Book: Under the Weather

I've started poking around the collection of the Brooklyn Public Library, seeking children's literature that takes on themes related to climate change. Predictably, there are plenty more nonfiction titles than there are fiction. (See for yourself: here's the search query I used.)

I was excited to find Under the Weather: Stories about Climate Change. It's a relatively recent (2009) collection of eight short stories for young readers edited by Tony Bradman. The stories all feature child protagonists who experience first-hand effects of climate change, from beach erosion due to coral bleaching in "How to Build the Perfect Sandcastle" to a challenging tea harvest and increased risk of malaria in "Moonlight."

Similar to the reviews in Booklist and School Library Journal, I imagine the stories would generally be best for children 10-12 years old, though there is certainly a range of complexity in the collection. I also feel, similar to the reviewers, that "as in many theme anthologies, some stories have a made-to-order feel" (Engberg in Booklist) and that "a few stories veer toward the didactic" (O'Malley in School Library Journal).

I worry that, in an effort to show young readers how the lives of children and their families are affected globally by changing climates, the authors of this anthology have generally crafted one-dimensional characters and overly simplified narratives.

One exception stands out to me, "Climate [Short] Change," by Lily Hyde. This story of a Siberian family and Western European scientists visiting their village highlights an uneasy power dynamic and differences in culture and language. The anthology's introduction to the story sums up the main themes of this piece quite well:

Siberia is so vast, so wild, that it's hard to believe anything we do could affect it. In fact, global warming is completely altering its landscapes, and therefore the way of life of its native people. Modern transport and communications — major contributors to climate change — have brought together communities from around the globe, like the Siberian villages and West European scientists who meet in this story. But to make a positive difference to our world, we have to be willing to understand not only the abstract causes and effects of climate change, but also each other's daily lives, hopes and dreams.

There is so little moral ambiguity in the other stories in Under the Weather. Either the protagonist decides to take on the issue by changing something in their own lives or their community (for example, by building an artificial reef or vowing to bike to school), the reader is left to meditate on a bleak situation and an (unspoken) call to action, or both. These stories present an uncomplicated view of the ethics surrounding the human and environmental impact of climate change. Hyde's story stands out as the only contribution that is not preachy — the only one to delve into some thornier ethical questions. I've bookmarked "Climate [Short] Changed" as a story to return to.

One last thought about this anthology. Almost all of the authors are British, though their stories take place in many other regions of the world (including former British colonies). I wonder what it would take to put together a collection of stories written by people who are from the places that are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Published Reviews

Engberg, G. (2011). Under the Weather: Stories about Climate Change. Booklist, 107(9/10), 111.

O’Malley, R. (2011). Under the Weather: Stories About Climate Change. School Library Journal, 57(1), 100–102.

Cover image: Wheatfield Under Thunderclouds, 1890, Van Gogh (public domain).