the bird survived the night, they said, they would be glad to examine her for injuries when they opened the next day. Even knowing that the box would be ruined by bird poop, the familys second grader immediately offered to turn her hand-decorated Valentines box into the cardinals hospital room. even those who survive impact often die later of internal bleeding and I could hardly bear to think of my hopeful young friend opening that box the next morning and finding a dead bird lying among the lovingly gathered sticks. But thats not what happened when my friends took the Valentines box into the backyard the next morning and opened it up. The children were watching as the cardinal flew straight into a nearby tree, where she was joined by a male cardinal who was clearly her mate. They were watching, too, when the flew away together into a cold, sunny morning on the very first day of spring. With the news so full of both the environmental disasters that are and the environmental disasters that are , I keep coming back to this happy story. Again and again, I think of my young friend and her sisters, all so eager to help, even when helping involved sacrifice. How many adults are so willing to make sacrifices on behalf of their wild neighbors and the planet we share? . Maybe thats why I got in my car and went straight to after reading a feature on new childrens titles that celebrate the natural world. Standing before the generous selection of nature-centered books in the childrens section, I realized that the kid-specific Little Free Library at my house desperately needed an infusion of earth-helping titles. Some of the books I brought home that day are quiet stories about the pleasure of being in community with the nonhuman world. , written by Shira Boss and illustrated by Lorena Alvarez, describes the way life changes for the better when city workers plant a tree in front of a childs building. Where once there was only the rumbling of garbage trucks, for instance, now there is birdsong. The city clanged and snorted and roared ... the tree rustled and swished and soothed, writes Ms. Boss. At the end of the book, she includes four pages of information about how urban trees help people and how people can help trees. , written by Alison James and illustrated by Jennifer K. Mann, is a subtle reversal of Shel Silversteins The Giving Tree. Mr. Silversteins little boy grows up to be a man who takes and takes from his pathologically generous tree friend, but Ms. Jamess little girl grows up to be a woman who understands not just what the tree provides but also what it needs. As it is in any ecosystem, their relationship is reciprocal. I am partial to stories as a vehicle for inspiring change, but many children respond best to facts. (At story time, the son of one of my friends would say impatiently, I want .) For those children, there are plenty of nature-specific titles, too. I especially loved Peter Wohllebens and Dan Rouses . Both are lavishly illustrated with nature photographs and stocked with suggestions that invite kids to investigate their own ecosystems and help their own wild neighbors. Children will inevitably worry about the safety of whats wild outside their doors, but these books teach them how to help. My favorite picture books are the ones that include the whimsy of imaginative storytelling with the information children need to understand what is happening to their planet all in ways that empower rather than terrify. One of the best new books in this genre is , written by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Jenni Desmond. Beginning at one minute before midnight and traveling across the globe hour by hour, the book follows two children as they fly around the planet. At each stop on this fantastical journey, they learn about animal species imperiled by habitat degradation, a heating climate, human predation and the like. Miraculously, this is not a sad book. Ms. Desmonds magical illustrations are cheerful and bright, and Ms. Davies takes care to explain how all is not yet lost for these creatures, that we can still save them. This is the message, too, of of Douglas W. Tallamys , a best-selling approach to conservation that begins at home. Over the years, human beings have shown that were very good at destroying habitats. Now we have to show that were smart enough and thoughtful enough and caring enough to restore what we have ruined, Mr. Tallamy tells young readers. I believe we can do it, if you help. This is all crucial information for children who live in a country where only one state includes the study of climate change at all grade levels and where the science standards for middle school students in more than 40 states include only . In hurricane-plagued Florida, middle school science standards make no reference to climate change at all. Maybe it seems a little excessive for someone to bring home an armload of environmental books meant for her neighbors children to read, but to me, it felt like an exercise in hope. As I read those books, it dawned on me that picture-book authors and illustrators are laying the groundwork for a better climate future by tapping into childrens inborn compassion, curiosity and sense of justice. These books explain how important it is for everyone to help, kids included, and they give the adults no place to hide. If a child can care so much, shouldnt we care, too? , a contributing Opinion writer, is the author of the books and . Her next book, will be published in October.