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Our Big Beautiful World

The Green Revolution Comes to Kids' Books

By Hugh A. Cook

Volume 18 Number 5
1990 September

CM Reviewer Hugh Cook takes us on a guided tour of the current materials on the environment for children and young people published in Canada -- games, music, picture-books and activity/ reference books all designed to bring kids and the environment together.

Lorraine Johnson's Green Future: How to Make a World of Difference is probably the best book I have seen that comments on our environmental problems. She not only stresses the three Rs--reduce, reuse and recycle-- she also adds recover, reject, refuse and repair. This is undoubtedly one of the better resource books for teachers. Its current graphs and tables make it an excellent supporting document when one is putting together a unit of study. This 1990 edition is packed with ideas, facts and information on other available resources. Acid rain, the greenhouse effect, our depleting ozone layer, water management, waste disposal, depleting forests, lost agricultural lands, chemical over-kill, wilderness preservation, rapid transportation pollution, use of fossil fuels, gardening practices and energy conservation are explained in simple text. Although its suggested activities are aimed at the Junior/ lntermediate levels, many of them could be reworked for Primary or secondary usage.

Should a Primary teacher be looking for "almost" picture-book assistance, it can be found in such sources as The Puzzlers Book, a collection of quizzes and puzzles from the editors of Owl magazine (which in itself often comments on the environment), and Good Planets Are Hard to Find!, written by Roma Dehr and Ronald M. Bazar. This latter book is a primary dictionary of environmental terms but also has an excellent list of environmental organizations and government agencies with their addresses. Current lists of this type are usually difficult to obtain, so their inclusion will be appreciated by many. Both of these Primary books would add interest to the book corner. The issue of forest conservation vs. slash logging practices may be introduced by a Primary book entitled Maxine's Tree. Maxine loves a particular tree and becomes very concerned about its future when she observes the slash logging that is occurring in the next valley. Her rather simple solution of placing her name beside her favourite tree in the belief that no one would intentionally destroy something that someone else cherished rapidly spreads along a nature trail in a B.C. forest. Other hikers copy her initiative and soon the length of the trail is marked with other innovative signatures. It is through such simple techniques as this that we can express our desire to preserve that which cannot be readily replaced. Teachers might encourage students to think of other methods of discouraging slash logging (e.g., plant one tree for every tree that is cut, usable or not).

No list on the environment would be complete without the noting of a work by David Suzuki. His book, Looking at the Environment, is a marvelous project type book for the Junior grades. He briefly discusses an environmental issue and then, in his words, provides "something to do." In addition, he adds "amazing facts," which make this book a natural grabber for students. Almost all of his "things to do" require items readily found around the average home. Where an activity may require adult supervision he duly notes it with a stop hand raised in the margin. There is no great expense associated with these activities and the step-by-step instructions allow the students to proceed at their own pace. The last section of his book lists twenty-eight things families can do to save their environment, starting right now!

The Magical Earth Secrets by Della Burford suggests a mythical approach to hook the young. Her main character, Rainbow Wings, discovers that by helping others one tends to help oneself. We help children come to see the necessity of helping our environment and in so doing we advance the idea of ecology. Older students who may not be thrilled by the story may have it introduced to them with the suggestion that they write their own myth, legend or play that would express a conservation theme.

Keepers of the Earth by Michael J. Caduto and Joseph Bruchac uses yet another technique to interest students. Although it may initially require more preparation by the teacher, its rewards would likely be most satisfying. The authors have used North American Indian stories that tell how the world was created. Each story may be read or told to the students. These fascinating stories are followed by discussion ideas, suggested questions, goals, two procedures and needed materials. The activities have been given a suggested age level but with some effort most of the ideas could be made more or less difficult. This great variety of activities plus a teacher's guide that lists many of the source books could make this a possible unit unto itself.

There are a fair number of songs that relate to our environment. One that has come to my attention is the tape recording by Markus entitled Big Beautiful World. The delightful title song may well become your unit's theme song. Students could be encouraged to search for other tunes that are concerned with environmental issues.

Recently, I was given the opportunity to examine and play a game entitled "The Green House Game." At first I thought it was a rather easy game that would soon be set aside by the students. However, it became quite apparent that one needed considerable knowledge of how to better look after our environment. Although it is aimed at children eight to twelve years old, it became obvious to me that a large section of our adult population would have a great deal of difficulty giving suitable answers. This game would be better used nearer the end of the unit, when the students have gained some environmental expertise. However, it would also be interesting to introduce it at the beginning, so that one could judge the students' environmental awareness as the unit progressed.

We should now have sufficient literary materials, etc., to educate our children about environmental concerns. If we can hook the children they will educate their parents, and an aware public will soon put pressure on our elected representatives to respond to the environmental concerns of our world.

While you teach and ponder the current environmental issues, have you thought of doing a library search for other similar Canadian resources? Are they printed on recycled products?

Regular CM readers will recognize Hugh Cook as a science and nature reviewer. Mr. Cook has variously been an elementary teacher, a learning resource librarian, and a nature interpreter with the Metropolitan Toronto and Region Conservation Authority. He lives in Maple, Ontario.

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