Lindsay: Thanks to Cynsations for inviting us to discuss the collaboration process for our latest picture-book poetry anthology, No World Too Big: Young People Fighting Global Climate Change, co-edited by Keila V. Dawson, Jeanette Bradley, and me, and illustrated so beautifully by Jeanette (Charlesbridge, March 2023). No World Too Big is a companion title to our 2020 release, No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History.
Before we interview each other, as Gayleen Rabakukk suggested, here is the publisher’s description for No World Too Big:
Fans of No Voice Too Small will be inspired by young climate activists who made an impact around climate change in their communities, countries, and beyond.
Climate change impacts everyone, but the future belongs to young people. No World Too Big celebrates twelve young activists and three activist groups on the front lines of the climate crisis who have planted trees in Uganda, protected water in Canada, reduced their school bus’s climate footprint in Indonesia, invented alternate power sources in Ohio, and more. Fourteen poems by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, David Bowles, Rajani LaRocca, Renée M. LaTulippe, Heidi E. Y. Stemple, and other kidlit luminaries honor activists from all over the world and the United States. Additional text goes into detail about each activist’s life and how readers can get involved.
Gayleen Rabakukk suggested we interview each other, but she had a couple great questions to kick us off.
Gayleen: What sort of coordination led to the wonderful diversity of location, climate action, and poetic form?
Lindsay: The short answer is spreadsheets, Slack, and Skype. Much like with No Voice Too Small, we knew we wanted broad representation in No World Too Big. We wanted to hit many parts of the world, among varying climates, especially across the global south. We wanted to showcase a variety of types of activism so readers could be inspired to tap into their own passions and abilities and get involved. The three of us began the hunt online and listed as many of the brilliant young activists we could find, noting their locations, types of activism, and short descriptions in a Google spreadsheet. We made draft maps from that list, color-coded the types of activism as they matched with big causes of climate change, and began assembling our proposal like a puzzle.
Before we submitted our book proposal, we wanted to make contact with every young activist or their proxies before we included them. Then, once we had our list of activists solidified, we huddled over Skype to brainstorm poets who might feel a connection with the activists. We didn’t give the poets much direction on how to write their poems, so the diversity of forms that emerged was a lovely serendipity.
The international element made connecting with the activists and poets more challenging, but ultimately more rewarding. Every time we made the tiniest amount of progress, Keila, Jeanette, and I celebrated in our private Slack channel, which has been essential for organizing our communication over the years.
Gayleen: Were No Voice Too Small and No World Too Big sold together, or was it clear there needed to be a second book?
Lindsay: We sold No Voice Too Small first, in 2018, but I think the seed of a second book featuring international young activists was planted the moment we limited No Voice’s scope to the US. Our spreadsheet for NVTS had many, many international activists we had to cut, and the recurring theme was climate change. With Jeanette’s family’s background in climate science, the follow-up focus on climate activism was a no-brainer.
Jeanette: Throughout the time we were working on No Voice Too Small, Keila kept raising the issue of our focus on American activists leaving out a whole world of young people. She kept finding these great young activists in other countries. So when I finished the art for that book, we had a conversation about what a book with an international focus would look like. Because the climate crisis is a global issue with young people taking the lead in activism, it seemed like the perfect fit. No Voice Too Small’s unifying thread is that we are all different, we are passionate about different issues, express our activism in different ways, and yet we are all Americans. No World Too Big’s thread is that no matter where in the world you live, the climate crisis is your reality, your future is at risk, and yet there are young people everywhere in the world who share your worries and who are working to make change.
Lindsay: What’s something Cynsations readers might be surprised to learn about our collaboration? Or what’s something that surprised you?
Keila: That our collaboration, thus far, has been completely online. We haven’t all met in-person yet. In 2020, we made book launch plans and were going to present at NCTE to promote our first book, No Voice Too Small, but the pandemic hit and we scrambled to put together virtual events. We are so excited to finally get together in person for our book launch for No World Too Big (Join the co-editors at 10:30 a.m. March 15 at Politics & Prose’s Connecticut Avenue location in Washington, DC.)
Keila: I have a question about our poems. We each have poems in this companion title. I wrote mine based on an image of a protest sign with “There is no planet B” on it. And I couldn’t get that image out of my head. I recall the first lines waking me up in the middle of the night! That’s how I ended up writing a golden shovel poem. What inspired you to write your poem the way you did?
Jeanette: Zanagee Artis grew up not far from where I live, and his environmental worldview was shaped by Mystic Aquarium, where I have been bringing my kids for family outings and summer camps for years. Sea chanties were everywhere in 2020 when we started working on this book, and their connection to coastal New England made it feel like the perfect form to tell an epic tale of Zanagee’s high school transformation to a global activist.
Lindsay: After speaking with Sofiia-Khrystyna Borysiuk and Nikita Shulga, two Ukrainian students who inspired hundreds of schools in their country to compost, the idea of worms-as-workhorses stayed with me. The language poured out, full of energy and poetic devices, and toward the end of the writing process I massaged the line breaks to make the whole poem, “A Recipe for Earth,” look like a squiggle. It wasn’t until I finished writing that the label of “projective verse” clicked because of the way all the elements combined to reflect the subject matter.
Keila: Jeanette, tell us about your art, the process used to create the images and portraits and some of the decisions you made about what to include.
Jeanette: Like No World Too Big, this book was illustrated in Procreate for the iPad using digital chalk brushes on scanned kraft paper. The main difference with this project is that the visual research was more challenging. Some of our young activists have a big social media presence or have a lot of press with photos, but others have very little—or at least very little that I was able to find by Googling in English. For example, Marinel Ubaldo’s town in the Philippines was destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. The only photo I could find of her activism from before that date was in a digital annual report of a development agency.
Jeanette: How has working on this project changed your own thinking about climate change and your own way of living in the face of climate change?
Keila: I found discussing climate change challenging, especially with adults who think these are typical weather events and naturally occurring. So having access to experts like Stephen Porder, the expert we consulted and input from Jeanette’s climate-scientist wife, both on faculty at Brown University, has been highly educational for me. Climate change is a complex topic. I pay attention to information about how the average person without a science background can grasp what needs to be done and by whom. I’ve learned about planting trees as gifts or for celebrations from Leah Namugerwa, an activist from Uganda featured in No World Too Big. And over the years, my family’s choices have changed from what we eat, where we get our food, the products we purchase, to choosing environmentally friendly companies to invest in who share our same visions for a sustainable and more equitable world.
Lindsay: I have internalized the vital importance of collective action after growing up with the messaging that our individual choices have set us on the path to environmental ruin. While it’s true that we all must adapt to climate-friendly habits—reduce consumption, use less water, recycle/reuse, compost, switch to renewable energy sources—the overwhelming source of greenhouse gases is multinational corporations and wealthy governments like our own. That’s why it’s imperative we work together to elect leaders who innovate not only in the climate mitigation space, but also in creating policies that prevent further harm from corporations. On a personal level, I have shed most of the guilt that corresponds with the individual-responsibility mindset and just do what I can to be more climate friendly, when I can.
Jeanette: To answer my own question, I have given myself a break on stressing over single use plastic straws and other consumer products. Instead, I’ve joined a local group that is advocating for my town to improve its bike and pedestrian pathways, which is the kind of sustainable infrastructure change that we need in order to break our dependence on fossil fuels.
Lindsay H. Metcalf is a journalist-turned-award-winning author of nonfiction picture books: Beatrix Potter, Scientist, a Mighty Girl Best Book of 2020 and Young People’s Literature Award winner from the Friends of American Writers Chicago; Farmers Unite! Planting a Protest for Fair Prices, a Kansas Notable Book, Friends of American Writers honoree, NCSS/CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Book, and Junior Library Guild selection; and No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History, a Kirkus and Chicago Public Library Best Book, Notable Social Studies Trade Book, and NCTE Notable Poetry Book. Forthcoming titles include No World Too Big: Young People Fighting Global Climate Change, a poetry anthology from the team behind No Voice Too Small (Charlesbridge, spring 2023); and Outdoor Farm, Indoor Farm, illustrated by Xin Li (Astra Young Readers, spring 2024). Lindsay lives in Kansas with her husband, two sons, and a menagerie of pets. Learn more at lindsayhmetcalf.com and @lindsayhmetcalf on Twitter and Instagram.
Keila V. Dawson writes fiction and nonfiction picture books. She is a co-editor of No Voice Too Small and the forthcoming No World Too Big. Dawson is the author of Opening the Road: Victor Hugo Green and His Green Book, The King Cake Baby, and the forthcoming Yumbo Gumbo. A New Orleans native, Dawson has also lived and worked in states across the US and abroad in the Philippines, Japan, and Egypt. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio. Awards and honors for her books include an International Reading Association Children’s Book Award, a NCSS and NCTE Notable, Kirkus Best Book, Chicago Public Library Best Book, New York Public Library Best Book, Bank Street Best Book, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum’s Noteworthy Book, a two-time Ohioana finalist, Jane Addams finalist, a 2023 Charlotte Award and 2023-24 Louisiana Readers’ Choice Award nominee. When Dawson isn’t reading, writing, and visiting schools, she’s traveling, playing tennis, or digging in genealogical archives. Find more about her at keiladawson.com or follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
Jeanette Bradley has been an urban planner, an apprentice pastry chef, and the artist-in-residence for a traveling art museum on a train. Now she writes, draws, and makes books for kids. Her books include Something Great; No Voice Too Small; No World Too Big; Love, Mama; and When the Babies Came to Stay. Jeanette is co-founder of the Queer Kidlit mentorship program for prepublished authors, a We Need Diverse Books mentor, and organizer of the We Are ALL Readers festival celebrating diverse children’s literature. She lives in Rhode Island with her wife, kids, and very pampered feline studio assistant. You can find her on the web at jeanettebradley.com, Twitter @jeanettebradley, and Instagram @jea_bradley.