Last year, I picked up and read Lev Grossman's novel The Silver Arrow with my son. I've long been a fan of Grossman's books: The Magicians ranks as one of my all-time favorites, and I was eager to see what he would do with a book aimed at middle grade readers like my son.
Quite a bit, as it turns out: it's a thought-provoking read about the plight of our climate and our place in doing what we can. It follows a girl named Kate who's gifted a magical train, one that has her shuttling animals all over the planet along their migratory patterns. It starts off as a whimsical adventure, but then steers into some grim territory as the effects of climate change become apparent.
This year, Grossman returned for a sequel, The Golden Swift, and both Bram and I were eager to see what happened next. In this one, Kate and her brother encounter another train, the Golden Swift, manned by one of her new schoolmates. She's pushed to some new, uncomfortable limits: her brother is finding other interests, school is rough, and it feels like she isn't making any sort of difference with her work with the railroad. And, the Golden Swift has some new ideas for what their role should be: reintroducing animals to where they might have lived, rather than delivering them to their existing habitats.
This book's been on my mind as I've been reading it, because it's a stellar introduction to some of these bigger concepts that have been floating around in the news: climate change, wildfires, extinction events. How do you explain those to a kid? It's something that I've struggled with as a parent.
And, as someone who's dutifully recycled their trash, composed their food scraps, worked to cut down on their fuel and emissions, it does feel like any difference we can make is negligible.
But, as Kate and her friends find out, those little differences do add up: it just takes the effort from people to pay attention to their habits. That's not the whole story, of course – neither book really addresses some of the bigger, systematic things that contribute to climate change, but those are some harder topics to work into a book aimed at kids, and it's important to frame expectations and not hang the weight of solving the problems of the world entirely on one kid's book. (Unless, of course, Grossman decides to go the gritty reboot and reframe Kate and her friends as ecoterrorists a decade from now.)
Both books have been excellent night time reading over the last two years: fun adventures, but with a principled and emotional core that has me hoping that we'll see more from Kate and her magical train.