books,  climate change,  communication,  politics

Tears for Nanertak – a children’s book about climate change

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I received in the mail an absolutely stunning hard covered picture book to review. It is called Tears for Nanertak and it is written and illustrated by Skip Hofstrand. As I look through it I can imagine myself wandering the halls of an art gallery admiring an arctic exhibit. The stunning water color paintings capture a moment in history. The Arctic is melting. The animals must leave. The book balances the reality that disasters happen on two levels, both the personal and the communal. The whole Arctic grieves and within that a mother attempts to keep her cub afloat.

Tears for Nanertak has stunning watercolor images and a gentle way of talking about the disaster of climate change.

As I started to read the story to my children I thought, “how will I help them deal with the fear and the sadness of this story?” Unlike many children’s stories the author can’t suddenly say the problem is solved. It isn’t. The problem isn’t over. This is a story about the moment in history that we are still within. My children are among the children referred to at the end as the hope for the world. Children that must grow up with the knowledge of climate change and a world in transition. It isn’t a very comfortable position to be in and I wish I didn’t have to raise my children with this problem darkening their future.

I was pleased with the love and hope that the story ends with. Hope is not a guarantee. One does not hope for a sure thing. Yet hope means the worry isn’t all consuming either. There is a possibility for good to come. There is a light in the darkness.

The book does not have much writing to it, only a few sentences per page and plenty of white space reflective of the Arctic it represents. I was impressed with the author’s willingness to leave one page near the beginning almost entirely blank and felt that contrasted beautifully with the busy exodus illustrated on the page to follow. My seven year old objected to the repeating of “drip, drip, drip” through the story, probably because he’s sensitive to the pain the dripping water and dripping tears reflect. To me the refrain invoked the memory of a native drum. I could almost picture them as drum beats slowly echoing. Thump. Thump. Thump.

The book came with a brochure including information about the book’s artist/author. Skip Hofstrand uses water related to the subject of his paintings to do the paintings. The book Tears for Nanertak were done using water melting from the Greenland ice cap. The water was collected by his friend Will Steger. I emailed Mr. Hofstrand to ask about his connection with Mr. Steger. He wrote that they had been friends:

since a rock climbing trip in the very early 70s. At the time he was just getting into long dog sled trips from Ely, MN into the BWCA wilderness of No. MN and other expeditions in a variety of places. My MD training skills became especially helpful as the expeditions became longer and longer.We also teamed as teachers for wilderness skills and homestead living for 8-10 yr old children in a course called “Seedlings” at his backwoods homestead… with sessions of two weeks in every season of the year…probably our most challenging experience at that time… And to make a long story short…we have come to a point in our careers, now, where we have come back to teaching children again…now about Global Warming and its consequences.

Mr. Hofstrand served as the medical director for Will Steger’s polar expeditions. I asked what the job of medical director entailed and he replied:

 On one of our very early training expeditions in the late 70s to the sub-arctic above Hudson Bay our group experienced a blizzard which forced us to hole up in our tents for several days. I about went “nuts” and Will obviously recognized right away that I would not be able to go on prolonged expeditions which may force those involved to hole up for weeks at a time. The position of a base camp medical director and medical trainer for those out on the expedition, was born…and actually most bases were not really in the Arctic but here in MN…with training for team members here and contact by radios as needed from here (MN)…all except the No Pole expedition of 1986 during which there was NO COMMUNICATION (unsupported) as per design of the expedition.

You can visit Will Steger’s website and see pictures from his expeditions as well as journal entries from a few of them. You can also learn more about Will Steger and his concerns about climate change on the National Geographics website.

I also asked Mr. Hofstrand about his belief that it is the children that are the hope for the future.

The reason why I believe the children are the only answer is that “present adult interactions”( esp in the arenas necessary for the policy changes) have become so contentious that there is no true “listening” to anyone anymore…just immediate jumps to assumptions because of fixed belief systems…ex. .. if you are Republican you have a knee jerk response to Global warming that usually follows some party line…and the same for Democrats having similar knee jerk reactions to those people who have faith beliefs……and so on and so on. No one takes the time to truly listen to each other anymore. …I find that children and the younger generation are better able to listen to all sides and decide for themselves, answers, that relate better to common sense, than the answers that us adults would have chosen. In that simple process of ” listening “, if they grow up with that dynamic, .they will have the potential to take complex, multifactorial situations like global warming and make consensus easier. . “Pie in the sky.”..perhaps… but I see young people thinking differently and processing information differently than us adults today..and in that observation I have great hope for the future. I have little faith that the present adult decision makers will ever be able to work through this complex situation…..and I pray there is enough time left for our young folks to eventually take the reins before dramatic Earth changes occur.

Tears for Nanertak itself, while being about climate change, is not a science book. It doesn’t attempt to explain about greenhouse gasses or alternative energy sources. The book steps outside of the debates and really puts a face on global climate change. It is just one face, since global warming affects much more than the Arctic alone, but it is one important face and the book is really well done.

A percentage of the royalties from the books will be going towards the Will Steger Foundation. Check out the foundations awesome website for resources about global climate change, including lesson plans for teaching children about it.

I’ll be using this as a lead-in for my next post, which is about the effects of global warming on a group of people living in Northern Ontario, dependent upon an ice-road to haul in supplies.

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  • Lionel

    A wonderful review of what sounds like a wonderful book. I don’t recall having seen many water color illustrated books, but it seems as though that would be perfect for this topic. Thanks (again) for bringing a tough topic to light and causing us to think hard about it!

    Paul R. Hewlett

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