Guest Feature by James Sellick
When first presenting There’s a Rang-tan in My Bedroom to Greenpeace, we pitched it alongside a wide array of ideas, each aiming to bring the horrible truth about palm oil to the surface in its own unique way. Most ideas were, as you’d expect, shocking and controversial. ‘May include charred orangutan’ stickers on shampoo bottles. Melting chocolate orangutans in Piccadilly Circus. Postcards from hell with burning Indonesian rainforests on the front. Greenpeace were a tough audience. I guess they see more than most when it comes to shocking imagery.
But then we paused our presentation and I read them Rang-tan’s story. No visuals. Just me reading a poem about a young orangutan who had lost everything because of palm oil. Her home. Her family. Everything she had ever cared about. It was the only idea we presented that truly broke these hardened eco-veterans.
Their reaction summed up the power of storytelling for me. In that moment, Rang-tan’s story had connected them to this devastating issue on a much deeper and more personal level than anything else. Even in its raw state. They had seen themselves in the young girl and could sympathise with the heartbreak Rang-tan had been through. Of course, science and fact will always play a vital role in educating children about environmental issues. But alone, they aren’t always enough to make a lasting impression.
So, as we developed the book, it was important to all of us – me, Frann and our editor Liza at Wren & Rook – that we struck the perfect balance. A combination of fact, fiction and beauty that would not only educate, but empower and inspire our readers into action. And I think, by the end, we got that balance just right.
Before lockdown, Frann and I were lucky enough to share Rang-tan’s story at various literary events. I was truly blown away by the response. All of my initial worries – Is Rang-tan’s story too sad? Should we have taken out the ‘family’ verse? Are six-year-olds ready for the truth? – seem naïve in hindsight. Instead, I’m now far more worried about being outsmarted by a six-year-old during one of our live Q&A sessions. Schools are running poster-making workshops. Kids are writing and performing plays about the dangers of palm oil. Year one and two classes are writing emails to large corporations asking them about the sustainability of their supply chains. And a lot of these emails are getting responses. Kids are learning that they have a voice. And they’re ready to use that voice to fight for what’s right.
Many of us fully-grown humans, I’m sure, will fight back, all the way to the bitter end. To keep hold of the lifestyles to which we’ve become so accustomed. We will, I’m sure, continue to hide dark deeds in deep, dark corners. Where ignorance really is industrial-meat-producing, creamy-chocolate-making, fuel-burning bliss. But I’m hoping many of us will continue to teach, inspire and equip this new wave of warriors with the knowledge and fire they need to shape this wonderful planet we share into something truly remarkable.
There’s a Rang-Tan in my Bedroom is published by Hachette, and is available to purchase from all good booksellers.
The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the FCBG.