Kids today may be stuck inside as we work to flatten the curve of this deadly Covid-19 pandemic, but in environmental advocate Alison Teal's globetrotting new book, Alison's Adventures: Your Passport to the World, they can still explore the planet. Initially set for a spring publication, the print book has now been pushed to August—but last week Teal's publisher, Ripley's, made the fitting decision to release the e-book version in conjunction with Earth Day. In the book, Teal weaves an adventurous message of self-empowerment with a vital awareness of the climate crisis roiling our planet. PW recently caught up with Teal to talk about her life of adventure and advocacy.
Well, congratulations on the e-book publication of Alison’s Adventures. You're probably supposed to be on an adventure, and a book tour, right now. How are you coping with this terrible pandemic?
I’m at home in Hawaii, and I'm going to continue sharing my adventures to inspire and educate homeschooling families during these challenging times through the e-book version of Alison's Adventures and my films, as well through as my social media channels, instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and Youtube. The imagery I’ve seen of cleaner oceans and skies are a token of hope for the health or our earth, however I’m saddened that this has come at a huge and tragic cost in terms of lives lost and financial hardships for so many people around the world. I believe this is a time in which we need to be kind to everyone, and that includes being kind to yourself. Where I’m from we call it spreading aloha. There will be life after this coronavirus. And my hope is that as we rebuild we can also inspire the younger generation to raise their voices, participate, and be world changers.
Time Magazine once called you the female Indiana Jones—tell us how you got that moniker?
I was born into a life of adventure with wild, legendary outdoor photographer parents, and I spent my youth exploring remote corners of the Earth, encountering exotic people and places and investigating the world’s greatest myths and legends. At two months old, my parents whisked me away to climb the highest peak in southern Peru. And then I was “homeschooled” on back of a llama, on the flanks of Mt. Everest, and in a dugout canoe going through the Amazon in search of lost tribes.
Fortunately, unlike Indiana Jones, I’m a real person. And I’m excited to be a role model for youth through my real life experiences. I want to instill in children the ability to dive into the unknown, and for young girls especially to know that they can they can be a great explorer, or a powerful boss-woman in any field they want to adventure into, while still loving pink and being feminine. I want to offer youth the world, or at least a better understanding of it, and the belief that anyone can be a hero, a world changer, or walk to the beat of their own coconut with positivity and a smile.
You’re also a filmmaker. In this age of YouTube, what made you also want to do a book?
Growing up home-schooled, pre-YouTube, the world was my classroom, the ocean my playground, and books were my best friends. Before I was old enough to read, my papa would tell me fascinating stories to keep me going through treacherous terrain. Once we encountered a horrendous snowstorm while trekking at the base of Mt. Everest in Nepal and he told me how there might be a Yeti around every corner, and that kept my little 6 year-old legs trudging 15 miles through the Himalayas in one day. It’s a chapter in this book that I actually started writing at about age seven!
And then one day, in an airport, I came across these mind-blowing books about life in the U.S. with stories about these odd places called classrooms, and slumber parties, and homework. How funny that I lived a life of adventure most kids would only dream of, and yet, as a kid all I dreamed of was big yellow school buses and homework! My hope with Alison’s Adventures is to get youth just as excited as I was about learning about other cultures and places, but also to value their own roots, and own their own story.
It sounds like, even while living a life of extreme adventure, books impacted you and helped to make you who you are today. Any books in particular?
Yes! One afternoon, on our way to the Taj Mahal in India, I weaved through a busy street and, in an effort to dodge brightly painted cows and serenading snake charmers, darted into a small spice shop only to discover that in the back, like something out of a Disney movie, was a dimly lit, musty, and magical book shop. As a mystery lover, I remember asking my parents for three books, Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators, The Secret Of Spiggy Holes, and of course a Ripley’s Believe It or Not book. All fun and humorous adventure books about young people accomplishing great quests with a focus on learning about a far off places or making new friends. I later returned and got The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, and The Chronicles of Narnia.
I read them over and over again for months until my parents, excited about my love for reading, brought me to a bigger bookstore—only to have a moment of panic when I used all my rupees to buy a pile of books that would never fit in our luggage, let alone my backpack. When I was young I remember telling my parents, “since you guys are really my only human friends, I’m going to start writing so that when I make friends in school one day they will know my stories.” Many moons later, this book has made that dream come true, as I now get to visit schools and inspire youth all over the world with my stories.
The world is in the midst of a climate crisis that is threatening our planet, and you have encountered the effects of that crisis in your travels. Can this book help young readers realize what is at stake here?
In this current wild world, I believe in planet over politics. I have witnessed our global environmental crisis firsthand, and it’s had a great impact on me and I feel a responsibility to share it. The reality of what I’ve seen—and seen change dramatically for the worse in my short lifetime—is devastating. Growing up in a traditional fishing village in Hawaii, I’ve seen firsthand the effect that climate change and toxins from plastic pollution and chemical sunscreens have had on our reefs. We have lost almost 50% of our reefs in Hawaii since 2011. I’ve been lucky to revisit the high Andes Mountains many times, and I have witnessed the wild reality of receding glaciers over my short lifetime.
As a filmmaker, I have found that when it comes to this environmental crisis it’s essential to see it. I also believe we must stay positive if we are to make positive change. During my adventures, I could not ignore that every city, village, or island I visited had one commonality: plastic pollution. Plastics will outweigh and outnumber fish in our oceans by 2050. Thus I shifted my “Indiana Jane” quests to help save our greatest treasure on earth: our oceans and waters. And it’s up to our youth to be the change we need. And with this book, yes, I’m hoping to inspire young readers to protect this very cool planet we are lucky to call home.