A Just and Delightful Tantrum: Sophia’s Call for Climate Action

Janie Cook, Christina Catanese, and Bopi Biddanda, Annis Water Resources Institute, Grand Valley State University

“When somone else suffers, The whole World’s affected!
The Earth is our home. We have to protect it!”

– Sophia (in the book under review, 2018)

A review of the children’s book “The Tantrum that Saved the World” by Megan Herbert and Michael Mann (2018) for K-8 grades.

Would that all of our problems were as cute as the polar bear who knocks on Sophia’s door at the start of The Tantrum that Saved the World. Polar bears are actually ferocious predators, but this one’s big, fuzzy innocence is the start of a cascade of climate refugees of all shapes and sizes that, with nowhere else to go, pour into our protagonist’s home. In The Tantrum that Saved the World, we are introduced – in vivid illustrations and moving personal stories – to real life insects, animals, and humans who are currently being displaced and suffering from the harm that climate change has caused our earth.

For Sophia, the problem at her door step is quite literal – it’s harder to dismiss climate change as a future problem whose impacts are far away when there are families and flamingos in your living room, after all. But try as she might, she can’t push away those in need, and her compassion grows along with the number of climate refugees inside her house. She sets a path for bringing the change they need, but in doing so, finds out that the people in the most powerful positions are less willing to help. With frustration at every turn, she takes her cry for justice into her own hands. Grown-ups and kids alike can take inspiration from her spirit battling the same emotional hurdles we go through when trying to make our voices listened to and change something important for good.

The Tantrum That Saved the World book cover

The Book Under Review: Cover of “The Tantrum that Saved the World” by Megan Herbert and Michael Mann published by World Saving Books in 2018. The book is a collaboration between children’s book writer/illustrator Megan Herbert and climate scientist/communicator Michael Mann (Hardcover book: ~$20; E-book: ~$10; pages ~60).

The Tantrum that Saved the World is a book built from four different parts. The main storyline is a charming read with engaging illustration and delightful rhyme, with a message clear to audiences of all ages. Each facet has roots in real situations and experiences: the people and problems encountered are genuine, and by the end they build a message of hope for our world of people coming together and nature healing.

After the main narrative, the book shifts from poetry to prose, and moves from Sophia’s story to a more nonfictional explanation of climate change and its impacts. We are reintroduced to the cast of the story in order of appearance in an appendix of sorts. Each animal or person who comes Sophia’s way has a unique real-life story, from Bengal tigers to Syrian farmers, Andean flamingos to New England fisherman, bees to families in Kiribati (an island nation in the Pacific Ocean). This section of the book explains these stories in greater detail, with a description of each way of life and how it has been disrupted. This helps the reader get to know the characters (human and animal) and understand the breadth of impacts from climate change and the interconnectedness of all life on earth. This feature aids readers with the authenticity of the problem and the gravity within.

Next, a glossary is provided, with many of the important terms used in the second section, complete with digestible definitions for a range of ages. Sofia’s story is happily free of highly scientific vocabulary, but the second section introduces some specialized terms. This glossary broadens the understanding of the words which build the concepts the book is based on, by defining any terms used that might be technical or unfamiliar to people who are not professional scientists. Each definition satisfies the curiosity of a young reader while encouraging the possibility of learning more about these concepts. The language in the first section is highly accessible, allowing Sofia’s story to be enjoyed by anyone before getting into more advanced (yet still accessible) content. Even if one doesn’t need or desire to check the glossary while reading, it adds a resource to the book.  

Finally, the book contains an “World Saving Action Plan” insert for kids (and grown-ups) with tips on how to live a more clean, sustainable life. The poster emphasizes systems change alongside individual lifestyle shifts. It encourages readers to advocate for policy change where they live, to discourage fossil fuels and move towards renewable energy solutions. It also contains tested and true advice for each of us to minimize our carbon footprint in fun ways. Each idea is realistic and readily applicable to daily life. The contents bring knowledge on how to live better while not feeling stuck taking painfully elaborate and expensive steps around the convenience (or rather the norm) of wasteful living. By putting tools for change into the hands of the reader, it inspires kids to act and then provides them with the much needed “action plan” to do so. Since the action items are all things we can do in our daily lives, and hence fully relatable, it is something that teachers could easily go over with student in the classroom and receive feedback from the students. The action plan is usefully divided between activities that children can do on their own, and things that they can encourage the adults in their lives to work on.

Each of these four elements (Sofia’s story, the deeper descriptions of how her visitors are impacted by climate change, the glossary of science terms, and the Action Plan) furthers the effectiveness of the story, expanding compassion with knowledge and resolve with engagement. The story gears the reader towards action and is especially relevant to kids, whose voices are so often discounted despite the fact they will grow up in a world more severely impacted than the one we live in now.

And for those whose future it most affects, change isn’t coming fast enough. Many governments are slow to act, and many people are slow to believe. And while neglect and ignorance are lesser crimes, our ecosystems and communities will continue to pay the price.  As witnessed in the story, the damage is here and now:  we see people and animals displaced, habitats injured, way of life destroyed. If the tables were turned and the effects of our actions were felt firsthand – even more clearly and severely than they are now – one would think the leaders would be quick to attend. But the truth is, as long as it is easier to promote the temporary, cheap solution, we will always leave the ‘big problem’ for whoever runs into it down the road: our children. That is why the youth movements are so important; all ages and peoples need to be united to work together and live sustainably. Books like this are the key to inspire young leaders and give them the knowledge to lead a life mindful of waste and the life-sustaining environment around us.

The Tantrum that Saved the World teaches that its okay to make a fuss about something important.  Already we see youth movements living out the message of the book.  With tens of thousands of children in protest at government buildings in Europe, and Greta Thunberg making global news with climate strikes, it seems that concern for climate change is growing with young people.  As an impassioned generation becomes empowered with age, change is on the horizon. More than news, social media is bringing culture into a global collective. Voices are translated and heard internationally. Each day, individual voices are heard by more people in ways that would have been unthinkable just decades ago. Sophia’s tantrum is not unrealistic or lofty; the cry of an angry voice is going to be heard, and it does make a difference.

This book also encourages readers that having strong feelings about climate change is valid and normal. We related to Sofia’s desire to hide away in her bedroom to escape the people asking for her help, her discouragement at being brushed off by the adults at City Hall who were committed to inaction, and the righteous anger that galvanized her back into action. Her tantrum can certainly be categorized as “good trouble,” after the late Congressman and civil rights activist John Lewis.

The book also supports the reader’s own emotional journey in the story. The structure of the book puts the attention-getting, emotionally-activating story of Sofia first, then supports the narrative with real world information for readers who are spurred to learn more. It does a fantastic job of balancing the grim realities of the climate crisis while illustrating pathways for action and showing what is possible when people come together for a cause. It does not leave readers demoralized or overwhelmed by the scale of the problem, but empowered that there are steps they can take and that acting together, we can effect change. In the words of Joan Baez, “Action is the antidote to despair”, and anthropologist and recipient of the Planetary Citizen Award in 1978, Margaret Mead, stated, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Those sentiments still ring true today.

On the whole, this book with its action-packed yet relatable everyday narrative, with a profoundly positive world-saving ending, makes for a delightful good night story to all the children of the world. We cannot but help thinking that if we had all heard this message when we were in kindergarten or middle school, the world might be a better place today.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
–Martin Lither King Jr. (Letter from Birmingham Jail,1963).

Further reading for grown-ups:

  • DeFries, Ruth. 2021. What Would Nature Do? A Guide for Our Uncertain Times.  Columbia University Press, p. 250.
  • Freeman, John. 2020. Tales of Two Planets: Stories of climate change and inequality in a divided world. Penguin Books, p. 290.
  • Mann, Michael.  2021. The New Climate War: The flight to take back our planet. Public Affairs/Hachette Book Group.
  • McKibben, Bill. 2019. Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play itself Out? Henry Holt and Co., p. 291. ISBN: 9781250178268
  • Worland, Justin. 2021.  Climate is Everything: How the Pandemic Can Lead Us to a Better, Greener World. Time (April 28 issue), p. 60-93.

Page last modified October 1, 2021