Bringing Up Eco WarriorsTania McCartney is an author of both children’s and adult books. An experienced magazine writer and editor, she also founded respected literary site Kids’ Book Review. She is passionate about literacy, and loves to speak on reading, books and writing. Her second book for the National Library, Eco Warriors to the Rescue!, combines modern photography and typesetting with historical artworks from the archives of the National Library, making Australia's beautiful collection of botanical art accessible to the very young. The book also includes interesting facts about Australian flora, as well as floral emblems and birth months, and further ideas on how to keep Australian green.
Fact: Australia is one of just seventeen countries said to be biologically ‘megadiverse’. This means eighty-five per cent of our plant species are native. We’re also fortunate enough to contain a whopping 10 per cent of the world’s total biodiversity, and a great number of our native plants, animals and birds exist nowhere else in the world. Yet, in the last 200 years, over 60 Australian plant species are said to have become extinct. More than 500 plants are endangered and over 600 are vulnerable to extinction.
Another fact: Australians love the great outdoors, but our kids, like our native plants, are in danger of succumbing to an increasingly sedentary, indoor lifestyle.
Creating little eco warriors out of our children is important for their health as well as our native flora. It’s also a relatively easy thing to do. Kids love a challenge. They’re also energetic, innovative and smart, and—given the right information—their natural proclivity for activism is, well, activated.
In writing Eco Warriors to the Rescue!, I was intent on activating some mini activists.
But the secret behind effective activists is that they need to care. The more kids get to know and understand something—the more they like and value it—the more they will care and the more they will do to protect it.
Without doubt Australia’s ecosystems need to be protected, and starting at the ‘source’ with our kids is a fine way to help ensure the longevity of our native plant life.
In Eco Warriors, three kids get together to visit their favourite book—Australian Flora, Fauna and Other Curiosities—by entering its pages to interact with a series of native bushes, shrubs and trees. These plants have been represented by just some of the stunning early botanical artwork housed at the National Library of Australia—a collection I’m completely obsessed with.
This artwork is beautiful and its subject matter is fascinating—two vital components in attracting children. But it’s the 10 green tips featured in the book (that our three characters search for) which really impart a strong message when it comes to taking on the eco warrior role.
Using Eco Warriors as a guide, kids can easily take its sustainability concepts and apply them in their own school and home environments. They can also spread the word and help educate their peers on how to keep our native flora in tip-top shape.
But beyond ecological tips, I truly believe that encouraging a deep love of native plants is key. Being a mum who loves gardening and bushwalking, I’ve always encouraged my kids to appreciate and learn to identify native plants and wildflowers. Britain and the US continue to have such a deep cultural influence on our children—ask an Aussie kid to name five flowers, and they’re sure to name blooms of foreign origin. Indeed, during school presentations, when asking kids to name native plants, almost half will name introduced species.
So, exposing kids to native flora is really important, even if it means a visit to a nursery, seed-sowing or keeping a couple of pots on your windowsill.
I love to encourage my kids to explore native flora by creating little ecosystems with native plant cuttings (though only those from our own garden or fallen gum tree leaves and twigs) and mud and rocks. They usually construct these within a large baking tin, complete with rivers and lakes and blooms.
Another thing I encourage is flower pressings (again of our own plants, not those found in the bush) and photography. Both kids have little Nikon cameras they use to take macro pictures of flowers on bushwalks.
Many of our native flowers and berries are edible, and another great way to encourage understanding and affection for our native plants is by sourcing unusual products for kids to enjoy—like Lilly Pilly cordial, Quandong jam, Pepperleaf mustard and Lemon Myrtle sauce. Try www.outbackpride.com.au.
Surprise kids with interesting facts, too. Did you know that we have birth month flowers featuring our native wildflowers? Kids love to look up their own flower—and these are featured in Eco Warriors.
Bringing up our own little eco warriors is about more than activism and taking care of our plants. It’s about showcasing the stunning diversity of our native plants to kids, and thereby encouraging an affection for and interest in their long-term survival. As I say at the end of the book—the absolutely best thing we can do for our native plants is this: ENJOY!