Happy Earth Day!
I’m a quiet but staunch environmentalist, and I suspect that books had a lot to do with this side of my personality (and most of the rest, for that matter). Here, then, are some books to celebrate on Earth Day…
For those of us growing up in the ’80s and early ’90s, science fiction for teens (the term “YA” hadn’t been invented yet) tended to follow a few familiar tropes. Dystopian tales were popular, as were stories about aliens and spaceships. And it was almost taken for granted that our planet was going to come close to destruction, usually for environmental reasons.
One example was the Canadian writer Monica Hughes. She wrote a variety of stories about near-future humanity divorced from its natural environment…and, because she was writing for teens, the young people in her stories usually found their way back to nature and solved the core problem in their societies while they were at it. Devil on my Back and its sequel The Dream Catcher, for example, are about a society that lives in a city under a dome and believes the outside world is toxic. The Crystal Drop is about a North America ravaged by drought.
In the TV world, there was The Girl From Tomorrow, an Australian series about a young time-traveller who comes from a future era where half the planet has been destroyed. While the story wasn’t overtly environmentalist, it certainly made you think, especially when the characters find themselves in an alternate timeline where the entire planet is a blasted husk.
More recently, Scott Westerfeld‘s trilogy beginning with Uglies features a similar setting. His society lives in utopian cities and looks down on our era as the age of the “Rusties”, who nearly destroyed the planet. Of course, SF readers know that utopias always come at a price….
And adults aren’t left out. Adult fiction of this type includes:
- Hammered by Elizabeth Bear, the first in a near-future trilogy that, while not explicitly environmental in its themes, certainly deals with trying to save the Earth from a threat to the ecosystem
- Dry by Barbara Sapergia, a literary spec-fic novel about crops and genetics in Saskatchewan
- Don Coyote de la Merika by Kathryn Anthony, a novella about connections in a world of scarcity
Close to the Earth
Against all this doom and gloom, I also grew up with books about living close to the Earth and its cycles. I’ve mentioned before that my father was raised on a farm. So it’s not surprising, perhaps, that I loved stories about pioneers and ranchers.
My favourites were, of course, the Little House books. My sister and I often played Laura and Mary, especially when we were outside helping in the garden. My father grew vegetables, my mother loved flowers, and while I have forgotten everything I might have learned from them, I did like helping, pretending I was on a farm growing everything I needed to survive the prairie winter.
Add to that:
- Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan, about a widower who brings a mail-order bride from the east to look after his farm and his two children
- The Wilds of Whip-Poor-Will Farm by Janet Foster, a non-fiction book for children about a couple who buys a farm, builds a house, and gets to know the comings and goings of all the wildlife that share the land with them
And a recent publication that I’m looking forward to reading, poet Jenna Butler’s book Seldom Seen Road promises to evoke farming life from an intimate perspective — she also runs an organic farm in northern Alberta.
Your turn. What can you add to the list of books worth celebrating on Earth Day?