Children, we are told, are becoming more anxious. But what are they anxious about? Recent studies on “climate anxiety” suggest that the current climate crisis is at the top of children and young people’s concerns and is being expressed in the form of grief. This presentation considers a growing body of climate fiction for children that links personal grief to planetary grief as a way of promoting climate activism. It examines contemporary middle-grade books that include Ali Benjamin’s The Thing about Jellyfish (2015) and Sarah Baughman’s The Light in the Lake (2019), tracing the historical and literary roots of this trend in literature for the young. Beginning in the early twentieth century, an increasing number of materials for parents and educators attempted to “teach” children how to immerse themselves in nature. But, as the archival records produced by children reveal, young people often took charge of their own relationship with the environment. Through an examination of these historical records, Dr Emily Murphy argues for a participatory approach—a method that focuses on co-production between adult and child—to the narration of these experiences as a way of broadening who we identify as young climate activists and recognizing the complex emotions associated with ecological grief.
Emily Murphy is a Lecturer in Children’s Literature at Newcastle University (UK), with research interests in international children's literature, childhood studies, and global citizenship education. Her monograph, Growing Up with America: Youth, Myth, and National Identity, 1945 to Present (University of Georgia Press, 2020), was the winner of the 2021 International Research Society for Children’s Literature Book Award. The book explores the role of the figure of the adolescent in challenging national myths about U.S. identity, and looks at both canonical American novels and young adult fiction, including Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita and M.T. Anderson’s Feed, to support its argument. She has published essays in The Lion and the Unicorn, Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, and Jeunesse, and her work also appears in Prizing in Children’s Literature (ed. Kenneth Kidd and Joseph Thomas) and Connecting Childhood and Old Age in Popular Media (ed. Vanessa Joosen). Currently, she is working on a new book project entitled The Anarchy of Children’s Archives: Children’s Literature and Global Citizenship Education in the American Century, for which she has received an Ezra Jack Keats/Janina Domanska Research Fellowship from the De Grummond Children’s Literature Collection and an International Youth Library Research Fellowship.