Earth Day turns 50 this week, and what began with 20 million Americans taking to the streets to demand better stewardship of our planet has evolved into a one billion-person-strong global day of action.
It will happen virtually this year, but it’s still a great day to celebrate with kids –most have a deep, intuitive reverence for the wonders of nature and the creatures who live among us. Take them birding, plant seeds, make a poster for your window, or just read one of this month’s book recommendations. All can deepen a child’s understanding of what’s happening to our environment while empowering them (and us) to take action, at every age.
Todd Parr’s sweet, friendly book hits just the right notes for littles, playing up all the reasons to love this big, blue marble we all share. Great for unpacking vocabulary and concepts, like recycling and conservation, each page is an ode to why these things are important. Don’t miss the last page – Ten Ways Kids Can Help the Earth – which reinforces key concepts while keeping it playful, with suggestions like putting your underwear in the freezer when it’s hot.
Also Great: Heal the Earth, On Meadowview Street, The Curious Garden, I Want to Go Green, Mrs. Rumphius
With lush illustrations and an impeccably light touch on the dangers of climate change, Greta and the Giants is gentle enough for any age and helps kids understand that they can take a stand and make a difference. Check the back of the book which expands on Greta’s story for older readers and has tips and resources for taking action to the next level.
Also Great: Arthur Turns Green, The Berenstein Bears: Don’t Pollute, The Earth Book, I Can Reduce Waste, We Are Extremely Very Good Recyclers
While the facts about plastic use and abuse are laid out in an easily digestible format, the real genius in the book comes from its ability to gently show kids that their choices matter and that taking a stand can be done without hurting the feelings of others.
Also Great: The Lorax, Ada’s Violin, My Wounded Island, The Lonely Polar Bear, It’s Getting Hot in Here, Magic Schoolbus and the Climate Challenge, Kate Who Tamed the Wind, The Water Princess
The Who Was? non-fiction series expanded a while back to include Who Is, What Is and Where Is, all of them great to read aloud together.
What Is Climate Change? takes a no nonsense approach, putting the climate issue into an easily graspable historical context while promoting steps to mitigate warming.
Who Was Rachel Carson? takes kids deep into the history and struggles of the woman who launched the modern environmental movement.
Where Is Antarctica? helps kids to understand that what’s happening at the pole affects far more than just the 200+ species who live there. Simple and clear, the books draw readers in with illustrations and a compelling story and follows up with the facts, science and timelines that help kids understand the hows and whys of the world we share.
Also Great: Don’t Let Them Disappear, Start Now, I Survived: Hurricane Katrina, Rachel Carson and Her Book that Changed the World
Fifth grade is a great time to start to help kids understand that they can be part of the solution to climate change in a wider, more public context. Heroes highlights kids who are successfully leveraging business and political solutions to make a difference in ways that are sure to inspire.
Also Great: Bob, The Last Wild, You are Eating Plastic, It’s Your World, Inside Out and Back Again, Our House Is On Fire
Middle School & Beyond: No One is Too Small to Make a Difference
Seventeen-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg is known for her ability to utter sentences that stop people in their tracks. Here’s a favorite: “You wouldn’t think about buying and building your way out of a crisis that was caused by buying and building things.”
This collection of young Ms. Thunberg’s speeches, from January 2018 to January 2019, helped catapult her onto the front pages of newspapers everywhere. As you read through the collection, it becomes clear that what she is demanding goes far beyond a revolution – it’s a call for rewiring the circuitry of our civilization.
Whether or not you believe in her prescription for migrating to a circular economy, rewilding nature and a just transition, it’s a powerful read for anyone interested in climate change, activism and thought leadership. The book pulls no punches, and the message is better suited to middle and high schoolers and adults, but it’s not without hope.
In her words: “The climate crisis has already been solved. We already have all the facts and solutions. All we have to do is wake up and change.”