How stories can tackle climate change

Serena Hassan
Opinion - Children Tuesday, 27 August 2019

Serena Hassan reports on how she aims to raise awareness - with the story of a tap-dancing pigeon

As a child, I thought that climate change was happening millions of miles away from me, where ice caps were melting, and the polar bears were losing their homes. Very few of the stories I read when I was younger looked at how climate change issues were just on our doorstep. Now with children of my own, I wanted to create a story with an environmental message that showed how close to home environmental issues are - that it's our immediate actions that impact the planet for better or worse. It is these thoughts that led me to write The Tap-Dancing Pigeon of Covent Garden.

The inspiration for this story came about about seven years ago, while I was eating my lunch in Covent Garden's piazza. I spotted a desperate pigeon, frantically flapping its wings. At a closer glance, I noticed its legs were tangled in a pile of rubbish, and it had plastic twisted round its legs and feet. It was hopping frenziedly round the cobbled streets. I tried to help it, but it flew off as I approached. To this day I wonder whether that pigeon ever managed to untangle its legs.

This sparked an idea. How could I help the next generation become aware of plastic pollution and its effect on our environment? How as a writer could I capture the imaginations of children and show them that our planet wasn't just suffering millions of miles away, but right on our doorsteps? I thought: "What child has not seen a pigeon? They are everywhere. What a great place to start."

One of the important aims of my book is to teach 3 to 7-year-old children about the effect of littering on our wildlife and our amazing planet. Children do not necessarily need to see upsetting photographs of a duck strangled by a plastic ring to understand the impact plastic is having on our animals. In order to engage with young children, I believe we need to relate to them on their level. Children have brains that absorb information like sponges and can understand so much more than many people think. Essentially, we need to be teaching our children from a young age that protecting our planet is of utmost importance to safeguard our planet's future.

I believe children's fiction has a key role to play, as it can provide a formative and lasting effect on young children. From my own experience with my two daughters, aged 3 and 5, I know this to be true from their responses to The Tap-Dancing Pigeon of Covent Garden. My story will capture the attention of a child by drawing her or him into an interesting narrative, with a loveable character, whom they can follow on his journey.

While adults are kept up to date with new pieces of research highlighting the disturbing correlation between single-use plastic and climate change, children need to be given the opportunity to be equally informed. Through stories such as The Tap-Dancing Pigeon of Covent Garden I hope children's engagement and awareness of climate change reaches far beyond looking at changes in weather patterns, and allows them to see how the decisions they make can have positive effects on their local environments and beyond.

We are so lucky to have Greta Thunberg as a voice to empower younger generations to help our planet. Greta's strength of character has inspired children across the globe to stand up against climate change. I believe this creates an increased necessity for children's books to reflect this attitude. This is demonstrated through some wonderful recent children's books such as Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type and If Sharks Disappeared, and I hope also in The Tap-Dancing Pigeon of Covent Garden.

I believe it is our duty to inform our children about the dangers of climate change, and also to encourage their empathy towards our local wildlife and planet. If we can provide learning through fictional narratives, we can inspire younger children as the next generation to come up with their own ideas of how to tackle these problems, building a better future step by step.

The Tap-Dancing Pigeon of Covent Garden by Serena Hassan (Mermrock Publishing) is out on 5 September and available to pre-order here.

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