Plastic Primers: Four and a bit books about Plastic

We’re three weeks into Plastic Free July! Oh yes! How are you getting on? This month is an intimidating call to action for anyone, but perhaps especially for parents of young children. There is such a lot of plastic in kids’ lives, some of it easy to avoid, some near-impossible. Consider most toys, the squillions of kiddie sized snack packs, yogurt pots, wipes and nappies, balloons, paint pots, glue, glitter, pom poms, hairbands, felt-tip pens, straws swaddled in flimsy plastic and glued to the side of juice cartons… It’s easy to feel pointlessly Scrooge-like in the face of party bags full of individually plastic wrapped sweets and lollies – grudgingly allowing your kids to accept the rustling booty, while scowling at the contents. “Argggh, sooo much plastic…” (And sooo much sugar, but that’s a whole other story…)

To prevent the subject of plastic becoming one of parental tub-thumping negativity, there are some wonderful books around which engage children with the facts and allow them to build their own opinions, rather than just adopting yours. Everything is a bit easier when the kids are on board too…

START WITH: A Planet Full of Plastic And How You Can Help by Neal Layton (Wren & Rook)

Neal Layton’s illustrations are winning, witty and bursting with character (you’ll recognise them from Cressida Cowell’s Emily Brown books among many others) – he mixes photos and drawings here to demonstrate this real-life problem. In this super-accessible book, Layton communicates effectively the big messages about plastic. Its advantage and fatal flaw – that is does not break down – is brilliantly told, comparing the breakdown of a leaf compared with a familiar plastic juice bottle. This is excellently pitched for 4 year olds and a good way beyond; a great place to start grappling with this issue. 

Layton’s just published another title A Climate in Chaos And How You Can Help which would be worth getting hold of too.

THE NEXT LEVEL: Plastic past, present, and future by Eun-Ju Kim Illustrated by Ji-Won Lee (Scribbler)

As you might guess from the title, this is a little straighter in delivery than Neal Layton’s offering. Some of the language and detail which accompanies Lee’s bright and lively illustrations is more complex too, but this all lends it an authority which growing readers will appreciate. There’s loads of hardcore information, with the science of plastic production tackled comprehensively. But it’s certainly no dry text book, and kicks off with the compelling story of a shipment of plastic toys bust open in a storm which end up all over the world. It asks questions, encourages thought processes about how our lives came to be quite so dominated by plastic. 

THE CALL TO ACTION: Plastic Sucks by Dougie Poynter (Pan Macmillan)

I’m naturally a little sceptical of celeb books about pet causes. But this one by McFly’s Dougie Poynter is refreshingly info-packed, with very little about Poynter (aside from a few pouty cartoons) and much, much more about those who can inspire us in facing this worldwide problem from his hero Sir David Attenborough (to whom the book is dedicated), to marine biologists, activists, entrepreneurs, teenage bloggers, social media influencers. The presentation is inviting, lots of typographic fun allowing pretty dense text content. The tone can be a bit try-hard and grating (sample phrase: “The parliament dudes… agreed microbeads sucked…”) but I should pipe down as I’m clearly not the target reader here. The interconnectedness of our behaviour and the damage to natural systems is well explored, and there are countless achievable suggestions for how to make changes.

THE INSPIRATION: One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon (Lerner)

I wanted to mention this book, even though I haven’t managed to get hold of a copy yet. 

Isatou Ceesay, dubbed the queen of recycling, looked at the waste dumps for her community in Njau and saw potential. She had the vision to see waste as a source of income for women who had limited opportunities to earn their own money. Her project grew into the Women’s Initiative – the Gambia, which brought women together to learn how to process and recycle plastic waste into desirable products like purses and jewellery. They have also been turning ground nut shells into charcoal briquettes to provide economical fuel for families. Now 11,000 women are involved in the recycling work she instigated. I’ll track down a copy of the book itself and write more…

Ceesay’s story is also told in Kate Pankhurst’s book Fantastically Great Women Who Saved the Planet (Bloomsbury).

And finally…. it doesn’t have to be aimed at kids to be absorbing. Or even a proper book. Among my son’s current favourite page-turners is this:

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