Kids’ books about Greta Thunberg and climate change

Susan Faust November 18, 2019 (Datebook.SFChronicle.com)

A view of a new four-story-high mural of Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg in San Francisco. The mural was designed by Andrés Petreselli on the side of a building near Union Square and funded by nonprofit group OneAtmosphere.org.Photo: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Global climate activist Greta Thunberg has made her way to San Francisco. Near Union Square, at 420 Mason St., to be precise, is a mural of the 16-year-old Swedish environmental activist whose pluck and sincerity has made her a viral star.

She was also spotted in Fairfax in Marin County. There, in the middle of town, in the middle of a parking lot, I recently found a life-size cutout of Thunberg, bearing her trademark sign: “Skolstrejk för Klimatet!” which translates to “School Strike for the Climate.”

Just last year, Thunberg would sit in front of the Swedish Parliament on Fridays with that sign, engaged in her then-solo school strike for climate reform. From there, she launched a worldwide children’s movement, soon offering her ominous warning to the adults on the planet: “I don’t want you to be hopeful; I want you to panic … I want you to act as if your house is on fire.” The good people of Fairfax, and all of Northern California, for that matter, know what that can mean.

As we’ve passed the one-year anniversary of the deadly Camp Fire, and seen a new batch of fires burn their own marks of devastation across Northern California this fall, fire is on our minds — especially with the possibility of a coming drought. Well, four new kids’ books can tell us more about wildfires and the people they affect as well as Greta and her crucial crusade. Together, the books beckon us to change our destructive ways before we change the climate even more.

“Our House Is on Fire: Greta Thunberg’s Call to Save the Planet”
By Jeanette Winter(Beach Lane; 40 pages; $17.99; ages 3-8)

Early this year, at age 80, an esteemed author-illustrator found herself so deeply inspired by young Thunberg’s story that she fast-tracked this timely picture biography. Gratitude is in order; certainly, on behalf of young kids, who are now set to be inspired too. The book’s focus is on how a once-“invisible” girl absorbs her teacher’s lesson on global warming and then immerses herself in a study of destruction — melting polar ice, hundred-year storms, bleached coral reefs, rising oceans and, yes, blazing wildfires.

Famously, Thunberg turns her subsequent sadness into action that soon affords her an international platform. The newly “visible” girl is blunt before the rich and powerful at Davos and the United Nations. Flat art mirrors Greta’s flat affect and heightens the book’s impact with its powerful underlying theme: One small person can make a big difference.

“We Are All Greta: Be Inspired to Save the World”
By Valentina Giannella; illustrated by Manuela Marazzi
(Laurence King/Chronicle; 128 pages; $12.99; ages 11-14)

This ambitious Italian import, translated by a British publisher, serves as backstory of an improbable hero, primer on environmental issues and clarion call to action. It is especially candid about how an Asperger’s diagnosis helps explain Thunberg’s singular focus and uninhibited drive that propel her passion.

On climate change, things get murkier. There is copious but unsourced data about energy, water, biodiversity, diet and the like. Unfortunately, a huge problem remains unexamined: overpopulation. As for alternatives to fossil fuels, the nuclear option is dismissed, not debated. Ideas about how to be a climate activist do abound. No more plastic straws or bottles. Live in cities and fly less. Get involved in marches and social media.

Despite shortcomings, this slim but wide-ranging paperback develops the Greta connection to make more personal and pertinent the mighty challenges of global warming.

  • Susan FaustSusan Faust was a librarian at Katherine Delmar Burke School in San Francisco for 33 years. Email: books@sfchronicle.com.
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