December 27, 2007


You Can Save the Planet: 50 Ways You Can Make a Difference. By Jacquie Wines. Illustrated by Sarah Horne. Scholastic. $4.99.

Owen & Mzee: A Day Together. By Isabella Hatkoff, Craig Hatkoff and Dr. Paula Kahumbu. Photographs by Peter Greste. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $6.99.

      The increase in awareness of the impact that humans are having on the Earth’s climate was certainly one of the major news stories and economic developments of 2007. It is therefore not surprising to see publishers starting to bring out well-intentioned books designed to involve young readers (and, by extension, their families – which, after all, have to buy the books) in concerns about climate change and ways in which humans can ameliorate their negative impact on the planet. You Can Save the Planet has an over-ambitious first half of its title but a more reasonable second half: 50 Ways You Can Make a Difference. It’s clearly written for young children (“An eco-warrior’s life is never easy”), but its advice and level of understanding are useful for older kids as well (very next sentence: “Sometimes you will need to weigh the pros and cons of an issue in order to make a sensible choice”). The book is printed in green ink (not the easiest to read, it must be said) and contains some post-consumer fiber (but only some: “a minimum of 10%”). Its seven chapters (which are followed by a list of useful Web sites) deal with such issues as “Shopping for the Planet” and “Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Recycle.” Among the suggestions are not to waste water; to protect birds displaced by human encroachment; to reject bottled water, fast food and clothing that is dry-clean-only; to swap toys, books, games and such instead of throwing them away; to send greeting cards by E-mail instead of buying printed ones; and to recycle old cell phones, ink cartridges and computers. These are more than feel-good notions – most have real value, although not all families will accept every one of them. A political agenda does show up in some ideas, though, such as not to buy “anything that looks furry” because “an item made with fur described as imitation may not be fake after all.” Still, many of the ideas here are useful, the suggestions should at least get kids started thinking about their impact on the planet, and the statistics included among the recommendations are sobering.

      One event that may or may not have been caused by climate change was the disastrous tsunami of Boxing Day (December 26) 2004, caused by a massive earthquake beneath the Indian Ocean. The event is known as the Great Sumatra-Andaman earthquake. Its human toll was enormous – more than 225,000 people died – and the outpouring of assistance to affected countries was worldwide (more than $7 billion). Yet for many people, especially children, one of the things that brought home the macrocosmic impact of this disaster was a microcosm of its effect: the survival of a baby hippo named Owen and its development of a totally unexpected bond with a giant tortoise named Mzee. The tale was told in the news media and has been reported in several books of stunning photographs, and now there is a board book of the story available for the youngest children. Owen & Mzee: A Day Together shows the unlikely duo walking, swimming and eating together; and one wonderful photo shows the tortoise seeming to protect the hippo from sanctuary visitors who have inadvertently scared Owen. The larger issues of how the two bonded and what may happen to them in the future are absent here, as are any discussions of the disaster that brought them together. Perhaps kids enthralled by the board book will want to know more – and, when they are ready, can learn from other books about the extreme difficulties that underlie the apparently idyllic relationship of this unlikely animal pair.

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