If you could make up your own planet, what would it entail? For my daughter, four things: a house, a monkey, a red magnet and multiple little planets with imaginary names. I asked her why the multiple little planets or monkey or the red magnet in the middle of her planet. Her response; It’s my planet and I can design them as I want. She wanted to create names that were different so she did. She wanted to drop a magnet to attract dolphins more. I wanted a house to rest in and little cute monkey to play with. It’s my planet after all. I smiled. It’s yours, so keep making your planet as you see fit, I said. Imaginary ones too.

Friday’s and every day are for the future. Today we read a splendid retelling with brilliant illustrations on why everyone should care for the planet. It’s a story that’s at least 500 years old, a Benin folktale on why children should respect the earth and the sky. Why the Sky is Faraway, by Mary-Joan Gerson and Illustrator Carla Golembe was published in 1995 and won the New York Times Best Illustrated Book of the year for use striking illustrations to retell this folktale that resonates with today fight for a sustainable future for us and our planet.

In the beginning, the sky was very close to the earth with plenty to eat and drink just by reaching up to the sky. My son and I tried to imagined such a world. There would be strawberries in the sky as illustrated by the book and french fries and Ice-cream plus pizza and chicken, he said. If anyone was hungry, all they have to do is reach up and take a piece of the sky and eat. Such a world seems wonderful to him. Such a world seems so radiant and perfect. A sky full of everything you want, all your favorite meals, all by reaching up to the sky.

But like everything we inherit on earth, even a sky full of food was not sustained overtime through people’s wasteful habits, people’s disregard for something vital to their own existence, something as simple as the food they eat. It’s no wonder the sky became angry and moved faraway. So what do we do I asked my son? Whatever we do to bring the sky back, he said. I agree. We may never live in a world where the sky is very close to the earth. We may never physically reach up and take a piece of whatever we want from the sky and eat to our hearts content. But we can do our part to not be wasteful, not be greedy and actually take care of our planet. Whatever we can do to respect the planet is vital and for my children, telling these folktales is a necessity.

When I was leaving UNESCO, I bought books that I knew I would not find anywhere else. Bouba and Zaza collection series created as part of UN Decade of Education and Sustainable Development (2005-2014) were among the books I bought. One particular edition that my children and I love to read explores why we need to protect our planet and what children themselves can do. From simply respecting nature, to turning off lights when not in use or turning of taps properly so water does not drip down, Bouba and Zaza notes that every little bit counts.

When children have daily opportunities to care for the planet, they learn nurturing behaviors that in turn can help them as they interact with their peers and people in general. Environmental issues are crucial topics to discuss and the time to have conversations with children is now. Learning about the environment teaches how children can and should save the planet. Learning about the environment fosters a sense of wonder and deep understanding of how the environment works. Learning about the environment enables children to take action to improve it.

In our household every little bit counts. We walk barefoot in the grass or sand so they feel the environment directly on the soles of their feet. We explore the environment everything we visit the Saint Louis Forest Park, one of the largest parks in the US. Forest Park is a beauty and I appreciate how hard the park works to enhance the beauty and wonder of nature to children (more on our exploration of the park in future posts). My daughter is also in charge of our household recycling bin. She takes her role seriously as she should. She also expresses herself creatively on what we all can do to heal the planet. Bouba and Zaza did their part to encourage other kids to keep the planet clean. My kids and I are doing our part to protect the planet.