David Griswold with his young daughter. He came up with the idea for a children’s book on climate change shortly before she was born. Submitted photo

Five years ago, just before his first daughter was born, David Griswold pondered what he could do about climate change.

The world needed a message of hope and interconnection, he thought — two things he wasn’t finding in the climate change report and books he’d read. As a writer of children’s books, maybe he could create what he sought.

Five years later, with help from a Kickstarter campaign, Griswold and illustrator Eliza Reisfeld are self-publishing “Fur & Feather Stand Together,” a children’s book on climate change.

Want to read it for free? Griswold is offering digital copies to anyone who performs two acts of kindness.

Name: David Griswold

Age: 35

Hometown: Auburn

Where do you live now? El Cerrito, California

Job: Tutor/author

What brought you to California from Auburn, Maine? I originally moved to California to work for Google. But then one day, I realized the windows in the office didn’t open, and I definitely wasn’t where I was supposed to be. So I left the free lunches behind and became a wilderness leader at Camp Tawonga out by Yosemite (where I guess I technically still had free lunch). That decision has really defined my adult life in many ways — I met my wife at Camp Tawonga, my bandmates are from Camp Tawonga and I’ve since stayed in the (San Francisco) Bay (area) because of those connections.

Tell me about your new book: “Fur & Feather Stand Together” tells the tale of two unlikely friends — a puffin and a polar bear — joining together with their community to save the ice that is melting around them. But what starts as a small effort to solve this local problem grows, through stories and small acts of compassion, into a global movement of animals and humans, all standing up with and for each other.

Wait, a puffin?! I saw a penguin in there somewhere early on. Where’d he go? You’re right — Penny was originally a penguin in the story’s early drafts, but when we shared one such draft with the head of climate science at the Center for Biological Diversity, she kindly pointed out that penguins and polar bears reside on opposite poles (despite what Gary Larson would have you believe). Thus, in the interest of (some) scientific rigor, we decided to make a Penny a puffin in our later drafts. Fortunately, for the English nerds out there, “Penguin” and “Puffin” both started with the letter “P” and were metrically equivalent (technically, they’re both trochees), thereby preserving the story’s metrical flow and pivotal moments of percussive alliteration.

What’s your favorite part of the story? I feel like the story really picks up steam when our first human character, a young indigenous Alaskan girl named Siku, chooses to join the swelling ranks of animals who are sitting in protest against climate change. As soon as she reaches out and takes Nook the polar bear’s paw, a chain of animals and humans begins to form across the globe, leading us to climax of the book:

“And for a moment, the whole world paused . . . until, without direction . . . a squeeze was passed from hand to paw, completing their connection. In all who felt it, something grew, a thing not big at first: a simple feeling all were one, that could not be reversed.”

Why focus a children’s book on climate change? I think the saddest part about climate change is that we already have so many of the answers to address it. The limitations aren’t our technologies or capabilities — it’s the entrenched systems that promote competition, greed, scarcity and fear that I think stand in our way. For me, the necessary shift for us to actually address climate change has felt more spiritual in nature, an awakening of our consciousness to the lived experience of interconnectedness. I felt like if I could create a story that inspired this sort of consciousness in kids at an early age, I could be helping them pave the way for the new answers we haven’t yet imagined.

Is the book all done or are you still working on it? I just wrapped up a Google Hangout with my friend and illustrator Eliza Reisfeld, and she and I were chuckling, as I just recently shared the “final final” edition of the text with her. She told me she 99.99% believes me. As far as the written words go, I’m definitely at the point where I’m down to changing single words (and then changing them back again), which is usually a good sign for me that it’s ready to go. Eliza is just wrapping up the second phase of our drafting process for the illustrations and we are aiming to have our completed draft done at some point in May.

Biggest challenge writing this book? It’s taken a lot of humility and it’s been a huge learning experience. I’ve had to realize that my lens on climate change is really shaped by my privileged identity as a white man in America. My experience of climate change (beyond the smoke from the fires here in California) has been mostly abstract, but that is not the case for so many people of color and indigenous peoples across the planet. I am grateful to my wife and many others who pushed me to reach out and connect with the International Indigenous Youth Council and other groups to consult on the book, its themes, and its characters. Somehow, in the process of bringing in these new ideas and input, a host of editors both formal and informal were able to help me bring the original text, which up was around 1,120 words, down to 654 words total (which is far better for a children’s book.

Best part about writing this book? The collaborations! For me, this is always the best part of any creative project: the relationships I have gotten to form with people I otherwise never would have met, and the thrill of seeing a new idea come alive because of a conversation, a word in passing, or an image someone shared. That has also been the best part about our Kickstarter.  It has been deeply moving to connect and reconnect with folks who have reached out to share their support, and I hope to have a bit more time in the coming weeks to reach out and reply!

Have you tested out any of the story or illustrations on your daughters? What was their response? I have to chuckle a little bit at this question. I quite literally was reciting the story to my older daughter Sophia as I chased her around on her scooter earlier this evening. Part of the reason I love writing in verse is that it’s far easier to commit to memory. I’ve recited it to her and her sister a number of times on our way to preschool (pre-coronavirus that is), and she calls it “the polar bear” story. The fact that she requests it from time to time seems like a good sign, and she also has done a number of Nook and Penny (polar bear and puffin) art projects inspired by the two main characters.

Why self publish? My intention for this project has always been that it be a springboard for kindness, donations, curriculum, and action. I’ve been working hard to get a number of other children’s books published through more traditional publishing route, but this one has always felt different. I’ve never wanted to profit from this book and instead have always wanted any proceeds from the book sales to go to groups who are working on issues related to climate change. In this way, I hope the book itself can be helping to educate and inspire, while the act of getting a copy can be supporting the work that needs to be done. Self-publishing also gave us the full flexibility to print on 100% post-consumer waste recycled paper, which felt important given the nature of the project. Lastly, I also am particularly lucky as an author to have an immensely talented illustrator as a friend!

How has the response been on Kickstarter? Overwhelming. We hit our initial $15,000 goal in less than two days, and are now pulling together the specifics for our “stretch goals,” including offering a hardcover edition, larger print runs (which means more books we can donate), potential translations and potentially even a “Fur & Feather” activity or coloring book (as we know sheltering in place has left a lot of us parents scrambling for any projects we can find!)

What’s it like trying to launch a book during a global pandemic? It was scary at first. We had been gearing up for months for an intended April 15 launch date, and when the shelter in place order came for the Bay Area around mid-March, we really had to pause and ask ourselves if it still felt right to put this project out there when we knew so many people were losing their jobs and in dire straights. Ultimately, because this project has never been about profit, we came to feel that the book’s message of hope and interconnectedness was something we could offer people during this time. As part of this, if anyone checks out our Kickstarter, I hope you will read through to the part about how you can get a digital copy of the book in exchange for performing three acts of kindness (no financial contribution necessary). In this, and in other ways, we hope the book can help inspire people to manifest interconnectedness in their own lives, as we work together to create a better world for our children and those who come after.

What would win your vote for the best children’s book ever? I’m a sucker for “The Book With No Pictures,” but when it comes to stories I can read again and again, I’d probably go with “The Sneetch” by Dr. Seuss. I love the message and “stars upon thars.” Only Seuss could think up a rhyme like that.

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