HOW OUR STORIES CAN SAVE THE WORLD (or “The Chicken Sees”) by multi-award-winning children’s author Todd Mitchell

We are creatures of narrative. A string of facts and figures [will not] displace a persuasive story. The only thing that will replace a story is a story. —George Monbiot

Seven years ago, I watched the foothills near my house burst into flames. For days, the glow of the fires flickered through my bedroom window, like a thousand suns setting across the hillside.

One night we left our windows open to give us a break from the summer heat. But in the middle of the night the winds shifted and ashes from the fires filled our house. We woke the next morning to find every surface covered in a thick layer of ash.

We were lucky. Several people lost their homes in that fire. At the time, it was the largest wildfire in Colorado history. But these are record-breaking times, full of record-breaking heat waves, droughts, and storms, and since that summer Colorado has experienced even bigger wildfires.

For me, that summer was a wake-up call. The unprecedented damage caused by fires that year made me realize that climate change isn’t just a problem for the future. It’s a problem we need to deal with right now—before summers like the one I experienced become the norm.

But beyond getting solar panels for our house and biking to work, what could I do? I knew that stopping catastrophic climate change required large scale societal changes. Unfortunately, I wasn’t a leader, or a person with an abundance of money or influence. I was just a writer. What difference could I make? What difference could any of us make in the face of such large problems? These questions haunted me.

Every book I write is inspired by a question—something I feel a powerful need to explore. So, I decided to write a book called The Last Panther to explore the question, “What could a young person do to change her community and save an ecosystem?”

I’ll admit, at first I didn’t think there was much that Kiri, the eleven-year-old heroine of The Last Panther could do. Yet, as I followed Kiri on her adventures, I was surprised to discover how big of an impact a child could have. Seeing how much Kiri changed her community filled me with hope.

The skeptic in me tried to dismiss this hope as just a pretty story. A fantasy. In the real world, a child couldn’t change a community like that, could she?

When I looked at my own life, though, I realized that my two young daughters had changed me in significant ways. My oldest daughter, for instance, convinced me to become a vegetarian when she was only four.

In fact, not only can kids change adults—they seem far better at changing adults than other adults are. Realizing this helped me see that kids are the key to creating the change we need, and they do it by telling others what they care about and what matters to them. Put simply, Kiri and my daughter changed me with stories.

Stories are far more powerful than we often think. Consider, for instance, this version of a Sikh story that I first encountered through the writer Ram Dass:

There once were two students who wanted to learn from a wise teacher. When they approached him, he gave them each a chicken and told them, “Go kill the chicken where no one can see.”

The first student went behind a fence, killed the chicken, and brought it back to the teacher.

The second student walked around for two days, then came back with the chicken still alive.

“Why didn’t you kill the chicken?” asked the teacher.

The student replied, “Everywhere I go, the chicken sees.”

Even a simple story like this can change our perception of others (including chickens). Similarly, the book I wrote about a girl changing her community got me to see how the key to creating a better future wasn’t arguing with adults, but helping kids find their voices and tell their stories.

Todd’s photo of the 2012 Colorado wildfires near his home

Which brings me back to the climate crisis and what we can do to stop it. Although the environmental problems we’re facing might feel overwhelming, it’s important to remember that human-caused problems have human solutions. Right now, we have everything we need to solve the environmental problems we’re facing. All that’s missing is the will to do so, and stories can change this.

Stories like this one:

There once was a girl who was so upset about how little was being done to address climate change that she stopped going to school. At first, she sat alone outside with a sign that read “School Strike for Climate.” She probably thought no one saw her. She probably thought no one cared.

Then, quicker than she could imagine, people noticed and joined the girl in her protest for climate action. She sparked a movement which, in only one year, gained millions of followers and became the largest global youth protest in history.

Change can happen fast. You might not realize how quickly things can change when you’re focusing on the problems, but things are only the way they are because we make them this way, and we can change the way things are just as quickly.

That’s why it’s important to tell your story. Let others know what you care about and what matters to you. Develop your voice so you can create the world you want to live in. And when you do this, know that you’re not alone.

The chicken sees.

Todd Mitchell is the acclaimed author of seven MG and YA novels, including The Secret to Lying and The Traitor King. His newest book, The Naming Girl, has already been optioned for TV/film development. Todd is also a creative writing instructor at Colorado State University. Learn more about his amazing books at

THIS IS OUR FINAL A4ED BLOG POST. Enjoy browsing our collection: nine years of original contributions from top kid-lit authors. THANKS FOR READING!

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LIFE ON THE MOUNTAIN by middle-grade and YA novelist (and frontierswoman) Shelley Sackier

I live on top of a mountain all by myself.

Okay, that’s a lie.

Actually, I live on top of a mountain with a huge hairy dog named Haggis, a pack of kittens who insist the only warm place to sleep is on my laptop keyboard, two sheep named Toot and Puddle, who are large enough to qualify as short woolly mammoths, and a bucketload of forest friends.

There are deer, coyote, fox, turkeys, bear, bobcat, and at least one cougar.

I call them friends, but in truth, we are not. Even when I have mistakenly tried to be friendly, they have repeatedly made strong statements that scream, BACK OFF, LADY!

I get it.

I’m in their space. I’m using their resources. I’m competition for survival.

Realizing that—somewhere in between being chased by a 300 lb. black bear, and being sized up for dinner by a sleek and cunning cougar—I found my fresh understanding of the mountain’s wealth of supplies starting to leak into my writing.

My last book, The Antidote, may be a story about magic and medicine and the women who wield them both, but some of the underlying themes—those of depletion—of stripping your kingdom of its much needed riches—revealed the extent some people will reach for their own selfish gain.

But I refused to fall into despair thinking there was nothing I could do to address this greed.

It’s easy to see fellow countrymen—like the heroes and villains in my books—living only for themselves and for today. To believe that their actions are unredeemable.

But this is not true.

People are not hopeless. When I write about the gluttonous self-interest of these characters, I don’t leave them like that. I problem-solve their way out of those behaviors. I search for solutions.

That might involve something as simple as an AHA! moment, or something as grand as a battle to the death, but it usually includes some sort of accumulated wisdom.

Squirreling away all the wealth of one’s community will cause the poor to soon rise up with hunger and anger.

Stripping one’s land of all that makes it desirable, to simply exchange it for coins in one’s pocket, leaves one with nothing but coins in one’s pocket to snack on.

Plus, robbing one’s little chunk of earth makes it defenseless, leaves it vulnerable to disease, disasters, and destruction. Making our earth sick makes all of us sick in return.

Think of it this way: if I take everything for myself on this mountain and leave nothing for my forest friends, they’d react with more than a frown of disappointment. They’d either die from lack of sustenance or form a small army to hunt me down.

I can manage the monumental stress of running from a large creature with sharp and pointy teeth only once in a while. But every day would be impossible to sustain. A body isn’t too fond of continually swimming in a soup of stress hormones. And our planet doesn’t much like the taste of that dish either.

Thankfully, answers exist, and problems are solvable. We can work on embracing the ideas of partnership and preservation.

Just like the bear and the cougar where I live, we may not be friends, but we certainly can be respectful.

I will use only that which I need and try to replace it with as much or more, and in exchange, they will not eat me for lunch, right?

Sounds like a problem solved to me.

Because, I do not live on a mountain … all by myself.

Shelley Sackier is the author of three acclaimed novels, Dear Opl, The Freemason’s Daughter, and The Antidote, and also an award-winning blogger. She lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Visit her website at

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THE CONCLUSION OF AUTHORS FOR EARTH DAY by A4ED founder and director, Brooke Bessesen.

Some years back, I wrote an essay for The A4ED Blog entitled The Creation of Authors for Earth Day. Now, as you might guess from the title of this new essay, our program is coming to a close.

After a decade of leading our amazing Authors for Earth Day coalition, I have decided to step away as director to pursue a longtime personal goal. Building upon my years of scientific research in Golfo Dulce, Costa Rica, I’m heading back into the field to take on a doctoral program in marine biology. Good data can provide decision-makers with information to protect vibrant marine life. That inspires me.

Still, it isn’t easy to let go of Authors for Earth Day. After thoughtful consideration and wise counsel from our volunteer staff members, Dan Gutman, Debbie Dadey, Yolanda Ridge, Patricia Newman, Barb Gowan, and Jennifer Ward, who have helped so much through the years, I am reminded of quote by an author whose identity remains unclear but whose words perfectly capture my sentiment:

Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.

Growing the A4ED program has been a deeply rewarding endeavor, every moment meaningful. Wrapping it up is certainly made easier by the extraordinary mile-markers we surpassed: 10 years of community service with 173 special school visits that resulted in $108,000 donated to 100+ conservation organizations around the world, empowering more than 80,000 students!

My heart cheers for all that we’ve accomplished!

Seventy-three extraordinary participants have given their time, expertise and money as trailblazers for our mission, and even though we will no longer have an official team, many are committed to continuing their annual A4ED-style school visits, giving kids a vote in their future. So, our mission lives on.

Indeed, I hope you will stay tuned for more green ideas on our Facebook page. Earth Day, founded by a hopeful crowd on the White House lawn in 1970, is celebrating a half-century of existence next spring. So we will spend the coming months encouraging you, our fellow authors, teachers, librarians, parents, students, and advocates, to find your own unique ways to promote environmental education.

This A4ED Blog will have new posts through December and our Eco-Book of the Month will be shared on Facebook through March. Our social media will conclude on the landmark 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, April 22, 2020. And then, our website and online platforms will remain up at least another year or two to champion our past efforts.

I am, of course, suffering the sentimental sadness that comes at the end of an era. The future will surely find me reveling in nostalgia. But I cannot cry because it’s over, for a new era is beginning. There is much to do as I prepare for my studies in the wild waters of Costa Rica. Interesting new trails lie ahead for all of us. But I can tell you this…

As I pack my field logs, binoculars and mosquito net, I will be thinking of all the people who supported Authors for Earth Day through these joyful years. And I will be smiling because it happened.

Brooke Bessesen is a conservation biologist and the award-winning author of several picture books, including Look Who Lives in the Ocean. She is also the founder and director of Authors for Earth Day. Take a trip around her world of words and wildlife at

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WALKING FOR WATER by award-winning (and thought-provoking) children’s author Nancy Bo Flood

How far do you walk when you need a drink of water? Or when you want to take a shower, brush your teeth, wash your face? For most of us, we only need to walk to the bathroom.

What if you had to walk a MILE for that glass of cold wonderful water… and when you finally got it, the water was warm, muddy, and with weird things floating in it?  Yuck!

Over a billion people on our earth spend most of their day walking for water.  Some, especially girls, may spend their entire life walking for water.

              Add up all the miles women and children in South Africa walk

                            For water.

                                          Every day.

              Sixteen trips to the moon and back,

                            Every day,

                                          For water.

In the United States most of us use over 100 gallons of water in our home each day.  Water weighs a lot, over eight pounds per gallon. Imagine carrying 800 pounds for a day’s worth of water!

But we need water. We are water. Over 70% of our bodies and our brains are—water! Water is life. Not only to keep our brains alive, but also our world, maybe even other planets in this universe.

We have the same amount of water here on earth that was here in prehistoric times. If we pollute it, if we waste it, we are in trouble. The biggest “users-consumers” of water are agriculture (growing food) and mining and manufacturing (digging resources and producing things, to sell food and “stuff”). Our earth is running out of fresh clean water. Here in the United States, states are fighting over water.

What can we do to protect this limited resource? 

Use less water every day.

How? First, and right at home, turn OFF the faucet. When you brush your teeth, wash dishes, even when showering, don’t let the water keep running. Turn off the faucet after you begin to wash or brush—and don’t turn it back on until you are ready to finish. You will save gallons of water every day. Don’t believe me? Put a pan or bucket in the shower and see how many gallons of water pour down needlessly while you are scrubbing. 

Another way to conserve water? Eat more plants and less meat. Why? Because it takes a LOT of water to “grow” meat. How much water does it take to make a hamburger? Take a guess. 100 gallons of water? Nope. Try 4,000 to 18,000 gallons for one thick, juicy hamburger—an entire swimming pool of water! You need to feed and water a cow, transport the cow to the butcher, process the meat, ship it to a store, cook it, and then clean up the kitchen. Imagine walking for 18,000 gallons of water! And you would need to do it again tomorrow if you wanted a pepperoni pizza or chicken nuggets. You would soon be dead. Try a veggie burger instead. It takes a lot less water to grow vegetables, and they taste pretty good!

A third way to help? Buy less stuff. Recycle. Re-use.

I’ve described  more ways to conserve water in my book Water Runs Through This Book.  I’ve also described unusual facts about water as well as many more ways we need water—relaxing by a mountain lake, rafting down a roaring river, or diving into a cold pool on a hot day.

There is an online Water Footprint Calculator. Compute your daily water use. I promise you will be surprised.  

Water is life. Conserving it is urgent. Please spread the water word. And do your part.

Nancy Bo Flood is the author of several books for children, include Cowboy Up! Riding the Navajo Rodeo, which was honored as a 2014 NCTE Notable Poetry Bool and a 2013 California Reading Association Eureka! Nonfiction honor book. Nancy is also a columnist for Bookology, a children’s literature magazine. Learn more at

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SCIENCE MYSTERIES MAKE THE WORLD GO ROUND by someone who writes about them: nonfiction author Amy S. Hansen

Fortunately, there are a lot of things I do not know.

This is good because my job is to find local mysteries. Mysteries are everywhere and many can be discovered just by asking the right questions.

One fall when my son was three, he asked me where the bugs go in the winter. I thought I would go to the library and find a book. But there wasn’t a book. So I did the research to write one.

I was already a science writer for adults. I understood the process. I read the journal articles and took notes. I found experts. I asked questions. And I listened. By doing this I learned about the amazing Arctic woolly bear caterpillar that freezes solid in the winter. And I also learned about dragonflies, pavement ants, ladybugs, and monarch butterflies. 

I not only learned about the insects, I learned about the people who study them. They were exploring the mysteries of how the natural world works, and I felt honored to know them.

After I wrote my book, I found an editor who was as excited by bugs as I am, and eventually we published the book Bugs and Bugsicles: Insects in the Winter.

Here, my son Scott is standing in an old Jack pine forest in Michigan, taking a picture of me at the same time.

Another time I found a mystery because I was captivated by a kind of tree. I learned that Jack pines are part of a fire ecosystem. Their pinecones are covered with a resin. The resin comes off with heat. And then and only then do the cones open and the seeds fall out. I found that so exciting. It was a part of the natural world that was hidden, a mystery.

After learning about Jack pines, I heard about the endangered Kirtland’s warbler that nests below these trees. Again, I researched, interviews and listened. I also walked among the trees and tried to see the bird. I talked with researchers who study the bird in Michigan and those who follow the bird’s migration. There were tree specialists and fire experts. I interacted with many smart and curious people. Eventually I wrote Fire Bird.

More recently I learned that a neighbor of mine, a professor at a local university, designed a solar panel system that could literally power the world. Her suggestion is to set up panels and windmills on the Sahara Desert. The systems would not only provide more electricity than the world uses now, and it would help the local environment of the desert.

My neighbor gives me hope. And so do all the other brilliant people studying the way the universe works and finding new ways to solve environmental problems.

My job is to explain the mysteries these people have solved. In the process I hope to get other people as excited as I am about the wonderful, weird and fragile world we live in. Every time I learn something new, I love that I can share it with my readers.  

Amy S. Hansen has authored over a dozen books for children, mostly about the science of everyday life. She has also written for several children’s magazines, including Highlights for Children, and her electronic encyclopedia, Earth Explorer, received a Parents’ Choice Award. Discover more at

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National Geographic KIDS Author Mary Quattlebaum reminds us to cherish our animal family

I grew up in a big family—three brothers and three sisters. But I’m also part of an even larger family—the family of animals. And so are you.  So are all humans. Honeybee, lion, turtle, robin, guppy.  We’re all connected.  And we often have more in common than not.

I thought about that as I researched and wrote my most recent book, a nonfiction celebration of animal siblings, Brother, Sister, Me and You.  (Check out the dedication! And look for the surprise animal at the end.)

Some baby animals play together, others simply share a nest or birthplace. Lion cubs pounce and play, beaver kits do chores, wolf pups snuggle up and sleep together.

Growing up, my siblings and I explored the fields, pond, and woods around our home, just as bear cubs explore.  We splashed like otters and paddled like ducklings. We wrestled and hugged and learned from one another. I’m grateful to and for my sibs, and I love that we continue to gather now, with our own children.

And I’m grateful to and for my larger animal family, for all they do to create a vibrant Earth that shelters, nourishes, and sustains us all.  I try to think of ways to help them, to show my gratitude.

Living in the city, in Washington, DC, I’ve discovered three simple things I can do on a daily basis.  In fact, they’re so simple and take so little time that anyone can do them—and if everyone did (or even just 10% of the households in our country), it would make a big difference to the Earth.

  1. Put out water for birds and insects.  We use a birdbath, but a ceramic saucer works, too.
  2. Plant native shrubs and flowers, in containers and in the yard.  The local fauna has adapted over centuries to eat and nest in native plants, rather than those brought in from other regions or parts of the world.
  3. Conserve water by turning off the tap when you brush your teeth and wash your face.

Oh, and one more thing: as you stroll, creep, and swim through life, notice how the other members of your animal family are moving, too.

Mary Quattlebaum is the author of 27 children’s books, most of which feature real or fictional animals, including Brother, Sister, Me and You, Hero Dogs, Jo MacDonald Saw a Pond, and Mighty Mole and Super Soil. Mary also teaches at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, in the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. Learn more at

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Authors for Earth Day celebrates its 10th Annual Season, surpassing $100,000 in total combined contributions!

A child is a person who is going to carry on what you have started… the fate of humanity is in his hands. ― Abraham Lincoln

A sustainable future requires that we educate and empower our children. Since 2010, Authors for Earth Day has supported 173 conservation-focused school visits in 30 states and four countries. Our esteemed kid-lit authors have influenced the social, political and environmental decisions of tomorrow. Just think, most of the students mentored at our first school visits are now in college!

Today, as we conclude our 10th Annual A4ED Season, we are excited to share the achievements of Team ’19 and offer a full tally from our decade-long program.

First and foremost, KUDOS to these eighteen authors, who donated $15,550 in 2019 as directed by student votes at twenty-one A4ED school visits: Stuart Gibbs, Kate McMullan, Alex Gino, Jennifer Ward, Patricia Newman, Dan Gutman, Nancy Castaldo, Debbie Dadey, Jennifer Swanson, Jeanie Franz Ransom, Michelle Worthington, Leslie Bulion, Barb Rosenstock, Lori Degman, Linda Crotta Brennan, Barbara Gowan, Ted Scheu, and Brooke Bessesen.

Their charitable contributions funded seventeen environmental organizations: Algalita, Coalition for the Protection of the Sonoran Desert, Elephant Voices, Endangered Wolf Center, Forest Preserves of DuPage County, Greenpeace, Humane Society of the United States, Ocean Conservancy, Pesca ABC, The Raptor Trust, Redlands Wildlife Rescue, Wild Bird Fund, Wildlife Conservation Society’s 96 Elephants, Wolf Conservation Center, Shellmound Defense Fund, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, and The Turtle Hospital.

When we combine this year’s totals with previous years, the results are even more extraordinary. Thanks to the efforts of ALL of our award-winning authors:

  • A4ED contributions have reached a grand total of $108,644!
  • An estimated 83,000 students in Australia, Canada, Israel, and the United States have had opportunity to learn about key conservation initiatives.
  • More than 100 organizations worldwide have received financial support.

It’s been a privilege to promote the work of our 73 participants. Each has played a key role in our success. May their generous leadership in youth education and charitable giving continue to inspire others to celebrate Earth Day—every day.

Next spring marks the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day. We have come a long way since environmental advocates first marched on the steps of Washington D.C. in 1970. Yet, with plastic pollution spoiling our seas, animal species suffering an unprecedented rate of extinction and an ever-growing human population, we still have plenty of work ahead.

So, from now until April 22, 2020 (and beyond), let’s commit to making choices that support a sustainable future. Whether we buy local organic food and energy efficient appliances, carry fabric groceries bags, practice a strict no-straw policy, telecommute, upcycle, or live as a vegetarian or vegan, every effort counts.

Wishing you clean air, wild blue oceans, lush landscapes brimming with life, and a happy humble existence.
Brooke Bessesen, A4ED Executive Director

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Best-selling picture book author-illustrator Susan Stockdale continues to be inspired by Nature

I grew up climbing trees, running in the grass and riding my bike in sunny Miami, Florida. I marveled at pelicans that flew overhead and held lizards, rubbing their bellies to lull them to sleep. And I was surrounded by flowers: fragrant, snow-white jasmine, ruby red hibiscus, golden lantana. Their patterns and colors dazzled me.

These experiences had a powerful and positive effect on me, as did my mother’s influence as a poet. She made up fun rhymes and read poetry to me. She also encouraged my interest in drawing pictures.

So, of course I grew up to become an author and illustrator of rhyming picture books that celebrate nature! My creative recipe is always the same: writing bouncy, rhythmic rhymes and painting bright, graphic images to fill young children with a sense of wonder and curiosity about our natural world.

Outdoor experiences have inspired all my books. I created Fabulous Fishes after a porcupine fish inflated itself right before my eyes as I snorkeled in Belize. Stripes of All Types was sparked after seeing a striped poison dart frog in the Costa Rican rainforest.

Fantastic Flowers was conceived when I encountered a monkey orchid at a botanic garden that looked just like a monkey. The idea came to me in a flash: flowers that look like other things!  I had fun selecting those that resemble flying parrots, ice cream cones and even tiny babies.

After writing 18(!) drafts, I felt I’d finally captured the flowers’ whimsical characteristics in a pleasing rhyme scheme. Synthesizing complex information such as the importance of pollination in my addendum was my biggest challenge. Capturing the flowers’ unique shapes and colors in my artwork was the most joyous part. I included actual photos of the flowers so that the reader could see that the illustrations were from real flowers.

My illustration process begins with many pencil sketches. For the final illustration, I trace my drawing onto Bristol paper. Then for each color, I apply at least three layers of acrylic paint to give the image a flat, crisp appearance. Using tiny brushes, I revel in depicting the smallest detailsthe spot of turquoise inside a peacock’s feather or the hair-thin spines of a lionfish. I want children to notice them! Having worked as a textile designer, I delight in finding patterns in everything I paint, and nature provides them in abundance.

Being outdoors gave me a sense of inner calm and belonging that anchored me to the world as a child. That is why I always feature children engaging with nature on the final page of my books: cultivating a garden, gazing at baby birds, swimming with fish. I create my books to say “Go outside. Look around you. Nature is spectacular!”

Susan Stockdale has won numerous awards as the author and illustrator of eight nonfiction picture books, including Fabulous Fishes, an Outstanding Science Trade Book for Children, Stripes of All Types, a Parents’ Choice Silver Medal Honor, and Fantastic Flowers, a NCTE Notable Children’s Book. Enjoy more of her work at

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Best-selling YA author Liz Braswell cherishes the tiny life found on her Brooklyn balcony

photo credit Alice Licht

Mountains. Oceans. Deserts. Jungles.

When you think of nature or the environment, I’ll bet you’re probably thinking of some of these things.  Glorious, awe-inspiring biomes full of exotic life and giant trees, fish, dunes, or snow.

I’m a nature fanatic, but on the tiny deck of my Brooklyn apartment there isn’t any of this. My horizon is surrounded by buildings, not hills; the focus of my attention has to shrink to tiny, ‘city-sized’ life.

I hang birdseed bells to attract songbirds you don’t normally see on the street: mourning doves, a proud and aggressive mockingbird, a noisy gaggle of red-splotched house finches.

I laugh at the antics of pill bugs (also known as roly-polies)—and remain amazed by their mere presence; they are crustaceans, not insects, more closely related to shrimp than ants. Their family tree goes back 160 million years!

I plant dill in pots to attract swallowtail butterflies who sometimes lay their eggs in my sixth-floor garden. Then my children and I get to watch the brightly-colored caterpillars grow, spin chrysalises, and hatch into beautiful butterflies.

Bugs, birds, and butterflies. These are the exotic animals of my personal biome.


Elephants. Polar bears. Silver-backed Gorillas. Tigers. The Spotted Owl.

When you think of endangered species we need to protect, I’ll bet you’re probably thinking of some of these animals. And you would be right!

But there are other creatures and plants, tiny and easily missed and even ugly, who are just as endangered—and important.  Teensy and Brooklyn-sized.

Take certain kinds of forest-dwelling fungus, for instance. Sometimes ugly, often slimy, occasionally poisonous. Almost always ignored.

Some of these fungi produce underground mushrooms, or truffles. No, not the expensive kind you might get on your pasta at a fancy restaurant. The wild, inedible-to-humans kind.

But you know who does love them? The northern flying squirrel. More than love, actually; they depend on these mushrooms as a major source of their food.

And do you know who loves the northern flying squirrel? More than love, actually; they depend on the rodent as their major food source?

The northern spotted owl.

Without the fungus, no flying squirrel. Without the squirrel, no spotted owl.

(without the fungus, no healthy trees for either the squirrel or the owl to live in, but that’s another story)

The rusty-patched bumble bee is another tiny resident of the wild. You might not even notice one in a meadow with everything else going on—dragonflies and birds and big, showy flowers and deer. But she is an extremely important pollinator, without whom some of our food crops would be in jeopardy and certain native plants would probably go extinct.

Common milkweed is dull green, weedy and ignored by all except for when its famous silky seedpods take to the winds. It is also the only source of food for endangered Monarch butterfly caterpillars. What you might miss or dismiss as your car speeds by an unruly roadside ditch is absolutely vital to the beautiful orange, yellow and black butterflies that fly to Mexico every year.

Everywhere you look there is something small, vital, and important to our world.

So when you’re out and about in nature (or Brooklyn) remember: it’s not just the lions and eagles and seals and orchids who deserve our attention and protection. Look around at the tiny things, the boring things, the ugly and the slimy things; the ones whose place in the web of life is beautifully unique—and makes life possible for everyone else.

Liz Braswell is the England-born author of more than a dozen books for young readers, including the A Twisted Tale series by Disney Press and The Big Empty series, which she wrote under the pseudonym J. B. Stephens. Liz’s best-selling YA novel The Nine Lives of Chloe King aired as a television series on ABC Family. Learn more about her work at

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Acclaimed children’s Poet Ted Scheu is Worried and Angry. And a little Green and Blue.

I’m Worried and Angry. Hi, it’s a pleasure to meet you.

Yes, that’s my new name. Worried and Angry.

I’m worried and angry for my grandson. For us. For the earth.

And I am not sleeping very well these days—especially since November when the United Nations released a big scientific report that said that we, as a global community, have only around 10 years to get our act together to avoid a climate catastrophe.

That’s a big and scary word—catastrophe.

My dictionary says it means “an event causing great and often sudden damage or suffering; a disaster.“ Yikes.

Of course, like most of you, I’ve been worried about our changing climate for a while. On TV we have all watched bigger storms, hotter, drier summers, fires, warming and rising oceans, and land and ocean animals that are suffering and even disappearing. Some of you have experienced these new and scary changes more directly than I have in Vermont.

And what about my anger? Thanks for asking.

Yes, I’m also feeling angry. Very, very angry. Angry that our leaders are not taking this threat seriously at all. They seem to only be thinking of the companies that are making more pollution, so they can make more money. Triple-big boo.

So, will my grandson necessarily face a more dangerous world when he grows up?

Maybe not—if we all take charge. Adults need to elect new leaders. And even more importantly, and right now, that all of us need to be the new leaders.

You’re smart. You know that a lot of little things can make big things happen. You and I can do lots of little, very important things that, just maybe, can make a difference to help stop the disaster that is looming. Things like recycling, turning off lights, living with less, driving less, flying less, planting trees, giving to helpful organizations (like A4ED)—all these things can make a BIG difference, if more people do them.

I think kids can play a huge role. They can write and even call our leaders and ask them what they plan to do to protect our future. Your future. My grandson’s future.

So that’s it. What do you say we stop talking about this and start doing something?!

Maybe then I will stop worrying quite so much. And sleep better.

My grandson deserves better. We all deserve better.

Before I sign off this important blog, and worriedly and angrily get to work on all this important stuff with you, here’s a short poem I wrote about our very important job:

Green and Blue

The earth is green, and mostly blue,

and much more old than it is new.

The earth is fierce, but mostly kind,

and if you travel, you will find

That people on it sometimes fight,

but mostly they know wrong from right.

They mostly know that they must care

for every speck of earth and air.

But some forget and often splash

the air with smog and sea with trash. 

It’s up to us to raise alarms

to help protect the fields and farms,

Forest creatures, ocean fishes.

The time is past for dreams and wishes.

We have to save the precious skies.

We need to open up our eyes

And keep the dirt away from lungs,

with sturdy hands and active tongues.

It’s up to me, it’s up to you

to keep the planet green and blue.

© 2019 Ted Scheu

Ted Scheu is a children’s poet from Middlebury, VT. His work appears in six of his own collections and several dozen anthologies around the globe, including a super-cool, new one from National Geographic, “The Poetry of US.” Ted’s website might get you giggling at


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