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Eco-anxiety is a form of negative emotional response to climate change (although this is only one of many definitions) – eco-anxiety is also referred to as eco-dread, eco-grief, eco-anger, eco-angst, eco-worry, eco-fear and eco-despair. Indigenous peoples, children and young people are identified as being more vulnerable to this negative emotional response. In March 2020, Gail Ellis wrote an ELT Footprint blog post on pictureboks to inspire children to become environmental advocates … she wrote: “We need to channel any climate anxiety our primary-aged students may be experiencing into climate optimism and positive change”. Picturebooks are perfect springboards for developing “the capacity for taking personal and collective action to protect the earth so they can make a difference to the future of our planet”. If you’d like to revisit Gail’s blog post, check it out here:…/

The month of April at PEPELT is all about using picturebooks for climate OPTIMISM!

I (Sandie) start the month with a picturebook created by the renowned author, Nicola Davies, but this time she is also the illustrator. The picturebook is ‘Last, the story of a white rhino’ (Tiny Owl, 2020). It is inspired by the life of a real rhino, Sudan, the last male Northern White Rhino on our planet. In 1985 he was brought to a zoo in the Czech Republic, in an attempt to save Northern White Rhinos from extinction. He fathered some baby rhinos, but few survived. In 2009 he was taken back to the wild in the hope that breeding might be more successful. Watched by armed guards around the clock, Sudan lived for nine more years, but no more baby rhinos were born. Sudan died in March 2018, leaving just two elderly females of his species in our world. It is a sad, sad story and as readers we experience huge discomfort upon realizing that Northern White Rhinos are now extinct. It is the most important feeling we could have, deliberately brought to the picturebook by Nicola Davies, who wants us all to stand up and do something.

If you want to read my blog post about this picturebook, click on the link below.

In Portugal I am at the far edge of Europe, rhinos in their natural habitats in the African and Asian continents are far away and out of mind. But World Rhino Day, on 22 September, gives a voice to these creatures through the activities organised by NGOs, zoos and organisations that help Rhinos. It can also bring the rhino into your classroom!

To follow on from the picturebook, ideas come easily … children can first find out about the different rhinos in the world, what they are like, what they eat, where they live and why is it they are in such danger. Then move into taking some form of action. This could include celebrating World Rhino Day with marches, speeches and presentations, visual posters around the school, and fliers to take out into the neighbourhood. Children can tell everyone in their immediate worlds about rhinos… for sure many will be like me, ignorant of the constant threat rhinos are in.

And if you are really interested in visual arts activities, take a close look at the picturebook and discuss the different perspectives Nicola Davies has used in her illustrations. Get children to consider how these perspectives make them feel as viewers. Have them try out creating scenes of their own using close up and bird’s eye views. They could find out about other animals in danger and draw them using these different perspectives too.

This picturebook is crying out to be used in our classrooms… it’s just a small step towards helping the rhinos in our world.

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I (Gail) continue the month of April with another picturebook by Nicola Davies which helps students develop environmental knowledge and empathy, and to consider their relationships to our world, other lives and to future generations. ‘The Promise’, illustrated by Laura Carlin and published by Walker Books in 2014, can help us visualise the difference we can all make to the future of our planet, and support agency and action, and transform climate anxiety into climate optimism. ‘The Promise’ was shortlisted for the 2014 Kate Greenaway Medal and winner of the 2014 English Association Picture Book award for best fiction and the Green Earth Book Award in 2015. ‘The Promise’ is suitable for upper primary/lower secondary.

‘The Promise’ combines the themes of hardship and transformation and the endpapers give a clue to the transformation that takes place. It is a story of a young girl who steals a bag from an old lady who, after a struggle, allows her to take the bag as long as the girl promises to plant them. The girl doesn’t understand what she means thinking the bag contained food and money but when she opened the bag, she discovers it is full of acorns. She remembers her promise ‘I held a forest in my arms, and my heart was changed’. So she begins to plant the acorns and little by little she transforms the environment as slowly, slowly, slowly, shoots of green began to show. All of this impacts on everyone’s well-being and they began planting too.

The illustrations are a combination of watercolour, pastel and crayon, and move from a gradual shift from black, white and grey tones of a cold, dark city to bright colours representing growth and nature. Students can be encouraged to read the illustrations and consider how the use of colour communicates the messages found in the words and how they convey the importance of our relationship with nature.

Nicola Davies explains that the story was inspired by Jean Giono’s short novel ‘The Man Who Planted Trees’, published in 1953 which tells the story of a shepherd’s long and successful single-handed effort to re-forest a desolate valley by planting acorns in the foothills of the Alpes in Provence in the South of France during the first half of the 20th century. The shepherd was a fictional person, but Jean Giono’s goal was to make planting trees likeable.

There is a superb, animated version of the picturebook (Watch Video) and you can listen to Nicola Davies talking about The Promise here (Watch Video)

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Tatia continues with this month’s theme of Eco-Anxiety with a picturebook from Australia: ‘The Fire Wombat’, written by Jackie French and published in 2020 by Angus & Robertson (Harper Collins Children’s Books). Jackie French was the Australian Children’s Laureate (2014-2015) and you might be familiar with her ‘Diary of a Wombat’ series, illustrated by Welsh author and illustrator Bruce Whatley. ‘The Fire Wombat’, however, is illustrated by Adelaide-based award-winning illustrator Danny Snell.

Jackie French explains that ‘The Fire Wombat’ was inspired by a ‘small smoke-stained wombat who stumbled towards our food and water station at the worst of the 2020 bushfires’. It is the story of how a wombat finds shelter with other animals in her burrow. Together, they hide to survive and later, they begin their journey to safety. Their journey is long and painful but thankfully successful for many. Countless local communities came together and with ‘hands outstretched’, people across Australia joined forces to save their native wildlife. Ultimately, ‘The Fire Wombat’ is a story of kindness, courage and compassion which can help to dampen a possible eco-anxiety of the reader and contribute to the notion of climate optimism.

Jackie narrates the story from the perspective of an observer, witnessing the raging wildfires (2019 to 2020) and the plight of the indigenous wildlife. She wrote the story in rhyme, perhaps paying tribute to Bush Poetry, which is anchored in narratives relating to Australia, Australians, and its natural environment. Her word choices are emotive and express both pain and love. The illustrations by Snell follow a strict colour scale which consists predominantly of shades of brown, grey, orange and green used to express fire, dry and burned land and growth. A number of double spreads bleed, meaning they extend to the edge of the page, allowing the reader to position themselves within the picture. Despite the seriousness of the depicted scenes, these spreads offer a panoramic view that exudes calmness.

What makes the picturebook exceptional is that the illustrations tell the story in such a manner that in fact, this book could function as a wordless picturebook. This in return offers opportunities in PELT as poetry can be a challenge for language learners. The visuals alone could be used as a stepping-stone to explore the story and establish vocabulary-sets , for example, wildfire, Australian wildlife and community spirit. Some other PELT opportunities could be found in telling or writing the story from the wombat’s point of view and researching and writing ‘What happens next?’. More advanced language learners might benefit from discovering the written rhyme. The publisher (Barbara Braxton for HarperCollins Australia) has created a teaching pack with three clear sections: before, during and after reading. Although this resource pack is not for PELT purposes, it offers many interesting ideas, so do have a look.

‘The Fire Wombat’ was longlisted in the 2021 Australian Book Industry Awards and a 2021 Children’s Book Council Notable Book. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book goes to The Wombat Protection Society of Australia. I hope you like my choice and perhaps this book can offer support for teachers and their classes living in areas where wildfires occur or have occurred.

Link to resource pack:

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Our final post for the month of April on PEPELT around the theme of ‘Eco Anxiety’ is, as usual, from Anneta Sadowska who works in Poland. Anneta used ‘The last tree’ by Emily Haworth-Booth (Pavilion Children’s Books, 2020) with her upper primary learners (from 11 to 14 years old) focussing her activities on preparing children to do a small piece of writing.

Here are some of the activities she mentions in her film:

* Brainstorm endings to this sentence: ‘A tree is … ’

* Talk around the following questions: ‘How long will it take to for the world to become treeless?’, ‘What would the consequences be?’

* Write a short text with the title ‘The last tree’. Include the following words: people, wind, houses, wall, children, forest.

Can you guess at what point she shared the picturebook with her children? Watch and find out 🙂