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Our House Is on Fire: Greta Thunberg's Call to Save the Planet

Book review by
Regan McMahon, Common Sense Media
Our House Is on Fire: Greta Thunberg's Call to Save the Planet Book Poster Image
Alarming story of teen's strike for climate change action.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Shows the scientific evidence of climate change -- including the earth getting warmer, the polar ice caps melting, animals' lives threatened -- and portrays the issue as a matter of urgent danger. Shows how one person -- even a kid -- can raise awareness of an issue through protest and inspire global action. Exposes kids to the concept of going on strike, Parliament as a governing body, the United Nations, the World Economic Forum. Mentions of Stockholm, Sweden, and Poland. One illustration shows people on cell phones and speech balloons over their heads, with "Strike!" in seven different languages. The text under the illustration uses the word cyberspace.

Positive Messages

The book starts with this quote from Greta: "You are never too small to make a difference." Stand up for what you believe in and others may follow. If we act now, we may be able to save our planet. Greta says, "I want you to act as if the house was on fire. Because it is." The final spread challenges the reader in large type with the question: "What will you do?"

Positive Role Models & Representations

Greta is an inspiring 16-year-old who's spoken to world leaders at a United Nations climate talk in Poland and at marches around the world about the dangers of climate change and the urgent need to address it. She was named Time magazine's Person of the Year for 2019, although that happened in December 2019, three months after this book was published, so it doesn't appear in the text. Her parents support her, even when she skips school to demand action on climate change.

Violence & Scariness

When readers see Greta is watching films, the screen shows various scary scenes, including "floodwaters covering houses and people and animals. She saw cities swallowed under rising oceans.... She saw blazing wildfires, racing through the forests," among other scenes of the negative effects of climate change on our planet. In her speeches, she tries to instill fear and panic to motivate world leaders to act. But these quoted lines in the book could be scary and disturbing to young kids. 

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that author-illustrator Jeanette Winter's picture book Our House Is on Fire: Greta Thunberg's Call to Save the Planet tells the story of how a 15-year-old Swedish girl learns about climate change in school, then stages a weekly protest that leads to her becoming a leader on the world stage. She was named Time magazine's Person of the Year for 2019 (although that happened three months after the book was published, so it's not mentioned here). The publisher recommends this book for kids as young as 3, but given the serious subject matter, challenging vocabulary (Parliament, the United Nations, climate change, cyberspace, on strike, economic forum), and theuse of "our house is on fire" as a metaphor for our planet warming, we think it's best for kids 6 and older. Some of the dangers shown may be disturbing to young kids, such as a forest burning and people stranded atop houses in a flood. Greta wants kids (and grown-ups and world leaders) to understand that this is an urgent problem that needs to be addressed immediately. She tells the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, "I don't want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day ... I want you to act as if the house was on fire. Because it is." 

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What's the story?

When HOUSE ON FIRE, GRETA THUNBERG'S CALL TO SAVE THE PLANET begins, Greta is a quiet girl in Stockholm, Sweden (15 at the time, as we lean in the back matter), when she learns in class about melting ice caps and how climate change is threatening the lives of animals. She becomes obsessed with the topic and watches all the films she can about it. That inspires her to stage a protest, skipping school every Friday to sit outside the Parliament building with a sign saying, "School strike for climate." Soon she's joined by other students in Stockholm and other cities, who hear about her strike on the internet. In the end, students marched in protest in 43 other countries (listed in the back matter). She's invited to speak to the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Poland and the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where she tells the assembled, "I want you to act as if the house was on fire. Because it is." 

Is it any good?

This is an inspiring story of a Swedish teen standing up for what she believes in and becoming a world leader. Our House Is on Fire tells the story of how she became a global leader on the issue of climate change in mostly simple, brief text that kids will find relatable -- like how she felt invisible before she took up her cause and how it made her sad to see animals' habitats threatened by melting icecaps. Spare art helps makes the complex issues easy to grasp, too.

But some sophisticated vocabulary and some of the disastrous effects of climate change shown, including forest fires and floods, may be scary and disturbing for young picture book readers. Some of the messages in quotes from Greta's speeches and on protest signs on the front and back cover may sound harsh to young ears, too. Such as "You're Destroying Our Future," "Don't Burn My Future," "Coal Kills," "Stop Climate Crime," "You're Destroying Our Future," and "Help Me!"

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Greta's protest in Our House Is on Fire. What do you think of her skipping school for a cause? Are you surprised so many kids around the world followed her example?

  • Do you believe one person can make a difference, even a kid? What other young activists have you heard of? What were they standing up for?

  • Do you understand what going on strike means? What other reasons do people go on strike? 

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