Recommended utopian books for kids

Group photo from utopian books for kids event, with author Lauren Tobia holding copies of her picture book Oscar's Tower of Flowers
Bristol Utopian Book Collective co-founder Rob Bryher, author and illustrator Lauren Tobia, and participants in our kids’ book event.

Bristol Utopian Book Collective recently hosted a children’s book group as part of the PRSC School of Activism. I selected Oscar’s Tower of Flowers by local Bristol author and illustrator Lauren Tobia as our book to discuss. Being up for a bit of activism, Tobia joined us for the event and talked us through the story of her beautiful wordless book.

As mother to a young child and a critic of literary eco-utopias, the two sometimes crossover when reading bedtime stories. Some seemingly innocent books are horrendous when seen through an ecocritical lens (I’m looking at you, Babar). Oscar’s Tower of Flowers, however, has so many reasons to recommend it.

Cover art and review for Oscar's Tower of Flowers

Here are my reasons for recommending Oscar’s Tower of Flowers, plus more utopian book recommendations for kids.

1. The love of plants

Oscar cares for the plants and the plants care for him, making him feel better while his Mum is away. That we can have mutual loving relationships with plants and thrive when we live alongside nature is shown in a way that even the youngest readers can understand.

2. Nature without the capital ‘N’

Not every kid has access to capital ‘N’ Nature: kingfishers and otters and woodpeckers and whatnot. Oscar’s Tower of Flowers shows you can plant a seed in a yoghurt pot in a flat in a towerblock and notice your connection to nature. Just like that, nature is everywhere.

3. Inclusivity

Based on some (most) books you might think nature is for white middle class people. It’s a joy that Oscar’s Tower of Flowers shows a diverse range of people, all having their lives enriched by plants.

4. Community

Connecting with nature for self-care could seem individualistic, but not in Oscar’s Tower of Flowers. ‘Spot the difference’ illustrations inside the front and back covers show the whole community transformed, literally and figuratively growing together.

5. Activism

When Oscar’s flat is overrun with plants, he shares them with his neighbours. He doesn’t set up a plant sale and make a bit of pocket money for himself. He knocks on doors and gives plants away as gifts. The change he’s made at home spills out beyond the borders of his flat and changes the lives of others.

More utopian books for kids…

My son’s school have recently read Amanda Gorman’s Change Sings and written poems about the changes they want to see in the world. Their responses focused a lot on not dropping litter, keeping plastics out of the ocean and driving electric instead of petrol or diesel cars.

It’s sobering that we need to teach our kids they are inheriting a world that’s messed up and in need of a lot of change. But we also need to confront the magnitude of the changes they need to imagine, beyond doing the recycling.

Utopian books for kids: Change Sings by Amanda Gorman

Change Sings covers a much wider range of concerns than pollution, despite these not all being teased out at school. The student body is mostly white and affluent and presumably the kids were responding to the world they see around them, most obviously litter in the streets and cars on the roads.

To help my son see beyond his own experience and maybe understand Change Sings more deeply, my next book purchase for him is going to be Usborne’s lift the flap book What Is Racism?

Mr Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown

My personal interpretation of Mr. Tiger Goes Wild is it challenges the separation of culture and nature in Western ideology. Bear with me.

Mr. Tiger lives in a town house and wears formal attire, right up to the top hat. But he has wilder instincts he needs to express. He starts going about on all fours, roaring, and eventually takes off his clothes and swims in the fountain. His neighbours banish him to the wilderness.

However, his place isn’t in the wilderness either. He gets lonely and misses civilisation. So he comes back. And he finds that people in the town have wilded up a bit. Some animals do choose to go on all fours. Some aren’t fully clothed. Things are loosening up and he can be his own mix of wild and civilised.

There could be many other alternate readings of this book. Maybe it’s about someone who wants to express their gender or sexuality and still be accepted by their community. Perhaps it’s about neurodivergence and the struggle to flourish when you have a hard time fitting in with society’s ‘rules’. To me, it’s about the false separation of humanity and nature, and understanding ourselves best as a part of nature, not apart from it. Very eco-utopian.

1 thought on “Recommended utopian books for kids”

  1. This kids’ book is a treasure trove of imagination and creativity. The story is fascinating and the illustrations are vivid and enchanting. It’s a book that will be cherished for years to come.

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