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Reform Magazine | December 1, 2023

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Do stay for tea and coffee: ‘I’ve always wanted to write half a children’s book’

Do stay for tea and coffee: ‘I’ve always wanted to write half a children’s book’

Last summer, the author, speaker and green guru Ruth Valerio asked if I fancied writing a children’s book with her. I was excited – I’ve always wanted to write half a children’s book. That the other half would be written by someone as wise and wonderful as Ruth was both humbling and inspiring. But then I remembered what Ruth is known for…

If you don’t know her, Ruth both talks the talk and walks the walk on caring for the planet. Her aim was something for children on the environment and living sustainably, but without using big words like ‘environment’ or ‘sustainably’. I thought this sounded great, partly because I think adults want to do better too, and get put off by those big words. I know I do.

But I instantly developed imposter syndrome. How could I work on a book like this when I’m not green enough myself? I try, certainly. We recycle far more than we throw away, but we still throw away too much. I reuse plastic bottles, but I sometimes buy those plastic bottles to begin with. When I see litter, I don’t so much pick it up as tut at it.

After some umming and ahhing, I decided now was the time to up my game. What better way to be held accountable than to write a planet-saving book (which we’ve called Planet Protectors, out this month), so I can be caught out by my future non-green sins?

So now we’re only looking at green energy suppliers. We’re passing on more clothing, swapping with friends rather than falling for fast fashion. We’re buying local, cycling more, using less glitter in kids’ crafts, and buying less plastic.

The Greta Thunberg effect is huge. My children are engaged in a way that I wasn’t, growing up. There’s a great opportunity for us to show our care for God’s creation. This change could be happening in your church, growing out of the children’s groups.

Since the pandemic, we’re spending longer outside, and perhaps having a greater awareness of the world’s interconnectivity (there’s another big word that’s not in the book). I hope this chance to make a change won’t be lost.

That said, I’m still on that journey, so I urge us all to go easy on ourselves, and not to think ourselves as failures if we backslide into old habits. It’s what we do then that matters.

One example. Last summer as we were finishing the book, I owed Ruth a chapter. But before finishing that chapter, I took a family holiday in Cornwall, and didn’t tell Ruth there might be a minor delay. But one Cornish morning, we were having a tough start with a yappy dog, a sleepless night, a parking problem and a forgotten child’s coat.

So on a walk on the St Mawes Peninsula, we treated ourselves to roadside lattes and hot chocolates, served in single-use plastic cups. Ruth’s previous chapter had been all about the environmental harm of such non-recyclable vessels. Never again, I vowed, as I walked to the bin (not even a recycle bin), rounding the corner on this sheer edge of Britain to bump into… Ruth Valerio! She was on holiday too, and was very gracious about not even mentioning my four plastic cups.

I hastily explained I’d get her the next chapter by the end of the day. That was my penance (which is a town further west in Cornwall).

I’m getting better, I promise. I’m on a journey. Join me on it. The future’s that way. Let’s walk the walk.

Paul Kerensa is a comic writer, performer and radio broadcaster. Planet Protectors is published by SPCK. Ruth Valerio was interviewed by Reform, in March 2020


This article was published in the July/August 2021 edition of Reform

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