We came to know author and environmentalist Lynne Cherry through “The Great Kapok Tree,” one of our favorite books for kids on conservation. It was a delight to find she’s also a filmmaker whose Young Voices for the Planet project motivates kids to help fight climate change. The artist-in-residence at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, NY, answered questions for our Global Green Room Interview.
What would surprise us about your work?
Most people know me as the author of “The Great Kapok Tree” and “A River Ran Wild” and they are most often surprised when they find that I also drew all the pictures and that I’ve written and/or illustrated 30 books. They are also surprised that I am also a filmmaker or when I tell them that I’ve also written for adults, including many magazine and journal articles and a chapter in a book “Written in Water” published by National Geographic. Another surprise is my involvement in campaigns to save open space, save rain forest, clean up rivers, and work to elect candidates who care about protecting the earth for future generations. You see? I’m full of surprises!
Who is your hero?
I have many heroes. They are all people who were told that what they wanted to do was impossible but had the courage of their convictions. Marion Stoddart is one of my biggest heroes; she saw her local river polluted beyond belief but she had a vision of that river clean. Now, because of Marion, the Nashua River is a clean clear fishing stream. I wrote the story of Marion’s clean-up of the Nashua in a book called “A River Ran Wild” starting with the pristine river when only native people lived there, then the river becoming polluted during the industrial revolution, and then, in the 1960s being rescued and restored — demonstrating the power of one committed individual. A movie has been made of Marion’s story, “The Work of 1000.”
What is your greatest success?
The success of “The Great Kapok Tree” was by far my greatest success and what I am most known for, but what makes it a success for me is that the book was responsible for kids saving hundreds of acres of rain forest in Monteverde, Costa Rica, in the Bosque Eterno de los Ninos — the Eternal Forest of the Children. I measure my success by how much my books motivate children to make a difference in the world. I sure hope that my films are someday as much loved by young people as “The Great Kapok Tree” is.
What is your greatest failure or challenge?
My greatest challenge is to empower children to do something about climate change. This is the most serious threat to humanity that we have ever faced. It will make the two world wars seem insignificant if we do not demand of our elected officials that there be a price put on carbon in order to level the playing field and make renewable energy competitive. I wouldn’t say I’ve failed yet, but currently I would say that we as a society are failing to address the problem with the urgency it requires. Kids can speak to their parents and speak to power. They can make a difference. The “Young Voices for the Planet” films are giving youth a voice and empowering them to speak out and find solutions. They are waking up the adults and we still have a small window of time to save ourselves, but we must act now.
If you could make one global and green change, what would it be?
It would be to help with a youth transformation — helping youth realize that, as Alec Loorz (founder of “Kids vs Global Warming”) says, “Kids have Power!” With kid power, we could transform our society to Harvey Wasserman’s “Solartopia,” completely changing our energy system, putting a price on carbon, and covering paved surfaces, parking lots, and the tops of all flat-topped building with solar panels. The students in my film “Dreaming in Green” did an energy audit of their school and saved $53,000 in energy costs! 11-year old Felix in “Plant for the Planet” planted three million trees! Going green makes economic sense. Youth helping parents, peers, and communities to understand climate science, to envision an alternative future, to ask them, “Do I matter to you?” and to spur everyone to action — that’s my dream for a global green change.