Loreen Leedy’s ‘The Great Trash Bash’ (best title ever!) came out in 1991, but the lessons it teaches kids (and adults) about the different places garbage goes, what a problem too much garbage can be, are just as true today. I discovered this book while researching potential Literary Trash week authors and thought an author-illustrator of Children’s books would round out our series. Also, Mayor Hippo is adorable.
everydaytrash: How did you come up with the premise of The Great Trash Bash?
Loreen Leedy: At the time, I was looking for a book project that would showcase the process of characters working together to accomplish a goal. Also, I was interested in working with an environmental theme. Now that it’s been awhile, I can’t recall exactly what inspired the notion of garbage. Perhaps it was/is so ubiquitous it seemed obvious. In general, I try to notice what is all around us yet taken for granted. We become accustomed to “how things are.” It takes insight and leadership to question it, as shown by the mayor of Beaston at the beginning of the story.
everydaytrash: Even though it’s a book for young people, this story covers the pros and cons of incineration, landfills and recycling. How much research did you have to do to write it?
Leedy: In those days (15+ years ago) I always went to the local public library to find magazines, encyclopedias, and books for research. Now the Internet is usually my first stop. If the book had required a lot of detail I might have visited an actual landfill and/or incinerator but it wasn’t necessary in this case.
everydaytrash: How did you decide to match the different animals to their characters?
Leedy: Animals are fun to use as characters because they come in such a wide range of sizes, shapes, and colors from mice to alligators to ostriches. For a commanding yet comic presence I made the mayor a relatively large hippo wearing pants and tie (no shirt). Most of the other characters are small to medium-sized, reasonably familiar animals such as raccoons, foxes, and frogs. The diversity of critters reflects the variety of characters found in every town.
everydaytrash: What are some of the solutions that the citizens of Beaston come up with to solve their trash problems? Are they easy to follow in real life?
Leedy: Create less trash; fix old things instead of buying new things; stop littering; recycle; make a compost bin for food scraps; start a recycling center. Some are easier to follow than others– it’s hard to find anyone to repair electronic devices, for example. Perhaps the best idea is to adopt one new habit at a time until it becomes second nature. An easy one is recycling, though I do run across adults that can’t be bothered to recycle, which is frustrating. Hopefully children will be willing to adopt many of these practices for life.
everdaytrash: Do you have any sense of the impact of your book in the classroom? Do you get fan mail from kids and teachers?
Leedy: I was surprised to learn that so far, The Great Trash Bash is my most translated book and has had many subsidiary rights licensed, such as being reprinted in textbook anthologies. This seems to indicate that garbage is a big issue all over the world and parents and teachers need a way to introduce it to children. Schools do a lot of trash-related projects such as:
1. Clean an area of the playground; tally the types of trash (metal/paper/plastic/wood); make a bar graph to show the most common litter found.
2. Each class collects the trash from one snack time; paste it onto poster board; display all the class trash posters together to raise awareness.
3. Kids bring in clean trash such as cereal boxes/egg cartons/cans; they combine their trash to make “trash monsters.” [editor's note: Contact Leila if you want to get together to make trash monsters. Or make your own and send your photos to everday trash!]
4. Make useful items such as bird feeders out of trash.
These are just some of the activities I’ve heard about, usually via email. It is fun to hear how the book is used in the classroom… you never know what they’ll come up with next!
Check back tomorrow for more Literary Trash!
Update: Next up on the Literary Trash lineup is David Naguib Pellow, a professor of ethnic studies and author of Garbage Wars: The Struggle for Environmental Justice in Chicago