If I Were the World
32pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99
If I were the world, I’d want flowers and bees.
A chorus of birds singing high in the trees.
If I were the world, I’d want sparkling seas.
If I were the world . . .
would YOU look after ME?
In this book, the reader is encouraged to put themselves in the place of the planet – to feel its pain as it is choked by poisonous gases, melted by the sun and its seas polluted, watching helplessly as it inhabitants disappear into oblivion… This is yet another book intent on inspiring our young readers to be aware of the planet they live on and to take care of it, but I am of two minds about it.
Firstly, the publishers have tagged it as suitable for 0-5 and its format is such that it would appeal to those younger readers, but IMO, they do not have the cognitive maturity to step beyond their own immediate, concrete world to put themselves in the “shoes” of the planet – it is too much of an abstract concept for them and those with long experience of young children’s development and any knowledge of Piaget know that most children do not start to begin to think about how other people might think and feel until they are about 7 years old and that, depending on their circumstances, this can be a long process. To ask them to imagine being something as large and abstract as the planet is probably a step too far for its intended audience.
Secondly, I seriously wonder about the impact that all this doom and gloom that children are presented with in both their entertainment and education is having on their mental well-being. If, whenever they pick up a book to read for some down-time they are confronted by these “the world is a mess, only you can save it” messages, they not only start to doubt if they have a future but, despite the invocation that they are the solution, in their here-and-now world they feel not only powerless but even a failure because the efforts they have made seem to make no visible difference, particularly as they are not the main family decision-makers. Yes, it is important that they are aware of their impact on the world around them and that there are things they can do to minimise that, but at what cost? Can’t we just give them stories to read for the fun and enjoyment and escape they offer? IMO, there seems to be a trend among authors and publishers that every read for young readers has to carry either an overt or subliminal message and sometimes it would be good to pick up a story and just read it for the sheer joy of it.
Perhaps I have unfairly singled this book out to express an opinion that has been building for some time – there are over 300 reviews in this blog that have been tagged “environment and sustainability” – but as much as we must protect the health of the planet so must we protect the health, particularly the mental health, of those whom we are charging with healing it. While Sperring’s words and Quek’s illustrations work well together to get their core message across, I just question how often our young readers need to be hammered with this apocalyptic theme.