University of Toledo professor Paul Many has previously published seven books with well-known publishers Random House and Bloomsbury.
His book, “The Great Pancake Escape,” won a Los Angeles Times’ Best Children’s Book of the Year award. Many’s latest book, “My Breathing Earth,” takes a unique spin on teaching children about the environment. Toledo Area Parent sat down with Paul to learn more.
“‘My Breathing Earth’ was a challenge since air is invisible and the only way we ‘see’ it is when it affects something else, like causing leaves to rustle, or if it contains something like dust. I owe a lot to Tisha Lee, the illustrator, for the clever and subtle ways she showed these effects,” Many said.
I’ve written the book to be different from many other books that deal with climate in that it doesn’t try to “teach” anything. No one — adults or children — likes having a finger waved at them and told they must know or do something. But, by following a little girl and her sister through their day from the time she greets the air fluttering her eyelashes in the morning, until night when it pulls the clouds away so the moon can light her room, I try to simply show her experience as she exults in her young life in the air she so freely breathes.
Paul also notes that “My Breathing Earth” encourages readers to take note of something we often take for granted — the air around us. Many children may feel anxious hearing about climate change and changes in the environment in the news.
Many notes, “If they are expressing what you believe to be realistic concerns acknowledge these concerns but attempt to reassure them. Despite the reality of such change, many believe some of its effects can be mitigated to some degree and/or humans will adapt. So assure them that the final chapter hasn’t been written and people are working to make things better. Dooming and despairing of climate change can be as harmful as denying such change if it leads to despair and inaction. Humans have managed to become an important life form on the planet through adapting themselves and shaping their environments.”
“My Breathing Earth” contains a section at the end where young readers are encouraged to take steps to help Earth “breathe better.”
Thinking about how youth can become more involved in protecting the environment and minimizing damage to the environment, Paul asserts, “you might start by asking what kinds of things could be done in your own household that your child could be responsible for or participate in. My daughter got us to recycle more when she was younger and lately got us to start composting food scraps like banana peels and apple cores.”
(Tip from Paul: Keep daily amounts in a container in the freezer and when it’s full add to the composter of your choice outdoors. If you live in an apartment look for community gardens or farmers markets that may take such waste.)
While “My Breathing Earth” does not aim to tell children what to believe about climate change, it does provide a safe space for conversations within families about climate change and the ever changing environment in an age-appropriate manner. Below is a list of resources recommended by Paul Many himself for supporting parents having conversations with children in these areas.