Please welcome another special guest blogger, multi-award author, Anna Fienberg.
‘Guess what Dad, Sofie’s getting solar panels!’
‘That’s great. Mind out for that dog poo.’
‘So can we get some?’
‘No, solar panels!’
They were coming towards me on the bush track. I didn’t hear Dad’s answer as they passed, but I could tell he was stalling.
It didn’t matter, I was thrilled. Solar envy, it was unmistakable, the new note in that young voice.
We know, of course, that children are aware of climate change and the destruction that one degree has wrought. Now fires bring their own weather like a wicked guest with a bottle of poison – it doesn’t matter how they’re lit, despite what fossil fuel salesmen like Matt Canavan say – the country they burn has turned into their fodder.
We know children don’t live in a sealed off ‘bubble’ of childhood – we are all part of the environment. Schoolchildren all over the world are participating in an activism beyond anything we’ve seen before.
No matter how careful a parent might be to shield them from climate change, just living and breathing the air will tell our children ‘something is happening out there’.
When I got home from my walk, I continued to think about that girl and her friend, Sofie – how old are they, nine or ten? How are they going to cope with their future, their human future?
And I thought that just as climate change requires both recognition of its true cause and inventive ways to tackle it, so our role as writers demands honesty about root problems together with presenting possible solutions. Because whether intended or not, this is what fiction does.
We expand the landscape of imagination. We build resilience and hope. Without hope, we can only ‘rock the cradle, and cry’.
I’ve long thought you can tackle almost any issue relevant to children as long as you supply hope.
You can tell children there’s hope and possibilities but fiction makes you feel it. Stories come alive inside us. Change us. I remember a teacher librarian at a school telling me that she had just read aloud a chapter of a novel to Year 6, in which the main character was swimming for her life from a shark. After the reading, joining the long queue to borrow the book, a girl said, ‘Oh Miss, I was just swimming that hard, I’m exhausted!’
Fiction is a powerful lesson in empathy. It is effortless, joyful, a relief from the loneliness of one’s own mind. As we read we slip into the skin of a character – their hopes and joys and agonies become ours. We lose our own inner landscape and acquire a new one. Yet as we do so, we feel their life through our own. And when we emerge, we will never be quite the same again.
At Summer Hill Public one year, when I asked Year 5 what they liked about reading, a boy said, ‘When I read I go far away. And when I come back, I feel bigger than I really am.’
Reading can give us courage, and ideas. It allows us both to escape and re-enter our own world with new insights. As Geraldine McCaughrean, that brilliant British children’s author said, ‘The imagination is a fire escape from a burning world.’ With the skills we learn and breadth of experience we take from books, we can hopefully cope better with the fires here on earth.
For the deeper a problem an author throws at a character, the more diverse will be the ways she’ll try to solve it. And when, at the end, we see her put together all that she’s learnt, we’ll be satisfied that she has truly saved herself, and that her redemption will be enduring. Because that’s what stories do – they create problems and they solve them, showing us a myriad of different paths to a higher ground.
What will children need to cope with a climate-wild future? Some of this survival experience, I’d say. The deep down, long, slow pleasure of committing to a character, to swimming for them, growing for them, expanding for them.
Children and adults will need a lively imagination to help us invent new techniques and solutions, experience in rehearsing different possibilities, and above all the empathy and communication skills to work cooperatively with others others.
They’ll need to think of the group as well as one’s self. To recognise that others are human just like you, even though they might come from somewhere different, or speak a different language. Just as we are well used to identifying with a character from a diverse world, so we can relate to each other in real life.
Where will children learn that? Fiction. And they can be referred to it by their excellent Teacher Librarian.
Anna Fienberg … multi-award winning author of books for children and young adults including The Magnificent Nose and Other Marvels, Ariel, Zed & the Secret of Life, The Witch in the Lake, and the ever-popular Tashi series which has been translated into 16 languages.