To celebrate this year's Earth Day, Alison Padley-Woods asks poet and children's writer, Dom Conlon, about his fascination with the universe and the importance of representing Earth in children's books.

On 22 April, Earth Day will be celebrated around the world. It was first commemorated in 1970 and its significance, and the awareness it brings, grows with every passing year. This is never more evident in the world of children's books, where the Greta Thunberg effect has seen a boom in fiction and non-fiction aimed at galvanising young children to save the planet. 

It might be easy to see such a problem as too big and too complicated to lay at children’s feet. And yet, even the smallest steps can help save the planet and create meaningful change. So, how important is it for Earth and environmental change to be represented in children’s books? We ask Dom Conlon, whose poetry for children is inspired by the world and cosmos he loves.

Alison: Your poetry and picture books inspire children to look up at the stars, to peer into oceans and forests and discover they are a part of a much bigger whole. What motivates you to represent Earth and the universe in your work? Where does your fascination come from?

Dom: From poetry and from disability. Poetry demands that you have something to say. You can write nonsense poetry for pure entertainment (and I love it when I do) but in trying to make every word count, I find myself wanting to use my poems to bear witness to the world as I see it. And as for the disability element, well, I didn’t realise this until recently, but with so much of my childhood spent on the side-lines of taking part in physical games, I also had time to 'stop and stare'. I think I began to see the world in the gap between those two things. I don’t drive so I enjoy walking around places – especially around lakes and up hills. I have to go at my own pace and that helps me to reflect on what I see. Everything then feeds back into the poetry.

Alison: How do you think poetry in particular captures the magic of Earth and the universe, and opens up children’s minds to the world around them?

Dom: Poetry builds a bridge between the observed and the observer. If, as I do, you feel a sense of wonder at seeing a shark off the coast of Wales, or a moon with a subsurface ocean which could contain life, or how the Sun looks when it sets on your sixth birthday, then that wonder is a billion glorious colours in which to paint the bridge. Sometimes a long explanation is absolutely necessary to help a child understand a concept. But sometimes an image is all it takes for us to connect with it. 

Shine, Star, Shine! by Dom Conlon,
illustrated by Anastasia Izlesou,
published by Graffeg, 2021

Alison: What sort of reaction do you receive in schools? Do children have favourite poems, and why do you think that is?

Dom: I don’t get to visit schools as often as I’d like to, but when I do I don’t really think about the reaction. If applause begins then I’d rather cut it off because I try to use my poetry as a quick gateway to their own thoughts and feelings. We have fun with silly poems perhaps, then I move on to talking about science or myself and I use different poems to try to illustrate why I feel the way I do about the world around us. There’s a poem I wrote called Quietly Remarkable which I like to read a lot but I don’t really want a reaction.

Alison: Your book This Rock That Rock is a collection about the stars and Moon. Did anyone or any specific incident inspire you to write about the Moon and stars?

Dom: The planets kind of aligned. The 50th anniversary of the first astronauts on the Moon, an enquiry from a publisher about what I was working on, thoughts about what I wanted a collection to achieve, my involvement with a local astronomy group, my son – always my son, and perhaps that constant ache of searching the stars for a sense of belonging. I find that I understand myself better when I look at the sky.

Alison: Tell us about your Wild Wanderers series – how did it come about and how does representing the natural world through fiction and non-fiction inspire children and raise awareness?

Leap, Hare, Leap! by Dom Conlon,
illustrated by Anastasia Izlesou,
published by Graffeg, 2020

Dom: I was shown an illustration with holes in a page and asked to write a book about a fox. I love being challenged in that way because I started to ask questions about how to incorporate the holes. I imagined a fox sneaking through them and emerging into different places. That book didn’t go through but Nicola Davies somehow saw it and shared it with Graffeg who already had some very wonderful fox books. They suggested I write about hares, so I did and that led to Leap, Hare, Leap! which was followed by a plan for the rest of the series. The aim has always been to balance facts with a poetic sense of wonder to try and gain a deeper insight or reaction. The word ‘inspire’ in your question is a good one, I think.

A spread from Leap, Hare, Leap!

A spread from Leap, Hare, Leap!

Alison: How much collaboration is there between you and the illustrator of your picture books, and how does it feel to see your words interpreted visually?

Dom: Next to none. I’m in awe of illustrators but I know enough about myself to stay out of their way. I’m reluctant to suggest things because then the illustrator might feel they need to please me rather than be true to their own artistic vision. Everyone who has illustrated a book that I’ve written has been free to tell their own story. Anastasia’s stories overlap mine in the Wild Wanderers and I’m on the journey as a reader again. Viviane is an artist who thinks about every part of the reading experience from picking it up to decoding the illustrations. The two of us had a lot of conversations about how she approaches her work and that taught me a lot about myself.

Swim, Shark, Swim! by Dom Conlon,
illustrated b Anastasia Izlesou,
published by Graffeg, 2021

Alison: How do children’s books tackle Earth issues and climate change? And do children want to make a difference?

Dom: They maintain hope. It isn’t a naive, don’t-tell-them-the-truth kind of hope, but a real sense that the future is what we make it. Anyone who says ‘that’s just the way the world works’ is showing a failure of imagination. The only barrier between our society and utopia is ourselves. Children aren’t the wielder of power and money and so they aren’t thinking how maintaining fossil fuel production or slaughtering animals can shore up their own fortunes or power bases. They want to be happy and to have fun. I don’t know why we let money and power get in the way of that dream as adults, but it does. I’d like children to reimagine what they want from life, and I absolutely believe they want this too.

Alison: What challenges does writing for children about Earth and the cosmos present? Is there a danger that books about the universe and environmental issues can be too didactic and cause anxiety in children?

Dom: I love this question. I worry that we are pushing our anxieties on children under the guise of teaching them how to prevent them. It’s a strange kind of relationship between writer and reader and one I try to think about. I have to ask myself if I’m writing to help them through a genuine problem or sending them the message that they should worry about things which might never have occurred to them. But then we have people like Greta Thunberg whose awareness has made a difference to the way I (a slightly older person) sees the world. 

Blow, Wind, Blow! by Dom Conlon, 
illustrated by Anastasia Izlesou, 
published by Graffeg, 2021

Alison: Do you have any tips for authors/illustrators who would like to represent Earth/climate issues in their work? What is the best way to appeal to children?

Dom: The word ‘children’ is so hugely diverse that I think the only thing you can do is to write in an accessible way which isn’t overly introspective. I want to build connections through my work and so I have to continually ask whether I’m being too indulgent or whether I’m writing something that others can relate to. But every word of mine has to come from a place of honesty – about what I’m interested in, what I’m hoping to achieve, and of remembering that I am no longer a child. That means (to reference your question above on being too didactic) I must look to represent the wonder and truth of the world. I don’t want to tell anyone to not use plastic straws (for example) because I don’t know how that affects an individual. All I know is that we have to live in balance and that means being aware that our decisions have consequences. It’s up to each person to choose for themselves.

Alison: What next? Do you have any other new projects celebrating Earth issues you can tell us about?

Dom: Grow, Tree, Grow! is the next Wild Wanderers book, and that’s out in May (I think). I’ve also two unannounced projects due which both examine the natural world here on Earth. I get to collaborate with other poets in those books and I am very excited, and challenged, by the process. I’m also working through the structural edits for the second Matilda book which has really pushed my ability to understand big concepts and then explain them in a more accessible way.

Alison: Thanks Dom for such an inspiring interview and for sharing your thoughts with us for Earth Day. Here's to making a change.

* Header illustration by Sally Walker


Dom Conlon is a double Carnegie nominated poet and author. See Dom reading his poetry at: BBC 'Seeing' and UNESCO City of Literature 'The Quiet Doors'. Find Dom at www.DomConlon and on Twitter


Sally Walker is a children’s picture book illustrator who also occasionally writes stories too. Her first book, Chase the Moon, Tiny Turtle, was published in March 2021 by Page Street Kids. Her next book Ruby and the Itsy-Bitsy (Icky) Bug (words by Allison Wortche) will be published in July 2022 by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers (Random House Children’s Books). Find Sally at


Alison Padley-Woods is Words & Pictures' Deputy Illustration Features Editor. Find her on Twitter

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