Nine inspiring books to get children interested in conservation

Published on: 07 March 2023

Author Hollis Kurman shares her favourite children’s books that introduce the idea of conservation and caring for our planet.

Author Hollis Kurman and the cover of Counting in GreenAuthor Hollis Kurman and the cover of Counting in Green

Our planet is in trouble, and children are most at risk from climate change. As Save the Children reminds us, ‘… every child will inherit a planet with more frequent extreme weather events than ever before.’  

The good news, as I point out in Counting in Green, is that children all over the world are going green and pushing for change. And there are more children’s books than ever about the environment. Below are just a few of the many wonderful books out there introducing young readers to this urgent and important topic:

The Lorax by Dr. Seuss

The Dr. Seuss controversy notwithstanding, The Lorax remains the gold standard of conservation- themed children’s books. I credit this classic picture book with awakening not only my own environmental awareness, but also that of generations of children. The Truffala Tree is an icon of nature’s fight against unchecked capitalism, with the ‘loud whack’ and ‘sickening smack of an axe on a tree’ echoing long after we close the book. Dr. Seuss’ bouncy rhythms and unlikely rhymes offset his prescient, urgent message of environmental responsibility – and plea for children to take charge.

Illustration from The Lorax by Dr Seuss

We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom

This unique picture book deserves all the attention it is getting. With dreamlike illustrations by Michaela Goade, Lindstrom’s quietly defiant text invites readers to discover the importance of water and nature to Native Americans – and to everyone else on our shared earth. In lyrical prose, this intergenerational story weaves spirit and struggle toward a courageous crescendo. ‘We stand as one.’ Back pages include an ‘Earth Steward and Water Protector Pledge’ for young readers to sign.

Thank You, Earth: A Love Letter to Our Planet by April Pulley Sayre

This stunning ode to nature uses photographs, not illustrations, to celebrate the ‘tiny and towering’ things that make our earth a magical place to live. Each spread evokes a sense of wonder. With gentle rhyme and a generous helping of alliteration, the text reminds young readers to be grateful for all of earth’s gifts: ‘Yes, all. All, all. Even those that sting.’

The Fog by Kyo Maclear

This unusual conservation tale is dreamy but witty, sophisticated but simple, haunting but hopeful. The fog of the book’s title is a stand-in for climate change, and the bird characters echo human apathy and denial. The main characters, Warble the bird and his young human accomplice, a ‘red-hooded spectacled female (juvenile)’, show us the power of paying attention – and of joining forces.

Illustration from The Fog by Kyo MaclearIllustration from The Fog by Kyo Maclear

Crossings: Extraordinary Structures for Extraordinary Animals by Katy Duffield

This non-fiction picture book explores the solutions animal lovers create to help wildlife cope with encroaching construction.  The author showcases wildlife crossings from around the world through the preposition lens of over, under, across, and through as a grammar bonus: An elk crosses over a noisy highway, penguins hustle through a tiny tunnel, etc. among gorgeously illustrated examples.

Zonia’s Rainforest by Juana Martinez Neal

On the way back from playing in her rainforest home with her animal friends, a girl stumbles upon the first hints of its destruction. Frightened, she runs to her mother and announces, ‘the forest needs our help.’ In her spare text and earth-palette illustrations, Juana Martinez-Neal captures the perfect harmony of rainforest life and what we risk losing if we don’t act to save it. ‘We all must answer.’

The Mess That We Made by Michelle Lord

This picture book is a perfect read-aloud, almost a sing-along, for young ocean lovers and budding conservationists. The circular repetition and hypnotic illustrations take us deep into plastic-filled waters before bobbing back up to the sunny surface with renewed hope. Every child will relate to the rebuke of ‘the mess that we’ve made’, and young Jewish readers may draw parallels between the cumulative text format and the looping lyrics of the Passover song ‘Chad Gadya’ (one little goat).

The Water Hole by Graeme Base

One of our children’s old favourites, this richly illustrated counting book is a cautionary tale about the world’s ‘water level crisis’. As groups of wild animals gather in turn around a water hole to drink, they notice that ‘something was happening’ as the water hole shrinks and then disappears. Complete with sound effects, hidden pictures, humour and hope, this 1-to-10 story packs a punch.

Illustration from The Water Hole by Graeme Base

Dear Children of the Earth: A Letter from Home by Schim Schimmel

We read this beautiful picture book over and over to our children when they were little. The book is written as a letter from Mother Earth to all her ‘children’, asking them to love and care for her as she does them. It is also a heartfelt plea for us to care for all creatures, humankind’s extended family here on Earth. The illustrations are otherworldly, asking readers in both words and pictures to imagine life without our animals – ‘Think how quiet the trees would be with no birds singing’ – and what they can do to help.

As the writer Sarah Ladipo Manyika warned in a recent interview, ‘the climate catastrophe message may be doomed without some hope or inspiration’. I couldn’t agree more. Each of the children’s books on my list carries a warning yet offers exactly that: hope and inspiration. And an invitation to children everywhere to be part of the solution!

Counting in Green: Ten Little Ways to Help Our Big Planet by Hollis Kurman and illustrated by Barroux is out now.

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