St. Paul libraries want to foster a communitywide conversation about climate change

A book sits on a desk
“Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya” by Donna Jo Napoli and Kadir Nelson is among several books St. Paul Public Libraries are recommending as part of its Read Brave program on climate change.
Megan Burks | MPR News

Australia's deadly wildfires are the latest climate crisis to shake people across the globe. Some are shaken to action, while others are in stunned paralysis. So how do people in both camps move forward?

It's a conversation St. Paul Public Libraries is hoping to foster with its Read Brave program. The annual reading program and event series asks residents to collectively focus on a big issue, and this year it’s climate change.

“Our goal with this program is not to give any prescriptive solutions. We don’t have the answers. But what we know is that all of us together can probably figure this out,” said libraries director Catherine Penkert. “We think this is a way we can play a role in sparking those conversations.”

Penkert offered book recommendations for all age groups on this week’s Climate Cast:

Picture book

Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya” by Donna Jo Napoli and Kadir Nelson

“This is a great book for young children. It is the story of Wangarĩ Muta Maathai, who [was] a real-life Kenyan activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner. And Maathai did her work by helping women solve problems like hunger and dirty water by offering up different kinds of trees that they could plant. And one by one they created a movement in Kenya,” Penkert said. “And it really makes you, one, want to go out and plant a tree, and two, really think about trees and all of the different ways they benefit us.”

Middle grades

Bayou Magic” by Jewell Parker Rhodes

“This is a fictional story set in the deep south, and it’s a community facing an environmental challenge,” Penkert said. “There’s a really interesting interplay here between [generations] and how can young people lead? In this case it’s a young girl who says, ‘I want to be a hero,’ and what does that mean, and what can she learn from her grandmother?”

Young adult

The Marrow Thieves” by Cherie Dimaline

The publisher describes this science fiction book as a story set “in a future world ravaged by global warming, [where] people have lost the ability to dream, and the dreamlessness has led to widespread madness. The only people still able to dream are North America's Indigenous population — and it is their marrow that holds the cure for the rest of the world.”

Penkert said the book’s complexity offers a lot to talk about, and recommended checking it out as an audio book.

“Hearing this story told to you adds another layer to the experience,” Penkert said, adding that St. Paul libraries have unlimited copies of the audio book to check out.

Author Cherie Dimaline is scheduled to visit St. Paul March 11-13.


Rising: Dispatches From the New American Shore” by Elizabeth A. Rush

“This book is set on the coasts, and so I went into it not sure if this would feel relevant to a Minnesotan,” Penkert said. “[The author] goes to Staten Island, to Miami, to the deep south and asks real people, not how will climate change impact them in the future, how has it already impacted them? And you really get to know individuals in communities where they are facing real questions about relocation and, when are we going to have to decide to give our neighborhood back to the land?”

The End of Ice” by Dahr Jamail

“This is a book where you get to travel around the world with the author. So he takes you to the mountains in Alaska, to the Amazon rain forest, to the coral reefs,” Penkert said. “He talks to the people who are living there and the scientists who are working there, and what are they seeing?”

Author Dahr Jamail is scheduled to visit St. Paul April 9.

Jamail also spoke with Climate Cast this week about the fires in Australia. Hear his comments and more from Penkert by clicking play on the audio player above. And stay tuned for a full interview with Jamail in the spring.

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