Being the parent of a nature-obsessed 3 year old means it’s hard not to think about climate change on a daily basis. Every time Gruff says he wants to dive when he grows up, I’m aware the Great Barrier Reef is suffering ‘complete Eco system collapse’; picturing those wan ghost corals. When we get to the end of his rainforest book, with its blue Morpho butterflies, tapirs, toucans, Jaguars, there is a picture of a chopped-down acre. ‘Can we build a new rainforest?’ he asks. ‘I think we can build a new one in our garden.’
We have been reading The Lorax by Dr Seuss a lot. We love Dr Seuss (can’t wait to go to this new exhibition at the Discovery Centre) and I think Green Eggs and Ham is in my top ten poems ever. The Lorax is nearly as good: nonsense verse that rings chillingly true. The description of the waste-land where ‘the wind smells slow-and-sour when it blows’. The old Once-ler lurking in his Lerkim, his teeth ‘sounding grey.’ And then the boldness of letting the villain tell the story – how he arrived : ‘Way back in the days when the grass was still green / the pond was still wet / and the clouds were still clean’ and noticed the Truffula trees had the fragrance of ‘fresh butterfly milk’ (what a remarkable image that is. It makes him sound like a serial killer).
The Once-ler sets up a business turning the trees into rather amorphous things called Thneeds (‘which everyone, EVERYONE, EVERYONE needs’), remorselessly ‘biggering / and BIGGERING’ his factory until the final tree falls.
It’s almost entirely bleak, but there is a gleam of hope at the end, when he throws a boy the last seed of the Truffula Tree. (And it’s all I can do to read as my voice cracks).
Another poetic picture book about the environment, this one for adults, arrived in my postbox a few days ago: Finders Keepers, by Harry Man and Sophie Gainsley, published by Sidekick Books. Not about poison-dart frogs or Bar-Ba-Loots, but creatures of our own country that are endangered: High Brown Fritillary, Norfolk Hawker, River Lamprey, Great Crested Newt. It’s exquisitely illustrated and full of facts and wonders – even the notes at the back are full of gorgeous lines (the fritillary is described as ‘little bigger than a folded train ticket’ but reliant on the ‘gigantic trampling’ of wild ponies opening up plains in bracken). There is also a lovely website where you can read extracts and listen to pipstrelle bats.
The Lorax and Finders Keepers do what art needs to do, and leave us inspired instead of despairing. Ready to fight for dormice and clean clouds. Although the smallness of our gestures might seem futile, for the sake of the next generation we hang onto hope: pay attention, share poems, sow seeds.