In our journey to help parents, caregivers and teachers listen and speak with children about the climate crisis, we have been thrilled to learn about some new and wonderful children’s books that help us do so. In a recent post, we share some of our new favorites from 2020 and we will be doing another update soon, in the lead up to Earth Day. In the meantime, we are thrilled to share this new book and it’s accompanying coloring & activity book, Si’ahl and the Council of Animals co authored by Climate Mama extraordinary, Margie Muenzer and Margie’s sister Jane Reis. Margie is a Climate Reality leader, educator and author and in the post below, she shares with us her story about how the book came to be. We are pleased to share Margie’s story with you!
The Story that Wanted to be Told
by Margie Muenzer
My twin sister Jane and I co-wrote the children’s book Si’ahl and the Council of Animals to start conversations in families about our changing climate. It all started in early January 2020, when I was visiting Jane in her home in Seattle, WA, having traveled there from my home in Chapel Hill, NC. We both had been active in climate work, Jane in transitioning to regenerative farming principles at her farm, First Light Farm, and me as an avid outdoors enthusiast and trained Climate Reality Project leader.
Towards the end of my visit, Jane shared with me a remarkable event. She had been meditating, a daily practice for her. As she explained it to me, she clearly saw, from start to finish, a children’s story told in animal voices, how climate change was making their (the animals) lives harder, how they reached out to humans who live nearby for help, and how they observed these humans begin to change their actions in response. This children’s story, she said, would be a way that we could help families face climate change in a positive way, by working together towards improving conditions for all living things.
After telling me all of this, she then said, “and you are going to write it”. I didn’t take this very seriously, but later, on the five hour plane ride back to North Carolina, I thought I might just make some notes. To my surprise, the story easily flowed onto the pages of my notebook and I had a rough draft of the first five chapters crafted before the plane touched down in Raleigh. Though I was the main writer, Jane and I collaborated closely about the storyline and its message in the months that followed.
Jane was very clear that it was important to make the animals the storytellers. This, she said, was the way to speak directly to children’s hearts. We both have wonderful memories of our mother reading us many of Thornton Burgess’ books, written in the early 1900s, with delightful animal characters who engage in all sorts of adventures, including a good deal of mischief. That the animals were the storytellers made a lasting impression and is carried into our book. Jane and I felt that having parents and children talk together about our animal story would be a compelling way to introduce the effects of climate change without provoking anxiety. The collaboration of the humans and animals in the story would model effective changes for families, motivated by the children’s rightful concern for their friends, the animals.
We set our story somewhere in the Pacific Northwest and, for our main character, chose the name Si’ahl, to honor the wisdom and teachings of Chief Si’ahl (better known to many as Chief Seattle), who led the Duwamish and Suquamish tribes in the early days of colonization of the northwest. Si’ahl & Friends Coloring and Activity Book was created as a companion to our original story, inspired by the intricate drawings of our illustrator, Andrea Hiotis. This second book provides children an opportunity to enjoy coloring the different illustrations, but also to explore with their friends or families learning activities about animal habitats and behaviors, the importance of trees, energy usage and more.
To further engage families, we have a website blog, Climate Busters’ Corner, challenging our young readers to participate in a variety of different activities in their homes and communities. On our social media sites, we highlight other Climate Busters–people working to make our planet healthy again. By showing children different ways of doing things, things that can be interesting and fun like learning about the plants and animals in their communities or making an adventure of avoiding plastic at the grocery store, authors, parents and teachers alike are helping them develop good eco-habits for a lifetime.
Margie Muenzer is a retired pediatric physical therapist, wife, mother and grandmother who is keeping busy in retirement learning more about the indigenous value of reciprocity with nature and the possibility of an ecocentric rather than egocentric view of the world.