Nature and the environment are hugely important as inspiration to me. Not just in my writing, but also within my own personal life.

While doing book events in Marin County, California (home of the wondrous Muir Woods), my host commented on the importance of trees in my books. Ranging from Tree Girl, to The Ancient One, to Arbassa in The Lost Years of Merlin, to The Great Tree of Avalon — trees abound. “What is it,” she asked, “with you and trees?”

My answer had several parts:

(1) A personal, primal memory from childhood. Writing under the old ponderosa pine tree on my parents’ ranch, wondering what tales it could tell—about Utes, forest fires, deep snowy winters, Spanish explorers, and the trill of a meadowlark.

(2) The spiritual element: To be a sentient tree would mean to be a truly centered being. This would require sinking roots deeply, being fully alive, and staying utterly aware. Such great wisdom. This requires an absolute sense of place—not just physical, but spiritual. Connecting earth and sky.

(3) This experience is starkly different from our human condition: Our unending yearnings, our ability to run and move and change. All this is good up to a point—but when centeredness is lost, so is a great deal of wisdom.

My books about the young wizard Merlin—twelve books in all, now translated into more than twenty languages—are really an extended environmental parable. Merlin (much like the guy who wrote the books) learns all his most powerful lessons from nature. His elemental magic comes from listening to the language of rivers and trees, flying as a hawk, and running with the deer.

It is my firm belief that protecting the environment and saving our remaining wilderness should be a bipartisan, patriotic duty that benefits all Americans, now and forever. That’s why I am so adamant about conveying to our children, through our actions as well as our words, the interdependence of all living creatures. After all, we all belong to the same human family, we are part of the community of species, and our fate is directly connected to the health of our planet.

We can convey these ideas to our children by letting them experience nature firsthand. Let them run and skip and play in the rain. Encourage them to climb trees and go on hikes as a family. But perhaps most importantly, show them examples of young heroes who are doing everything they can to protect the environment. In this way, you can inspire them to be environmental guardians, too.

The Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes, which I named in honor of my mother, celebrates outstanding kids of all descriptions who have made a positive difference to people and our planet. The purpose of the Prize is twofold: to encourage wonderful, public-spirited kids to keep working to improve the world; and to inspire other young people to do the same. I love the fact that the winners of the Prize come from every conceivable background. There is a winner who looks like any girl or boy in America. Right there is a message for young people: If these kids are doing so much to make the world a better place, then maybe I can, too. All of us—regardless of age, gender, color, or background—can make a difference.

Here are just a few examples of these inspiring young heroes who are making positive strides in caring for our planet:

Shreya Ramachandran — The Grey Water Project

Shreya RamachandranShreya Ramachandran, a 2018 Barron Prize Winner, is combating the effects of drought through the non-profit organization she founded, The Grey Water Project. Her outreach efforts include conducting seminars to show others how easy it is to build greywater systems using organic detergents, collaborating with several California water agencies to promote greywater reuse, and developing a greywater curriculum for elementary students to teach water conservation and the idea that small actions can make a huge difference.

“I’ve learned that even though I am young, I can make a positive impact in my community,” says Shreya. “If I want to change something, I have to go out and make that difference instead of waiting for someone to do it for me.”

Adarsh Ambati — The Green Environment Initiatives

Another water warrior, 2021 Barron Prize Winner Adarsh Ambati, founded The Green Environment Initiatives to design solutions for environmental crises and to provide STEM education for underserved students. He has invented a smart sprinkler system that conserves water and has also developed a low-cost method for testing the health of amphibians.

“I’ve come to value the importance of perseverance in the face of adversity,” says Adarsh. “More importantly, I’ve discovered that through innovation, education, and advocacy, even teenagers like me can make a resounding impact on the world.”

Isha Clarke — Youth Vs. Apocalypse

Isha ClarkeIsha Clarke co-founded Youth Vs. Apocalypse, a diverse group of young climate justice activists who work to lift the voices of youth — in particular, youth of color — in the fight for a livable climate and equitable world. This 2020 Barron Prize Winner’s initiative organized and led the first Bay Area Youth Climate Strike in March 2019, when 2,000 protestors marched and chanted in the streets. 

“Just because we can’t vote doesn’t mean we don’t deserve a seat at the table, especially when the topic of discussion is our futures,” says Isha. “There is only one planet and it is the job of all of us to sustain it.”

Anna Du — Deep Plastics Initiative

One of the 2019 Barron Prize winners, Anna Du, invented a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) that detects microplastics on the ocean floor. She has also created the Deep Plastics Initiative campaign to educate others about preventing and cleaning up ocean plastics pollution. Through her presentations around the world, Anna is inspiring young people to use science to tackle world problems. She has also written a children’s book, Microplastics and Me, and has raised more than $7,000 to distribute it to kids and libraries for free in high-need communities.

“When I first started doing science fairs, I had no idea that a young girl without lots of money and just a little advanced engineering knowledge could make a difference in the world,” says Anna. “I’ve learned that I truly love working on a problem that’s so much larger than me.”

I invite you to learn more about these young heroes and many more by visiting BarronPrize.org and InspiringYoungHeroes.org

Categories