Make every day Earth Day. I’ve grown up hearing this and firmly believe it. If you know me at all, you know my passion for sustainability and protecting our one and only home. I am the person who carries around a collapsible container and silverware in my purse for the leftovers from pre-COVID meals out or to avoid plastic flatware and paper plates at a potluck. So, it goes without saying that April is a big month for me.
Combine my love of nature with my complete obsession with picture books and you’ve got a match made in heaven in my mind. Because conservation, natural resources, and science aren’t the topics that make everyone’s heart giddy, I wanted to share with you some of my favorite reads for April centered around caring for the earth and helping to cultivate a connection between humans and our environment. Drumroll, please… Here are my top 33 must-reads for Earth Day (and beyond)!
Earth Day/Green Action Specific Books:
1. The Earth Book by Todd Parr
I’ve loved Todd Parr since the day I found him. His colorful illustrations and playful, but important messages (who doesn’t need to hear that it is okay to eat macaroni and cheese in the bathtub?) are engaging for all. I love his letters to the reader at the end of each text as well. The Earth Book is no different and contains a multitude of ways that kids can make the earth feel good. Bonus? It is printed entirely with recycled materials and non-toxic soy inks. It is also available, read by Todd Parr with additional fun, on the author’s YouTube page.
2. Not for me, please! I choose to act green by Maria Godsey
In this story, readers follow a little boy on his discovery of the harm waste can cause and what he can do about it. I love a story that encourages children to take action – letting them know that they can make an impact. The storyline is enhanced by facts and statistics included on the pages that you can choose to explore at different levels of engagement. Additionally, the text ends with a reflections section to encourage discussion on the topics in the book!
Book 3. 10 Things I can do to Help My World by Melanie Walsh
Bright, simple design appeals to children and the simple text leaves the message blatantly clear to even the youngest of readers. These ten items are simple enough that most children will be able to act on them almost immediately and with little help from adults for many. While these ten actions may not be the biggest bang for your buck actions, it is a great place to start!
While reading all of these amazing books, let your students put into practice the information they are learning. We have updated our Earth Day Activities bundle to include more subjects and activities! Scavenger hunts, math activities, mini-books, science projects, and much much more can be found in this resource. (Already own it, just go into your account and redownload to get all of the NEW activities!)
4. Why Should I? Series by Jen Green
This series is great for informational text to support persuasive writing as well as for giving students a reason why we should take Earth-friendly actions. The series entails books about saving water, recycling, saving energy, and protecting nature. Each has a section at the end suggesting ways to most effectively use the books.
5. What a Waste: Trash, Recycling, and Protecting our Planet by Jess French
This text is all about how our actions affect the earth – what we eat, what we buy, how we entertain ourselves – and choices we can make to help the planet – it covers it all. This book would be too long to sit down and do a read-aloud of the entire book (it is 72 pages) but would be a great source of information on a specific topic regarding pollution, conservation, and sustainability.
Book 6. Planet Protectors Series – including Earth Day Every Day by Lisa Bullard
This series includes the above title and Choose to Reuse, Go Easy on Energy, Look Out for Litter, Power Up to Fight Pollution, Rally for Recycling, and Watch Over Our Water. The series follows Trina and Tyler through their exploration and actions regarding these aspects of helping the earth. They are shorter than the average picture book (coming in at 24 pages each). I love a series that covers multiple aspects of protecting the planet and this is one (although it doesn’t have the most amazing illustrations). I do appreciate the fact bubbles included for further discussion.
7. Fancy Nancy: Every Day is Earth Day by Jane O’Connor
Fancy Nancy isn’t my favorite character, but boy, do some of the kids love her. I’m including this one because it is something your students may be able to read for themselves (it is an I Can Read text) and does a good job of giving a brief overview. Fancy Nancy learns the rules for being green (fun catchy phrases like, “Less than a mile? Then bike in style!”) and shares them with her family as they try to make decisions that aren’t Earth-friendly.
8. Charlie and Lola: We Are Extremely Very Good Recyclers by Lauren Child
Recycling doesn’t solve all our problems, but it is important. In this book, Lola discovers what recycling is and finds a recycling competition with a prize of a tree to plant. She enlists the help of her class so they can win. This book is printed on FSC-approved paper and includes recycling tips as well. If you buy this book for yourself, you’ll also get a tree poster just like Lola’s to track your recycling projects!
Book 9. Rocket Says Clean Up! by Nathan Byron and Dapo Adeola
Spunky Rocket, her brother Jamal, and her mom are going on vacation to the islands to visit their grandparents. Rocket’s grammy is a rocking surfer and both she and her grampy share their love of helping animals and the changes they have seen – loss of wildlife, increase in plastic pollution, and more. Rocket can’t sit by and do nothing – she educates the other people at the beach on how they can help and gets them to help her take action. I love what they do with the collected trash at the end! It also includes a section at the end of what you can do to help.
10. Save the Earth Series by Bethany Stahl
Here’s another series that includes multiple aspects of conservation and sustainability, albeit not super in-depth discussions of said topics. Truth? I just discovered it. The physical books are great, but there are also animated audiobook versions available on Bethany Stahl’s (the author) YouTube Channel. The series might be my new favorite and includes phenomenal illustrations, lovely characters, and actions you can take after presenting the problem in a kid-friendly manner.
The series include: Save the Ocean (text, animated audiobook), Save the Arctic (text, animated audiobook), Save the Bees (text, animated audiobook), Save the Land (text, animated audiobook), Save the Scraps (text, animated audiobook), Save the Sharks (text, animated audiobook).
11. Sydney & Simon: Go Green! by Paul A. Reynolds
Paul and Peter Reynolds are one of my current favorites when it comes to children’s books. They just get it. This is an easy chapter book with short chapters that I used as a read-aloud for my students over multiple days. Sydney and Simon are twins who set out to reduce their waste once they learn about garbage getting into the ocean and harming sea life. They encourage others around them to reduce their environmental footprint as well.
Phenomenal Humans Protecting the Planet:
Book 12. We Are Water Protectors by Carol Lindstrom
This book. Phew. I am in love. You need this book in your life. This is my most must-read of the must-reads for Earth Day! It is a 2021 Caldecott Medal winner for illustrations and deservedly so, but the story is also powerful. We Are Water Protectors is written and illustrated by Indigenous women and beautifully tells the story of an Ojibwe girl fighting against the Dakota Access Pipeline (although if you weren’t aware of that fight, it could be applied to any oil threat to our water). I can’t say enough good about this one. The author and illustrator each include a personal message and additional information on the fight against the DAPL, as well as an Earth Steward and Water Protector Pledge.
13. Greta and the Giants by Zoë Tucker
Loosely telling the tale of Greta Thunberg, Swedish teen and Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Greta, and the Giants uses allegory to bring the topic of climate change to the young reader. In this book, Greta lives in a beautiful forest that is being threatened by Giants who don’t notice the negative effects their actions (cutting trees to build homes, which expand into polluting cities) are having on the forest around them. Greta and her forest friends take action. In the end, the author includes a section on how you can help Greta fight against climate change.
The text was printed sustainably in the U.S. on 100% recycled paper. This text is a 2021 Atlanta Public School Social and Emotional Learning Book of the Month and 2020 Green Earth Book Award Recommended Reading Book.
14. The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry
An oldie, but a goodie. This is my first memory of diving headfirst into the sustainability movement – spurred on by the fact that the rainforest is being decimated. Lynne Cherry has received numerous awards for this one. It tells the tale of a man, sent to chop down a giant kapok tree. He gets so tired trying to cut the tree that he sits down to rest and falls asleep. While he sleeps, he is visited by many of the forest’s inhabitants (including a local Indigenous child) whisper in his ear about the critical role of trees and how everything is interconnected.
Book 15. Roscoe and the Pelican Rescue by Lynne Rowe Reed
Roscoe and the Pelican Rescue is the story of a boy visiting his aunt, uncle, and favorite cousin for the summer on the Gulf Coast shortly after the Deepwater Horizon explosion (which isn’t referenced specifically until the end of the book). The boy and his cousin discover pelicans covered in oil and help to save as many as they can.
16. Wangari’s Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa by Jeanette Winter
Wangari Maathai (Nobel Peace Prize winner) is an incredibly inspiring human – for many reasons, but a big one is her creation of the Green Belt Movement and the role it played in helping create peace for Kenya. Wangari’s Trees of Peace is the story of her life and how she led the movement which has planted over 51 million trees in Kenya – having innumerable positive effects on the country and its people.
17. I am Jane Goodall (Ordinary People Change the World) by Brad Meltzer
If you need biographies, Brad Meltzer is my go-to author. His books are so great, PBS started a series (Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum) based on the Ordinary People Change the World series – be sure to check it out if you haven’t! I am Jane Goodall is a biography of one of the most known conservationists and is told in an engaging way for young children, with the characters as children themselves, telling their life story. As always, Meltzer focuses on a character trait the person exemplifies. A feature of the series, the text ends with an inspiring direct quote, a timeline of their life, photos, and a source list.
Planting, Gardening, and Composting:
Book 18. The Curious Garden by Peter Brown
I love this story for many reasons, but a big one is that it beautifully depicts the impact one person can have on the world. Another is the curiosity of Liam, the main character. One day, Liam discovers a few plants trying to grow on an abandoned railway. Even though Liam ‘may not have been a gardener,’ he gets to work caring for the plants. The garden expands in sneaky ways and eventually takes the drab city to a beautiful, lush environment anyone would love to explore!
19. Green Green: A Community Gardening Story by Marie Lamba and Baldev Lamba
Another story about gardening in the gray, drab city, Green Green shares how children can impact incorporating nature into a cityscape. Green spaces play documented important roles for humans and the children in this story inspire their community to band together and build a garden for all. I love that this helps children realize the impact they can have on the world around them, but also the power of grass-roots projects. It is a pretty quick read and has rhyming, rhythmic text, providing opportunities for further discussion.
20. Compost Stew: An A to Z Recipe for the Earth by Mary McKenna Siddals
Composting is such an easy step to take to reduce our waste and has the added bonus of producing lovely, rich garden soil! This rhyming, alphabet book gives students the basics of composting – from what you can add to the pile to a very basic version of what you need to do for the magic to happen.
Connect, Explore, Engage with Nature:
Book 21. Hike by Pete Oswald
This might be my second favorite of the must-reads for Earth Day
(but it is so hard to choose!). In this nearly wordless picture book, the illustrations are obviously key. I love a good wordless picture book for the opportunities it provides for rich conversation in class to tell the story and the opportunity for students to write their own words! We follow a father and child in this story as they wake in the morning, prep for, and then go for a hike in a beautiful landscape. They investigate, photograph, rock-climb, and do scary things, like crossing a downed tree across a river. When they reach their destination, high above, they plant a tree, and then we follow them home. I appreciate this for many reasons, but one of them being the fact that it depicts a diverse family in nature – something generally lacking from children’s literature.
22. The Hike by Alison Farrell
The Hike follows three (diverse) spunky girls (Wren, El, Hattie) and their dog Bean as they get ready and go for a hike. I love how the illustrations include names for the flora and fauna as well as the pages at the end from Wren’s sketchbook (nature journal) and the use of speech bubbles. The girls climb to the top of a hill/mountain, similar to Hike by Pete Oswald, and when they get there, they each take part in a specific action, achieving their goals.
23. Over and Under the Pond (and others in this series) by Kate Messner
This is my favorite series in the must-reads for Earth Day. The stories give you a peek into hidden worlds you and your students may never have seen. They are great for sparking curiosity and center on a variety of habitats and the flora and fauna within each. The interconnectedness of everything within that habitat is reinforced, using stunning images and the repetition of over and under (or up and down) to describe what is happening at your level, but also what is happening below – what is happening in that secret world right underneath you. Definitely check these out. Books in the series include the above title and Over and Under the Snow, Over and Under the Rainforest, Up in the Garden, and Down in the Dirt.
Book 24. A Stone Sat Still by Brendan Wenzel
This book is all about perspectives – it is just a rock…or is it? What are all the things a stone can be? It all depends on who or what you are. The simple text is paired with beautiful mixed-media illustrations and a closer look at the variety of wildlife that can interact with a stone on any given day and how they each view that very same rock through the passing of time.
25. Tiny, Perfect Things by M.H. Clark
This story follows a child and her grandfather as they take a walk around their neighborhood. They stop often to notice all the tiny, perfect things like a leaf or a spiderweb. It encourages a curiosity that so many seem to have lost these days – you just have to slow down and open your eyes to the beauty and wonder of the world.
26. Bee and Me by Alison Jay
This is a wordless picture book that I love for the reasons discussed earlier with wordless picture books. This one focuses on a girl who befriends a bee, the contributions bees make to our environment, and their detrimental decline. I love how the girl and the bee become friends. So many children are afraid of bees, as is the girl – at first. The world needs bees and the bee takes the girl on a beautiful adventure. This is also available in an animated audiobook version.
Our Plastics Problem:
Book 27. One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of Gambia by Miranda Paul
My students loved this book. It tells the true story of Isatou Ceesay and the women she enlists to help her solve the plastic bag problem in Gambia with a very creative solution – helping not only the planet (human, plant, and animal), but also the financial situation of the women. I love that it is a true story, once again, inspiring children that actions can be taken to help make the world a better place.
28. The Last Straw: Kids vs. Plastics by Susan Hood
The plastic problem is a huge issue in our world today, and it is not going away anytime soon. This relatively new (Feb 2021) book uses poetry to share the plastics problem and kids that are standing up and taking action against it. The poems are accompanied by facts and the text has extensive additional resources at the end including a timeline and further resources.
29. The Adventures of a Plastic Bottle: A Story About Recycling by Alison Inches
This book chronicles the life cycle of a plastic bottle – in cute, engaging diary entries – starting with the oil deep underground and ending with a fleece sweatshirt. While this story gives a great way to share how plastics are made with students, it is important to note that most plastics don’t actually get recycled (less than 9%), most of it ends up breaking down into smaller and smaller bits in our
waterways and oceans. Additionally, the plastics that are recycled are downcycled because plastic loses strength. I love the explanation of the process…but the ending isn’t very realistic (yes, synthetic fleece is made of bottles, but most don’t end up here).
Book 30. Kids vs. Plastic by Julie Beer
This book has all the qualities you know and love from National Geographic books. This would be great to pair with the previous book to learn about what really happens and why single-use plastics are such a problem. It offers the facts about plastics but also gives simple suggestions for sustainable alternatives as well as actions kids can take to reduce their plastic waste.
Our Earth and Climate Change:
31. It’s Earth Day! by Mercer Mayer
Mercer Mayer does it again with this kid-friendly climate change story, centered around helping the polar bears. Little Critter learns about climate change at school and begins a series of actions to help slow down global warming. While the ‘solution’ LC comes up with fails, Dad reminds him that he has made an impact by his other actions.
32. Earth! My First 4.54 Billion Years by Stacy McAnulty
The Earth itself shares with young readers all about itself in this highly engaging text. Earth has a witty personality and tells of her beginnings, about where she lives (space – including her siblings, the other planets), about her makeup, and who lives on her – including a timeline. The illustrations are top-notch and add much to the story. The author includes a letter to the reader, additional information, and sources at the end. I love this book (and this series)!
Book 33. DKfindout! Climate Change by DK
This is another of those that you wouldn’t want to sit down and read the entirety of it to your class, but it is a great resource for all things climate change in an accessible-for-kids format. From the climate change timeline and the science behind it to the ways we have caused it, the authors include a comprehensive look at the past and present of climate change. Current activism on the topic is shared as well as ways we can help to make a better future.
BONUS Read for ALL the Good Things:
National Geographic Young Explorer Magazine
So, this last one doesn’t fit the mold of the other must-reads for Earth Day, but it is SO good I couldn’t leave it out. Did you know that you can access National Geographic Young Explorer Magazine online for FREE? These magazines are available by grade level and are such an incredible resource. Plus, they have all the stunning photography you’d expect from a Nat Geo resource! It comes with a teacher’s guide each month (including graphic organizer printables), is projectable, available in Spanish, will read the text aloud to the reader (highlighting the text as it is read), and is easy to share with each student on their own device using a short URL or a QR code.
Whatever you decide to read this month, I encourage you to go outside with your students as much as possible (and to avoid falling into the doomsday trap where you only focus on how bad things are). Take your writer’s workshop outside for the day. Take a sensory walk and then write poetry about it. Do your reading on the lawn. And certainly, take some of your science and social studies outside. There are so many ways to integrate being outside into your curriculum. As an added bonus – being outside is safer and healthier right now! What are your must-reads for Earth Day? Share them below – I’m always looking to add to my library (just don’t tell anyone I’m buying MORE books…).
Written By: Kristin Halverson, NBCT
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