The “Greta effect” is a term that has been coined over the past two years to describe the influx of children’s books sweeping the market about the climate emergency. From our plastic consumption to protecting the creatures in our oceans, there has been a children’s book covering every angle of the climate crisis, and new releases are coming thick and fast. As with most emerging trends though, cynicism is never far behind. An influx of publishing has had its share of naysayers: a quick Twitter search exposes accusations of publishers following a transient “trend” that plays into a “moment” to earn some reputational praise. Other sceptics propose that didactic children’s books on global warming cause nothing but panic and confusion for their audience.
On the contrary, the “Greta effect” on the children’s publishing market is incredibly encouraging. It shows publishers recognising that they play a crucial role in galvanising younger generations on how to save our planet. More than that, the very best children’s books in this market—and the marketing and publicity campaigns that accompany them—are not those that scaremonger and startle, but those that provide inspiring optimism for the future.
The very best children’s books in this market—and the marketing and publicity campaigns that accompany them—are not those that scaremonger and startle, but those that provide inspiring optimism for the future.
One thing is for sure: kids know the facts. Whether it be from the classroom, from the frequently frightening news bulletins, or even from some Sunday night family viewing of a David Attenborough programme, Generation Alpha are well aware what is going on. This knowledge is supported by a desire for activism. In a recent study by Beano Studios from a pool of 2,000 children, it was reported that one in five of those aged between five and nine years old have already been on a march or protest for something they care about.
The onus is on children’s books, then, to provide some hope and understanding to add to all the pessimism. To reassure our youngest generations that they can be the change. To arm them with the everyday tools they need to make a difference. Lauren Ace, fiction editorial director at Little Tiger, concurs. She says: “I think it can be overwhelming and scary for children and, let’s face it, they didn’t cause these problems and shouldn’t be made to feel responsible for them. So getting the balance right—of making sure they are informed and know the facts but ensuring that we instil hope for the future—is, I think, important.”
I personally have had the pleasure of working on Kate Pankhurst’s Fantastically Great Women series of books at Bloomsbury, a brand that aims to celebrate, inspire and educate children on some of the well-known (and lesser known) women who have changed the world. In 2020, we published the fourth picture book in the series: Fantastically Great Women Who Saved the Planet. From Dame Anita Roddick (founder of The Body Shop) to Wangari Maathai (innovator of a sustainable solution to deforestation in Nairobi, Kenya), the book celebrates the inspirational women who have dedicated their lives to studying, conserving and protecting planet Earth.
To coincide with my publicity campaign for Fantastically Great Women Who Saved the Planet, I organised a Fantastically Great Beach Clean on Brighton and Hove seafront (pictured below) to really put the message of the book—that anyone has the potential to change the world—to some tangible practice. Working alongside Brighton and Hove Council, and with litter pickers and gloves provided by Surfers Against Sewage, more than 100 parents and children came to do their part in cleaning Brighton’s beaches and to get their copy of the book from local independent bookshop The Book Nook. Did we find a scary amount of single-use plastic littering the beaches? Of course we did. But not only did everyone come away with a smile on their face (and a complimentary hot chocolate in hand) after a day of feel-good activism; parents and publicists alike were heartened by the enthusiasm of the children. Pankhurst’s books always end with a final striking spread that reads, “You too can change the world”, and as children pored over the pages at The Book Nook afterwards, the day ended with nothing but hope for the world’s future Fantastically Great People.
This sense of responsibility for publishers to arm children and parents with the tools they need for change appears to be echoed across the industry, particularly when it comes to marketing and publicity campaigns that amplify the good word. Kat McKenna, a freelance children’s marketing specialist who has delivered campaigns for titles including Plastic Sucks! by Dougie Poynter (Macmillan Children’s Books), says: “The opportunity to support much-needed initiatives, such as those around the climate crisis, via creative campaigns and publishing must be considered when planning and strategising. Authors and illustrators using their platform to champion a cause they care deeply about, being amplified by a collaborative marketing and publicity department, can make a huge difference. For example, forming partnerships with organisations that are fighting these causes on a daily basis can not only lend expert voices to your campaign and reach broader audiences, but also help them to boost their own awareness via your activity.”
On audience targeting, McKenna adds: “Children are hugely engaged in activism. The upcoming generation following Generation Z is named ‘Alpha’ for their dedication and drive to create real positive change. They are courageous and determined, and so marketers, publicists, editors and publishers in general must get on their level. In doing so, we can help make real change possible while maintaining a commercial vision to sell these inspiring books.”
One thing is for sure: publishing children’s books on global warming and plastic in our oceans will not in itself solve the climate crisis. Of course, no one is claiming it will. If in our publishing, publicity and marketing campaigns we can provide some help in disentangling the confusing and sometimes scary minefield of climate crisis news, while providing hope and a way forward for future generations, then we have done our job. “Reading is power” is a phrase that you will often hear those that work in the children’s publishing world echoing, but with climate change publishing it really has never been more true.
Emily Marples has been in the publishing industry for nearly five years, initially in marketing before moving to publicity. She is senior publicity manager at Bloomsbury and works on children’s and YA titles across the list.
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