Last Friday morning, the Assembly Room doors swung open and a woman made her way through the sea of Kindergarten through Class 3 students to the front of the room, where Lower School Head Thérèse Cruite was waiting to introduce her.
“I am delighted to welcome a very special visitor, Chelsea Clinton, to our Assembly,” said Ms. Cruite, noting that Ms. Clinton is the best-selling author of a number of enlightening books for young people, including “She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World,” “She Persisted Around the World: 13 Women Who Changed History” and “It’s Your World: Get Informed, Get Inspired & Get Going!”
Having just written another illustrated book, titled “Don’t Let Them Disappear - 12 Endangered Species Across the Globe,” Ms. Clinton graciously agreed to come to Chapin to talk about it with our inquisitive Lower School students.
“Good morning, everyone! I’m so grateful to share my recent children’s book with you,” said Ms. Clinton, the daughter of President Bill Clinton and former Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the vice-chair of the Clinton Foundation. There she focuses on many initiatives, including those with the goal of empowering the next generation of leaders. Ms. Clinton, the audience learned, lives with her husband, a daughter, two sons and a dog, Soren.
With gorgeous illustrations by the artist Gianna Marino, “Don’t Let Them Disappear” illuminates the plight of a dozen imperiled animals: giraffes, gorillas, blue whales, rhinoceroses, giant pandas, whale sharks, polar bears, lions, sea otters, orangutans, tigers and elephants.
Along with poignant stories of each highlighted species, Ms. Clinton’s book features a useful glossary of words like “vulnerable,” “critically endangered” and “extinct,” as well as a checklist of resources for getting involved.
Ms. Clinton began by asking the students to tell her their favorite animals (horses, dogs, giraffes, cats, wolves, peacocks, narwhals and unicorns were mentioned). As nearly every hand shot up, the eager students were active participants in the lively and instructive Assembly. With warmth, humor and an easy-going manner, Ms. Clinton connected effortlessly with her audience.
A lifelong animal lover and advocate, Ms. Clinton told the students that, although people can visit zoos or refer to encyclopedias, she “couldn’t find a picture book that talked about these animals.” So she decided to write one. “I really wanted this book in the world. I wish I had it when I was your age,” she said.
Ms. Clinton explained that the number of currently endangered animals and plants has reached a staggering 16,000 species. “I couldn’t write about all of them,” she said. Instead, she selected a variety of 12, including the elephant, a particular favorite. “I’m shamelessly in love with elephants,” she remarked, because they are “beautiful, matriarchal and a keystone species,” meaning that many other animals rely on them.
With pages from “Don’t Let Them Disappear” enlarged on the screen in front of them, Ms. Clinton peppered her talk with thought-provoking questions. “How do animals become endangered?” she asked at one point. “Because people kill and eat them,” one student offered. “They’re hunted by humans,” suggested a second. “Because we’re destroying their environments,” said a third.
After defining the two central causes of animal endangerment – illegal poaching of body parts like tails and horns and profound habitat loss brought on by climate change – Ms. Clinton encouraged the students to do their part to help save these glorious creatures.
“We have to talk to the people in our lives. Tell them not to buy ivory or tiger skin or rhino horns,” she said. She also stressed the importance of reducing the use of plastic bags and straws, which often end up inside animals, with disastrous results. “If we make these big decisions all together, we can help these species recover!”
The final page of the book is a serious call to action: “Let’s make a pledge as fellow inhabitants of Planet Earth that we won’t let any of these species disappear.” With that, Chelsea Clinton ended her visit, leaving our Lower School students animatedly discussing how they could actively help the endangered animals who share our world.
Autographed copies of “Don’t Let Them Disappear” will be on sale at the Chapin Book Fair (November 19-20), the far-reaching theme of which is “Our Planet, Our Promise.”