In Old Enough to Save the Planet (Magic Cat, Feb., ages 8–12), Loll Kirby profiles 12 contemporary teenage climate activists from around the world, focusing on lesser-known stories and marginalized voices. “Things don’t only count once you’re big and famous,” she says. “It’s amazing to be able to look back on lives, but it’s also valid to look at people at the start of it.”
Kirby, a British primary school teacher, spoke with PW about the challenges of writing narrative nonfiction for middle graders, and the importance of diverse perspectives in conversations about climate change.
Why did you want to tell these stories?
The climate strike was getting more momentum in the media, and my editor and I wanted children to feel inspired to do some of the small things that they can. Greta Thunberg’s vision and dedication are amazing to have gotten her to where she is, but nobody should be put off starting anything. She didn’t envisage this global movement would come off the back of her deciding to do what she did.
Can you describe your initial goals for the book?
We wanted there to be examples from around the world, and we wanted it to be as diverse and inclusive as possible. This is a moment of climate crisis that’s going to affect us all no matter what. When you look at the communities around the world proportionately, it isn’t going to be the white Western people who are affected nearly as much as others.
What research and writing challenges did you encounter?
One of the difficult things was making the decision about which children went in and working out which would probably work best for the illustrator [Adelina Lirius]. There were some examples where I thought, “That’s really brilliant,” but realized that representing the project wasn’t going to be visually appealing. It was challenging to edit down into, “What’s the essence of what they did? What facts are going to provide the takeaway points for the children reading it?” When I started writing, I wrote it in verse as a rhyming text. Then reading it back, it sounded twee. We don’t want to scare kids and be doom and gloom, but we also want them to understand that this is serious stuff.
What do you hope that young readers take away?
There are no barriers to starting something now. And it doesn’t have to be everything. Even as an adult who has more agency, I have to remind myself, “Just do the bits that you can.” I hope there’s something that piques their interest, that makes them think, “I can go and plant some bee-friendly seeds in the garden. I can ask my school if they can have more recycling bins in each classroom.” As with so much in life, taking those first steps is important.