One-Minute Book Reviews

April 22, 2009

Eco-Propaganda in Children’s Books by Carl Hiaasen and Others — It’s Always Earth Day in Recent Fiction for Young Readers

Meghan Cox Gurdon takes on eco-propaganda in children’s books in “Scary Green Monsters,” a Wall Street Journal essay that makes point similar to one I made more briefly back in January: A lot of trees are dying for books about rainforests. Gurdon writes in an article linked to Earth Day:

“The patriarch of the vogue for green-themed children’s books is surely Carl Hiaasen, the novelist and Miami Herald columnist who shot to eco-stardom in 2002 with Hoot, a novel for middle-schoolers about three children who foil a corporation’s attempt to build a pancake restaurant over a burrow of endangered miniature owls. Hoot won a Newbery Honor Award, and was followed in 2005 by Flush, a tale recounting the adventures of a different group of youthful oddball allies that is seeking to expose a casino-boat operator who’s been flushing raw sewage into harbor water….

“In all Mr. Hiaasen’s books for children, young readers are asked to sympathize with environmentalists who thwart businessmen, even when the good guys take destructive measures such as sinking boats or torching billboards. And the eco-tropes that have worked so well for Mr. Hiaasen — Good nature! Bad capitalist! — are steadily creeping into books across the age range.”

Gurdon also discusses Joan Bauer’s Newbery Honor book, Peeled (Putnam, 2008), Timothee de Fombelle’s Toby Alone (Candlewick, 2009), Katherine Hannigan’s “risibly didactic” Emmaline and Bunny (HarperCollins, 2009), and Joshua Doder’s popular “Grk” books, such as Operation Tortoise (Delacorte, 2009). She notes that children like routine:

“They’re not put off by predictability in stories. They’re accustomed to princesses being pretty, dragons being fearsome, and, it seems, alas, their fictional businessmen being corpulent and amoral. So it’s probably pointless to object to the eco-endlessness on the grounds of artistic feebleness.

“Yet there is something culturally impoverished about insisting that children join in the adult preoccupation with reducing, reusing and recycling. Can they not have a precious decade or so to soar in imaginative literature before we drag them back down to earth?”

Read all of “Scary Green Monsters” here.

(c) 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.


  1. I am not sure that there is something culturally impoverished that children join to learn and understand about mankind’s personal responsibility for the environment and the planet. However, you do give another perspective on the subject.

    I fully agree that sparking imagination and creativity in children is what it is all about.

    Perhaps – a mixture of the two is a solution. A touch of reality and lots of creativity.

    Comment by markewaterfield — April 22, 2009 @ 4:05 pm | Reply

    • Right. There needs to be a mix. The problem with so many children’s books isn’t that they’re about the environment but that they’re moralistic and heavy-handed.

      One of the great American children’s books, Charlotte’s Web, is about a young girl’s love of nature (in the form of animals and insects). It succeeds because E. B. White keeps his focus on telling a great story instead of preaching to children — something that, alas, many of his imitators don’t do.

      Thanks so much for your comment.

      Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — April 22, 2009 @ 4:14 pm | Reply

  2. I have been putting in a lot of hours researching good book choices for our library trips, as my daughter is almost ready for some series books to read on her own. As a parent I initially took it for granted that early childhood books would generally be “safe” choices and would not require as much pre-screening as television and movies, but alas the children’s publishing world has caught up with the rest of the media outlets in its attempts to shape young minds. You are doing all readers a great service.

    Comment by coolcatholicmama — April 27, 2009 @ 11:01 am | Reply

    • You’re very welcome. Many high-quality children’s movies or television shows are better than some of the lower-quality children’s books. So I think you’re right not to assume that books will always meet a higher standard.

      Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — April 27, 2009 @ 1:53 pm | Reply

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