A Letter to my Children
by Cara Hoffman, plus Emma Shevah talks about How to Save the World with a Chicken and an Egg
Author Cara Hoffman shares a letter for her climate-anxious children.
Yesterday I put on my mask and met a friend and we walked together in the National Forest. The leaves had begun to turn yellow and orange and red. The sun was shining through the branches We saw TOADS and chipmunks and blue birds. We heard owls and woodpeckers, wind blowing through the treetops, small animals skittering over dead leaves. The forest was bursting with life and it made me want to write you a letter.
I know this can be a scary time. There are fires in California and hurricanes along the Gulf Coast. Polar ice caps are melting. The weather is changing and the land where people and animals live is changing. Adults are worried and kids are too.
I have a few important things to tell you about climate change.
The first is this:
No matter what anyone says—it is not up to YOU to personally fix this frightening problem. Climate Change is not YOUR fault, or your parents’ fault. The environment didn’t get this bad because you used a plastic straw.
The environment is in danger because large companies have not listened when groups of people asked them to stop polluting the air and the water and the land. This is because they think the air and the water and the land belong to them.
The most important thing you can do right now to help the environment is
DON’T think like they do.
Plants and animals have their own lives. The earth doesn’t belong to you or me or an oil company anymore than it belongs to a cricket or a tree or a frog.
Right now, the National Forest Foundation is replanting trees everywhere in the country from Florida to Alaska. Their goal is to plant fifty million trees to repopulate the forests. Trees filter carbon out of the atmosphere and help clean the air. Forests help filter and supply water, and provide homes for animals of all kinds. More than 400 species depend on national forest habitat, including humans.
YOU and your family, and your friends and their families, can help plant those trees so that National Forests can exist in the future. This page will explain how you can help.
The climate activist Greta Thunberg wrote recently in her book No One is Too Small to Make a Difference that “The climate crisis has already been solved. We already have all the facts and the solutions. All we have to do is wake up and change.”
Many people have worked hard for those changes. Activists have told the world who the polluters are. Scientists have invented new ways to clean the air. Whole countries have promised to stop using coal and gas. We don’t know if they will keep their promises or not. They have broken them before. Together we can make sure they keep them. But right now YOU can make a promise to yourself and to the other creatures on this planet. You can promise to never believe the earth belongs to people.
People belong to the earth. And we need to remember that, because there’s no where else for us to go.
See you in the forest,
You can find out more about The Ballad of Tubs Marshfield here.
Cara Hoffman is the author of Running, a New York Times Editor’s Choice, an Esquire Magazine Best Book of 2017, and an Autostraddle Best Queer and Feminist Book of 2017. She first received national attention in 2011 with the publication of So Much Pretty which sparked a national dialogue on violence and retribution and was named Best Suspense Novel of the year by the New York Times Book Review.
Emma Shevah talks about her new Middle Grade eco-adventure, out now with Chicken House.
Tell us about your new book.
How to Save the World with a Chicken and an Egg is narrated by Ivy Pink Floyd, animal communicator, and Nathaniel Breakwell, an animal- and routine-loving boy with Asperger’s who has been brought up by his grandmother. After his grandmother’s death, Nathaniel goes to stay in Southwold, Suffolk, with his eccentric, confusing mother, and meets the equally odd Ivy, a fostered girl with a ‘difficult past’, chicken friend wedged under her arm and a dog daddy who follows her everywhere. Both Nathaniel and Ivy are committed to animals and saving the world, but it’s hard to know what to do when the world is huge and you’re not even a teenager yet, and neither is great at making friends (human ones, at least). But when the impossible possible happens one night on the beach (let’s just say it involves a leatherback turtle and a lot of rumpus), they learn two important lessons: one, saving the world means doing what you can when you can, and two, none of us can do it on our own.
How does climate change play into the plot?
It’s central to the plot: both Ivy and Nathaniel want to save the planet, but they do it different ways (neither of which is very successful). Ivy talks to creatures and tries to help them, although their human owners are not very compliant or believing, and she mainly fails. Nathaniel tells everyone he meets fascinating facts, but this seems to drive them away instead of persuading them to change their habits or be his friend. The ‘impossible possible’ is actually impossible at the moment but with sea temperatures rising, perhaps one day it could actually be possible.
What kind of research did you do when writing it?
I read books on animals and animal behaviour; I read about and watched documentaries about animal communicators; I read books by ecologists and emailed turtle professors and experts about leatherback eggs, and their transportation, incubation and hatching. I contacted Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, the Marine Conservation Society and the Leatherback Trust (only the first of those organisations was helpful!); I researched fostering, Asperger’s, and the Seri tribe in Mexico, and returned to Southwold to ride around on a bike and see where there were and weren’t lampposts, and what views you could see from e.g. Gun Hill, which meant walking around near people’s houses and taking photos like a suspicious stalker. I also did lots of internet searches for animal facts, mucus and saliva – if you’d seen any of my searches at that time, you’d have been very concerned about me.
What approach did you take to talking about complicated topics, either political or scientific, for younger readers?
I usually consider the benefits and drawbacks of being optimistic or pessimistic about a subject and how this might affect young readers. David Wallace-Wells begins his book, ‘The Uninhabitable Earth’ with the line, ‘It is worse, much worse, than you think.’ I’m not sure I could start with a similar message for kids.
If we think it’s too late to change our habits and create positive climate change, we won’t be motivated to do anything, but if we think it’s all fine and dandy, we won’t be motivated to make any changes or take action. I wanted kids to feel that although they don’t have jeeps or skills, they can help, and they can make a difference. With first person narrators, the political and scientific topics are limited to what the narrator might know, being an eleven or twelve-year-old child, so that frames how you present that information and what you include. Ivy doesn’t understand the scientific jargon the scientists use so she paraphrases it; Nathaniel would understand it but children only have the information taught to or discussed with them and often not the whole comprehensive picture, so this changes how you write it. I also wanted to highlight autism, different types of families, and feeling abandoned by a parent, and these are also serious subjects. I tend to use humour a lot to balance it out.
What are some of your favourite books about climate change? (fictional or non-fiction!)
I love Carl Safina’s books: he’s an ecologist and scientist and is a poetic, insightful writer who shares his deep love for the natural world in every haunting and beautiful sentence he writes. The following are less about climate change but ‘Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?’ by Frans de Waal; ‘The Unexpected Truth about Animals’ by Lucy Cooke and ‘Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness’ by Peter Godfrey-Smith are all great reads.
Can you remember when your journey with environmental activism started?
I can’t say it’s a ‘journey’ or when it might have started because it’s just always been important to me. I’ve always deeply loved and felt profoundly connected to this planet and its creatures, and all of my actions are related to my experience of being here and sharing life on Earth with the people and creatures that are also here, have been here before me, and will be here after I’m gone. I think if you love the Earth, your whole life is – or should be - an act of activism. It’s just so hard in the modern world to walk the walk. I get on planes and I buy veg in plastic because it’s hard not to. I drive if I’m really tired and I know I could do more but I’m also running a home and a family, and two careers, one of which is ridiculously demanding. I’m not perfect – none of us is – but I really do care.
Why is it so important for you personally to see the environment discussed in fiction?
This is the biggest problem we face. I tend to write about what bothers me, and this bothers me hugely – I can’t not write about it. I know it also bothers other people, and kids have growing anxiety about climate change and what they’re inheriting, so it needs to be addressed and I feel compelled to offer them hope, even if it feels (and maybe is) hopeless.
Can you share a quotation from the book that you hope will resonate with readers?
This part can be found towards the end of the novel, when Nathaniel is talking to a scientist called Irina about some baby turtles that have just hatched and swum out to sea:
‘It’s too late, isn’t it?’ I asked quietly.
She paused, checking what I meant. ‘For them?’
‘For the planet.’
She paused, then added, ‘Those tiny hatchlings have so little chance, but they do everything they can to survive anyway. And that’s what we need to do. We can’t lose hope. The odds against us are enormous, but we have to do everything we can. And keep doing it. You understand me, right?’
You can find out more about How to Save the World with a Chicken and an Egg here.
Emma Shevah is half Thai and half Irish, and was born and raised in London. She holds a BA Honours in English and Philosophy from the University of Nottingham and an MA with Distinction in Creative and Professional Writing from Brunel. She is the author of Hello Baby Mo!, an early reader published by Bloomsbury, and four Middle Grade novels published by Chicken House: Dream on Amber (2014 – winner of the Odyssey Award), Dara Palmer’s Major Drama (2016 – optioned by CBBC), What Lexie Did (UK)/Lexie’s Little Lie (US) 2018 and How to Save the World with a Chicken and an Egg (2021). She currently lives in Brighton with 50% of her four children and is Head of Year 13 at Roedean.
World's Revolution are seeking talented authors from all walks of life to submit climate fiction stories to our first anthology, set to release Fall 2021. They pay $0.01 per word for accepted stories, up to 10,000 words, for climate fiction with a fun science fiction/fantasy twist. The stories should also reflect themes of climate justice and an understanding of the intersectionality of the climate crisis. https://www.theworldsrevolution.com/submissions
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