Trista Hendren is a feminist activist who co-founded Rapebook, a Facebook page set up to campaign against rape humor and other abusive content on Facebook. As an author, she writes The Girl God series of children's books that are equally enjoyed by adults. Last year, I interviewed Trista about her first book in the series, which comprises inspiring illustrations and quotes intertwined with a story about a mother and daughter. I knew then that Mother Earth was on the way and am delighted to be speaking with her about the latest Girl God book.
Ruth Jacobs: Can you tell us about your new book Mother Earth?
Trista Hendren: Mother Earth is a loving tribute to our dying planet and a call to action for children, their parents and grandparents. This book contains gorgeous illustrations by Elisabeth Slettnes as well as inspiring quotes from Vandana Shiva, Raffi Cavoukian, Sue Monk Kidd, Rachel Carson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Alice Walker, Winona LaDuke, Llewellyn Vaughn-Lee, Ruth Calder Murphy, Ursula K. Le Guin, Buddha, Starhawk, Audre Lorde, Susan Griffin, Arundhati Roy, Jane Goodall, and many others. As I began to heal my own life, I began to care much more about the Earth. There is a very real connection between the violence committed against women around the world and violence against the Earth. Mother Earth explores some of those connections in words children and adults can absorb.
Ruth: What sparked the idea for this particular book in The Girl God series?
Trista: My frustration over the destruction of the Earth prompted this book. Several years ago, I began to take more action in my personal life, but I wanted to do something on a larger scale that would impact more people. There were a couple readings in particular that really moved me. "The Call to Forgiveness at the End of the Day" was probably the biggest nudge. We actually used it as an introduction to the book.
"Poets warned us, writing of the "heartbreaking beauty that will remain when there is no heart to break for it." But what if it is worse than that? What if it's the heartbroken children who remain in a world without beauty? How will they find solace in a world without wild music? How will they thrive without green hills edged with oaks? How will they forgive us for letting frog-song slip away? When my granddaughter looks back at me, I will be on my knees, begging her to say I did all I could.
I didn't do all I could have done.
It isn't enough to love a child and wish her well. It isn't enough to open my heart to a bird-graced morning. Can I claim to love a morning if I don't protect what creates its beauty? Can I claim to love a child if I don't use all the power of my beating heart to preserve a world that nourishes children's joy? Loving is not a kind of la-de-da.
Loving is a sacred trust. To love is to affirm the absolute worth of what you love and to pledge your life to its thriving--to protect it fiercely and faithfully, for all time."
-Kathleen Dean Moore
Ruth: Did you have to undertake any research in order to write Mother Earth?
Trista: I did not research specifically for this book, although I do read 3-4 books a week and this book was very much influenced by that reading. My children's books also include quotes from various faith traditions and writers I admire on each page, which I often copy down while I am reading. I hope these passages will support and nurture children as they grow up, much in the way I memorised Bible passages when I was a kid. I also like to provide food for thought to the adults reading along with the child, as I know I was often bored by the books we read again and again together. With our books, there is something new to discover each time you visit the book. Elisabeth's illustrations are truly magical and one-of-a-kind.
Ruth: Can you share about the writing process - did you plan in advance or write freely as you went along?
Trista: We planned to do several more Girl God books, although this book was not outlined in the original planning process. The story came to me before the others did, and so we decided to move forward with it first. I often pick the topic first and then wait for the story to come to me. We have 5 more books planned in this series, all of which are in various phases of production.
Ruth: How did you create the main characters and can you describe them?
Trista: The primary characters are based loosely on my daughter and me. I wanted to explore the mother-daughter relationship and contrast that with the way we treat Mother Earth. So the book starts with several conversations we actually had about the natural environment--for instance, when my daughter asked me why so many people drive cars short distances instead of walking. Typical of many children, she often intuitively has better answers than I do. When I don't come up with a suitable answer to her question, she snapped back, "I think cars should go extinct, not polar bears!"
My daughter's love for animals and the natural environment provided much of the outline for this book. It is her mystical world that I wanted to preserve.
Ruth: Is there a message in the book you'd like readers to understand?
Trista: The Earth is dying and we need to take urgent action now. Sometimes I feel frustrated that adults are not more proactive about this. I wanted to write a book for children, who seem to be more open-minded about solutions, so that they could share ideas with their parents and grandparents. Ultimately, I hope the book will be a discussion piece for the generations, which will spurn action.
Ruth: It's been a pleasure speaking with you again Trista and I'm looking forward to reading Mother Earth. I'm sure I'll enjoy it as much as I did The Girl God. I've still to arrange the tattoo that book inspired: the quote by Alice Walker, "the nature of this flower is to bloom".