Motivating Teens to Think for Themselves about the Environment — and Act Accordingly

BookendsLynn: Renowned author Paul Fleischman is a man on a mission. He wants teens to look beyond their own “internal movie,” beyond the dazzling technological changes in our world to the side effects and huge environmental problems we face. Using in-your-face, blunt language in Eyes Wide Open: Going Beyond the Environmental Headlines (2014), Fleischman sets about giving teens the tools to find the truth. This is not a book that lists 50 ways to save the planet. Instead, he outlines how teens can create their own lists: “Notice. Gather Information. Reflect. Refine. Act.”

Eyes Wide Open by Paul FleischmanWhile this is a book that will gladden the hearts of environmentalists everywhere, it is a book that will make teachers and librarians cheer even more loudly. This is a primer on how to observe, think, investigate, evaluate, and think again—something that should be the foundation of every educational system.  Remember Information Power? Heard of Common Core? What about Socrates?  I love Fleischman’s approach in this book. It is to-the-point, practical and highly motivating. He doesn’t talk down to teens and he tells them exactly what he thinks while challenging them to come to their own informed decisions. He urges them to fight back against the world’s two biggest illusions: “It’s always been this way,” and, “Everything’s fine.”

The short, informative chapters are packed with suggestions about how to look at and understand our world and the information we are given.  Resource links are included in the chapters and there is a wealth of outstanding back matter that I loved but will leave for Cindy to write about. This fabulous book is a gift to classroom teachers, curious concerned teens, and every citizen of this struggling planet.

While this is a book that will gladden the hearts of
environmentalists everywhere, it is a book that will
make teachers and librarians cheer even more loudly.

Cindy: I gave this to an activist who recently graduated from college and he reported back very positively. He agreed with Lynn’s assessment that it would make a great primer for teens to understand the buzzwords and issues in the environmental news. He liked the call to get informed, do your research, consider the bias of the source, and take action.

Source notes, recommended reading/viewing lists, and bibliographies are important for informational books but I know few teens who spend much time in the back matter. If they even use the index I get excited. For this reason, I like Fleischman’s choice to include many prompts for further exploration in the mix with the text and photographs in each section. Sidebars, graphic designs, and arrows highlight places to learn more, from websites and online videos to periodical articles, books, and other resources. Full citations in the back matter provide the specifics but the point-of-need references are a bonus. The back matter also includes a section on “How to Weigh Information” that starts with the caveat, “All media aren’t created equal.” The “Suggested Resources” section starts with a selection of fact-checking sites. A glossary is also included. With change inevitable, a companion website promises to continue the debates with updates, including current resources and submissions from young environmentalists.

Better paper quality and color photographs and designs might have made this book more visually enticing, but it offers yet another discussion point with students: would glossy color photos and non-recycled paper have been the right move for this book? When I served on BBYA years ago I read a book called Teen Power Politics (2000) by Sara Jane Boyers that had the same call to action as Eyes Wide Open. Since then, I can’t remember a better example than Eyes Wide Open of a book that encourages—no, demands—that young people become informed and act. It gives them so much good advice on how to do just that.

Common Core Connection

On page 8, Fleischman discusses 5 “Essential Elements,” presenting information on the current condition of what he calls five key fronts affecting our world today. Ask students to select one of the elements and identify the textual evidence Fleischman uses to support his claim. What additional inferences can they draw, if any?

Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

Ask students to research one of the elements Fleischman presents to discover if there are conflicting views of the subject and locate an article presenting a differing view. Compare and contrast the two articles and discuss the evidence presented.

Compare and contrast findings presented in a text to those from other sources (including their own experiments), noting when the findings support or contradict previous explanations or accounts.

nonfiction-mondayCheck out the Nonfiction Monday blog for more posts each week about nonfiction for children and teens.




About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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