Thursday, October 9, 2014

Picturing the Future

Thanks to all who attended the program on nature and picture books this past weekend.  It was the perfect setting to talk about things that I love: nature, picture books and art. Living in Iowa for 20 years, I’ve used the regional natural world around me as my prime creative inspiration. To me, art is an opportunity to bring the outdoors in with us. A singing cardinal bird, a calling cicada, rustling prairie grasses, even a stealth deer can all be part of our every day worlds here in Iowa. I’ve enjoyed connecting my art with kids in many different ways, most importantly through picture books, and I'm know others feel this is an important bridge to make, too.

One topic that came up during discussion after the program was how children's literature is handling the crisis of climate change. What role do picture books play in educating our young readers about the enviromental tipping point the world faces right now? I admited to not knowing the current picture book titles on the topic. But I should. It will be some important on-going research for me.

I share the majority view who agree that climate change is occuring and that people are contributing to it. I don't want to be gloom and doom over the statistics, but for all sorts of reasons, critical habitats are being lost for so many animal species.  The great loss, and potential disaster, for humanity in only a few decades time can no longer just be imagined but scientfically calculated. It IS our duty to get more people, most importantly youngsters, to care for our planet. One way is to create and tell stories that celebrate our love for the natural world in positive, hopeful stories that motivate learning and caring more about our wild places. I'm one of the author/illustrators that try and do this the best I can. As the saying goes, "You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar".

But the talk last week made me re-think on the critical urgency of our situation.  Maybe I've been too PollyAnna about this. Perhaps sharing with our children that it's time for all-hands-on-deck is necessary right now. The capabilities of our childen's understanding can never be underestimated. Ideas and creative problem solving starts young- there could be a 7-year-old with a seed of a solution just waiting to be motivated.  I'm not talking a dystopian picture book- young readers will have enough of that flavor to read in the current YA trends. But what if the birds can't find a place to nest? What if the sea becomes too warm for fish? What if we cannot learn how to share the earth with others?  Every field should take some responsbility for the situation. Children's literature can surely shoulder some grunt work. And I'm looking foward to helping.

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