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Environmental Sustainability

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Environmental Sustainability Booklist

Caring for our planet and protecting the environment are important topics for today’s children to explore. In the face of difficult news about climate change, plastic pollution and deforestation, books about the environment can be a great tool for empowering children to understand their choices and to find hope in making a positive impact on our planet. For this community booklist, we asked our community of primary teachers, TAs, children’s authors, librarians and book lovers to nominate their top recommended texts that explore the topic of caring for the environment. From planting trees and recycling waste to eco-campaigns and the work of activists, our list of the best children’s books about the environment is here to help.

Picturebooks about caring for the environment

Simon James
Picturebook

The story of Emily’s whale in ‘Dear Greenpeace’ (Simon James) seems especially poignant these days when our household rubbish pollutes the oceans. A great story to get little ones thinking about caring for the planet.

Dr. Seuss
Graphic Novel

Dr Seuss’ The Lorax absolutely enthralled my year 2 class and we had some brilliant discussions about the polluted environment that the boy lives in and why it came about. Even though it was written decades ago, the themes are still important today. The destruction of the trees, the impact on the habitats of the animals living there and the pollution from the factory the Once-ler built are huge talking points about the need for industry – but at what cost? The way that Seuss wrote, although not to everyone’s liking, added to my class’ enjoyment.

Mini Grey
Picturebook

A twist on the traditional Little Red Riding Hood story with a clear message about environmental sustainability. When Little Red is invited in for tea at the Last Wolf’s house, which also happens to be the home of the Last Lynx and the Last Bear, she soon comes to empathise with her new friends as she learns how the destruction of their natural habitat is the cause of the endangering of a number of wonderful forest species. After she is chaperoned home, Little Red sets about to make a plan to help restore some of the damage and learns how to plant new trees to repopulate the forest for the future. Humorously detailed illustrations, timely themes and a link to traditional tales make this a great book for the whole school to get their teeth into.

Victoria Turnbull
Picturebook

A story of hope and regeneration. Pandora lives alone, in a world of broken things. No one ever comes to visit, so she spends her time gathering and mending what she can. But when a bird falls from the sky, slowly her world begins to change…Stunning misty artwork framed with sadness but filled with hope as from the debris through love and care the world is transformed.

Jeannie Baker
Picturebook

Window is another wonderful, elegantly illustrated and thought-provoking story by Jeannie Baker. Completely wordless, the lives of both a family and the world around them are played out over the course of a lifetime through one window in the house. Window plays like a history of the modern world and the mass concrete expansion that has transformed many parts of the world over the past century. As we watch the world evolve through this one window, we can’t help but question and debate the effects of overpopulation, humans’ increasing encroachment into countryside habitats and our wider effects on the environment as a whole.

Baker’s postscript to this beautiful, wordless picture book states how she, “…set out to tell the complicated issue of how we are changing the environment without even noticing it. This change is hard to see from day to day but it is nevertheless happening and happening fast.” Each of the dozen or so double pages of the book show the view from the same bedroom window as the years go by and the boy who lives there grows up into a man. Baker’s unusual collage images are made using a range of materials, giving the pictures an intriguing appeal. The countryside becomes a village, a town and finally a city — there are multiple talking points on every page as humans impact the landscape and its wildlife. A great book to discuss the environment and pore over with any primary school children. Baker explains, “By opening a window in our minds, by understanding how change takes place and by changing the way we personally affect the environment, we can make a difference.”


Jeanette Winter
Graphic Novel

This beautiful and factual picture book about Wangari Maathai is inspiring and full of hope. The devastating impact of deforestation is made starkly clear but it is counterbalanced by the actions taken by first Wangari Maathai and then more and more women until millions of trees had been planted and healing began. Children I have shared this story with have asked probing questions and wanted to find out more: How long did it take the trees to grow? How long before the earth recovered? Maathai was the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for her work and classes may enjoy this two-minute video clip where she tells, herself, the story of the tiny hummingbird who does her best to make a difference. This book could also be useful for Black History Month and International Women’s Day.

Oliver Jeffers
Picturebook

It’s not hard to move children to understand the sadness of us, as a species, destroying the very planet that sustains us. But in the ways we expose them to it, it is understandable if children think that this destruction is perpetrated by ‘bad grown-ups’. This book by Oliver Jeffers introduces in a gentle, relatable way, how sustainability is linked to personal behaviour, even on a childish level. On the very first page we find the word ‘owned’, and by the end understand how ludicrous to think that we can ever own nature, as represented by the gloriously impervious Moose. A great text for classes from Reception to Year 6.

Emily Gravett
Picturebook

Tidy is another amazing book by Emily Gravett. It is a simple story about how we can impact on our surroundings and why caring for our environment is vital. Gorgeous, engaging and delivering a powerful message…what more does a book need to be?

The story is well written, the rhyme works perfectly and the structure changes throughout. The message is also a very important one, introducing children to important ideas about habitat loss and preservation of the environment. It is done without being preachy and also shows children that there is always the possibility of making a positive change and fixing mistakes!

Oliver Jeffers
Picturebook

Many people and creatures lived in the forest, sharing its sanctuary. But they began to notice that something was not quite right. Branches were being cut off. So they set out to investigate. Eventually, they discovered Bear as the culprit. He was so determined to win a paper airplane competition and, needing more paper, he used the wood for the paper to practice. The forest community was not entirely without sympathy, but the chopping of trees had to stop and something done to make up for it. After the Bear started planting new trees to replace the old, his new friends perfected the optimum paper plane to enable him to win the competition and all was well. Oliver Jeffers’ simple, effective drawings portray expression on all his characters with just a few strokes of his pen yet add so much to the message of the book.

Jeannie Baker
Picturebook

Where the Forest Meets the Sea is a hauntingly beautiful picture book that forces the reader to consider what is really lost when humans build upon previously untouched landscapes. The story follows a boy and his grandad as they explore a largely untouched wet-tropical rainforest that meets the sea. The pictures contain hidden images depicting past inhabitants, teaching the reader how the forest has supported life beyond just the modern snapshot. The question mark that hangs over this beautiful landscape is saved for the very last image. As a reader, this book manages to make me feel innocent and guilty at the same time and, in a very accessible way, forces the reader to consider the natural environment and how it should be protected and not just for the sake of the future, but for the sake of the past.

If you are looking for a book to stimulate discussion and debate about the effects human beings can have on the natural world, this is the one for you. The illustrations are so incredibly detailed (there is also a big book edition available on Amazon that is perfect for detail-spotting) that you might be forgiven for thinking that some of them are photographs. The book has won multiple awards and is sparking deep consideration of the past, present and future of the rainforest.


Lynne Cherry
Picturebook

The Ancient Maya believed that the Kapok tree was sacred. Although this story does not directly mention the Maya, it centres around the fate of a Kapok tree in the Amazon rainforest and for this reason many teachers use this popular text alongside their Maya topic. This is a colourful and engaging picture book that captures the spirit of the rainforest through its beautifully detailed illustrations. It has a simple story line that is accessible to less confident readers but a strong message about deforestation and enough depth to captivate older readers too. Check out the accompanying unit of work from KS2History.

Emily Haworth-Booth
Picturebook

The Last Tree is an eco-fable for our times, with themes of nature, conserving trees, community and listening to the voices of the young. “Once upon a time, a group of friends were looking for a place to live” – they find a tree, then a forest and make a happy community. However, what begins as building a few cabins and a fire to warm themselves, gradually develops into an insatiable use of all the wood and the construction of a high fence to keep out the wind. Only one last tree remains. The children of each family are told to go and cut it down for their family, quickly, before the neighbours do. But here the children rebel, and we end on an uplifting note of hope for the future, as the fence is dismantled and a new forest planted. Printed on recycled paper and with pictures in soft pencil shading and muted colours, the look of the book suits the important message of the tale. The Last Tree could be useful with all primary age groups, for example in assembly, as the message is accessible to KS1 while leaving room for discussion and debate in KS2.

Shaun Tan
Picturebook

The Rabbits by John Marsden and Shaun Tan is a brilliant book that deals with the theme of colonisation and its impact on the environment (amongst other things). It’s a deceptive book, luring you in with its intriguingly bizarre and beautiful illustrations by Shaun Tan only to bop you over the head with a stark and thought-provoking warning. A great book for all ages that will spark discussion and debate but can also be read and enjoyed with younger children without becoming too frightening for them. A book I return to over and over again.

Charles Fuge
Picturebook

The Terrible Greedy Fossifoo is a wonderful picture book and one of my favourites to share with a group of children. They love and really engage with the main character- the Fossifoo who, in his enthusiasm, doesn’t realise how destructive his actions are; not until it’s too late that is. The colourful illustrations brilliantly support the strong environmental message as well as PSHE and is ideal for KS1 and lower KS2.

Jeannie Baker
Picturebook

Belonging is a wordless picture book created by Jeannie Baker in her distinctive collage style. The story is told through a series of suburban scenes viewed through a window and starts with the birth of a baby girl following her life up to the birth of her own child. Gradually we watch the re-greening of the landscape and the growth of community spirit as people come together to improve their surroundings. A book to be read on several levels but one that creates a hopeful feel, encouraging readers to think about how they can create a similar improvement in their own environment.


Timothy Basil Ering
Picturebook

Frog Belly Rat Bone is set in dull, grey, Cementland; a drab place filled with rubbish and piles of junk. Amongst all the detritus a young boy is in search of treasure and sure enough finds it – in the form of colourful packets of seeds. Although disappointed with the contents of the packets he sows them and builds a scarecrow to protect the plants – the titular Frog Belly Rat Bone. The boy brings to life the scarecrow, who encourages the boy in his endeavours to transform Cementland into a wondrous place. Reminiscent of The Tin Forest, this is a joyous take on the topic of environment and sustainability.

Sandra Dieckmann
Picturebook

Leaf is a truly exceptional picture book. In very few words, Sandra Dieckmann is able to delicately touch upon several global issues. The story revolves around a polar bear who floats on an iceberg unwillingly (and unnaturally) to an island where he is not welcome by the inhabitants. The words tell half of the story, with, ‘the strange white creature carried upon the dark waves towards the shore.’ However, the illustrations manage to portray the significance of the situation, with the polar bear staring face down into the abyss as he floats further away from his natural home. The story doesn’t spell out why the polar bear is floating away from his home, but the message is poignant and delicately hits all of the right environmental notes. As a classroom practitioner, books like this are priceless as they open up conversations that may otherwise be too awkward or taboo.

Simon James
Picturebook
Sally finds a limpet when she is exploring rock pools at the beach. When the limpet attaches itself to Sally's finger, she and her friends simply can't find a way to unstick it. This is a humorous story with an important message about leaving things in their natural environments.
Richard Platt
 & Rupert van Wyk
Picturebook

This is a thought-provoking book that challenges views on cutting down the rainforest. It tells the story of the Yanomami tribe and their views on the ‘nabe’ – white people – who come into the rainforest for different reasons. At first, the white people are perceived as the enemy, and they are only there to cut down trees and make money. As the story progresses, Jane, the scientist, is introduced and we learn how she wants to understand more about the rainforest and she is only there to help protect it. ‘The Vanishing Rainforest’ poses many questions about what is morally right about deforestation. The beautiful illustrations help to engage and encourage readers into understanding and discussing the issue.

Graeme Base
Picturebook

When it comes to environmental sustainability, Uno’s Garden by Graeme Base not only tells us about it, but shows us in no uncertain terms. Through stunning illustrations, this picture book demonstrates the exponential impact of unchecked urbanisation, before restoring a more balanced equation. This is a book that plants the seeds of environmentalism for the youngest of readers, but it’s not only for the toddler set. In fact, any age group will dig it. It also doubles as a great resource for mathematical concepts and sparks the imagination with made-up plants, animals and buildings.


Duncan Beedie
Picturebook

Jim Hickory lived in a little log cabin by a forest. Every day started the same – limbering up, hearty breakfast and then chop-choppety-chop! TIMBER! Then he headed back to his cabin. As Jim chopped down more and more trees, more and more animals came to live in his beard. The bird was soon joined by a porcupine and a beaver. After a particularly bad night’s sleep, Jim comes up with a plan which would make everyone happy. A fun picture book with an important environmental message about living sustainably and personal accountability. Jam-packed full of fantastic vocabulary, giggles and big bristly beards! Highly recommended.

Longer books about caring for the environment

Horatio Clare
Chapter book

Aubrey and the Terrible Ladybirds is the second thrilling anthropomorphic adventure in a trilogy by Horatio Clare. Aubrey is shrunk to the size of an earwig and travels on the back of a swallow to learn about ‘The Great Hunger’. He discovers that pesticides and intensive farming methods are having a detrimental effect on the wildlife of Europe. This may seem like a strange premise for a children’s novel, but it’s not the main theme and Branford Boase winner Clare has a deft touch; he’s an incredibly witty and wise storyteller. There are other themes at work in this rich and fantastic story – immigration, tolerance and respect; but ultimately this is a novel about the universal truths of love, compassion and kindness – to each other, the environment and animals.

Zillah Bethell
Chapter book

A wonderfully gripping story set in a dystopian future where the rain has dried up, the world is at war over its water supply and everybody is permanently thirsty and unclean. Auden Dare is an eleven-year-old boy who has a rare condition that means he is unable to see colour. Auden moves to Cambridge after his mother inherits a bungalow belonging to Uncle Jonah, a professor who recently died under sudden and mysterious circumstances. One day Auden and his new friend Vivi Rookmini discover a fascinating robot called Paragon in his uncle’s shed. Soon the pair, together with the very clever and human-like Paragon, find themselves caught up in an investigation about Uncle Jonah’s work and his mysterious death, leading Auden to gradually reveal his own true colours as he inadvertently becomes involved in the complicated ethics of managing global water shortages. Zillah Bethell’s storytelling is wonderfully enigmatic and gripping throughout, leaving the reader hanging on to every word. I highly recommend this outstanding novel for upper KS2.

Wendy Cooling
 & Piet Grobler
Poetry

All the Wild Wonders, an imaginative selection made by Wendy Cooling, includes poems from a rich diversity of writers around the world, including China, Turkey and the Caribbean as well as traditional writers such as Blake, Milton and Tennyson. The title of the anthology is borrowed from a poem by Elizabeth Honey from Australia which uses lists and repetitions to conjure up the wonders of nature and the ‘much work to do’ to save them. There’s also an alphabet for the planet by Lebanese/English poet, Riad Nourallah. Other works are more philosophical like We’re Going to See the Rabbit by Alan Brownjohn or For Forest by Grace Nichols and can be used to spark debate and discussion. Yet others, like Snaggers Pond by Wes Magee, are more of a call to direct action: his description of the successful rejuvenation of a local pond is both hopeful and would fit in well with any community activity like a litter pick. It really is a treasure trove which can help broaden children’s horizons, develop their language and encourage critical thinking all at once.

Francesca Armour-Chelu
Chapter book

Fenn Halflin lives in a world that has been ravaged by floods, where only the elite are allowed to live on the shrinking land that is ruled by the Terra Firma. His adopted grandfather keeps him hidden in a remote location for years until one night he realises that danger is coming and sends Fenn off on a ship that dumps him on the Shanties – a lawless community in the middle of the ocean. A great start to this adventure series, dystopia for younger children with a subtle message about caring for the environment before it’s too late.

Ragnhild Scamell
Picturebook

Jed’s mission started off simply – to write a poem about trees. But Jed’s desire to help the environment spread beyond the message in the poem, prompting the Mayor to improve his carbon rating, more people to re-use paper, recycling of wood and everyone to be much more aware of their environment and their responsibility towards it. What more can you ask for? This easy read could be any child’s typical day to demonstrate just how easy it is to help save our environment by recycling all materials. In the Flying Foxes series, this book is aimed at emerging readers, so the text is short and to the point and the illustrations engaging as well as being a Really Useful Book.


Robert Macfarlane
 & Jackie Morris
Poetry

The Lost Words is a collaboration between Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris, seeking to ‘summon what has vanished’ and celebrate a host of disappearing words relating to the natural world. This is a poetry book about preservation – of nature, of language and of childhood – and the beautifully illustrated over-sized hardback volume is in itself a book to preserve and treasure. Inside the book, readers will find acrostic ‘poem-spells’, with each one intending to preserve a nature word that has disappeared from the dictionary as well as to evoke the unique sounds, sensations and moods associated with the experiences of encountering wildlife firsthand.

Inspired by the removal of a number of nature words from children’s dictionaries while the same plants and animals are in very real decline, this magnificent book will please children and adults alike. Each word is accompanied by a breathtaking illustration and poem (or ‘spell’ – the authors encourage you to sing them). Children with an interest in the natural world will discover new words along the way.

Gill Lewis
Chapter book

Sky Dancer is a fabulous read – an emotionally gripping, totally uplifting, captivating story with an important environmental theme. The novel deals with the pressing issue of decreasing numbers of hen harriers. This is largely due to the ‘management’ of estates and moors to preserve the numbers of grouse for the shooting season. Lewis deals with the issue fairly, without preaching, and both sides of the argument have convincing vehicles in the believable characters of the village of Hartstone. The novel provides plenty of opportunities for pupils to engage with the ongoing UK debate and to research the passions of both sides. Sky Dancer, as you might expect from one of the UK’s leading novelists, is a confident and convincingly told story – with plenty for classes to admire beyond the key storyline. The writing has a classic feel with authentic and gritty characters with whom we can easily empathise. Ultimately Lewis has created a story about finding yourself, your voice and having the courage to speak out.

Iris Volant
 & Cynthia Alonso
Non-fiction

A beautifully presented hardback book that tells stories about lots of different trees – from the legend of the Major Oak in Sherwood Forest, to the olive trees of Greece and the blossom in Japan – as well as giving factual information about seasonality, average height and where in the world they grow. A fascinating read for all ages, with brilliant and vibrant illustrations throughout. The book explores the importance of trees historically and culturally, and would encourage discussion around their importance with future generations

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