The Society has been given the chance to review three new climate change books aimed at a very similar audience:
Climate Crisis for Beginners
Andy Prentice and Eddie Reynolds
Usborne Publishing Ltd, 2020
Summary: a very comprehensive, engaging and current book for upper primary/ lower secondary aged students
“How important is this crisis? Not everyone agrees about this. This book is here to help you make up your own mind.”
With bright, simple illustrations and a cartoon-like style, it is aimed at young people – the recommended age range is 10+. I suspect that it will appeal most to the 10-14 age range, and then again to slightly older people who will not feel patronised by the style but will have interest in the content. My 14 year-old daughter was put off both by ‘for beginners’ and the appearance of the book. Being much older than that, I struggled a bit with the style – I didn’t know which bit to read next.
Andy Prentice and Eddie Reynolds are authors and editors at Usborne and have consulted with Steve Smith (University of Oxford) and Ajay Ghambir (Imperial College, London) in writing this book. Ed Hawkins (University of Reading) and Richard Betts (University of Exeter) also contributed. There are 5 chapters – The Basics; How sure are we? What do we do? What’s stopping us? And What can I do?
The book manages to walk the tightrope of accuracy v. oversimplification very well. Of course, that balance will never be perfect – for me, for example, it’s missing a discussion of water vapour in the section about greenhouse gases. However, it introduces an impressively broad range of concepts and vocabulary associated with climate science and climate change more generally.
Climate Crisis for Beginners conveys the significance of climate change together with the many and various political and social issues as well as the viewpoints and priorities of individuals. However, for me, the strength of this book lies in the weight it puts on the solutions and opportunities already available. It is not all doom and gloom.
One concern that I do have is just how quickly the book will become out of date – in one or two places it already has.
I asked my 11 year-old daughter to read it – here are some of her thoughts (I have corrected the spelling): “When I first looked at this book, it looked colourful and full of interesting ideas and visions of the future. The information is presented in a fun way with lots of subtitles and boxes so that you can find what you need easily. I like all the different points of view and the reasoning behind the different answers to questions.”
The book concludes “Now that you’ve read this book, you’ve got the tools to imagine the future that you want and an idea of how to start your journey towards it.”
Climate Action: The Future is in our Hands
Illustrator Katie Rewse
Little Tiger Press, 2021
Summary: A bright, positive reference book for upper primary aged children, focussing on climate change impacts, mitigation and action
“In this book, we share the facts, but we also share hope.
Learn about the causes of climate change and how it is affecting our world.
Explore the human impact and what it means to have a carbon footprint.
Read about creative ideas for tackling the climate crisis.
Be inspired by positive stories from young changemakers around the globe.
Get tips on how to take action and reduce your carbon footprint.”
The recommended age range for this book is 7-12 and the bright, colourful and relatively simple design and illustrations are geared towards the younger end of that age range. Having said that, my daughters, aged 11 and 14 both really enjoyed it, particularly liking the embossed cover. This is a book which is nice to hold – possibly justifying its price which includes the cost of planting a tree. The layout is as a reference book, making extensive use of subtitles, with each double page spread covering one topic, such as greenhouse gases, tropical storms or our clothes. The ratio of text to images is appealing and the text and images are appropriate to the literacy and numeracy skills of the intended age group.
Georgina Stevens is a sustainability writer, advisor and campaigner. In each topic she features a ‘what can we do’ section with small, achievable changes that young people and their families could make. The book also features a number of ‘changemakers’ and ‘groundbreakers’ – young people from around the world who have already developed sustainability initiatives or got involved in the climate change movement. What the book is missing, though, is the big, complex, economic, social and political developments that could have a really significant global impact on greenhouse gas emissions.
I think that the book probably does have a nice balance of science, technology and positivity for the upper primary age range. The science parts of the book aren’t completely accurate – I cringed when the greenhouse effect was described as a reflection of heat, and water vapour is missing from the discussion of greenhouse gases, but it’s probably appropriate for this age range.
My 11-year old sagely pointed out that the focus of the book is on now – to this age group, the past may feel slightly irrelevant and the future too unknown and intimidating.
Palm Trees at the North Pole, The Hot Truth about Climate Change
Marc ter Horst
Illustrated by Wendy Panders
Greystone Kids, 2021
Summary: a science book best suited to early secondary school aged students who like reading. Don’t be put off by the title.
“Once upon a time, there were palm trees at the North Pole. Can you picture that? The most tropical of trees in a place where now there is only snow and ice. In the future, they might reappear. Because the climate is constantly changing.”
Firstly, the title. My 11 year-old daughter’s first comment was about the fact that there isn’t any land at the North Pole. Although the book does touch on continental drift, the author never really explains ‘palm trees at the North Pole’ nor justifies the extension to the future and, for anyone inclined to be sceptical about climate science, this is a very easy target. However, the book does merit passing this first hurdle.
The author, Marc ter Horst, has written several other non-fiction titles for young people. His interests in geology and evolution are apparent in the book, a large section of which focusses on the past. This is a book which is designed to be read from cover to cover rather than dipped in to. It is made up of double page case studies linked together in a fairly simple, frequently light-hearted story-telling style which will appeal to some readers, particularly those who don’t much like reference book style facts and figures. Inevitably the style means that some processes are over-simplified. However, explaining, say, the Milankovitch cycles in story form is an impressive achievement.
The story starts with the early evolution of the Earth and, passing through Keeling curves and hockey sticks progresses to the impacts of climate change. Adaptation and mitigation strategies don’t really start being mentioned until p. 138 and its only after that – if the reader has got that far – that positive opportunities for preventing climate change start being introduced. This is not a book that will help much with the rise of eco-anxiety in young people.
A unique feature is that the book finishes with ‘climate bingo’ and the instruction to cross off events as they happen – with events covering a questionable choice of climate change impacts and mitigation and adaptation strategies.
My daughter thought the illustrations, which are simple and sometimes add to the text but are mostly just decorative, were her favourite part. Aimed at readers aged 8-12, it is quite text heavy and I think most 8 year-olds would struggle with it.