The 5 best new children’s books about the environment – Advice Eating

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Whenever my four-year-old daughter Josephine and I visit a library, she runs right past the children’s non-fiction section—packed with information about animals, ecosystems, and environmental issues—and makes her way to the storybooks. Like most people, her brain is programmed to learn through stories, and her favorite pastimes are talking animals, battles between good and evil, and kids like her going on adventures.

I love how these books stimulate their imaginations. But as an environmental journalist, I also appreciate those who teach Josephine to be a good steward of the earth. Luckily, a lot of new children’s literature weaves exciting storytelling and beautiful illustrations to introduce four to eight year olds to tough issues like climate change, pollution and deforestation. Most importantly, these books also give children a sense of agency and hope so they don’t feel powerless. Here are some of our favourites.

Wombat Underground: A Wildfire Survival Storywritten by Sarah L. Thomson, illustrated by Charles santoso

(Photo: Courtesy of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)

Living in the fire-prone American West, Josephine is already familiar with wildfires and wildfire smoke, and she becomes curious about how animals withstand threats that force people out of our homes. Wombat underground Set in Australia, it follows how a variety of creatures survived the country’s devastating 2019-20 wildfire season by taking refuge in underground wombat burrows. With a healthy dose of drama and danger, and explanations at the end of the book about fires and Australian wildlife, this story presents a real-world example of how communities, both wild and human, are more resilient when they work together.

We are water protectorswritten by Carole Lindstrom, illustrated by Michaela Goade

We Are Water Protectors cover
(Photo: Courtesy of Roaring Brook Press)

Author Carole Lindstrom, who is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe, and illustrator Michaela Goade, a member of the Tlingit and Haida tribes, won the prestigious Caldecott Medal last year We are water protectors. The book follows a young girl who learns of a prophecy that a “black serpent” will one day threaten the water, animals, and lands of her people. When this snake arrives in the form of an oil pipeline, the girl must join her community to fight for “those who cannot fight for themselves: the winged, the creeping, the four-legged, the two-legged, the plants, trees, rivers , lakes.”

The story was inspired by the Standing Rock protests and other indigenous-led resistance actions, and its poetic language and brilliant illustrations make this book applicable to all communities committed to protecting their homeland.

Better Than New: A Recycling Storywritten by Robert Broder, illustrated by Lake Buckley

Better than new: A Recycle Tale cover
(Photo: Courtesy of Patagonia)

Better than new published by Patagonia in Spanish and English, follows two children from a small fishing village in Chile rescuing a sea lion that has become entangled in an abandoned fishing net. The two children, Isidora and Julian, retrieve the net from the sea and take it to a local recycling center where it is made into new clothes to play on the beach.

Recycling can be a difficult concept for young children, so I appreciate how this book clearly shows how harmful junk can be turned into something useful. It inspired a change in behavior in our family, from making sure we toss cans in the recycling bin to turning leftover food into compost for our garden. While I applaud Patagonia’s mission to help the environment with its business, this book — which coincides with the release of infant and toddler-sized quick-drying shorts made from reclaimed fishing nets — also feels like an advertisement.

The keeper of wild wordswritten by Brooke Smith, illustrated by Madeline Kloepper

The Keeper of the Wild Words cover
(Photo: Courtesy of Chronicle Books)

This story tells of a grandmother and granddaughter searching for words that are on the verge of disappearing from the English language. (wren, buttercup, Minnow, and monarch were recently dropped from the Oxford Junior Dictionary to make room for words like Database and voicemail.) The only way to prevent wild words from being lost is to use them, explains the grandmother and takes her granddaughter on a hunt through meadows, forests and fields to look for them.

I love this story arc The keeper of wild words is a journey and that it so fluently inspires children and carers to seek and learn the language of nature itself. After reading it, Josephine and I went to our neighborhoods to look for sage and scrub jays, piñons, and ponderosas. Saying the words out loud felt like a way to pay attention to the world around us — and paying attention, as we learned from the book, is the best way to ensure nothing is lost.

Zonia’s rainforestWritten and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal

Zonia's Rainforest cover
(Photo: Courtesy of Candlewick)

Zonia is an indigenous Asháninka girl living in the Peruvian Amazon who is fascinated by the creatures she shares her world with. One day she encounters a deforested forest and realizes that the rainforest needs people like her to protect it. As in We are water protectors, this book shows that the people who know a place best are best placed to defend it from malicious and ignorant outsiders – and have the autonomy to do so. With vivid illustrations printed on locally produced banana bark paper, as well as supporting information and an Asháninka language translation at the end, Zonia’s rainforest offers curious children a window into a different way of life.

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