Twenty-five years ago, Lynne Cherry introduced a generation of children to the importance of preserving the integrity of the Amazon rainforest in her illustrated tale, The Great Kapok Tree. Utilizing language that was prescient, Cherry employed the phrase,
“What happens tomorrow depends on what you do today.”
Cherry was particularly conscious of the interdependence of all living things.
In 2008, Cherry collaborated with environmental photographer Gary Braasch to deliver How We Know What We Know About Our Changing Climate. Targeted for children in grades 4 through 8, the text helps youngsters understand the challenge of global warming, while offering suggestions on how individuals of all ages can reduce their carbon footprint.
Young Voices for the Planet
For the past six years, Cherry has focused on directing and producing Young Voices for the Planet, a series of short documentary films. They highlight the actions of kids across the country and around the world, demonstrating the ways in which their proactive efforts are yielding a transformative shift.
From Santa Monica, California to Germany and Siberia, the films profile the newest generation taking the lead. It is inspiring. All of the segments are accompanied by “Action Items” and suggested curriculum tips.
Felix Finkbeiner, who initiated Plant for the Planet, has been working to plant a million trees for “climate justice.” He states matter-of-factly, “If the adults don’t do enough, we have to do it, because we will live on earth for another eighty or ninety years — and our children will live even longer.”
“Kids have power,” says Alec Loorz, who founded iMatter (a Moms Clean Air Force partner) at 13-years-old. Evelina Weary, a part of Team Marine, outlines her concerns as an “ethical problem” rather than an “environmental problem” — because each individual can effect change.
I spoke with Cherry by telephone to learn more about her decades-long commitment to being an environmental activist, as well as her path as an author, artist, and filmmaker. An anecdote about her childhood demonstrated the foundation of Cherry’s awareness.
“I grew up in Pennsylvania, with woods near my house. I came home one day and it was bulldozed. It made me realize that adults were destroying things before they knew what they were.”
Cherry remembers that she was always writing stories about animals, and was “dead set” on becoming a children’s book illustrator. After her tenth book, she took on the challenge of both writing and illustrating.
“Animals and nature are what keep me happy in life and connect me to the bigger picture.”
Her political awakening came when she worked at the Connecticut Citizen Action Group, founded by Ralph Nader in 1970. There she was exposed to a wide range of issues which would her expand her consciousness and connect the dots between her concerns.
When putting together the book with Gary Braasch, Cherry wanted to bring in the elements of “youth” and “climate science” while telling success stories of kids who have become proactive.
“People in the book have taken their power, created a resolution, and made a difference.”
Cherry, who lives on a farm and grows much of her own food, imbues the characters in her books with her personal sensibilities. “What are those important things in the world facing humanity?” Cherry asked rhetorically. For her, it is the environment, and all of her endeavors have been geared to impact kids because “they have power.”
While discussing the three 9-year-old girls who testified at a Lexington, Massachusetts town meeting to overturn a law against solar panels on town buildings, Cherry animatedly spoke of “winnable fights.” The girls have gone on to save a local wooded area, and get solar panels installed on their school. As one said,
“You have to take a risk to make a difference.”
Cherry notes, “Kids need to realize they have agency.” She believes that if they see what they don’t like in their communities (from Styrofoam to energy waste), they can be inspired to spearhead change.
“Societal shifts happen when kids take ownership. I think that’s what we need to address climate change. Kids have tremendous moral authority to be messengers.”