Blog: Inspiring children’s interest in nature through storytelling
Published: 26 Apr 2019
Today the world will remember the most devastating human-made disaster ever experienced. Thirty-three years ago, in 1986, Reactor Number 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded during a routine test of its safety features.
This event is explored in my debut novel, The Chernobyl Privileges, which was published last month. Based on real events and detailed research, much of the story is told from the viewpoint of a young survivor of the Chernobyl disaster.
Bringing untold or forgotten stories to an audience is critical for fostering tolerance of others across cultures and borders. This is especially important as the distances between us shrink in our globalised world.
I’ve been amazed by the many and varied ways that British readers have told me they were affected by the Chernobyl disaster, whether through worrying about drinking radiated milk from British sheep, or in helping to bring affected children - like the novel’s protagonist Anatolii - to the UK for medical aid.
Below: The Chernobyl Privileges cover art
I’ve always been interested in how storytelling can help to change perceptions and spark interest in issues. In 2014, I travelled to the USA and Canada on a Churchill Fellowship to visit organisations that were inspiring children and young people to become interested in creative writing. I was particularly keen to observe initiatives that used creative writing to improve understanding of environmental issues and the natural world, and to learn how these themes could accelerate the development of children’s confidence and literacy skills.
I saw many instances of exciting practice on my travels. The Bureau of Fearless Ideas in Seattle took a group of young people on a visit to an animal welfare centre, where goats that have been neglected or mistreated are cared for. It was brilliant to see the children engage with these animals and then use this experience to craft their own stories.
During my time with 826 Los Angeles, children were supported to produce their own newspaper, reporting on issues relevant to themselves and their local communities, including environmental issues. The children were encouraged to take the project seriously - it lasted several weeks and at one point they received advice from the Education Correspondent at the LA Times.
Working with these young people inspired me to tell a young person’s story in my novel. My Fellowship also increased my confidence and commitment to writing. On returning to the UK, the first thing I did was invest in a writing studio. I would not have written either of my two published books without this professional step-up.
Churchill Fellowships help to build connections across borders, and environmental stability requires collaboration. As I reflect on the anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, today feels like a day when sharing stories about our relationship to this planet seems more important than ever.
Alex's Fellowship is supported by The Mercers' Company.
Top picture: Publications developed by the young people at The Bureau of Fearless Ideas. Photo by Alex Lockwood