Of Fish and Fables: How Fairy Tales Help Kids Learn About Sustainability

Singapore Green Plan
4 min readDec 11, 2023

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The ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ is a concept familiar to those in the environmental sustainability circle, but how do we introduce children to this idea, and teach them environmental ethics from a young age?

This question was what inspired Maggie Lee, a full-time conservationist, to create a children’s book series “Champs for Our Environment.”

“The idea of a fable seemed like a natural solution, since morals can be easily picked up by children through fairy tales such as The Three Little Pigs (hard work and diligence pay off) and the Tortoise and the Hare (slow and steady win the race),“ says Maggie.

Maggie conducting a book reading session at the Children’s Wishing Well in Clementi, a charity focusing on disadvantaged children.

Just like the Tragedy of the Commons, which describes a situation where shared resources are overused, and eventually depleted, posing risks to everyone involved, Maggie’s first book “What Happened To The Fish In The Lake” revolves around a similar theme.

In the book, fishermen live happily around a lake for years, until they start taking more fish than they need. And over time, the fishes dwindle and disappear, leading to the question… what now?

Maggie (centre) sharing the idea behind her book at an event held at the Temasek Shophouse.

“The Tragedy of the Commons is one of the entry points [to teaching kids about environmentalism]. So I pitched this idea to the SG Eco Fund, and got a positive response,” Maggie recalls. The SG Eco Fund supported her with funding to hire an illustrator for the book, as well as help print 500 copies of the book, which were distributed to charities and orphanages across Singapore.

Maggie (left), with illustrator Twisstii at the launch of the book at the Times Bookstore at Waterway Point.

Of course, keeping young children interested is half the challenge — so Maggie set out to create games to help sustain their interest and further drive home the message of the book.

In one of the games, the children are given different tools to catch as many fish as possible within a certain time. In later rounds, players are given different items like spoons and nets to catch fish, but with less and less time, which also means they might also accidentally catch other creatures like turtles, dolphins and coral.

While it may just seem like a fun game, the activity is actually a way to demonstrate how overfishing can have adverse effects on the ecosystem and how human greed plays a part in depleting our limited resources.

The fishing game in action at one of the public book readings in Choa Chu Kang.

For Maggie, creating the books and games was only the first step — it was also about heading out into the community to share the message. With the National Library Board and SG Eco Fund’s support, Maggie was also able to organise public book readings of her book to reach out directly to the children. This also gave her the opportunity to see firsthand the impact her book would have — not just on the kids, but their parents as well.

“Some parents told me that their children, who attended my storytelling session, actually reflected on the messages of the book after they went home. Some parents also went to purchase my book afterwards, so that they could share it with others,” Maggie recalls.

Maggie speaking at a guest lecture for a class on environmental humanities at NTU. She shared about her journey of getting funding from SG Eco Fund, publishing the book, and the various activities across Singapore.

The book readings didn’t come without challenges for Maggie, though. “Yeah, I lost my voice like, 10 times!” she says, laughing.

So what’s next in the Champs for the Environment series? Beyond creating the rest of the books in the series (the target is seven books within the next 2 years), Maggie also hopes to collaborate with others to co-create the corresponding games. It’s an ambitious and far-reaching project, but an ultimately worthwhile one for Maggie.

“I think we all bear responsibility in shaping the world that we want to see. And a lot of that has to do with transferring that knowledge and also what we learned to children so that they don’t have to actually learn it the hard way.”

Feeling inspired to craft your own tale of sustainability and community action? The SG Eco Fund offers funding to support the co-creation of sustainability initiatives in Singapore, so you can grow your green ideas. Visit www.mse.gov.sg/sgecofund for more information!

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