Thursday, April 22, 2021

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday (or Thursday) - Celebrating Earth Day with "The Last Straw" - 4.22.21

 Happy Earth Day!  Every year I try to be more and more mindful about the carbon footprint I am leaving on the Earth.  I've also noticed kids being even more conscious about this.  I often hear parents comment how their children actually remind them to do some of the little things we can do to better take care of Mother Earth.  
Here's a new book by Susan Hood that you'll want to have in your library!

The Last Straw by Susan Hood
The Last Straw:  Kids vs. Plastics
written by Susan Hood
illustrated by Christiane Engel
published by HarperCollins

Isn't the cover so inviting?  The illustrations by Christiane Engel bring to life the information Hood is imparting upon her younger readers.  Although Hood's lyrical words certainly create images in your head as you read the information.  I love seeing the kids on the cover cleaning up a beach.  Don't have a beach by you?  I bet there is a local park that has a few things that need to be cleaned!  

Did you notice the subtitle - "Kids vs. Plastics".  The entire book stays very focused on  things young readers can do to help the environment.  I love that this book encourages kids to get busy with this kind of activism!

The book starts with a forward from kid (now young adult) activist, Milo Cress.  He started the Be Straw Free project, which was a project that started out by giving a voice to kids about what they can do to help the Earth.  Cress encourages young readers to use their voice and talk to adults because that is a way change can happen.

This is a book that doesn't have to be read from cover to cover (although it's easy to do).  Hood includes a table of contents for readers who are looking for specific information.  What follows are 17 poems that educate readers on the importance of taking care of the environment, while sharing ideas of what you can do to help.  Hood turns the spotlight on certain projects that are already making a difference in communities - such as in Baltimore where there is a trash eating boat that goes down the river to pick up trash before it floats out to sea.  Want to know about natural recyclers?  How about the wax moth caterpillars that have a chemical inside their digestive system that breaks down plastic!  Want to encourage kids to be plastic activists?  There are several pages that encourage kids to speak up and shows some fellow kid activists that are already doing the work.

Each poem is accompanied by a gorgeous illustration and also some additional facts.  Hood includes a quote that goes along with the information from different researchers, activists, and scientists.  Also included are facts that give even more information about what is presented in the main text.  I like that this gives different options of how you want to read the book.

Looking for more information?  The backmatter is full of it and different web sites and books to find even more info!  Want to know more about the poems?  Each one is a different format and I found myself going back and rereading poems to look for different techniques Hood used.

I promise you, you'll finish this book and think about what you can do to help the environment.  A few years ago, I switched to using reusable straws.  I try and remember to carry them in my purse so I have something to use when at a restaurant (although that has not been a problem in over a year now....).  While I use reusable metal water bottles everyday, I still use plastic ones while exercising.  It's been on my mind to do something about that.  I think this is the year to start!

I'm grateful that author Susan Hood stopped by to talk even more about the book.  Here are some questions I had for her:

This book is full of information!  How long does it take you to pull everything together and create a complete book?

A couple of years. I started the book in February 2019 and it came out this spring. Two years is speedy for a picture book, but my editors and I felt a great urgency to call more attention to the perils of plastic pollution. The research took a lot of time and I’m indebted to Dr. George Leonard, Chief Scientist, at Ocean Conservancy for vetting the science in the text and in the art. I was especially thrilled when a hero of mine, Dr. Jane Goodall, endorsed the book.

Is it easy to pick the different poetic formats you use?  Do you know what format you want to use right away or does the poem go through a few before you find the right one?

Some poetic forms seemed obvious, such as “A Sea Change,” which is an elegy to the whales who are dying from eating too much plastic.  A concrete or shape poem seemed the perfect format for “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.” The poem rotates in a circle as the ocean gyres do. Other poems took more thought and experimenting. “The Road Back” is found poem using words from traffic signs.

What sparked you to write this book?

I’ve lived by the ocean all of my life. So much of the fun I’ve had since I was a child—sailing, swimming, kayaking, scuba diving—was thanks to the sea. I was heartbroken by news of whales dying from ingesting pounds of plastic. They eat the plastic, feel full, and stop eating. They have no way to digest and expel the plastic so they die of starvation and dehydration. Sea turtles mistake plastic bags for a favorite food—jellyfish—and suffer the same fate as the whales.

We all think we’re recycling plastic, but it turns out that we’re not. In 2015, a groundbreaking study by scientists at UC Santa Barbara found that 91% of plastic isn’t recycled. The situation has only gotten worse since then and there’s no end in sight. Plastic production is predicted to triple by 2050. By the time our kids are adults there could be more plastic in the ocean (by weight) than fish. It’s a tragedy. That was it—the last straw! I knew I had to do something. And I was thrilled to discover that kids around the world already are. For them, this fight is personal.

I find this book so inspiring!  I imagine it will spark an idea for all readers.  What is something that you started doing after learning all of this information?

Thank you so much, Michele. I hope others are inspired by the can-do kids in the book. One thing I’ve done: I’ve opened my eyes. I started seeing plastic everywhere, as indeed it is. (Try to go one day without touching plastic. Bet you can’t!) 

I visited my local recycling center to learn about the problems they face. It’s worth doing in your area, because recycling regulations are determined by states and local municipalities. I never knew that we can’t recycle wet cardboard because it gums up the works. A recycling bin with a top on it is an easy solution. 

I also saw firsthand how plastic grocery bags, straws, and plastic utensils slip through the cracks in the sorting machines and break the equipment. Along with plastic bottles, I’m working hard to ban these “use-it-once-and-throw-it-away” plastics in my life. These are the things we use for an average of 12 minutes and then they pile up in the ocean and on landfills for the next 450-1000 years! Some scientists believe they never really disintegrate, but break into smaller and smaller microplastics that end up in our food and in the air, with dire consequences for our health. These “disposable” plastics are 40% of the problem and they’re easy to replace with washable cloth bags, metal water bottles, bamboo utensils, and metal straws. 

Going forward, I’d add a few more RE-words to the old REUSE, REDUCE, RECYCLE slogan. REFUSE is a big one. Just say NO to this stuff we don’t really need. And REWARD RESEARCH. Support companies that are fighting back. Our lives depend on it.

Thank you for stopping by and sharing this gorgeous book with me.  Although I'm sharing this on Earth Day, it's definitely a book to be shared everyday! 

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