The Wump World
By Bill Peet
Illustrated by Bill Peet
“This world of our has gone sour. We’ve got to get out of here quick”
Wumps are gentle grass-eaters living sustainably on a small, green planet. Their world is turned upside down with the arrival of spaceships carrying Pollutians from the planet Pollutus. The Pollutians are an unsustainable civilization: they had worn out their home planet (see ecological collapse) and chose the Wump World for colonization and “improvement” (producerism and extractive economy). As the Wumps hide in the deepest caverns, giant smoke-belching machines transform the planet into an Industrial wasteland (the Anthropocene, slow violence). Cities, roads, waste, pollution, noise… there’s more of everything. Soon the air becomes unbreathable, the water undrinkable, and the noise unbearable. The Pollutians target another planet and blast off. The Wumps emerge from the underground to find a small grassy meadow with a clump of bumbershoot trees. Not all was destroyed. Their world will heal (see ecological restoration), but it will never be the same (see the Anthropocene, rewilding, damaged planet).
With significantly more text than is common in picturebooks, The Wump World invites a read-aloud with frequent pauses to explore Peet’s crayon-style illustrations. The destruction of the environment is sad but not threatening. The book invites conversations about the Anthropocene, especially the causes and results of environmental degradation. It is particularly useful for illustrating the concept of extractivist economy: how processes of exploitation, domination, extraction, and destruction are cloaked under positive-sounding terms such as “progress” or “growth.” As a powerful group of outsiders descend on a local population to extract resources, the violence of extractivism is deployed against those who are defenseless. Ask students to identify reasons why the Pollutians “improve their new wonderful world” (18) in such destructive ways? Who benefits from the development they create? And who pays the price? What happens if one treats nature as disposable? This can lead to eye-opening conversations about natural limits and sustainability, about the meaning of progress, about what it means to be uprooted, alienated, and dispossessed. The ultimate result of extractivism is always an ecological crisis and you may want to invite students to consider how this end point is represented. The real question this book raises is what one can do in the wake of planetary destruction. The Wump World does not offer answers, but it helps us ask if we are behaving like space aliens. Are we really a destructive species by nature or is the destruction the outcome of a specific worldview and the socioeconomic system it creates? The Wump World helps students grasp that we have created a mechanized, space alien civilization that is ravaging our home planet as if we had many others available to us. Unlike the Wumps, however, we will not survive by hiding or escaping to another planet. The real alternative to planetary devastation is to understand the systemic drivers of climate change and change our socio-economic system. ©2021 ClimateLit (Marek Oziewicz)
For companion picturebooks about industrial pollution, see: Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax (1971), Carole Lindstrom and Michaela Goade’s We Are Water Protectors (2020).
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1970
Audience: Little People (4-7)
Topics: Colonization, Damaged Planet, Ecocide, Ecological Collapse, Ecological Restoration, Environmental Injustice, Extractivism, Human Expansionism, Industry, Limits, Pollution, Producerism, Progress, Rewilding, Slow Violence, Sustainability