What’s It Like, Living Green? – Book Review
More than three decades ago, when I taught first grade, Woodsy Owl, with his admonition to “Give a hoot, don’t pollute,” was one of my few tools for encouraging environmentalism. Some ten years later, when I taught fifth grade, I had a few more tools at my command, including the famous video of a buttercup traveling down a clear mountain stream to sink in a polluted river.
But I didn’t have near the kind of resources available today. One resource I learned about recently is the book, What’s It Like Being Green? Kids Teaching Kids, by the Way they Live. Author Jill Ammon Vanderwood has compiled an award-winning collection of real-life accounts from children, parents, researchers, and activists, who are making the world greener every day. (NOTE: Vanderwood sent me a complimentary copy of her book upon my request.)
I am impressed with the content and the quality of the information. Equally important, it’s filled with motivational examples of real people (many of them kids) taking action to help each other and the planet. When kids read about others their own age making a difference, they often get inspired to do the same. (It works with adults, too.)
Several articles included in this book give step-by-step instructions, such as “Just Put Your Cans in the Bag by the Door” by 9-year-old Autumn DeBello (the author’s granddaughter). Autumn explains how she and her grandma convinced her dad to let her start collecting and redeeming aluminum drink cans.
“Freecycle” by Linda Stein describes the process for participating on the freecycle.org listserv in her community. She and her family use the site to give away useable items they no longer need. She also got free furniture and office supplies for her own green web business, all by requesting good, used items from other Freecyclers.
In “How to Reuse Household Items,” Emily Sikes, 15, provides 20 helpful ideas about repurposing common items in your home. Two of my favorites are using old t-shirts for pillows (it’s easy, with her instructions) and using paper egg cartons filled with drier lint as kindling for a fireplace or campfire.
“Creating a Backyard Wildlife Preserve” by Claudia McCracken Norton gives detailed instruction for families to follow, whether they live in a small suburban neighborhood or out in the country.
For those who want to do more than just “reduce, reuse, recycle” household products, Vanderwood has included personal accounts of more radical lifestyles and lifestyle changes.
Jeannette Ammon (presumably another relative of the author) learned about biodiesel at a dinner conversation that changed the way she and her kids use their car. She says she first “made certain that I could get the fuel as I needed it.” Then she purchased an older model Mercedes (a diesel), in which a mechanic made minor adjustments to allow the car to burn biodiesel. “My food burns cleaner and smells like French fries, Chinese food, or other random foods, depending on what was cooked in the grease,” she says. And she saves about 25 cents per gallon over regular diesel fuel.
Sixteen-year-old Geoff Mullen writes, in “The Family with the Weird Bread,” about being “the teenage son of a mother obsessed with saving the earth, starting in our backyard.” He explains how different his life is from his friends’. He splits and loads firewood to keep the family warm. His mother raises chickens (and a feisty rooster) in their backyard. And she bakes bread that other kids think of as “weird.” But Geoff likes his unusual lifestyle, proclaiming, “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Kids Taking Action
Vanderwood’s book provides examples of young people who have done deeds of heroic proportions to help people and the environment. These stories provide inspiration. They show real children and youth accomplishing more than most of us do in a lifetime.
For example, Ryan Hreljac of Ontario is well known among social activists as the little boy who dug a well. He didn’t do the labor, of course, but at the age of six he earned $70 by doing household chores and paid for a well in Uganda. By the time the book was published, Ryan’s Well Foundation “had contributed 461 wells in 16 countries, bringing clean water and sanitation service to 599,081 people.”
Kids Saving the Rainforest (KSTR) is a robust organization that has an impressive list of accomplishments. They’ve established a four-acre animal rehabilitation center in Costa Rica, built and maintain “more than 130 monkey bridges that are used by monkeys and other animals” to safely cross roads; planted more than 6,000 tree, and created a Saturday camp for kids to lean about the rainforest. And this all started several years ago with 9-year-old Janine Licare along with her friend Aislin Livingstone, who sold painted rocks in Costa Rica with the intent of saving the rainforest.
In addition to first-person stories and third-person accounts of children, families, and adults taking action, the author also provides important information about the environment.
In “What about Paper?” graduate student Sara Diamond explains what paper is and gives readers a quick summary of its history. She describes some of the steps in how paper is made, including the addition of toxic chemicals to take out the lignin (a naturally occurring substance in trees) and to make it white. She also tells readers these shocking facts: “For every ton (2000 pounds) of paper recycled, you save at least 30,000 gallons of water (as much as 157 African elephants would drink in a year, and the amount used by an average American family for 4 to 6 weeks) and as much electricity as an average three-bedroom house would use in a year (3000 to 4000 kWh).”
In “World Water Crisis Will Soon Reach America,” Vanderwood gives some startling statistics about water use today and in the future, including the following:
- “The population of the world tripled in the 20th century, and is expected to continue growing by another 40–50 percent in the next fifty years.
- “The use of water resources has increased six-fold.
- “There’s no more fresh water in the world today than there was 1 million years ago.
- “…there is no replacement for water.”
She also writes about alternatives that may help reduce the demand for fresh water, the threat of future water wars, plans for addressing the coming water crisis, and more.
In “Chocolate — a Yummy Treat?” Vanderwood explores the unsavory business of raising cocoa for chocolate. “[D]id you ever stop tho think that 43 percent ofthe world’s cocoa beans are grown in West Africa, where 284,000 children work on cocoa farms under abusive conditions?” she asks. And, as if child labor weren’t enough of a reason to give up chocolate, she asks, “Did you know that many countries are cutting down rainforests to grow more cocoa?”
Vanderwood published What’s It Like, Living Green? in 2009, using Amazon.com’s print-on-demand service, Booksurge, L.L.C. While a few elements of the layout give evidence that the publication was not done by one of the established publishing houses (e.g., a subhead starts at the bottom of one page, leaving a single, orphaned word in the subhead beginning on the top of the next page; a subhead appears at the very bottom of the right-hand page, and you have to turn the page to see the text that follows the subhead), the book is generally readable (i.e., not in all caps or bold-faced, as in some self-published books). The book design includes black-and-white photos of the people whose stories are featured, which is important so that the kids can see that many of the authors are young people just like themselves.
Three gold seals are affixed to the cover of the book that I received. Vanderwood’s first nonfiction book (she has published four works of fiction) is a Best Books Award Winner (USA Book News), Indie Excellence Winner (Book Awards), and Winner (Development Awards). Vanderwood herself was named the Writer of the Year 2008 by the League of Utah Writers.
Whether you plan to read portions of this book to a young child; give it to an older child (it’s geared for “ages 9 and up”); use it yourself; or offer it to a teacher, there’s plenty of information for all ages to learn from and enjoy. This book is content-rich, which is its great strength. It’s weakness, though a relatively minor one, is the typography and formatting. On a positive note, the entire book is printed on 30 percent post-consumer paper.
Even better, according to the book’s Amazon review page, “A portion of the books [sic] proceeds will be donated to Edwin Watts Southwind Park (sustainable and accessible) and Erin’s Pavilion in Springfield, IL and Hibiscus Children’s Center, to help build a playground for abused and neglected children, in Jensen Beach, Florida.” Now that’s cool.
The Small Print
DISCLOSURE: Blue Planet Green Living received a free copy of the What’s It Like, Living Green? from the author.
Blue Planet Green Living’s policy is to only review those books we feel merit an overall positive review. If we do not like a book more than we dislike it, we do not review it. We are not influenced by any free copies and provide our honest opinions, both positive and negative.
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