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Environmental Sustainability

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Best children’s books about the environment

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 books about 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 habitat destruction and deforestation

Mini Grey

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.

Catherine Emmett
 & Ben Mantle

I’m going to have to include ‘King of the Swamp’ here as McDarkly would be so upset if he wasn’t included and he holds such a special place in my heart!
McDarkly lives quietly all on his own, growing orchids in his dank, stinky swamp, until one day his peace is disturbed by the arrogant king who wants to turn the swamp into a roller-skate park! McDarkly has ten days to prove that the swamp isn’t damp and dark, but an enchanted world. Can he do it, or will he risk losing his home forever? A unique story about finding beauty in unexpected places.

Catherine Ward
 & Karin Littlewood

‘The Emerald Forest’ is a gorgeous and moving picture book bringing to life the plight of orangutans on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. The story, written by Catherine Ward, is written in prose but its language is poetic and has a lovely rhythm to it, making it perfect for reading aloud. Karin Littlewood’s illustrations are stunning, and the size of the pages and the scope of the pictures, bursting with the greenery and light of the Indonesian forest, create an immersive experience. In one illustration, it feels as if orangutan is looking right at you. Because of this, the experience of the orangutans as their habitat comes under attack is felt on an emotional level too. The plight of the orangutans is unsettling, but the message overall is one of hope, as the orangutans are rescued and rehomed in the story. The book encourages the reader to look towards a future where the forests of Sumatra might recover if people play a part in protecting them. This stunning picturebook would be invaluable for use in a class topic on the use of palm oil, or more generally in talking about the impact of human activity – for better and for worse – on the environment.

Emily Haworth-Booth

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.

Richard Platt
 & Rupert van Wyk

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.

Duncan Beedie

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.

Becky Davies
 & Jennie Poh

It’s time for Little Turtle to leave the nest and venture out into the vast, beautiful ocean. As she grows, so does her love of her new surroundings as she swims further and journeys to the other side of the world, and back. On her return, Little Turtle realises that she does not recognise the ocean she loves. Something has changed and not for the better. Where are the other creatures? Why are they silent?

Oliver Jeffers

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.

James Sellick
 & Frann Preston-Gannon
A stunning picture book about one little girl and her orangutan friend, based on the Greenpeace film that became a viral sensation. When a little girl discovers a mischievous orangutan on the loose in her bedroom, she can't understand why it keeps shouting OOO! at her shampoo and her chocolate. But when Rang-tan explains that there are humans running wild in her rainforest, burning down trees so they can grow palm oil to put in products, the little girl knows what she has to do: help save the orangutans! Extra pages at the back include information about orangutans and palm oil plus exciting ideas about how young readers can make a difference.

Picturebooks about making positive changes and caring for the environment

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.

Emily Gravett

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

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.

Nathan Bryon
 & Dapo Adeola
Join Rocket as she sets sail on a brand new mission - to save a Caribbean beach from plastic pollution! When Rocket goes on holiday to visit her grandparents, she's shocked by the pollution that's spoiling their island home and putting the local sea life at risk. Can she think of a way to save the day and bring the community together?
Victoria Turnbull

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.

Miranda Paul
A picture book telling the true story of how one woman in Africa began a movement to recycle the plastic bags that were polluting her community. In Isatou Ceesay's village was becoming cluttered up with discarded plastic bags, causing problems for animals (who choke on them) and attracting disease-bearing insects. Determined to bring about positive change, Isatou finds a way to put the bags to a new use. A highly recommended picture book to use across the whole primary age range.
Helen Mortimer & Katie Cottle
A spring-infused delight of a story, where two children rally the whole community in creating a bee corridor to help encourage local wildlife, while celebrating their cultural diversity and customs. As with any good picture book, there are so many layers to this book. The main theme throughout is that of sustainability. The children of Class One encourage the members of their community to plant wild flowers in order to boost the numbers of bees in the area. They help deliver envelopes of seeds to all the houses between the school and park. This book helps children understand how vital bees are in order to pollinate and provide food. It will inspire children to think about how they can create bee corridors in their local community too. Katie Cottle's illustrations bring another layer of vibrancy to the story. They radiate warmth and joy. There are also other aspects of story that can be explored, such as developing friendship, cultural identity and LGBTQ+ representation. When Omar brings honey cake to Show and Tell and explains that his grandpa used to keep bees ‘a long way away' among the ‘apricot trees and jasmine bushes', it sparks the idea of creating a bee corridor - but, more than that, it brings an opportunity for Maisie and Omar to connect and build a friendship. It also gives Omar - the new child in the class - a chance to show his Syrian heritage as well as an opportunity for their teacher Mr Ellory-Jones and his husband to help to deliver the envelopes of seeds with the class in a true community project. The end pages are gorgeous and filled with essential bee facts and a recipe for a delicious honey cake. This book is perfect for all children to explore and a great starting point for so much learning.

Children's books about climate action and activism

Simon James

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.

Zoë Tucker
 & Zoe Persico
Greta and the Giants is a new picture book containing a fictionalised forest story inspired by Greta Thunberg, the Nobel Prize nominee who has stirred people to action worldwide through the youth climate movement. The book itself is printed on 100% recycled paper and with every purchase a donation is made to GreenpeaceUK. Greta is a young girl who lives in the forest. The forest is beautiful but is threatened by a group of giants, who chop down trees to make big houses and have extended their busy city until there is nearly no forest left. Greta realises that the forest may soon disappear but the unthinking giants are too busy to listen. When some of the forest animals approach Greta to ask for help in saving their home, she has an idea to make herself small. As a single voice, the lumbering giants will never take notice, but once other people and animals notice her peaceful protest and decide to join too, soon the giants begin to see their actions in a new light. The vibrantly illustrated story allegorises the spirit of Greta's real campaigns while putting it into words and pictures that are accessible to even the youngest of children. There is an additional section at the back of the book with information about the real Greta and some positive actions that everybody could take to make a difference to the environment.
Kate Pankhurst
Non-fiction Picturebook
From bestselling author and illustrator Kate Pankhurst, descendent of suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, comes another 'smart, informative, inclusive and accessible' book about trail-blazing women.Discover the untold stories of women who have helped protect our natural world, all the way through history.Bursting full of colourful illustrations and fascinating facts, Fantastically Great Women Who Saved the Planet is an inspiring introduction to just a few of the incredible women who show that all actions, big and small, can be powerful in the fight against climate breakdown.
Lily Dyu
 & Amy Blackwell
A stunning new and fully illustrated colour hardback edition of the timely and inspiring Earth Heroes - the ultimate gift for any aspiring climate activist. When faced with climate change, the biggest threat that our planet has ever confronted, it's easy to feel as if nothing you do can really make a difference... but this book proves that individual people can change the world. With twenty inspirational stories celebrating the pioneering work of a selection of Earth Heroes from all around the globe, from Greta Thunberg and David Attenborough to Yin Yuzhen and Isatou Ceesay, each tale is a beacon of hope in the fight for the future of our planet, proving that one person, no matter how small, can make a difference. Beautifully illustrated by Amy Blackwell, this updated new gift edition features amazing additions Felix Finkbeiner and Charles and Perrine Herve-Gruyer, as well as Amelia Telford, Andrew Turton and Pete Ceglinski, Bittu Sahgal, Chewang Norphel, David Attenborough, Doug Smith, Greta Thunberg, Isabel Soares, Isatou Ceesay, Marina Silva, Melati and Isabel Wijsen, Mohammed Rezwan, Renee King-Sonnen, Rok Rozman, Sheila Watt-Cloutier, William Kamkwamba, Yin Yuzhen and Yvon Chouinard.
Anita Ganeri
 & Margaux Carpentier
Non-fiction Picturebook

The Story of Chico Mendes is a story that is perfect for children in KS2 learning about rainforests, as well as inspirational figures who have changed the world for the better.

Chico Mendes is a hero that everyone should know about. Chico was a rubber tapper who stood up for his community and the importance of preserving the Amazon rainforest. Being an environmental activist, Chico worked tirelessly to help others and was recognised for his efforts by being awarded for his work towards protecting the rainforests by multiple countries. Tragically, Chico was murdered whilst working for this cause due to his efforts to support the rubber tappers, waking up the world to the plight of the rainforest destruction and protesting about the clearing of the forest.

Each page features beautiful coloured illustrations to support the text in each section. It is a recommendable book for use in sharing why it is important to protect the rainforests and also about highlighting the difference one person can make. There are plenty of interesting Amazon rainforest facts and a supporting glossary with technical language.

This is a special book to be shared with a class and an excellent addition to rainforest topic texts or classroom libraries.

Children's books about climate change

Chitra Soundar
 & Jen Khatun
Chapter book
Sona Sharma combats climate change. When Sona learns about the climate crisis at school and is very worried that no one is doing enough to combat it, she takes up the challenge herself. But Appa isn't amused when Sona throws out her baby sister's nappies and Thatha isn't happy when she tells him to get rid of his colour-coded plastic files. When Sona learns that many of the kolams - the traditional art that people draw in front of their homes to celebrate the winter months and the festival season - are not organic, she sets out to make some big changes by getting everyone involved.
Jeannie Baker

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.”

Neal Layton
Non-fiction Picturebook
You've probably heard about climate change. At least I hope you have - because it's REALLY IMPORTANT. It affects all of us living on Planet Earth right now, and everyone and everything that will live on our planet in the future.Our world is warming up, and it's a big problem. Award-winning author-illustrator Neal Layton is here to explain what climate change is, what's causing it and why it's dangerous for animals and humans alike. But he's also FULL of ideas for how you can help! From eating lots more veggies to walking and cycling and thinking carefully about what we need to buy, A Climate in Chaos will get young readers excited about how they can make a difference to keep Planet Earth happy.This brilliant non-fiction picture book, illustrated in Neal's trademark collage style, is perfect for readers aged 5-7 who love nature and want to help the environment.Also available in this series: A Planet Full of Plastic.
Catherine Barr & Steve Williams
 & Amy Husband & Mike Love
The Story of Climate Change introduces one of the most important issues facing our world today, and tells you what you can do to help make a change!Combining history with science, this book charts the changes in our Earth’s climate, from the beginnings of the planet and its atmosphere, to the Industrial revolution and the dawn of machinery. You'll learn all about the causes of climate change, such as factory farming and pollution, and the effects that climate change has on humans and animals across the world.As well as discovering the effects of global warming, you'll discover practical ways we can work together to solve it, from using renewable energy to swapping meat for vegetables in our diet.With fact-packed text by Catherine Barr and vibrant illustrations by Amy Husband and Mike Love, The Story of Climate Change will give you all the information you need, and will inspire you to do your part to fight the climate emergency!

Chapter books about environmental issues

Hannah Gold
 & Levi Pinfold
Chapter book
There are no polar bears left on Bear Island. At least, that's what April's father tells her when his scientific research takes them to this remote Arctic outpost for six months. But one endless summer night, April meets one. He is starving, lonely and a long way from home. Determined to save him, April begins the most important journey of her life...This moving story will win the hearts of children the world over and show them that no one is too young or insignificant to make a difference. The Last Bear is a celebration of the love between a child and an animal, a battle cry for our world and an irresistible adventure with a heart as big as a bear's.
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.

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.

Joanne O'Connell
Chapter book

Beauty and the Bin is a story about a young high school student named Laurie who finds herself torn between her family’s obsessions utilising food waste and living as ecologically as possible, being a good friend to those who understand her (although her family’s way of life is a closely guarded and embarrassing secret), and pleasing the most influential and popular girl at school who happens to have picked her out for her own benefit.

The book is primarily a tale about the pressures a young person feels as self-awareness, other people’s perception of you, and fitting in, becomes all-important. When she is caught by Charley, the most popular and prettiest girl, and the ‘influencer’ in school, rummaging through supermarket bins for perfectly good food, this is the lowest point in Laurie’s life. However, the ensuing conversation leads Charley to learn of Laurie’s ‘Beauty in the kitchen’ profile, where she promotes her natural skin-products she has made from fresh foods. These appear to be the perfect products to win the school’s enterprise competition and so Charley assumes Laurie’s co-operation and partnership, leaving Laurie to abandon her friends, who go it alone. A fortnight of compromising begins, all which places her on an uncomfortable and chaotic journey as she tries to keep pace with Charley and her manipulation, whilst losing out on her relationships with those that matter – her family and friends.

The main theme is eco-life style and food waste, but this story also offers an excellent example of how the influence and pressure of social media on young people can become more important than reality. Charley’s constant promotion of having the next big thing, including a yet-to-be made invention by Laurie, her use of intimidation in order to remain in control and maintain approval ratings, and her carefully crafted image, begins to take a toll on Laurie, as she realises that she has been taken advantage of and she has compromised her own ethics. What will it take for Laurie to be true to herself? The satisfying ending provides the answer and wraps up a good read, all with recipes for natural facial products for readers to try at the end of the book.

Nicola Penfold
Chapter book

Where the World turns Wild is a stunning and thought-provoking dystopian novel with a message for our times. The story follows two children who leave a protected, walled city to venture through the wild world beyond on a brave adventure. This is an ecological thriller with a powerful impact.

Marcus Sedgwick
Chapter book
A gripping, prizewinning novel about a girl surviving in a devastated world.Imagine that a few years from now England is covered by water, and Norwich is an island.Zoe, left behind in the confusion when her parents escaped, survives there as best she can. Alone and desperate among marauding gangs, she manages to dig a derelict boat out of the mud and gets away to Eels Island. But Eels Island, whose raggle-taggle inhabitants are dominated by the strange boy Dooby, is full of danger too.The belief that she will one day find her parents spurs Zoe on to a dramatic escape in a story of courage and determination that is handled with warmth and humanity.This book was the winner of the Branford Boase Award 2001 and marked the start of author Marcus Sedgwick's multi-award-winning career.

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