Of all the children’s stories from my childhood, none remain more present nor more pertinent to me than The Wump World by Bill Peet.

It is a story about a small planet like our own inhabited by peaceful creatures called Wumps. This planet flourishes in tandem with its life forms until one day when one species (the ignominious Pollutians from the planet Pollutus) arrives believing in its right to dominate the environment, and because of this belief, ends up destroying it.

This is probably starting to sound familiar to you, but for a young child in the modern world, this ecological catastrophe may only seem like a futuristic injustice of a fantasy world, an injustice inconsistent with the reality they have experienced or been educated about in their short time on Earth.

And yet, it’s terrifying to think that instead of teaching children by reading a story about compromising the environment, they may indeed be able to just look out their window to see such ecocide unfolding. That reality is getting harder and harder to hide, and the message from The Wump World harder and harder to ignore.

Our Very Own Wump World

As I grow older and become more aware and more involved in the realms of environmental and social justice, I am reminded frequently of this sage children’s tale.

From the maze of city overpasses, to the fume churning cars speeding by waste ridden fields, I am surrounded by familiar flashbacks to this children’s story that was supposed to be fantasy, supposed to be just a grave warning of an even graver possibility.

And yet, the lack of environmental foresight by our species, and our “need” for “development,” have made parts of this children’s fiction (written in 1970) a living reality.

From Fiction to Reality

Just recently in Beijing, extremely dense smog blanketed the city, reaching a point where the haze even exceeded the scale used to measure smog levels. A factory fire burned for three hours before anyone noticed due to the intense smog already in the air.

The impact of this kind of pollution is being felt globally. Just this past year the U.S. experienced its hottest year in history, and its second-worst in terms of extreme weather events like hurricanes and droughts.

The Amazon rainforest, known as the “lungs of our planet,” continues to be burdened with the effects of the polluted planetary ecosystem. I won’t continue listing examples, but it is clear that the weight of human impact on Mother Earth is pushing the limits of her resilience.

Recognizing a Responsibility to the Planet

An ailing environment cannot be ignored at the local extremes experienced in places like Beijing. But does each city and its human dwellers have to reach a place where their living environment is literally uninhabitable before we can all be transparent about the problem?

Of course not, and the movement many are making towards a sustainable future is a testament to this growing understanding.

The short-sighted and very swift development plans of the Pollutians in Peet’s story provide a head-scratching example of a species attempting to evolve (and survive) in this ignore-it-until-you-can’t-breathe lifestyle.

Ultimately, their destructive way of life engenders a desperate need for ecological salvation, which they solve by hopping from planet to planet.

And yet, we don’t have new planets. We don’t have the lazy luxury of a brand new beginning every time we need it. We have one planet to care for, and an important responsibility to teach the next generation to do the same.

Spreading the Message

Imagine a child reading this story. A child would understand an injustice has been done to the Wumps and the planet. They would understand that the Pollutians caused it by their cars and their smoke. They would see the world got better when the cars and smoke went away.

The overarching message is a simple one, but as a seed in the conscience of the next generation, its implications are quite powerful. After all, it is the mentality of a destructive worldview that is on display here; the belief that one living thing has the right to dominate and exploit another.

If children can so easily see the consequences of such narrow-minded thought, and the ignorance it feeds, maybe they should be reading oil executives and other leaders this bed time story.

Either way, they are the energy executives and world leaders of tomorrow, so what they take from stories like these right now will help ensure that when their children read The Wump World, it will represent a great injustice whose ending their parents made sure remained in fiction.

Further Reading

  • Explore a child’s perspective on potential oil exploration in the Amazon rainforest.
  • Watch a video from this previous blog post highlighting another children’s book with a green message.
  • Going green can be a family activity! Find out what you can do around the house to help reduce your environmental impact.