We had the pleasure of hearing Cindy Forde speak at the recent YLG conference and her passion and enthusiasm for helping the world was infectious. Bright New World was shared with a class of Year 3 and Year 4 students in Suffolk who then created questions to pose to Cindy. Please read on for this Q&A.
Firstly, thank you so much to the wonderful Federation of Children’s Books Group. I have such admiration for what you do and greatly appreciate your interest in ‘Bright New World’ and enabling children to understand our planet and how it works.
How did the idea for this book develop?
After a career spent working and campaigning on issues of environment and social justice, I founded Planetari, because I believe the stories we tell our children and how we educate the rising generation is key to creating a brighter world. Einstein famously said, we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that created them. Even though our ecological systems teeter on the brink of collapse, threatening the stability of our economy and society, most national curriculums are based on the industrial revolution, the system at the root of these problems. A model based on endless growth when we have finite resources, that fuels climate change, extinction and almost unprecedented inequalities in wealth within and between countries.
193 nations have signed up to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. While not perfect, they represent a shared vision for the human family and a road map to get there. If that is where we want to go, why not educate our children to do so? This is the mission driving Planetari and the impetus behind ‘Bright New World’.
Millions of children, teachers, parents have marched on every continent on Earth to ask for a different kind of education, one that will avert the current crisis and steer us toward a world that works for everyone.
We must answer this. And I believe we must do so while being mindful of the climate anxiety and distress that growing awareness of climate break down is causing children.
System change begins with how we teach our children to think. Instead of fear and anxiety, I asked myself, what if we changed the story for our young people and enabled them to see this as one of the most exciting times to be alive? What if the stories we tell start to draw new maps, to equip the rising generation to navigate themselves safely towards a world with a future?
This is how the idea developed for ‘Bright New World ‘.
There are so many facts for readers of all ages- were there any that were new or surprising for you?
Absolutely! I was very lucky to be able to draw on a wide ecosystem of conservation, research and scientific organisations while writing this book. The research they conduct is full of surprises, some make you shudder like the fact that 99% of the stuff we buy is trashed within two months! And some make you smile like the fact that in 20 years 80% of rainforest tree species would grow back.
How can we promote the “safer, kinder world” in our schools?
I think teachers do a wonderful job of teaching children kindness to each other and care for our world, even in often in very difficult circumstances. I think the biggest challenge is the curriculum as time is limited and so much has be fitted in that is required for our current testing and evaluation systems. However, I hope the themes in ‘Bright New World ‘show that these are topics that fit right across the curriculum. I’ve seen wonderful art projects about caring for oceans, maths that allows children to understand a carbon budget, brilliant fiction books that enable exploring our relationship with Earth as part of literacy. Teachers have so much creativity, imagination and kindness, once they see what wide ranging themes these are, I think they can find no end of places for them, and do.
And then there is the ‘whole school’ approach, which is really starting to take off. Schools take the decision from the top to make sustainability, the wellbeing of people and planet, their core ethos. So the campus is developed or retrofitted to be carbon neutral and zero waste. Sustainability is at the core of the curriculum which spreads this thinking into the community. Children understand the issues, such as energy and renewables in the context of their learning environment; recycled material is used, for example, for art projects or useful things children are taught how to make; food grown by children in school gardens, or sustainably sourced, is on the menu; the school links and shares learning with school communities in other countries to gives a sense of a global human family. In this way, working towards a kinder, safer world becomes part of their every day school life.
Students (Year 3 and 4):
We really like the layout of the book with so many illustrations and the way the facts are presented- did the designing of each page take a long time?
Oh, I am so glad you liked them. They were designed with you in mind. The most important thing for us about the pictures is that you would want to explore them and that the facts would be easy for you to understand. I was very lucky to work with a brilliant young illustrator called Bethany Lord, a wonderful graphic designer called Marg Hope and a very imaginative publisher called Joff Brown. We all shared our thoughts and ideas about the way each page should look and then Bethany and Marg would bring it all to life. If we didn’t think you would like them, we’d start again. It did take some time, but was great fun!
What can we do to help the world?
Children do a great deal to help the world often without even realising it. Almost all children are kind, love animals and being outside in nature and understand why it’s important to look after our planet. You have brilliant imaginations and aren’t afraid to use them. These are probably the most important things for helping the world, because we now need to think differently and come up with wonderful new ideas for how we can build a world that works for all Earth’s creatures and not just a few humans.
You’ll see many young people who are doing this in ‘Bright New World’ – they look at things happening in their communities and instead of seeing a problem, they see a challenge for which they can find a solution. Like Edgar who turns the plastic rubbish littering his village into strong bricks for people to build sturdy houses so they don’t get washed away by the heavy rains. Or Bimo, Jessica and Innandya who replanted the coastal areas near where they live that had been damaged so that wildlife would come back and the new, healthy mangroves would help suck the CO2 out of atmosphere and store it away.
At the end of ‘Bright New World’ you can also find a list of 10 simple things you can do in your everyday life to help, like eating for a happy planet, so more fruit and veg and less meat; not buying stuff you don’t really need; and using your voice – tell people the kind of world you want, write to your MP, people are listening much more to children now as they know you have some of the best ideas.
Are you writing more books about the environment?
Yes, I am. I am creating some digital adventures and am just finishing a novel called ‘Star Riders’ where, with help from a few otherworldly friends and animals, children take control, make themselves heard and create a world with a bright future.
Did you get to travel around the world to discover some of your facts?
I have travelled quite a bit in my life around our incredible planet. When I was a little girl, I lived in the rainforest country Guyana, in South America (where bright green iguanas would sit in the trees outside my school and, on the way home, we could go and say hello to the manatees who lived in the Botanic gardens.) I lived in South East Asia where my daughter was born in Borneo, on the edge of the rainforest. Almost every day at four o’clock huge monitor lizards would cross the road by our house – so that was our tea–time treat. We lived in the Emirates in the desert where the temperatures sometimes reached almost 50 degrees and in Canada where, in winter, the temperature dropped below minus 40, brrr!! So a lot of that has got into the book, though I wrote most of it in sunny Cambridge. (I have to be careful about how many CO2 emissions I create, so I don’t travel by plane very much anymore.)
Bright New World by Cindy Forde is published by Welbeck Children’s and is available now.
Views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Federation.