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Children’s book author Gabi Snyder helps kids care about climate change

The Corvallis author of "Count On Us!" says she works through plot problems on long walks and has been inspired to activism by her daughter.

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Gabi Snyder says many kids are worried about climate change. "I want kids to know that there is hope and that they don’t have to feel responsible for solving this giant problem alone."
Gabi Snyder says many kids are worried about climate change. “I want kids to know that there is hope and that they don’t have to feel responsible for solving this giant problem alone.” Photo courtesy: Gabi Snyder

Gabi Snyder, author of the new children’s book Count On Us!, moved from Austin, Texas, to Corvallis in 2013, when her husband accepted a position at Oregon State University. Having spent a few years studying psychology at the University of Washington in Seattle, Snyder was no stranger to the Pacific Northwest. After receiving her undergrad in Seattle, she studied writing at the University of Texas, drawn to the program by her childhood love of creating poems and stories. 

“I still remember the thrill of writing one of my first stories,” she said, “about a stick of gum who escapes the gum factory and strikes out for Hollywood.”

While Snyder’s focus in school originally was adult fiction, her interests soon led her to write children’s books. Consistently informed by nature, lifetime memories, and raising her children, Snyder said she enjoys tapping into her recollection of childhood emotion and how it felt to live through particular poignant moments.

“I do think studying psychology, especially child development, played a role in my interest in writing for kids,” she said. “I’ve always been fascinated by how our brains develop and the factors that influence how we learn and how we learn to successfully interact — or not — with the world and the people around us.

Her most recent book, Count On Us! (Barefoot Books) strives to help children interact with the world at large — particularly in relation to climate change. When writing it, Snyder said, she hoped to capture the way a movement can grow exponentially, from something small to something huge and powerful. Inspired in part by conversations with her young daughter about the state of our environment, Snyder honed in on how best to help upcoming generations deal with a world fraught with climate chaos.

How could we make a dent in such a huge, complex, and overwhelming problem caused by many things that feel enmeshed in how our society operates, she wondered. In hopes of curbing the possible outcomes of apathy and inaction, she decided to write something hopeful and inspiring to help children focus on what can be done.

Snyder said parents and educators can lead by example and demonstrate that when we join forces, it gets easier. While each person’s first steps might look a little different, we must work to inspire others to join the fight — starting with our children — so that our actions ripple outward.

“I want kids to know that big businesses (especially the main polluters, like oil companies) and governments have a lot more power to fight climate change by creating plant-protecting rules and laws. So while actions like recycling and planting trees are important, we need to model for our kids that it’s also our job to speak out, to let our leaders know that climate change matters to us.”

Count On Us! is available for pre-order. The back section of the book features information about activism, a list of inspiring ideas, and an easy day-by-day guide for taking small actions. Snyder will also appear Sept. 19 at the 2022 PNBA Tradeshow in Tacoma (open to booksellers and librarians). We spoke with Snyder about her inspiration for her work.

What is your method of writing and how would you describe your writing process?

Snyder: I like to start the day with “morning pages” to clear away the cobwebs and to capture anything that’s worrying me or that I want to remember. I write those pages by hand in a lined notebook. After that, I find it helpful to block out a certain amount of time for working on my in-progress manuscripts.

In terms of my process for working on a particular picture-book manuscript, usually I write an initial draft by hand and then type it up on my laptop. I also like to let my drafts “marinate.” So, after drafting a new story, I generally set it aside for several days or even weeks. If, after marination, I still think it’s worth pursuing, I revise. Usually after a marination period, I’ll have new ideas for tackling any problems I’m having with the manuscript. After a few more revision/marination cycles, if I still like the story, I send it to a critique group for feedback. They usually see issues I hadn’t even considered. A story might go through a few more revision cycles before I deem it ready for my agent. And sometimes I realize a story just isn’t working and end up setting it aside for weeks, months, or even years. 

I also find that my writing “flows” better if I take a walk before or between writing sessions. In fact, I love to take my notebook and pen with me on long walks. I’ve worked through thorny plot problems while walking and have had countless ideas pop into my brain while strolling through my town or hiking in the woods. I think it’s a combination of the repetitive movement involved and the inspiration that can come from a change of scenery.

How did you connect with your illustrator, Sarah Walsh? Have you two collaborated before?

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The publisher, Barefoot Books, selected Sarah to illustrate the book and I think she was a wonderful choice. I hadn’t collaborated with her before, but I adore her beautiful and vibrant art. Check out the Etsy store she shares with her husband, Colin Walsh. They describe their creations as “weird and wonderful,” and they really are!  

Tell me more about the roles of environmentalism and activism in your life. When and how did you become passionate about them?

My daughter has inspired me to become more involved in activism. Together we’ve participated in marches, including the Women’s March. Recently, my daughter and her friend have been researching the Riot Grrrl movement of the 1990s and have been creating their own feminist zines to share with classmates. They’ve researched and written about a variety of issues, including school dress codes. She inspires me!  

I’ve also become aware of how worried many kids, including mine, are about climate change. I want kids to know that there is hope and that they don’t have to feel responsible for solving this giant problem alone.

In the age of technology, how can we give young people a renewed love for nature and the outdoors?

In the Pacific Northwest, we’re lucky to have an abundance of beautiful outdoor spaces and many of us live close to walking and biking trails. I think family or classroom nature walks, preferably screen-free, are a great way to cultivate an appreciation for nature and also practice mindfulness, which can be especially beneficial when we’re feeling overwhelmed or overstimulated by technology. 

And I think getting kids out into a variety of natural environments can help pique curiosity and a love of nature. My favorite place to get out in nature is the ocean. For my husband, it’s the mountains. And we all love hiking through the woods just a few miles from our house.

My 2021 picture book, Listen, provides one model for how parents and educators might use a listening walk to cultivate an appreciation for nature by taking time to tune in to the sights, sounds, and sensations on a walk.

What is your advice to parents of young children when it comes to talking about the state of the world in terms of global warming/climate chaos?

I think kids deserve to hear the truth, but with information shared at a level appropriate for their developmental level. So, without using a lot of gloom-and-doom language, we can teach very young children that climate change is real and that the world needs to respond through planet-friendly practices and laws. We can talk to kids about the positive actions we can take, the positive actions many are already taking.

Amy Leona Havin is a writer, choreographer, and filmmaker based in Portland, Oregon. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, Washington, and is the Artistic Director of Portland-based multi-media dance company The Holding Project. Her works can be read in Humana Obscura, San Diego Poetry Annual, The Dust Magazine, The Chronicle, Mountain Bluebird Magazine, and others, and she has been shortlisted for the Bridport International Writing Competition Prize in Poetry. Havin’s artistic process is rooted in classical and somatic movement practices, non-fiction writing, and honoring the landscape of the natural world.

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