Saving the World

Your Planet Needs You! A Kids’ Guide to Reducing Waste and Recycling – written and illustrated by Philip Bunting
Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2022

There are a few requirements for a good children’s informational book; Your Planet Needs You! exceeds them.  Books intended as an introduction to a topic should be accessible and appealing, without sacrificing artistic quality or pandering to the lowest common denominator.  (Humor is great, but deliberating aiming for the crudest and silliest level, while basically harmless, can actually undermine the book’s message.) At best, the book should be memorable, setting it apart from numerous other books on the same topic.  Philip Bunting has found the right tone, the right amount of carefully selected information, and a clear overall message for readers.

Bunting explains that “The more stuff we make, the more waste we produce…As a result, we’re making heaps more garbage than ever before (in every sense).”  That’s the big picture, but he also offers artful comparisons to make it concrete: “Every year, each of us creates more than a ton of waste. That’s about the weight of an adolescent hippo!”  You will probably never forget that image of all the accumulated leftovers in your life equaling a hippo on the verge of adulthood. Young readers will also enjoy the thought, as well as the accompanying picture of a girl standing in front of the large animal and defending it from possible misunderstanding: “Hey, leave the hippos out of this.” Bunting respects the reader’s intelligence.

One particularly appropriate example of how an object might or might not end up in a landfill uses the lifespan of a sketchbook. A young artist receives it as a gift, probably without thinking about the oil used as fuel to ship thousands of other sketchbooks to consumers.  He produces a drawing of a dinosaur that doesn’t meet his standards and rips it out of the book.  The graphics show the different potential fates of this piece of paper, as well as its original source in a tree.  The drawings are simple and accurate, but the tree is personified with eyes. 

Another two-page spread focuses on waste at home, from all the “edible stuff” enjoyed in the developed world to the deluge of plastic packaging tossed out every day. Then there are all the items that simply wear out, including not only batteries, but the more poetic examples of a guitar and toy robot. The range of examples holds the reader’s attention.  Plastic milk bottles are part of the problem, but so is that toy he once craved but now ignores.

Bunting turns the ubiquitous warnings about landfill into another clear visual image of choices and possibilities. But a key component of Your Planet Needs You takes a further step, encouraging kids to take other steps beyond recycling paper and plastic.  Purchasing better quality articles (how sturdy was that toy robot to begin with?), thinking carefully before buying or using resources, even playing outdoors, reading books, telling jokes, are all practical and empowering. The frustrated artist who quickly tossed his imperfect picture might also listen to the author’s advice about repairing broken things: “Often something that has been repaired will be more special to you – the repair will become a part of its story.” That insight summarizes the intelligence and patience behind this book, whose bright images and unpretentious text will convince kids that they can make a difference.

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