*crossposted from Seven Deadly Divas*

Forty-ish years ago, a senator by the name of Gaylord Nelson (Wisconsin) organized a nationwide environmental teach-in to help educate children and the population about environmental concerns. This was called Earth Day, and the first year saw about 20 million people participating.

Now, around 500 million people will “participate” in Earth Day (or Earth Week) around the globe.

It’s an interesting holiday, and one that has sparked a bit of back-and-forth within the environmental community, for a few reasons.

My own criticism of the holiday stems largely from the idea that we can learn about all kinds of things in one day, but UNLESS we actually make a change that matters, it won’t make any difference. Giving people a token action (say, giving money once to a local environmental charity) is not that useful if it is a one time token action. The money will be well spent, but one donation does not an environmentalist make.

Also, a lot of the things pushed for Earth Day are trivial.

Yes, choosing to use a reusable bag is a worthwhile investment, as it chooses to use a reusable thing rather than a disposable one… except that many reusable bags are made of plastic (more petroleum) or cotton (a crop that requires HUGE amounts of chemicals in most growing operations). And that paper bag comes from trees, and requires a lot of processing.

In short, most of the advice – like these stamps supposedly rolling out from the USPS this week – is insipid and silly in a culture that already KNOWS that there is shit going down with the environment. Maybe it’s because I had the luxury of being in grade school after the onset of Earth Day celebrations, but I’ve heard “turn off the water when you brush your teeth” since I was old enough to brush my teeth.

Most people have already chosen where they will or will not make changes. Right now, human wants are going to trump proposed “environmental changes”, especially when they’re inconvenient, or painted as inconvenient by industries that would be harmed by the change. And really, many “good” changes cost money – even so called “simple” ones like adding insulation to your house. Plus, some people think that anyone asking them to take care of the environment is just taking away their God Given Freedom To Do Whatever The Hell They Want as they throw still lit cigarette butts from their neon orange Humvees.

But then, if I look back at what I just wrote, there was a level of success there. Learning about the environment and taking care of it was just part of the April curriculum at school. It gave us a chance to plant trees and learn about sprouting beans in the classroom window.

If Earth Day can make little knowledge accessible to little kids, then I’m all for it. Much like Earth Hour, though, it’s only useful if we take it beyond one day. Knowing that you should do something is different than doing it.

Planting a tree is no use if all you do is plant it, and then leave the poor little sapling to shrivel up and die in the summer heat with no water. You did little for the environment UNLESS you kept up with caring for it.

Earth day works if Earth Day is a seed, not the full extent of the education.

As with any project, though, we have to start somewhere.

The used bookstore where I work spends a lot of time and resources on recycling and other small community education programs, as well as chain wide “competitions” (where stores work to use fewer bags for purchases, and then the Corporation donates a certain amount of money for each declined bag to a nation wide charity). Plus, a used bookstore is, at heart, a recycling operation. Our receipts for sold merchandise say “Thanks for giving a new life to your stuff.”

So today, as part of our store’s celebrations of Earth Day, I’ll be reading The Lorax aloud to whatever children I can find to listen. This will happen (in some form or another) in all the Half-Price Books stores in the country.

And I will emphasize to them the great UNLESS that Dr. Seuss poses to all of his readers. The challenge of UNLESS that is central to the message of The Lorax:

UNLESS someone like you
cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better.
It’s not.

-The Lorax, Dr Seuss

Storytime with Anna

As I was practicing for my performance of The Lorax at work, I recorded myself reading it. I figure if I post that on the internet, I’ll have a HUGE audience, and that’ll be a little less nervous than reading for my coworkers and customers.

So here you go: The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss

(And yes, it’s better with pictures)

Before Somebody Lifted the Lorax Away


At the far end of town, where the Grickle-grass grows
and the wind smells slow-and-sour when it blows
and no birds ever sing excepting old crows… is the Street of the Lifted Lorax

Everyone has books they remember as “making a difference”.

Well, ok maybe not everyone, but I’d wish that fate on everyone, so I’ll leave it.

The Lorax was one of those books for me.  I can remember reading it for the first time, and thinking “This isn’t like I expected it to be.  It doesn’t have a happy ending.  Dr. Seuss books are supposed to have happy endings.”  Maybe that’s why it mattered, as a 9 year old (or 11 year old, or whatever. I don’t know exactly when I first read it).  Maybe it mattered because I’ve loved trees since I was very small, thanks either to some innate tree-hugger gene or because my father also loves trees and caring for them, or both.  But I can remember coming away from this book with a better perspective on the world.

A powerful thing, that.

This week is Banned Books Week.  Many of the books on the list are ones that I am a more well-rounded human for having read.  To Kill a Mockingbird. On the Road. The Sound and the Fury. Brave New World. The Lord of the Rings. The Lorax.

Many of those books I read at home – some of them probably younger than my Conservative WASP School District would’ve liked.  But my parents knew their child – and knew what I could and couldn’t handle.  When I read The Lord of the Rings with my dad, he used it to talk to me about evil, and about how the world is sometimes not a nice place.  In short, he used it as a way to both connect to his kid, and to help her grow up. I had similar conversations with my mom, when reading Of Mice and Men as a freshman in High School.

And I know, I was lucky.   I have amazing parents, and they did a good job.  But teachers can do this too (I got lucky in that front as well, having had some tremendous literature teachers throughout my schooling).

A lot of times, book banning is done to “PROTECT THE CHILDREN”.


Should a 5 year old be reading The Sound and the Fury?  Probably not.  Would a 5 year old understand it?  Uh… probably not.

Books are some of the best teaching tools for helping people expand their minds, for presenting something outside of what they normally experience.  Reading To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer present racism /clearly/ as a bad thing.  I’m quite sure that nobody wants their children to be confronted with racism in their every day existence – but if they can learn about it from Scout and Tom and Huck, and see those negative effects in what is, essentially, a safe environment, isn’t that a good thing?

And sure, books that present difficult subjects should be presented to kids who are ready to start tackling those subjects – but banning them only serves to make those conversations more difficult.  Sheltering children doesn’t make the bad things in the world less bad – and without these kinds of discussions, how can we expect kids to magically come to the “good” conclusions?  Books present the “bad things” in a way that is relateable, and a way that is controllable.

Now don’t get me wrong – I think parents need to have the final say in what their kids are or aren’t reading.  Who knows a kid better than his or her parents?  Sometimes kids aren’t ready for certain conversations – and that’s 100% ok.

But /banning/ the book says that it presents nothing good, that it can serve no purpose. Reading To Kill a Mockingbird isn’t going to turn kids into racists (and 90% chance says they’ve heard a racial slur before in their life, whether on TV or on the playground) – but banning books is a good way to take away those conversations, and make them impossible for kids who ARE ready.   It’s fine to stop your own kids from reading something; that’s called responsible parenting. But to tell everyone else’s kids what they can and can’t read takes that decision away from other responsible parents.

Ignorance doesn’t solve anything.

Responsibility, however, does.

*Writing this post was hard, because this is a very emotionally charged subject for me.  I struggle to refrain from nerdraging about people banning The Lorax and other books I have loved and learned from.  I need to thank Falconesse for helping me turn this into a productive post.  She is wise, you know!