I love discovering what others are doing to encourage in kids a sense of wonder at and responsibility toward our planet. Two friends (both named Charlotte!) have recently come out with two very different books which do just that in unique and wonderful ways.
Charlotte Blessing’s New Old Shoes (Pleasant Street, 2009) is a sweet, but powerful picture book (ages 3 to 9) told from the point of view of a pair of bright red Keds. Think modern-day, global Velveteen Rabbit: the shoes go from brand new and loved to discarded and heaped with literally tons of other cast-off shoes from the US that are shipped to Africa. The shoes find new children there to share adventures with until they reach the end of their utility and an unexpected happy ending.
Blessing got the inspiration for the story while browsing the mitumba markets (secondhand clothing markets) in Kenya to shop for clothes for her growing kids (she lived there and in Tanzania for over a decade running a study abroad program). The family now lives in Colorado.
New Old Shoes opens kids’ eyes, getting them to think about reusing, recycling, and the conditions of kids in other countries in a really positive and beautiful way. There’s also information in the back about how to donate shoes to a great group called Soles4Souls.
For older kids (ages 7 to 11), Charlotte Purein’s Avatars of Gaia promotes environmental awareness through a rollicking adventure story that takes an intrepid team of kids on a quest to save the planet from the evil King Littermoore. Avatars of Gaia manages to recreate in a book those video game conventions that kids love: there’s a sense of urgency and purpose, an imminent threat from toxic gooz emanating from the king’s Hazard Hollow and the mutant Deformo Frogs that live there. The characters are well drawn and great funny names like Free Bird and Kinkajou, and the manga-style drawings help bring to life the amazing creatures that inhabit the avatars’ world: the Munchimonster, Sneezer Wheaters, Princess L’Muriel (a human who morphed into a butterfly) and the Babushka Tree, among others.
Purein, aka Professor Heart (anagram for Earth) used to work in the film industry, and the book has all the action, adventure, and fun of an episode of Bakugan, but with a much more important message.
Two books, two Charlottes, two ways to open kids minds and eyes.