Olaf and the green challenge

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Every month, Learning for Tomorrow publishes a review of an interesting book for more sustainable education. This month "Olaf and the green challenge," by Evelien Dort. This review was written by: Chris Maas Geesteranus, mmv Els Maas Geesteranus, teacher Serena and students Thijs, Gwen, Floore and August.

The contents

The back cover of this booklet reports the following about its contents:

So it seems as if this book is about the "battle" between two clubs of friends (the Hortensians and the Boxers) who - from different streets but in the same grade 8 school - ultimately end up in an in-win situation for everyone; including Master Bas. And, given the age of those involved in the book, formatting and text, it is apparently intended for that readership around 12 years old.

But if you read carefully, this book is about much more: friendship, grieving (Olaf's mother died of an illness), perseverance, fear and uncertainty, cooperation, learning processes (!), solidarity, bullying, (global) environmental issues, ethics in manners and the role of a teacher. And as the main entry point for the theme: Olaf who, because of his intense memories of and happy moments with his mother in this piece of nature, definitely thinks that the "Bird Grove" in his neighborhood should be cleaned up and preserved. That makes it a lot more interesting than that little text suggests. It comes, in my opinion, close to what the educator Gert Biesta calls, "person formation" (see https://www.slo.nl/vakportalen/vakportaal-burgerschap/persoonsvorming/gert-biesta/).


Normally for reviews, after reading a book or thesis, I make a draft and send it, for limited comments, to the author. To then send the final version - with or without changes - to the editor of the medium in which it is published.

This time I did things differently. First, I found my sister - a children's book specialist at a bookstore for many years - willing to give her review. After which I came up with the idea (as a result of not having reviewed a children's book before) of also approaching a few potential readers from group 8 of the school in our avenue in Amersfoort. Miss Serena from that group gave the book to four, already a bit "green," students (Thijs, Gwen, Floore and August), to read. And they did; within three weeks! I then sat down with them to hear their stories about it. These, in addition to my sister's and my own views, are incorporated below.

What we think

In any case, it has become clear to me that those four interlocutors at school are no longer "children" but already almost "young people. Hence their statement that this booklet is ".... well made [is] for children; they think in the booklet a little simple and that fits better in grade 6 or maybe in 7". This also has to do with language: apparently these students are already talking in a different way - and about different things.

However, most did indicate that the topic was interesting and that they wanted to keep reading; one of them "had to" keep reading. To top it off, they felt that there were too few books on "environment" for them and that they were happy to have a book on the subject "..... to be able to hold". What more does the book world want!

When I asked if they also recognized themselves in the main character (Olaf), it turned out that they did not; presumably in part because of the reasons above. And with that, some of the exemplary behavior that could emanate from him also fell away from them. Except for one comment from someone: "This can also happen to us".

The students felt some characters were not well characterized: the "mistakes" (the Boxers) get away with their activities too easily and Master Bas, in their opinion, is a bit of a "stupid" teacher, "...... because he doesn't know anything".

The author by email to me: "My great wish is that this book inspires ......... children and also especially primary education and that "green" becomes even a much more experienceable part of education. Change starts with yourself and if the reader is touched, wants to read on, that to me is the best compliment there is".

The book indeed covers many topics. Which sometimes takes the reader from one emotion (in the book) into another. This is varied, makes it exciting but can also have an inhibiting effect. In fact, the children's book specialist sees that there are just too many topics being discussed; this can be confusing. The author reports to me about this: "I have put the information, facts and trivia in separately marked blocks of text, grayed or outlined. The reader who wants to know more can read this separately. This makes for quite a lot of information in the book.

It is unfortunate if this set-up is confusing. The story line, suspense arc continues from the goal [during a soccer match between rivals - CMG] to the "denouement. The separately framed information [gives depth to - CMG] nature and climate and also the relationship with yourself (healthy living: exercise, nutrition and giving meaning to your life with ideals and by working together)".


The writing style and language are quite variable in level. The Children's Book Specialist confirmed, "Style: partly naive, somewhat childish for ± 12-year-olds, partly rather wise and endlessly pedantic". The latter has to do with the multitude of suggestions, good advice and tips with which the book is filled. That "wise" refers to, for example, 'conclude me" (p. 19),female' (p. 49), 'I say mean' (p. 57), 'we ride there by bicycle' instead of 'we cycle there' (p. 83), 'a travesty' (p. 129).

Indeed, this does not seem to be a common way of saying things by 12-year-olds; let alone for even younger children. As a result, the language is sometimes somewhat unbalanced. Perhaps a method like the one mentioned above could prevent this somewhat. But that leaves me with the question of whether you can write a book for "all" children who undergo such major changes in that period (between 9 and 12 years of age) themselves.


This booklet can, it seems to me, be well used as it is now: the teacher lets, if possible all, the students read it (perhaps a few copies are needed) and then enters into a conversation with them. Not only about the choice between, so to speak, bird groves, sports grounds and vegetable gardens, but equally about how to interact with each other. Environmental educators from a local center can be helpful, in the sense of answering questions of a specialized nature (e.g., climate, ecosystems) and helping to facilitate any subsequent activities in the community.

To get started with this didactically - quite a job - I would like to refer to an article by Stan Frijters (lecturer at the Aeres Hogeschool Wageningen): https://bronnen-voor-nme.nl/thema-s/pedagogiek-didactiek/didactiek.

When I last asked if the students wanted all four to have a copy, they decidedly replied that they would pass my copy (which I had promised them) on to any interested person in grade 8. I suspect that this, too, reflects their deep commitment to nature and the environment.

The latter is a great thing: Teacher Serena, like her colleagues around the country and Master Bas, can get to work!


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