Talking to Kids About Climate Change and Hope With Oisín McGann

Children and young people often express an anxiety about the Earths’ future and the climate crisis. In fact, I think it’s something we’re all worrying about. How did the Earth get in such a state? What kind of a planet will our children inherit? Can our children exchange it for a better, brighter future, and how can the adults help them? They need the facts, scientific information, open discussion and not platitudes…and they need hope. And we need to listen and to act, now.

Irish childrens’ author, Oisin McGann has worked with Little Island and Friends of the Earth to take young readers on a journey through time, discovering how we got evolved this climate mess we’re in and how we can get out of it with A Short Hopeful Guide to Climate Change. In what promises to be Irelands’ most eco-friendly, sustainably produced childrens’ book ever, it aims to encourage, interest and inspire with a positive message of hope and the change that is possible.

I had the opportunity to ask Oisín a few questions about his experience of working on this exceptional new, nonfiction book. Here’s what Oisin had to say:

Oisín McGann: author of A Short Hopeful Guide to Climate Change
  • How did the idea for A Short Hopeful Guide to Climate Change come about? Was writing this book in the cards for a while? Or was it inspired by more recent events?

I’ve been interested in the subject for a long time. I’ve done a lot of development education residencies for Poetry Ireland and Irish Aid, teaching creative writing, and for the last few years, I’ve chosen to focus on the theme of climate change. In these workshops, I’d teach the basics of storytelling, but show how even the most intimate details of our life are affected by our environment – that way, I could make the subject feel much more close-in and personal. Writing a children’s book on the subject had been something I’d thinking about for a while, but I hadn’t done anything about it. Then, just over a year ago, Little Island asked me if I was interested in writing one in association with Friends of the Earth, so I grabbed the opportunity.

  • Having been in and out of pandemic lockdowns and restrictions for a year now, did this have any influence on A Short Hopeful Guide to Climate Change coming into being? Did working with your own children at homeschooling (actually, I think of it more as emergency schooling) influence your thinking when writing the book?

The first influence was that it slowed everything down! Writing a book is a long-term project, and when the pandemic hit, my first concern was keeping my head above water, so I ended up focussing on shorter-term stuff that paid quickly, which delayed other projects I was working on. I’d mapped out the main structure by the time lockdown happened, and our kids are twenty, twelve and ten, so they’re able to keep themselves busy most of the time. Dealing with the stress of the pandemic and juggling projects has been tough, but I think I’ve been luckier than many professional artists, and I’ve been able to keep working the whole time.

  • While every book is a new challenge in and of itself, what kind of challenges did you find, in producing a book that is eco-friendly and sustainable? Did it change the way you worked or the nature of the dialogue you had with the publishers?

The eco-friendly production hasn’t been something I’ve been very involved with, although financing the production with a crowdfunder was definitely a first for me! With the picture book I wrote and illustrated for Green-Schools last year, ‘We Want Our Park Back’, which had a similar kind of production, I actually designed it too, but for ‘A Short Hopeful Guide’, Little Island were handling that side of it. From a production point of view, the most noticeable difference is that it’s a more expensive way to print a book. The main challenge for me with this book was that there was a huge amount of research – even though the text itself is less than 50,000 words – as there were so many topics to cover. I wanted to keep the tone light, and I wanted a narrative arc, rather than just covering one topic at a time. With such a vast subject, working out what to say and how to say it in an engaging way means not only pinning down what’s most important, but also finding the elements that will help get and hold the reader’s attention.

  • Could you say something about the science of Climate Change, the research you had to do and how you have presented it for young people?

This is why I structured the book as a story as much as possible. It’s such an enormous subject, it’s very hard to say anything meaningful about the science in just a few lines, except to say that the what the science is telling us is beyond doubt. Our world is going to change. What I wanted to achieve with the book is to show that this change is not happening in isolation. Climate change is woven into the story of our civilisation, we have burned our way to the top. But our society has a momentum, this thing is not just happening now; it’s been a long process, and our development has been happening along with it. We are still moving, and we are steadily moving away from our fossil-fuelled past. The only question is how much our world will change, whether we can slow it down enough to avoid the worst of it, and how much adapting we’ll have to do.

  • Was there anything you discovered; any surprises in your research or in putting together the book that challenged personal ideas you had about climate change before beginning this project?

There were lots of little things along the way, although as I said, it’s a subject I’ve been reading about for a long time. Some really important things happened between the time I started writing and the publication of the book: Bord na Móna announced it was going to stop harvesting peat. Two of the world’s biggest power plant manufacturers announced they were going to stop building coal-fuelled power stations. Denmark banned all new oil and gas exploration in the area of the North Sea it controls. And finally, Joe Biden’s election means that there’s hope that the United States will make tackling climate change a priority again. Human civilisation is a big ship, but with changes like this, it definitely feels as if it’s slowly, slowly beginning to turn around.

  • As this is A Short Hopeful Guide to Climate Change, what are your hopes for this book; for the kids engaging in climate change activism and the future?

My aim is simply to inspire an interest in the subject. This book is intended as an easy way in to the subject for young people who are curious to learn more, but aren’t sure where to start, and for adults too, looking for an accessible read. And if offers hope because it’s not just about the problems we face, it’s about how far we’ve come as a species, it’s an appreciation of this amazing world we live in, how we are all connected to nature in more ways than we often realise, and how nature will be our greatest ally in overcoming this challenge. And I think, in creating a better world, we will make ourselves better human beings.

A Short Hopeful Guide to Climate Change, written and illustrated by Oisín McGann, published by Little Island in association with Friends of the Earth (ISBN: 9781912417742) launches tomorrow, 20 May 2021. Printed (by Ashley House) using vegan inks and the latest, cutting edge sustainable printing techniques and materials, 10% of sales will go to Friends of the Earth. This is a book to answer your questions, explain the problem, but is part of the solution. Suitable for reading ages 12+, but I think it’s one we should all read together. But just don’t read the book. Take its’ advice; get involved with the global movement to combat humanitys’ greatest crisis…and be hopeful.

A Short, Hopeful Guide to Climate Change

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