On a trip to the beach a few months ago, my children and their friends insisted on carrying bags, tongs, and gloves. On the way to the water, they stopped and picked up every chips packet, juice box, and chocolate wrapper they could find. They managed to leave the beach a little bit cleaner, that day. I remember thinking, I haven’t once mentioned beach cleanups in my conversation with the kids. Where did they pick it up from?

Turns out they had read the Big Beach Clean Up by Chandni Chhabra a few days ago and were inspired to do the same. They wanted their beach to be clean and instead of complaining and waiting for someone else to do something, they chose to take action. Call it the Greta Thunberg effect, but our kids know it is time for them to act. They are raring to go and bring about a positive change. The gradual changes on the weather are clear for everyone to see. This has been one of the warmest summers we have seen so far, there is news of cyclones hitting the country every year, and it is only June.

Cli-fi for young readers

Indian children’s literature has risen to the occasion and established Cli-fi – a cooler term for climate-fiction – as a genre to watch out for. These books inspire and spur the reader on to notice and engage with an aspect of their environment. According to a study by Nielsen Book Research in 2019, the number of children’s books looking at the climate crisis and global warming has more than doubled. Children’s book authors like Bijal Vachharajani, Rohan Chakravarthy, and Nandita Da Cunha are writing stories that are not only interesting and entertaining but also leave the reader with a deep understanding of their environment and a longing to engage more with their surroundings.

Vachharajani’s Savi and the Memory Keeper is a moving story about love and loss against the backdrop of the environment and its all-knowing wood wide web. When you read the book, you will not only empathise and relate to Savi but you will also rush to research on the mycorrhizal network and how trees communicate. And then, every time you see a tree, you will have this overwhelming urge to hug it. Rohan Chakravarthy’s Green Humour for a Greying Planet is a curated book of comics on the environment that brings both the most ardent climate warrior and the eager green thumb on the same page with its intelligent, funny, and satirical humour. Nandita Da Cunha’s latest, Miracle on Kachchua Beach highlights the power of how one individual can bring about positive change. If your child is into magic realism then Arefa Tehsin’s Iora and The Quest of Five where the worlds of humans, animals, and forests come together and live as one will be a wonderful read.

Books that inspire

There is no dearth of books that inspire, either! Prerna Singh Bindra’s When I Met The Mama Bear gives you an amazing peek into the lives of forest guards through a dramatic story of two moms, human and animal. Amirtharaj Christy Williams’ Tipu: Sultan of the Siwaliks will take you within sniffing distance of Asian elephants and give you a look into their lives making you realise how closely linked man and animal are. Lavanya Karthik’s Dreamer series – The Girl Who Was a Forest on Janaki Ammal; The Girl Who Climbed Mountains on Bachendri Pal; and The Boy Who Loved Birds on Salim Ali are beautifully illustrated short biographies designed to inspire young readers.

But don’t think, even for a moment that climate fiction for children means stories and narratives present only in the form of novels and books for older readers. The beauty of “greenlit” in India is that it is available even for the youngest of readers. Picture books with environment as the theme have experimented both with form and content. Books like Harini Nagendra and Seema Mundoli’s vividly illustrated So Many Leaves take a deep dive into one subject. This book looks at the many leaves around us and encourages the reader to take note of the differences and appreciate the nuances. Art is Everywhere: Here, There and in Trash looks cleverly at commonly thrown objects and reimagines them as cute animals and adorable everyday creatures. Tanya Majmudar and Rajiv Eipe’s The Monster Who Could Not Climb A Tree beautifully shows how nature can be a calming influence on a child. Mita Bordoloi and Tarique Aziz’s Bumoni’s Banana Trees is an adorable look at how a child views the dramatic problem of man and animal encroaching on each other’s turfs. Bibek Bhattacharya and Joanna Davala’s Our Beautiful World is a wonderful book that clearly spells out the history of the climate crisis and charts out the course humankind has taken to get here.

It might be numbers, AQI figures, and long reports when adults talk about climate crisis and their environment but these wonderful books teach children how to get involved and invested in their environment and not just view it as a problem they need to solve. Through riveting stories, inspiring personalities, and stunning illustrations Indian children’s literature has announced Green Books is a genre that will continue to bloom.