January 22



Global warming. Sustainability. Carbon footprint. Water scarcity. Terms rarely mentioned twenty years ago, now are being discussed with children on a regular basis. A 2021 survey conducted by The Week Junior and YouGov found that children born since 2010 list protecting the environment as their second most-pressing concern – right behind access to quality education.

With an eye toward books that enlighten rather than frighten, here are 10 books for young readers intent on saving the planet. The list starts with picture books and wraps up with five middle-grade titles:

The Boy Who Grew a Forest: The True Story of Jadav Payeng by Sophia Gholz, illustrated by Kayla Harren (Sleeping Bear Press, 2019).

Sometimes we need a reminder than even one small person can make a difference. This book is that reminder. Young Jadav Payeng was saddened by the deforestation on his island home in India’s Brahmaputra River. One tree at a time, he began planting. Over the years his efforts grew into a 1,300-acre forest, once again alive with plants and animals.

Our House Is on Fire: Greta Thunberg’s Call to Save the Planet by author/illustrator Jeanette Winter (Beach Lane Books, 2019).

There’s no one person who has done more to spark young peoples’ interest in the environment than teen activist Greta Thunberg. Winter’s emotional and empowering picture book includes this Thunberg quote: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic…I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.”

Saving American Beach: The Biography of African American Environmentalist MaVynee Betsch by Heidi Tyline King, illustrated by Ekua Holmes (Putnam2021).

MaVynee Betsch grew up to become a famous opera singer but she never lost her fondness for Florida’s American Beach. When developers began to build condos along this sandy stretch, MaVynee fought to save it and the history that went along with it. This beautifully illustrated book also addresses segregation in a way that’s relatable for young readers.

The Mess That We Made by Michelle Lord, illustrated by Julia Blattman (Flashlight Press, 2020)

This rhythmic read-aloud picture book helps young readers understand how trash affects marine plants, animals, and humans. The second half of the book of encourages kids to make changes that will help save our oceans. Back matter includes some terrific information about pollution and kid-friendly ways to help.

We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom, illustrated by Michaela Goade (Roaring Brook Press 2020).

This 2021 Caldecott Medal-winning picture book encourages young readers to stand up for environmental justice and to protect “those who cannot fight for themselves.” The beautifully illustrated story is “inspired by Indigenous led movements across North America” to protect the life-sustaining resource of water.

Bugs for Breakfast: How Eating Insects Could Help Save the Planet by Mary Boone (Chicago Review Press, 2021)

One out of every four people around the world eats insects on a regular basis – a practice called entomophagy. This middle-grade book balances science, sustainability, and history with a healthy dose of EWWWWWW. Along the way readers will learnthat insect-based diets are nutritious, sustainable, and delicious. Recipes and science fair ideas are included.

Bugs in Danger: Our Vanishing Bees, Butterflies, and Beetles by Mark Kurlansky, illustrated by Jia Liu (Bloomsbury, 2019).

Pollinators including honeybees, monarch butterflies, and ladybugs are responsible for the future of many flowering plants, from apple trees to cotton plants. Thanks to pesticides, habitat loss, and human activity, many of these pollinators are at risk. This book provides an overview of the problem and outlines steps readers can take to help stop the damage.

How to Save the Whole Stinkin’ Planet: A Garbological Adventure by Lee Constable, illustrated by James Hart (Puffin, 20019).

Readers become eco warriors as they work their way through this book, completing hands-on activities and experiments. Big information is relayed in bite-size, accessible ways as readers learn the impact household rubbish is having on the planet. This is a great book for families, classrooms, or clubs to work through together.

How You Can Save the Planet by Hendrikus van Hensbergen (Puffin, 2021).

When it feels like change is impossible, this book provides young readers with small activities that can make an impact: Set up bird feeders, plant some trees, plan a wildlife education walk. Author van Hensbergen, CEO of the environmental charity Action for Conservation, provides a good mix of information and inspiration.

This Book Will (Help) Cool the Climate: 50 Ways to Cut Pollution and Protect our Planet by Isabel Thomas, illustrated by Alex Paterson (Random House, 2018).

From creating libraries that lend out clothes and toys to reduce waste to organizing school walking groups to reduce air pollution, this book is packed with actionable ideas for young readers who want to make a difference. Chapters are short and explanations are thorough.

Mary Boone has ridden an elephant, jumped out of an airplane, hung out backstage with a boy band, and baked dozens of cricket cookies – all in the interest of research for her books and magazine articles. She’s written more than 60 nonfiction books for young readers, ranging from inventor biographies to how-to craft guides. Mary lives in Washington State’s Puget Sound region. You can find her at www.boonewrites.com