Guest Post by Abi Elphinstone
With my latest book, Jungledrop, I wanted to write a story that revelled in the beauty of the natural world but also highlighted its fragility. A few years ago, I visited the world’s largest tropical wetland: the Pantanal, an enormous patchwork of lagoons, marshes and lakes sprawling Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay. I snorkelled in Olho D’água river amongst anacondas and piranhas, I watched capybaras scampering through the rainforest and I abseiled 70 metres into a cave then swam in the lake at the bottom.
The Pantanal is home to 4,700 plant and animal species. It is one of the most biologically diverse environments on Earth. But due to infrastructure development, untreated waste pollution and deforestation, the Pantanal’s native vegetation – which provides water and food for millions of people in the region – could disappear by 2050. This endangered tropical world later became Jungledrop’s glow-in-the-dark rainforest (with the addition of a few golden panthers, gobblequick trees and enchanted temples).
I believe kids need stories that champion the wonder of the natural world whilst also galvanising them to stand up and protect it. But children can only champion something if they feel passionate about it, which is why I believe initiatives like Michael Morpurgo’s Farms for City Children offering urban kids a chance to live and work together for a week on a farm in the countryside, are so important. As Morpurgo said recently: ‘the only way we can all become truly connected to the world around us is to walk in it, work in it, be in it. Only in that way can we come to love it and feel that it is ours to look after.’
I grew up in rural Scotland where my weekends were spent scrambling over the moors, building dens in the woods and jumping into icy rivers. My parents gave me the space, time and freedom to explore the natural world around me which, years later, not only inspired the settings of my own books but also instilled in me an indestructible sense of wonder at our planet. And this wonder, in turn, taught me to care. I am aware that most kids don’t have access to wilderness in this way but I live in London now and there are pockets of wildness even in cities and it is essential that children discover them. Because not only is nature key for children’s physical and mental wellbeing but in learning about the plants, flowers and animals around them children learn – at a time in their life when they are on the brink of questioning their place in the world – that they belong, that they are anchored in a vast and beautiful web of life, that this is a planet we share.
Children need to be aware of the severity of the climate crisis, and the potential consequences for us all, but they also need to feel that they can do something about it. Fear paralyses but hope galvanises. And children’s books, especially kids’ fiction rooted in the natural world, are among the most hopeful things on this planet. They have the power to awaken, challenge and inspire young minds to act. Cue books by Gill Lewis, Nizrana Farook, Piers Torday, Lauren St John, Jasbinder Bilan and Katherine Rundell to name a few. They remind children that they are never too small to make a difference. As a golden panther in Jungledrop says to Fox Petty-Squabble, the heroine of the book: ‘Nothing, and I mean nothing, is more powerful than a child in possession of a plan.’
So, on the surface of things, Jungledrop is an adventure story about eleven-year-old twins, Fox and Fibber, who have been rivals for as long as they can remember. Only one of them will inherit the family fortune and so a race is afoot to save the dwindling Petty-Squabble empire. But when the twins are whisked off to Jungledrop, a magical Unmapped Kingdom in charge of conjuring our world’s weather, things get wildly out of hand. An evil harpy called Morg is on the loose and if she finds the long-lost Forever Fern before the twins, both Jungledrop and our world will crumble. But really this is a story about a young girl finding her way (with the help of a flickertug map) and her learning what most grown-ups take a lifetime to understand: that kindness – to others, to our planet and, perhaps hardest of all, to ourselves – is what holds kingdoms and worlds together.
Abi Elphinstone is a bestselling and multi-award shortlisted children’s author. Her books include The Unmapped Chronicles (Everdark, Rumblestar, Jungledrop), Sky Song, The Dreamsnatcher trilogy and, for younger readers, The Snow Dragon. When she’s not writing, Abi volunteers for Coram Beanstalk charity, campaigns for Authors4Ocecans, speaks in schools and travels the world looking for her next story. Jungledrop is published by Simon and Schuster on October 1st 2020 ISBN 978-1471173684 £6.99