October 08, 2020


Generation Brave: The Gen Z Kids Who Are Changing the World. By Kate Alexander. Illustrated by Jade Orlando. Andrews McMeel. $19.99.

Creature Campers #3: The Wall of Doom. By Joe McGee. Illustrated by Bea Tormo. Andrews McMeel. $6.99.

     Every generation has its heroes; every generation needs them. Every generation comes to its own conclusion that we are not living in “the best of all possible worlds” (apologies to Voltaire) and sets out in search of ways to bring Earth closer, if not to Utopia or Paradise, then to a better Earth. Of course, every generation defines “better” differently, which is one reason for the so-called (or used-to-be-so-called) “generation gap.” So things are not very different for Generation Z, usually defined as people born between 1997 and 2012. Yet of course things are different for this group, just as every group before them encountered apparently intractable problems and deemed those different from what previous generations had dealt with. What is interesting now is that instant worldwide communication has enabled young people to gather followers by the thousands or more in a very short time period – “virtual” followers, anyway – and promote their version of a better world to people everywhere. (OK, not to places where communication is banned or heavily censored, such as China, North Korea and Iran, but more widely and more quickly than has ever been possible before.) Generation Brave offers members of Generation Z a hagiographic look at young people who are making or trying to make a significant difference in five areas: “Challenging the System,” “Creating a Safer World,” “Stopping the Clock on Climate Change,” “Lifting Each Other Up,” and “Taking Care of Each Other.” The divisions are quite arbitrary and certainly overlap, but they give Kate Alexander a way to subdivide the book for a generation not known for its long attention span or inclination to read old-fashioned books at all. And each portrait of a person or group is kept quite short, with just three pages of text and a full-page drawing by Jade Orlando. Since “diversity” (a malleable concept) is itself one of the causes promoted by Generation Z activists, Alexander is at pains to present people of all genders (the notion of “all” rather than “both” genders being itself a Generation Z cause), many countries, and multiple races and backgrounds. The portrayals are in many cases of groups rather than individuals: “The Students of IntegrateNYC,” who demand that New York City provide “a diverse and inclusive environment for all students”; “The Newtown Activists” and “The Parkland Survivors,” fighting for tighter restrictions on U.S. gun ownership; and others. And then there are the individuals. A few are well-known enough to be inevitably included in the book, such as Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. But some who are not household names are often more interesting, such as Fionn Ferreira, who won the 2019 Google Science Fair for his method of removing microplastics from water and says he wants “to get other people inspired to look at creative thinking and creative ways to solve problems.” That mature and inclusive sentiment contrasts strongly with the rabble-rousing of some others profiled in Generation Brave, such as clean-water advocate Autumn Peltier, who says that “kids all over the world have to pay for mistakes we didn’t even make,” which has been true of every generation. Some activists take a very direct us-vs.-them position, such as those who unquestioningly advocate the so-called Green New Deal no matter what its cost and no matter how many (older) people’s livelihoods it destroys. Others have a far more nuanced and less confrontational approach: “LGBTQ+” advocate Sameer Jha, who is half Indian and half Pakistani, sees the U.S. as a source of hope and pride rather than a fount of evil, saying, “As a queer person of color who traces my heritage to a country in which homosexuality is punishable by death, I want to use my privilege as an American citizen with a supportive family to raise awareness and fight for the people who can’t.” Although it is impossible to predict which people and which causes in Generation Brave will ultimately succeed – no generation has a 100% success rate – it is likely that the young people who demonize their elders and their countries will do far less well than those who enlist members of earlier generations to assist in solving problems that may be extremely difficult but that need not be intractable when people of multiple generations work together rather than at cross-purposes.

     If only real life were as simple as fiction! But one of the pleasures of fiction is that it does simplify matters and thus make them bearable. Besides, it can provide a means of escape, however briefly, from real-world difficulties into ones that are far more manageable. That is what young readers get in the Creature Campers series in its celebration of differences (among species, not just humans), forthright advocacy of teamwork, and assertion that even bad guys are basically all right at heart and can be converted to goodness. The setting of these books is a camp whose denizens include Oliver, a human boy; Norm, a young Bigfoot; Wisp, a fairy who can barely fly because of a wing problem; Hazel, a jackalope; counselor Zeena Morf, an alien; and camp director Furrow Grumplestick, a gnome. Also present is Barnaby Snoop, a nefarious (but not too nefarious) collector of unusual species, especially Bigfeet. In the second book, Snoop was rescued by the campers from a problem largely of his own making, so he shows his gratitude in The Wall of Doom by providing unseen help to the young people as they negotiate an obstacle course whose elements, Grumplestick insists, all involve “doom” (but they really don’t, as Zeena Morf points out). All the campers have to do is negotiate some monkey bars that pass above a lot of mud; get through a set of half-buried tires whose openings become smaller and smaller as the course progresses; and climb a wall that has the habit of not always being visible. The catch is that they have to do all this while blindfolded – that is, all but one must wear blindfolds, giving each camper a chance to get the others safely through and prove his or her leadership ability. It is a simple plot and a simply written book, with no really major challenges or difficulties present – only minor ones that Barnaby Snoop, flying above the course in a hot-air balloon that everyone is conveniently unable to see at the crucial moments, readily helps the campers overcome. A funny climactic scene involving “a rare red-bellied flying porcupinesnake” lets Barnaby use his knowledge of strange and unusual creatures to good effect and then lets the campers rescue him yet again, with the book ending as the onetime bad guy is appointed the camp’s “newest animal expert.” The idea here is to keep everything light and amusing while teaching the importance of bravery, teamwork, self-reliance, and a willingness to help others – a set of lessons that results, inevitably, in everything turning out just fine for everybody. That is about as far from a real-world outcome as it is possible to get, but it makes for light and pleasant reading before the inevitable necessity of a return to real life.

No comments:

Post a Comment