A Climate in Chaos by Neal Layton is not just another climate book. I will start by confessing to some concern about the proliferation of climate change books for young children. Of course, it is crucial to engender a sense of responsibility for the world and to foster awe and wonder in nature’s beauty. However, it is also essential that we do not overburden the young with guilt, a sense of helplessness or even terrorise them and induce anxiety. Striking a balance isn’t always easy.
So it was with some trepidation that I picked up A Climate in Chaos. I am not a huge fan of the title even though it’s the latest hip term for climate change, and it is very catchy. The reasons for my reservations are given above. However, I was willing to place my trust it Neal Layton, and that trust was wholly justified. I would go so far as to say this is the best book on climate change that I have read for 5 – 8 year-olds and these are the reasons why:
First of all, the text strikes a reassuring tone without diminishing the scale of the problem. It is well-structured to lead us gently through the issues to some solutions and a more optimistic future. The child’s eye view is always present.
Take, for example, the opening spread which acknowledges that children are bombarded with messages from many channels. Some of these messages may only be partially understood, and that’s the stance taken with the narrative approach in this book. The narrator addresses a young girl who is present on all the pages. She responds either to ask questions for further clarification or to make an observation. This sets a friendly, conversational tone.
Some fundamental misunderstandings are clearly explained: the weather is not the same as climate. The science is accurate and made accessible at the appropriate level for the intended readership. It is informative, straightforward and not condescending.
For children at this age, books must engage the heart and not just the mind, and again Layton gets it right. The animals scattered through the book, penguins, polar bears pandas and elephants have an emotional appeal that develops empathy in the young reader.
After explaining the problems that the world faces, the text goes on to provide some solutions. This is reasonably common in books of this type, but what I appreciated here was the extension beyond the simple thing you can do at home (turning off the lights, eating more vegetables etc.) to showing how the technology of the future may provide solutions.
Neal Layton’s illustrations are a joy. His trademark collage images include drawn character and photographic images. They are both playful, enhanced by humorous speech bubbles, and informative. A diagram of the future house gives so much information, all the text needs to say is ‘Here’s a picture of what a sustainable home of the future might look like.’
The overall message is that we need to lead better lives. Hopefully, this book will inspire a generation of naturalists but also engineers, who will work in industries to develop solutions and correct the problems unwittingly caused by industrialisation.
This will be the climate change book that I will be taking into schools this term, and I will be advocating to include it in our Take One Book when it comes out in paperback.
Congratulations to the editorial and design teams at Wren and Rook. They are producing some outstanding nonfiction.
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