by Adam Tyrrell I can’t imagine a more opportune time for a book like I'm Not A Plastic Bag to be released. Say what you will The Lorax film’s product tie-ins and romance subplot, for every SUV sold on the back of Dr. Seuss, a theater full of kids added a positive connotation to the words “environmental conservation” where otherwise they might have only heard of “climate-gate.” Which is to say it’s difficult for any artform nowadays to talk about environmental problems without being labelled political, an arguable charge based on environmentalist stories’ tendency to be moralistic and negatively speculative about the future. Insert here a cleared field of Truffala trees and one stone slab that reads “unless.”
The environmental focus of I'm Not A Plastic Bag is on the Pacific Garbage Patch, a continent-sized field of human-created consumer waste that floats today between Hawaii and the California coastline. Allison portrays the Patch less as the sum of all (consumer) evil and more as a Frankenstein’s monster, desperate for a friend and resentful of that which makes it different from the rest of the ocean-life. I can understand how this kind of characterization could be seen as a marginalization of the real-life issue; however, this and the absence of a Dr. Frankenstein-like antagonist oddly enough makes discussing the Pacific Garbage Patch more approachable to a younger audience.
There’s no dialogue or narrative captions to beat the metaphor over the reader’s head. The illustration of the Patch is delightfully animated and the story’s emotional beats are easy to follow. A child could very well read the book by herself and not feel propagandized by the environmental message. Read with an adult, it’s easy to imagine how a conversation about the story could lead to better conservationist values (How did the Patch appear? Well, we all contributed bit by bit. Why aren’t the animals friendly to the Patch? He might be nice, but he’s dangerous and doesn’t belong there.) The accompanying feature on the Pacific Garbage Patch, provided by JeffCorwinConnect, that bookends the story is a good resource for proactive parents and interested kids, but thankfully bears no weight on the story itself.
Allison’s choice to pick a relatively unreported and real life issue as a subject makes I'm Not A Plastic Bag a more interesting children's’ environmental book than your standard “this is how you recycle” fare; more important, however, is her choice to focus on empathy, rather than reproach, as a reason to care about the environment at all.
TL;DR: A Perfect Earth Day pick to get your kids to care, not just to think, about the environment.
I'm Not A Plastic Bag is created by Rachel Hope Allison. Coming soon (hopefully this weekend ON Earth Day!) from Archaia, look for it in your local comic book shop or pre-order it from the Spandexless web store.
A review PDF of I'm Not a Plastic Bag was graciously provided to Spandexless by the publisher.