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Eco Boys And Girls Inspire Kids to Live and Play Sustainably
For Earth Day in 2010, Maria Snyder debuted her characters, the Eco Boys And Girls, at the Liberty Science Center. Snyder, an activist, artist and model, developed Ernie Earth, Lulu Love, Patsy Peace, Ray Recycle and Sammy Sun because she wanted to use her art background to motivate positive change. Seeing the response to the characters at the Liberty Center and elsewhere, Snyder consulted with her brother Simon—an environmental advocate—to write a series of children’s titles starring the Eco Boys And Girls.
That series is now available through the National Wildlife Federation. The set includes:
- Meet The Eco Boys And Girls.
- Eco Boys And Girls Visit The Ocean.
- Eco Boys And Girls Learn About Energy.
- Eco Boys And Girls Visit The Everglades.
- Eco Boys And Girls Go To An Organic Farm.
- Eco Boys And Girls Plant An Urban Garden.
In addition to selling these books in our catalog, National Wildlife Federation is also partnering with Snyder to bring Eco Boys And Girls into the Eco-Schools USA program, which reaches 1.5 million students in 2,500 schools across the country. A pilot program in the N.Y. Tri-State area will feature environmental education for students Pre-K-3rd grade. I spoke with Snyder about her inspiration behind the characters and the books, and her vision for grounding children with a sense of respect for the natural world. Here’s a slightly edited transcript of our conversation:
Avelino Maestas: Why did you start designing with a focus on the environment and sustainability?
Maria Snyder: My eco-awareness existed since my early years. Exposure to “green” was an aspect of my early development. I went on and earned a masters in art history and studied painting and sculpture, as well. My father was one of the pioneering developers revitalizing Portland, Maine, and my brother became interested in environmental sciences at Harvard. Also, my mother was an artist in her youth and her family were mainly educators and teachers. I wanted to utilize my artistic talent to promote a more sustainable world and greater inter-connectedness.
Certain things happened by chance—like modeling and fashion design. Taking my paintings and sculpture and applying it onto clothing and jewelry was somewhat accidental. Being tall with certain physical attributes, (while in school in Paris), brought me to the attention of Mr. Yves Saint Laurent, and that launched my modeling career.
My Eco Boys And Girls, five characters who are little works of art, communicate positive messages, allowing the next generation to create a better world.
One of these books is very focused on gardening, which is something very important to NWF and our members. Did you have a garden growing up?
We did have a sizable family garden growing up. My father said I didn’t like pulling weeds and he didn’t see me in the garden often.
We lived on the outskirts of Portland, in a rural setting. There was a horse farm across the street. Ours wasn’t a working farm anymore, but it had been a historic stable.
In one of the books, the Eco Boys And Girls visit the Everglades. Why did you choose the Everglades as a destination?
We had a second home in Florida and visited the Everglades. I wanted to highlight the importance of this National Park.
When we were deciding to create the books, my brother Simon helped with the storylines. He is a big inspiration in my life. He truly cares about people as well as our planet. We wanted to create a set of books that could entertain and inspire children to take action with subjects we thought were important in their lives.
We also worked with Michael Smith, the creator of Team Umizoomi and an Emmy Award-winning writer, to make sure the characters spoke to children and relayed information which was age appropriate.
What was your inspiration behind the Eco Boys And Girls characters?
My love of creating–for me my art is an intuitive gift and a kind of meditation. Also, my love for my family, the community and the environment.
The five Eco Boys And Girls characters came to my consciousness one after the other. I had the intention that my art could serve a greater purpose but did not have the exact idea of how that would happen…so they came to me, one after the other, as visual designs, with all their features in place. Their hands, feet, eyes, expressions and their missions; I could see them in my mind’s eye.
When children see or come in contact with the characters, they fall in love with them. Ernie Earth, Lulu Love, Patsy Peace, Ray Recycle and Sammy Sun are globally understandable characters and symbols with which children can communicate. My characters naturally connect with children.
Children today seem to be aware the water is dirty, the air is polluted and the animals are in peril. They are learning that our planet is in crisis and they want to help – to take care of the animals, to take care of each other and our earth.
Why did you shift from your previous work into children’s books?
I had already made a decision that I wanted my art to serve a more productive purpose, to create something positive. I appreciate all elements of design, but believe we have enough things in the world to be happy.
What we need is more compassion, a greater sense of community and a greater awareness of our consumption. Caring for each other and our earth will make our planet a paradise for its people.
I intended to use my art for those reasons; that was a conscious decision.
We debuted the Eco Boys And Girls at the Liberty Science Center—first, as short animations on giant movie screens. The characters were projected Hollywood-style, at one of America’s finest science museums, in April 2010. I had begun developing the characters a few years before.
I thought about how to do the right things with them. How can I best utilize them? How can I best share them with children and their families?
We started doing a few public service announcements and promotional events, at different places around the world, to inspire children, and to get a conversation going, about the characters, about how to take better care of our planet and of each other.
I want to ask again about the focus on gardening, urban farming, and sustainable farming. That seems to be a really big theme.
We feel it is an essential part of living. It is something basic to families and children – we sustain ourselves through food, gardening, planting. It’s an important part of our subsistence and everyday life.
Farming can be a joyous enterprise, if done consciously. There seems to be greater interest now in schools and amongst youth in agriculture and gardening, where food is grown, how it is grown. People seem to care more about the ingredients and their sources.
Eating, a celebration around the table, with family and friends, is an important aspect of our community. The rite of eating is considered in parts of the world to be a religious experience and was held in high regard by Native Americans.
Looking at the relationships in the book, the Eco Boys And Girls aren’t really a family, right? They’re friends?
They are friends from all over the world – from all kinds of communities – all kinds of nations – and all kinds of diversified religions, cultures and colors.
They have all the issues big folks do, but they are meant to find solutions and to get along. Respect their differences and celebrate their similarities. Isn’t that who we all are on this great planet? One people, in a variety of ways, living on one earth?
Eco Boys And Girls have great times, challenges, differences and issues, and they come together with children to help make the world a better place, with all of its issues and challenges. And Patsy Peace – she is our mediator and peace maker.
What do you have planned for the Eco Boys And Girls in the future?
Education. Working with National Wildlife Federation’s Eco-Schools, the best environmental education program in the USA and the world, is a dream for us. To be able to inspire children and families to have healthier and happier lives is a big part of our mission.
To entertain, through all forms of media is an important road for us to travel.
Hopefully, Eco Boys And Girls will be here for a very long time.
You can buy the full set of Eco Boys And Girls books today at www.ShopNWF.org/EcoBoysandGirls