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Prove your humanity


Talking to children about complicated topics — like climate change — can be hard.

There’s a lot to cover, from the basic science of what is happening to the planet to why it’s happening, who’s responsible, and what can be done about it. Not to mention, the emotional reactions from kids about the information.

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Powelton Village residents Lena Champlin and Jeremy Wortzel call this difficult conversation “The Climate Talk.” The couple, along with the Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry’s Climate Committee, recently published a children’s book called Coco’s Fire: Changing Climate Anxiety into Climate Action to help kids and parents navigate the topic.

”Coco’s Fire” book cover

Drexel Students Len Champlin and Jeremy Wortzel hold the book “Coco’s Fire.”  (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The idea blossomed from an encounter Champlin had while at work at the Academy of Natural Sciences.

“A family was talking with me and I asked this little girl if she’d heard about climate change,” said Champlin. “Her caregiver was like, ‘Oh no, we don’t talk about climate change.”’ Champlin was left worried and confused. Had she done something wrong? Would the kid think that climate change is a taboo topic?

She talked with her fiancé, Jeremy Wortzel about it.

“What really struck me was that the caregiver was really addressing this topic, just like you would the birds and the bees or death or divorce,” said Wortzel, a medical student studying to become a child psychiatrist. These are all topics that pediatric mental health professionals think critically about when explaining them to young people, said Wortzel.

Talking about climate anxiety

The interaction at the museum got the couple thinking about climate change — and climate anxiety — and wondering what resources were out there for families.

They began to research.

“There are many children’s books that talk about climate change and environmental issues, but there are very few that talk about our feelings about it,” said Champlin, who is an environmental sciences doctoral student at Drexel University.

They saw a meaningful opportunity to create something that could help both kids and adults navigate the science of climate change, the feelings it can bring up and what they could do about it.

They reached out to the Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry’s (GAP) climate committee, given their extensive work on the topic and pitched them the idea. Then, they got to work.

Champlin, Wortzel and GAP collaborated for about a year on the book. They worked with focus groups composed of teachers, kids and experts to write a book that would be a comprehensive resource for kids aged 6-10. Champlin also illustrated the book.

”Coco’s Fire” is a children’s book

Len Champlin illustrated the book, shown here. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

“Comforting, uplifting and accurate”

“I think that art can be such an important vehicle for explaining science,” she said, adding that it was a goal to connect the images of the book with the messaging and ensure that the experience was “comforting, uplifting and accurate” for readers.

The book follows Coco the squirrel and her father as they embark on a journey to stop climate change. On their quest, they explore different topics that bring up concerns for Coco and the things that inspire her.

The story includes tools to deal with anxiety, like breathing techniques, along with the actions that anyone, including a child, can take to be involved in the fight against climate change.

The book follows Coco the squirrel and her father on a journey to stop climate change . (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

“How we introduce this topic to young people either has them run away and not address it, or have them be empowered by it,” said Wortzel.

The book is available for purchase online and 65% of the proceeds go toward research on climate change and mental health.