How do you tell children about the climate crisis?

A lone polar bear bobbing on a crumbled flake of ice: this statue has become the symbol of climate change. It is therefore no coincidence that the iconic arctic animal appears on the cover of two recent picture books about global warming. Not the cover illustration by Yoko Heiligers farts from the chimney (by Marc Ter Horst) is interchangeable with Mattias De Leeuws for Saved! (with text by Bette Westera). On the contrary. Where Heiligers’ polar bear floats unsuspectingly on a cold blue flake of ice in a dark sea, De Leeuw’s emaciated specimen paddles in a burning red-orange sun to an unknown horizon, accompanied by a penguin and bald eagle. Not on an ice floe, but on a, well, what’s that weird houseboat that’s heaving there?

Factual and reassuring?

This difference in Heiligers’ and De Leeuw’s cover images aptly reflects the difference in the way the two books tell the story of climate change. IN farts from the chimney Acclaimed children’s nonfiction author Ter Horst actually explains in clear language and effective imagery why it’s getting warmer and what the consequences are, aided by Heiligers’ inventive, narrative prints in striking color. For example, he compares intestinal gases from cows with exhaust gases from cars and emissions from factories. Together they form an invisible ‘carpet of farts’ in the air, which makes everything hotter and the weather upset: a strong image that Heiligers brilliantly plays on several times. The impression is significant, for example, where a group of people with united forces roll up a blanket and try to push it away, referring to ‘the clever things’ that people come up with, according to Ter Horst, to ‘not make it more global’, such as wind turbines and electric cars. . “Then the ice doesn’t melt so quickly anymore. Then islands stay above the water./ And then the polar bear remains a polar bear.’

Ter Horst’s conclusion sounds logical, but also simple. In the way that you don’t really get hot or cold from the farts from the chimney. Of course, he will no doubt reassure his young readership. And yes, climate knowledge is important. But what good is it if the imagination is not turned up? ‘In the Netherlands, dikes hold back the water’, he writes. Of course, a relief. At the same time, these dykes limit the imagination.

Tangible burning sun

Illustration Mattias De Leeuw

How different it is here Saved! No ‘after us the flood’. From the opening spread, you’re in the middle of the climate apocalypse somewhere on one of the poles. There, De Leeuw immediately lets the sun burn noticeably. Its bright yellow sunbeams blend beautifully, but inevitably, with the icy blue water, after which the sunset yellow becomes more and more dominant, until finally sky and sea merge into each other red-hot. Yet Westera doesn’t say a word about climate change. She tells only from the fictional perspective of a young eagle how a disaster takes place. She does this in a light-hearted tone, in her well-known rhythmically smooth sentences in rhyme, where she plays effectively with the characteristics of certain animals. For example, the black-tailed godwit’s ‘poles’ come in handy when the sea rolls inland.

Meanwhile, Eagle flies ahead of his arctic friends to warn the other animals. Depicting them as ignorant climate deniers is a crooked plot twist. Just as it applies to us that the Flood is unthinkable as long as Ter Horst’s dykes last, it also applies to the animals. The orangutan does not see ice. ‘Nothing melts here’, he says and declares Arend ‘not smart’. According to the giraffe, the disaster is not so bad: ‘I keep my head above the sea.’ And the elephant likes wetness in its ‘thirsty desert’. Meanwhile, as befits a compelling picture book, De Leeuw tells a very different story. The rising water is undeniably gaining ground, witness the steadily expanding floating chaos. This invites good looks and stimulates the imagination, which is essential: this is precisely what will save us in the end. Just look at that cover art.

Also read a review about a politically tinged children’s book: Politics for children: a dictatorship is like a dictate

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