Hannah Gold on Her Favourite Climate Change Novels for Children
Both a heartwarming tale about the bond between a young girl and a polar bear and a beautifully judged warning about the consequences of climate change, Hannah Gold's The Last Bear is an engrossing, timely story for middle-grade readers. In this exclusive piece, Hannah discusses the impetus behind writing the book and recommends five other great reads about nature, animals and understanding the climate crisis.
The Last Bear was born out of a heartfelt decision to write about all the things I loved most in the world – nature, wildlife, but most of all, that mysterious, unspoken and almost magical bond that exists between children and animals. The truth is, I never set out to write a climate fiction book at all.
However, once I had chosen a polar bear as the main character (or, once he had chosen me!) it was impossible to write about him without talking about the melting ice caps. As I say in my Author’s Note of The Last Bear, there was a story this noble polar bear had to tell, and I, apparently, was the one to tell it.
From the outset, I confess I knew only the vaguest details about polar bears. They’re white, a bit scary and live in the Arctic. I knew they were being impacted by climate change, but I had no idea of the extent. But during my research, I uncovered frightening and extraordinary facts. These included that the Arctic has lost over one million square miles of sea ice in just forty years. That it is melting at a rate of over twelve per cent per decade, and, worst of all, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), that polar bear numbers will be in serious decline by 2050 – unless we act now.
I admit I cried. And sometimes I still do. But after finding all this out, there really was only one story to tell. How eleven-year-old April rescues a lonely, starving polar bear, stranded a long way from home. On the surface, it’s a story of friendship, of courage – of love even. But scratch a little deeper and it’s so much more.
Back in 2019, when I first started writing this book, there weren’t many climate fiction books for young readers available. And those that did exist seemed mostly to be dystopian – set in a future where the natural world had already died. But, after the extraordinary world events of the past year, I felt a huge responsibility to make sure I hit a more positive tone with The Last Bear. Climate change is scary. There is no getting around that. That’s why I was keen to tell a story full of heart, warmth and love – one that inspired and empowered children to stand up and fight back. I believe it’s not too late, and I hope my book encourages every child to know, that no matter how small, you can still make a difference. And maybe, along the way, you might even save a polar bear too.
The Last Bear is my love letter to the planet, and below you’ll find five other books that capture my same passion for nature, my love of animals, but most importantly, carry a rallying cry to all children to save our one and only earth.
Running Wild by Michael Morpurgo
I have to confess, Michael Morpurgo is my complete hero and when I grow up, I want to be him. All of his books have strong ties with nature and animals, and on the surface, this one is the story of a boy escaping the Boxing Day Tsunami. But it also highlights the devastating effect that deforestation is having on the planet, told with all the customary love and hope you would expect from a Morpurgo book.
Where the World Turns Wild by Nicola Penfold
One of the plus points from 2020 has been our collective reawakening to the restorative power of nature. And, for me, this book perfectly captures our basic human need for the outside world. A dystopian middle-grade, it’s set in a walled city where nature has been banished, and it is the story of a brother and sister who escape. I read this during lockdown and its love song to nature sang straight into my heart.
The Unmapped Chronicles by Abi Elphinstone
Abi Elphinstone’s books positively shine with imagination, and this series is no different. It’s a fun, gasp-out-loud, wondrous fantasy series that also weaves in themes of drought, erratic weather conditions and extinction, without ever feeling like you are being preached to. Elphinstone is one of the biggest advocates out there in children’s fiction for climate activism, and is someone who has hugely inspired me to write about my love of the planet.
Cookie and the Most Annoying Girl in the World by Konnie Huq
The second in the Cookie series, I included this one because it’s vital we approach climate fiction in a way that isn’t always doom and gloom for children. It’s funny, fresh and likeable. But also, and more importantly, we must make sure that climate fiction is inclusive – so children of every colour and culture feel the same sense of agency and permission to make a difference.
The Last Wild by Piers Torday
It’s impossible not to include this outstanding trilogy. It gets under your skin and makes you want to find the nearest animal to see if you can talk to it like Kester. Unfortunately, this didn’t work for me. (Although I am still trying!) Whenever I read Piers Torday, I am just struck by what a talent he is. A true champion for protecting our gorgeous planet, this one is a must read.
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