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A first step in making things right is admitting wrong. The Mess that We Made is a confession of responsibility for the environmental crisis that we are facing. It is modeled after the literary structure that children will recognize: “This is the house that Jack built.” The text and illustrations construct the layers for the environmental challenges that face planet earth and its oceans, from “these are the fish that live in the mess” to ‘this is the landfill that is growing each day.” 

Four children, from different ethnic backgrounds, spend the entire book in a small boat, bobbing along in waters and landscapes that match the text. They peer over the edge of the boat, witness to all the garbage and plastic floating by, and to the creatures that are forced to live in the pollution. In contrast to the serious content, the illustrations are beautifully translucent and whimsical. 

The solution offered in the text is somewhat simplistic as the children eventually come out of the boat after cleaning up the garbage to “swim in the water we saved.” However, at the end of the book there are pages that offer a call to serious action with regard to ocean pollution. It includes excellent information about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and the tracking details of Lego washed ashore decades later from a shipping container that went overboard in the Atlantic in 1997. And there are hopeful stories of reclaimed beaches and landfills turned into parks.

The dedication invites the reader to “seas” the day. This educational picture book is an invitation to do just that as we collectively take responsibility  for “the mess that we made.”

(Ages 5 – 10, Flashlight Press)

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