10 favourite books about the climate and nature crisis

Published on: 28 November 2023

Author-illustrator and founder of #KidLit4Climate Emma Reynolds shares her top picks for books that educate and inspire children about the environmental crisis.

The front covers of Drawn to Change the World, Climate Change for Beginners, If Sharks Disappeared, Fatima's Great Outdoors, Expedition Backyard, The Wild Year, We Are Water Protectors, The Vast Wonder of the World, Can You See the Stars Tonight, Rise Up and Write It, and Good NewsFor the last three years, I worked on a massive collaborative graphic anthology project with a group of incredible people: Drawn to Change the World: 16 Youth Climate Activists, 16 Artists, written and illustrated by me, Emma Reynolds, and 15 other artists from around the world, each illustrating a different biography.

With extensive backmatter, including activist interviews on the power of community, and illustrations to explain the science, Drawn to Change the World focuses on the need to centre Indigenous solutions and intersectional climate justice, and also speaks on how we need more artists to transform society and tell new stories about our future – allowing us to manifest them into reality.

It features Indigenous, Black, Latina, Asian, LGBTQ+, disabled and neurodivergent climate activists, and shows that you are not too young or too old to start. We can do this if we work together.

Here are ten further inspirational books...

An illustration of a child kneeling and holding a plant in a pot

Pic: Emily Rowland

1. Climate Change for Beginners by Eddie Reynolds and Andy Prentice, illustrated by El Primo Ramón

A brilliant introduction to the science of the climate crisis and what we can do about it, with engaging illustrations. The cartoons show several characters of different ages reacting to the climate crisis facts, allowing readers to empathise with other people's knowledge level, whilst calmly educating the sceptical character. I'd highly recommend this book as a starting point.

2. If Sharks Disappeared written and illustrated by Lily Williams

The brilliant If They Disppeared series also includes books about polar bears, bees, elephants and tigers. I love it and think these are vital books to have in every classroom and library. Each book in this engaging non-fiction series focuses on a different keystone species, and shows what would happen to the wider ecosystem if they were to disappear.

The books feature a young protagonist who meets a new kid in every book, as they adventure together and see the incredible impact each species has and why it's of paramount importance that we protect them. There are useful backmatter links too so readers can take action, which I always think is so important.

3. Fatima's Great Outdoors by Ambreen Tariq, illustrated by Stevie Lewis

An illustration from the front cover of Fatima's Great Outdoors - a family of two adults and two children sitting round a campfire in a forest

Protecting and restoring nature for all is vital to combat the climate crisis, but outdoor pursuits in nature as well as working in sciences can be very exclusively white spaces, and this needs to change.

brownpeoplecamping.com is a social media initiative that advocates for greater diversity, equity, access and social justice in the outdoors. The founder of Brown People Camping, Ambreen Tariq, wrote Fatima's Great Outdoors to bring this message to young readers in a powerful picture book about an immigrant family's first camping trip. I adore Stevie Lewis's lush, colourful nature illustrations and warm characters and this book is so beautiful.

4. Expedition Backyard by Rosemary Mosco , illustrated by Binglin Hu

This is truly one of the most delightful books I've ever read. Follow Mole and Vole on their adventures in their local environment in this middle-grade comic book. It is absolutely adorable and utterly charming, and weaves in some city nature facts which I always enjoy. It's important to remember that nature is all around us (and of course, we humans are nature too!) and this book shows this in a really lovely way.

5. The Wild Year written and illustrated by Kristyna Baczynski

A wonderful handbook for every age to explore their local environment, showing that nature really is all around us, from the cracks in pavements to the 'weeds' that grow everywhere. 

Following the seasons, Kristyna Baczynski delightfully combines comic humour with detailed plant illustrations, alongside helpful and interesting facts on the plants' history, folklore, use and location. There are also handy checklists, foraging tips, and room for your own field notes and sketches!

6. We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom, illustrated by Michaela Goade

An illustration from the front cover of We Are Water Protectors - a woman standing among waves looking at us, with the moon and figures holding hands behind her

A must-read empathy book for everyone, especially schools, to help better understand the continued struggles and injustice Indigenous people face, and to exemplify environmental racism where, through deliberate, systemic design, Indigenous, Black and people of colour bear the brunt of environmental hazards.

This picture book is about how water is integral to all life, and was written in response to the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) in the US, foretold in their communities as 'The Black Snake'. Oil pipelines are notorious for leaking and poisoning Indigenous people's water, and the fight to close DAPL continues today.

7. The Vast Wonder of the World by Mélina Mangal, illustrated by Luisa Uribe

True climate justice must be intersectional, and it's vital we honour Black scientists from the past who are too often absent from history curriculums but deserve our equal attention and admiration, encouraging all young readers to realise they have a place in STEM.

The beautiful illustrations by Luisa Uribe alongside lyrical words by Mélina Mangal share the achievements of biologist Ernest Everett Just, who saw the whole where others only saw the parts. He looked closely at the details and researched sea life and eggs alongside writing poetry, and helped lay the groundwork for our understanding of DNA.

8. Can You See the Stars Tonight? written and illustrated by Anna Terreros-Martin

An illustration from the front cover of Can You See The Stars Tonight - a child in a onesie standing on a rock by the sea, holding a puffin and pointing at another puffin on her telescope, as the night sky is filled with stars

An absolutely charming and adorable picture book about Nora helping the puffins by combating light pollution and what we can all do at home to help our animals navigate at night-time. Anna Terreros-Martin's heart-warming illustrations are mesmerising and filled with affectionate details. It also has some excellent incidental LGBTQ+ rep with Nora's dads. A perfect companion book to my picture book Amara and the Bats.

9. Rise Up and Write It by Nandini Ahuja, illustrated by Anoosha Syed

An original and super engaging picture book with real mail, pull-out posters, a petition, and more! When Farah Patel notices there are hardly any butterflies she makes it her mission to build a community garden with flowers to attract them, but she'll need her friends' help to do it. A perfect book to show community action, and to encourage readers to act!

10. Good News: Why the World is Not as Bad as You Think by Rashmi Sirdeshpande, illustrated by Adam Hayes

Did you know that bad news gets more clicks and attention, and therefore makes more money for news media through advertising revenue? So it's vital that, alongside acknowledging the climate crisis unfolding, we are aware of the amazing progress being made too.

We cannot allow ourselves to fall into doomism, because this leads to apathy and despair, and only allows the oppressive systems that caused the climate and nature crises to continue with business as usual. This inspiring book highlights that there are good things happening in the world, even if we don't hear about them as much. It also equips you with the tools to suss out what is fake news and what isn't. I also recommend The Happy Broadcast!

Drawn to Change the World: 16 Youth Climate Activists, 16 Artists, written and illustrated by Emma Reynolds and 15 other artists, is out now.

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