Blogger Chelsey Roos

Smoke in the Summer: Supporting Families in Wildfire Season

The Canadian wildfires have brought a smoky summer to many of our communities. In some parts of North America, wildfire season is a yearly occurrence that is only getting worse. For others, this may be the first time you’ve had to deal with smoke and poor air quality. If a blanket of smoke has settled upon your community, simple programs and robust collections can help.

Haze from wildfire smoke turns the sky, trees, and sidewalks an eerie orange.
The sky turned orange in my area during the September 2020 wildfires in California

Wildfire Collection Development

If wildfire smoke has been a rare occurrence for your community, you may want to look for a few books to add to your collection that can help families learn more about what’s happening. The best collection will have books that contain three key features:

  1. An explanation of what a wildfire is, and how it can affect people, animals, and environments around us.
  2. Information on what starts a wildfire, and action items that help empower families to feel safe and able to help.
  3. An element of hope. Wildfires (and climate change in general) can be very scary. While we don’t want to downplay the danger of a wildfire, we also want kids to know that there is hope for their future. This helps kids navigate strong feelings of anxiety. It also encourages both kids and grown-ups to not become complacent in the face of climate change.

Great Books for the Family

Dear Wild Child: You Carry Your Home Inside You, written by Wallace J. Nichols and Wallace Grayce Nichols, and illustrated by Drew Beckmeyer. In this picture book, a beloved family home is lost to a wildfire. But the memories and joys of that house are never truly lost.

Surviving the Wild: Rainbow the Koala, by Remy Lai. This graphic novel for early readers was inspired by koalas rescued from the 2019-2020 bushfires in Australia. The book shows a variety of dangerous koalas must navigate in the wild, including a wildfire. It shows a hopeful ending for the animals with recommendations for combatting climate change at the end.

We Will Live in this Forest Again, by Gianna Marino. Forest animals must flee to safety in this picture book. A lush color palate gives way first to harsh reds, then lonely browns as the fire takes the forest. But green emerges yet again at the end of the story, giving hope for a vibrant future.

Wildfire! by Ashley Wolff. For those who like to “look for the helpers,” this picture book shows the teams of humans who can help the animals who flee the fire, from forest rangers to pilots to firefighters.

Covers of 4 children's books about wildfires: Dear Wild Child, Rainbow the Koala, We Will Live in this Forest Again, and WIldfire!
These books offer a combination of serious reality and hope for the future.

Programming Under a Smoky Sky

If the air quality is particularly bad in your community, many families are going to lose access to a lot of their outdoor spaces. Playgrounds, summer camps, and outdoor activities like swimming or hiking may not be safe if the air quality is very poor. Anyone who’s spent a few days trapped inside with restless kiddos knows that alternative indoor spaces are a must. If you have a programming space that’s free, open it up to families and help kids get their energy out. Programs don’t have to be fancy. We’re focusing on high-energy, quick to put together activities to give families a break from being stuck at home.

Extra Movement and Music Storytimes

Give young children a safe space to jump, dance, and run. Bring out any manipulatives you have – scarves, shakers, balance beams, bubble machines. Widen this to all ages by throwing a family dance party with music, a quick craft like a noise maker from paper plates, and refreshments if you’ve got them.

Active Events for Big Kids

Try this awesome “The Floor Is Lava” program, which can use simple things you might have at hand or at home, like storytime cushions and pool toys. One library system I worked for had a stash of big carnival game frames that we traded between branches, which could be decorated for different program themes, and worked great for carnival programs. If you have a library miniature golf kit sitting in storage somewhere, drag it out.

A carnival game called "Villain Knock-Out," where players throw a ball to knock down cans decorated with Dog Man villains.
Our carnival facades are blank so they can be re-themed for different programs. This one was for a Dog Man program.

Open-ended Engineering Challenges for the Family

Pull out those stacks of newspapers you’ve been meaning to recycle. Then challenge families to roll up sheets and built the tallest towers they can with a bit of tape. Or fill a couple of big bins with water. Gather any of the odds and ends you have from other programs (craft sticks, cardboard, straws), then task families with making a boat that floats. Giving kids and adults the opportunity to work together on something with lots of trial and error and no “perfect” end result can encourage collaboration and smooth over snippy feelings that come out when families have been stuck in the house together.

Kids test out their small boats made out of household recyclables to see if they can hold plastic dinosaur toys.
When we build boats we build them to rescue dinosaurs, because of course we do.

Fire Safety

Collaborate with your local fire department or Emergency Operations Center to plan a program that helps families make a fire safety plan. Wild Kratts has a forest fire episode you can share before or after your expert presents, and Sci Show has a great Science of Wildfires episode you can share with older children. The National Parks Service has a Junior Ranger Handbook with quizzes and game pages that can guide your discussion on wildfires. Even if you are hundreds of miles away from a wildfire, and only dealing with the smoke, home fire safety can help safe lives.

Protect Yourself

Don’t forget to take care of yourself. Air purifiers can work wonders if the smoke is getting inside. A high-quality mask offers protection. Plan extra rest if you can’t escape the smoke. May clean skies come soon.

Blogger Chelsey Roos, a white librarian with short hair and glasses.

Today’s blogger is Chelsey Roos. Chelsey has been a member of ALSC’s Advocacy and Legislation committee, and is a Children’s Librarian for Santa Clara County Library. All photographs belong to the author. Book covers belong to their publishers, images with such were created in Canva by the author.

This blog relates to ALSC Core Competencies I. Programming Skills, and IV. Collection Knowledge and Management

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