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Natalia Jaster August 11, 2008
A Little Green Lot
by Natalia Jaster

Being a writer, reader and active pursuant of a greener lifestyle, I got to thinking of how many pieces of eco fiction I’ve read.

Which, actually, isn’t that much.

So I’ve recently been undergoing a hunt through all types of genres for narratives that are immersed in this theme, hoping to see how authors tell these stories, how they find a balance between embracing an agenda and entertaining an audience. And also just  to find some really good reads.

I began with children’s eco-books and came across Dale H. Fife’s The Empty Lot. What I like about this little number is that it isn’t overtly sentimental or didactic. It doesn’t operate under grand gestures or cautionary drama. Instead, it’s measured by a slow, contemplative tone that is engaging and thought-provoking at the same time.

In Fife’s book, Harry Hale owns an empty lot in the woods and decides to sell it, believing the property is useless if no one is living on it. After three potential buyers contact him—one wants the land to store gasoline, another to expand a factory, and another for parking—Harry drives to the lot to determine how much it’s worth. What he finds is more than he’d assumed was there. From a woodpecker tapping holes in a tree (one of which a squirrel lives in) to a sparrow feeding her babies to all manner of insects crawling and buzzing around him, he discovers that his vacant lot is not vacant at all. It is a bustling environment, filled with its own daily activities. The turning point comes when Harry starts pondering how many more creatures live on the property and mulling over his decision to sell it.

I admire the book’s spirit because it gets its audience (both children and adults) to think about land use. It points out to us that our environment isn’t there purely to cater to human productivity. That nature has a function, culture, and population. That land is meant to be shared, not individually claimed.

And it’s impressive that there is no clear dividing line in this tale. The illustrations by Jim Arnosky show residential houses in the backdrop surrounding the lot, so in the end the story doesn’t ask its readers to pick one alternative or the other—nature or construction—but highlights the need for balance, the need to think more carefully about how we regard our surroundings. It is a confident and gentle reminder of human responsibility.

Dale H. Fife, The Empty Lot

Dale H. Fife, The Empty Lot
Sierra Club Books/Little, Brown and Company, 1991: 32pp

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