Memories of kids’ environmental media

big old pile of dead tree media telling us to recycle

A small pile of dead trees.

I’m giving a short talk later this month about children’s science media and memory. I thought I’d pick up an idea I’ve been playing with for a while, and discuss memories of childhood and environmental media, and I’d like your help.

There’s loads of great material here. EDF Energy’s It’s Not Easy Being Green ad, “made entirely of recycled clips”, or the news of a Captain Planet movie in the making. Captain Planet is just one example of several green-tinged media products aimed at kids in the early 1990s. If you’re of the right age, you might also remember the Blue Peter Green BookUncle Jack or FernGully (great book on this, by the way). It goes back a lot further than this though. A strong thread of Romanticism has run through much of children’s fiction for centuries, often reflecting ideas about the natural world (see Rose’s The Case of Peter Pan on this). Mary Welsely’s The Sixth Seal (which scared the poo out of me as a kid) was first published in 1969. There is also a long history of non-fiction media on natural history aimed at kids which will, on occasion, overlap with environmental issues.

I often wonder if kid’s green media of previous era’s had any impact. I noticed Laurie Penny referenced childhood memories of FernGully and what she described as “traumatic colouring books full of sad baby seals and herons choking on plastic bags” (missed that one myself…) in a recent piece about a trip to the Arctic. In his book about children’s news media, David Buckingham cynically suggests a focus on environmental issues  is a way adults can put off taking action themselves: label it a kids issue and leave it for the next generation. I wonder if, now those kids have grown up, they are doing something. Or perhaps not. Perhaps they are just enjoying the nostalgia of the recycled clips on the EDF Energy ad.

Anyway, as a way of helping me think about this, I’d be interested in people’s memories of environmental media they encountered as children. On TV, books, films, in lessons at school, whatever. Whenever or wherever you experienced your childhood, and however you reacted to it. Do you remember the Blue Peter Green Book, FernGully, the Lorax, something else?  Did they worry you, bore you, inspire you, annoy you?

I’d love to hear your memories.  Do please leave them in the comments, and pass this post on to anyone you think might have something to share.

17 thoughts on “Memories of kids’ environmental media

  1. Patrick Wilson

    Hi Alice
    I recall being strongly influenced as a 3-4 year old by ‘A Lion in the Meadow’ by (as I’ve only just discovered) Margaret Mahy, though I’m not sure this counts as eco-kiddie-lit it had amazing pictures –
    In the ’70s there was a strong green tinge to our primary school reading – ‘Fungus the Bogeyman’ also stands out – then from 10-13 I got into – inter alia – Ursula Le Guin, Rachel Carson and EF Schumacher, and have been oscillating between Rousseau & Malthus ever since.

  2. Brian Owens

    My brother and I earned green Blue Peter badges in 1989 for sending in environment-themed drawings. I drew a burning rainforest with a caption that said something like “Put out the fires now”.

    I’m pretty sure my Mom still has the badges somewhere safe.

  3. Marianne

    I remember Captain Planet, Fern Gully (had a VHS, still have it, love(d) it!!) and the Lorax, yes. Wasn’t a massive fan of Blue Peter but I watched it sometimes so sure I’d have been exposed to the Green Book.

    Fern Gully was great as it really showed the transition from ignorance and apathy to personal connections, caring and fighting for the cause. The feeling of horror when beautiful things that you love are tainted by reckless people, causing suffering and pain. Plus it had the awesome cassowary duo.
    The Lorax was traumatising, very sad, but it made its point.

    I remember presenters like Terry Nutkins, Chris Packham, David Bellamy and others who, along with David Attenborough of course, inspired my interest in and respect for nature.

    I have a vague memory of a My Little Pony film (!) that featured some kind of ‘sludge’ covering the otherwise pretty green hills and so on.

    Hey, what about the Wombles! :P

  4. Specs

    Here in the States, we had a second, not as good, environmental cartoon in the early 90s called Widget the Worldwatcher, about an alien who came to Earth to help protect it from humans who wanted to do various planet-harming evil things (intro is on youtube, of course, here:

    I also had a book called 101 Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth..

    Oh, and let’s not forget the final episode of Dinosaurs (a wacky comedy series involving some impressive Henson workshop puppets and costumes). Our main character, Earl, clear cuts the habitats of a cornerstone species and thus destroys the ecosystem. The last shot is of the dinosaur family awaiting their deaths in a cold, dark, house. Grim.

  5. Sarah Emily Duff

    I watched Captain Planet, but in South Africa in the early 90s. Conservationism was always an outlet for white, middle-class good works under apartheid, and during what we call the ‘transition’ (c.1991-5), environmentalism was heavily promoted in schools – and I think particularly primary schools – as a form of apparently depoliticised activism which could involve all children. The South African Broadcasting Corporation – whose agenda was, and is, set by the state – aired Captain Planet and lots, and lots of nature documentaries.

    Also, I think that a lot of this focus on the environment (and particularly the ozone layer?) during this period was related to the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. I remember reams of child-oriented material and at school we seemed to paint endless murals of the Amazon. I even have hazy memories of a film featuring mother earth that we watched in assembly – and this, I should explain, was at a very conservative, largely Afrikaans girls’ school.

  6. Brigitte Nerlich

    I had picture cards in my porridge oats depicting hover boots and self-cleaning kitchens. No environment, thank you! (having said that, I lived amongst the cows, so to speak)

  7. em409

    I had a book ’50 things kids can do to save the earth(world?)’ – I chose it myself, so perhaps an early sign I was going to be an environmental scientist?

  8. Sai

    Acorn Green:, quite a bit with the Fast Forward (not sure if it was BBC, but Newsround and Blue Peter were involved) fold out books, loads in the OwlTV magazines, BBC Wildlife (which had pull out sections for kids – which I think might’ve been Really Wild Show supplements). Have scans of all of these if you’d like. More recently – kids talking about environmental issues in Happy Feet. Atb, Sai

  9. Jay Ridgewell

    I remember lots of Widget and Captain Planet (in Australia), as well as loads of enviro-themed episodes of other favourite shows. Also some kids drama shows about girls who are mermaids (in polluted waters- H2O, just add water), and sci-fi kids who’ve had to live on another planet because of a ruined Earth (Escape to Jupiter). Not to mention song clips on Sesame Street such as ‘We are All Earthlings’ and ‘Co-operation’ (working together to clean up the park/pond, ‘On My Pond’ is another one.

  10. NadiyaZarineMidgley (@prettychickpea)

    Captain Planet was just right for me, I was a bit of a junior eco warrior back then, and he was ace. Mostly I was really connected to the stories with trees in – The faraway tree books by Enid Blyton – the idea that something huge and precious and natural like a tree could house me and could lead me to amazing worlds; then there was some kids book with the toy character living in the trunk of a willow, and he played within the curtain of the leaves; who was he anyway? Might have been Andy :Pandy and the Willow Tree.

    Mostly it was Kermit the frog and the Sesame Street lot though, huge impact.

    As a little kid I read the papers a lot and people would give me magazine cuttings which largely feulled the junior-insight

  11. muirmaid

    I still have a copy of Bill Peet’s “Farewell to Shady Glade”, a 1960s saga about a bunch of animals whose forest home is bulldozed. Now I’m a park ranger. Coincidence? I think not.

  12. Pingback: Five Books | through the looking glass

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