Children’s books exploring environmental themes have flooded the United Kingdom’s literature market in the last year, according to recent data from Nielsen Book Research.
Over the last 12 months, the number of children’s books about the environment has more than doubled in number. And demand for these novels among young readers has surged with sales growing by more than 50%, thanks to teen environmental activist Greta Thunberg.
“I absolutely would say there has been a Greta Thunberg effect," Rachel Kellehar, head of nonfiction at independent children’s book publisher Nosy Crow, told the Guardian. "She has galvanized the appetite of young people for change, and that has galvanized our appetite, as publishers, for stories that empower our readers to make those changes."
Publishers, like Kellehar, attribute the overwhelming interest of young readers in environmental topics to the 16-year-old Thunberg, who has quickly become a leading voice of the climate action movement since initiating a school strike last year to raise awareness about the effects of climate change. Over the past year, she has spoken at the United Nations’ 2018 Climate Change Conference, delivered her own TED Talk, continued rallying efforts, and is now embarking on a tour across the Americas to attend UN climate summits. Thunberg was just named “Game Changer of the Year” by GQ and is a Nobel Peace Prize nominee.
Not only has Thunberg inspired young readers to learn more about climate change and the environment, she actually appears on the cover of the book Earth Heroes, an illustrated children’s bookby travel journalist Lily Dyu, which highlights 20 extraordinary individuals working to save the planet through innovation and conservation. Kellehar’s publishing house acquired the book in June and is working to publish by early October, just before the Nobel Peace Prize winners will be announced. The four-month period marks an uncharacteristically fast turnaround for the children’s publishing industry, according to Kellehar.
“We feel it’s important to get that message out as soon as possible, and that is partly driven by the ‘Greta effect.’ Whether or not she wins the Nobel Peace Prize, October will be a key moment to reach out and say Greta’s doing this amazing thing, but also lots of other people you’ve never heard of all around the world are doing amazing things,” she told the Guardian.
“From young girls in Indonesia who have got plastic bags banned, to an engineer in India who is creating artificial glaciers, this is a book about people who are finding different ways to confront climate change head on, wherever it is affecting them,” she added.
Isobel Doster, senior editor of children’s nonfiction at Bloomsbury Publishing, said she had also seen the Thunberg effect reflected in readers’ interests. With readers looking for more books on environmental heroes, Bloomsbury will publish a collection on female role models from different eras who have worked to protect the environment, called Fantastically Great Women Who Saved the Planet, in February.
Doster said the shift in focus in the publishing industry has traveled across genres.
“There’s been a tonal shift in the natural history books that are coming on to the market. It’s not enough just to explore the beauty of the natural world — we have a responsibility to tell readers why it’s important to look after it,” Doster said.
Environmental issues have also found their place in children’s fiction. Author James Sellick turned a viral Greenpeace cartoon into the picture book There’s a Rang-Tan in my Bedroom, published just last week. The story explores the devastating effects of palm oil production and deforestation on one orangutan. In addition to the story itself, Sellick suggests actions children can take to make a difference.
As children take a greater interest in protecting the environment, and more young changemakers like Thunberg step forward, Sellick and others are placing their hope in the younger generation to rise up and become leaders in the fight to save the planet continues.
“I want not only to educate but to inspire a new wave of eco warriors. Kids are the future,” Sellick said. “Hopefully, if they have been educated about environmental issues from a young age, they will go on — and go further — than we are right now.”