King's School pupil Jona David's cosmic climate change book on sale with UN backing
Jona David, a Year 8 pupil at King’s School, Cambridge, has just had his fourth book, The Cosmic Climate Invention, published.
His achievements are all the more impressive because he has dyslexia, a disadvantage he’s turned around with aplomb. Spoiler alert: it involves drawings.
“My first story came out in 2014,” he says of the collection. “I’m 13 now, I was nine when The Epic Eco-Inventions came out. My spelling’s still quite rubbish but over the course of two or three years I learned 5,000 English words. I basically had to copy the word out three times.”
“He would learn 40 or 50 words at one time, and the ones he got wrong he would type out 10 times,” adds Jona’s mother, Marie-Claire Cordonier Seggar. “They were quite simple words – and drawings.”
Jona links the words to drawings: his artwork illustrates the books, there’s a symbiotic relationship going on between the two and the dynamics of this process have been applied to other areas of activity.
“Now I’m able to apply what I’ve learned from dyslexia even into mathematics.” He visualises the questions. “I’d apply what I’ve learned from English to that.”
But what works for reading doesn’t always work for writing.
“When I was writing, even if I didn’t have the drawings yet, I had the idea of ‘that’s the text that follows’, and based it on that idea. Through writing, I take the idea of the word and relate it to the letters. Nowadays I’ve found a way to learn the words – it’s definitely harder than what normal people have but it’s easier like that at school. I’m fairly slow at writing – typewriting is OK, but my handwriting’s slower. I have become better at just putting my ideas straight on the page.”
Jona’s stories involve children learning about science in everyday life and involve all sorts of wild possibilities, perhaps inspired from chats and activities with his younger brother Nico. His concern about climate change has propelled him into a number of inventions, including plants that purify the air, a geothermal power battery, a battery charged by lightning, a nebula gas field, petrol-munching mushrooms... “I’m not sure where all this comes from,” admits his mum. But Jona has also been in a typhoon, and his family’s Canadian roots led to him watching the fires spiral out of control in British Columbia.
“It was a Category 5,” he says of the typhoon. “It was really scary watching – it was in Taiwan. Even seeing the change – the trees flying around past the window of the ninth floor of the hotel – it doesn’t exactly reassure you everything’s going to be fine.”
The fires were in Victoria, in Canada, where Jona’s been visiting his grandparents on Marie-Claire’s side since he was 5 – his father, Markus Gehring, is originally from Germany.
“I was there last year,” Jona says. “You can really see the massive effects of climate change.”
“There were 556 fires there last summer,” says Marie-Claire. “Usually there are just two or three.”
“Thankfully we weren’t caught up in any of the fires but you can see in the sky the massive smoke from it, and it’s getting worse and worse and worse.”
On the very day of this meet-up in the Michaelhouse cafe, UK school teachers announced they were joining the climate protests to demand curriculum reform. Had Jona heard the news?
“No, I hadn’t – that’s absolutely amazing. For me at King’s climate change is taught as part of geography and part of science and that’s it apart from occasional assemblies. I’m working in my school to make climate change visible to every student. Our most powerful tool is education. We’re growing up, making decisions, choosing our own lifestyles and there’s this massive issue out there – affecting the entire future of our generation – and that can have a massive effect. And it could be integrated, for instance through the installation of solar panels. You could have the students monitor them, students then learn how things are set up then, in the future, they’ll remember that and think: ‘This is how it should be’.”
If that sounds like Jona would turn school into a giant low-carbon lab, maybe that’s not so far-fetched.
“My belief on how to change the curriculum would be more, it would be integrated throughout the school day. So we’d be able to say: ‘We saved x tons of CO2 this week’. School subjects can be seen as boring, that’s not correct obviously but we can make it more interesting and that can contribute to the curriculum.”
And maybe schools could be monitored for the energy they use – like an Ofsted for the environment?
“Yes I completely agree that should be the case, so it could be just not wasting paper, not handing students things they use only once, teaching students by example about the things hurting the environment, and later in life they will make the right choices. The curriculum is important but integration with everyday life is definitely what is needed.”
Jona is full of praise for his school, where his teacher would come in at 8am to help him catch up. Equally, they must be pleased for him too.
Marie-Claire says how proud she is of his work with UNESCO – the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, where Jona’s work appears under its ‘Voice of Future Generations’ imprint. Indeed, he met the UN Secretary-General – at that point Ban Ki Moon – at one event.
“He said this is the last generation that can do something about climate change. We’ve got a lot of work to do and we’ve got to get on with it.”