From ‘Koala’s Eat Gum Leaves’ to ‘Your Planet Needs You!’, Philip Bunting loves to create books that encourage genuine intergenerational engagement – and fun!
The renowned picture book author and illustrator spoke with Junior Landcare about the inspiration behind his titles and what we can do to inspire kids to care for the environment, starting in their own backyards.
Q. What is your favourite thing to spot in your backyard and why?
We are lucky enough to live in a beautiful corner of this beautiful country. Our backyard in Eumundi backs on to a creek at the edge of a wet eucalypt forest, which is home to a whole host of wildlife – from rock wallabies to forest kingfishers to red-belly black snakes (look out!). My favourite might be the green catbird (Ailuroedus crassirostris), which makes a call that sounds a little bit like a kid doing a really dodgy impersonation of a cat! They’re a rainforest bird, so they’re naturally quite shy and skittish (and incredibly well camouflaged), but they occasionally make themselves known by pecking bugs from the outside of my office window.
Q. What inspired you to write ‘The World’s Most Ridiculous Animals’ and what’s your favourite most ridiculous Aussie animal or plant?
Ridiculous Animals is about animal adaptations. The idea is that each of the creatures featured in the book has evolved a seemingly ridiculous physical feature or behaviour, but that each of those adaptations is an essential part of what it takes for them to survive and thrive. The underlying idea is that we must all adapt to make the most of our time on Earth (and of course, that we’re a little bit ridiculous, in our own wonderful way).
My favourite, most ridiculous, Australian animal has to be the Mary River Turtle (Elusor macrurus) – the wiggy, butt-breathing weirdos! And my favourite plant has to be the Antarctic Beech (Nothofagus genus) – a semi-deciduous tree that has survived and thrived in small pockets around Australia since we were connected to Antarctica. Ridiculous!
Q. What inspires your titles or themes – how do you decide what to write next?
I am lucky enough to have three beautifully inquisitive children (ages 9, 7 and 4 at last count). I try to work around their interests, and take a lead from the things that are floating their boat – whether that be books about animals, plants, microbes, the environment, space or even social issues such as democracy. I’m not sure what I’ll do when they grow up!
Q. What is your advice to adults wanting to grow a love of nature and the environment in children?
I think we former children have an obligation to teach children why the natural world matters. As much as we’d like to see ourselves as separate, we are nature, we are a part of nature and the environment, and always will be. We’re all connected to and rely on the systems we have evolved with. My advice would be gift children with as broad an understanding as possible of the systems that prop up our lives. Systems like the water cycle and food webs are wonderful places to begin. Once children can grasp the basics of systems, they can begin to spot patterns and extrapolate that understanding elsewhere.
Q. What makes you feel most optimistic about the future of our planet?
Our ability to learn and adapt. While we hairy humans have dug ourselves into quite a hole over the past couple of hundred years, huge changes are already underway to undo the missteps of previous generations. When we make mistakes (which we all do, every day!) the thing that matters most is how we react. I feel that current and up-and-coming generations have learned from the past, and are already making incredible progress in technology, practice and awareness, to help leave the Earth in better shape than it was when they got here.
For the chance to win one of two book hampers featuring a range of titles to inspire environmental action in kids – including ‘Super Power’ and ‘Your Planet Needs You’ (Hardie Grant) by Philip Bunting – enter the ‘What’s in your backyard?’ competition here.