6 books about nature and the climate crisis

Published on: 09 May 2024

Author James Nicol recommends six brilliant books – both fiction and non-fiction – about the environment.

A photo of James Nicol and the front cover of his book The Cloud Thief

We are all aware that our climate is in a monumental state of change. Even if you ignore the news, you simply have to look out of the window to see how the weather is shifting almost with every passing season. I find this quite worrying, like many people, and feel all too helpless, despite doing what I can to reduce, reuse, and recycle as much as possible. But I know there is more that needs to be done.

In my new book, The Cloud Thief, the world of Brind has already undergone a massive transformational climate shift and the world and its people have adapted to this new life over thousands and thousands of years. Now the weather is a commodity, bought and sold by the powerful and mysterious Cloud Factory.

But in the remote town of Withering-On-the-Sand-Sea, Mara Keysmith is becoming aware that the world is still out of balance in lots of ways. And when she attempts to steal a piece of a cloud to help heal her sick father, she sets off a chain of events that will bring about another and far better change to the world.

As with many things, when I become anxious or want to understand something better, I turn to books. Here are just some of my favourite reads that look at the climate and nature and hopefully offer us a better understanding of our world — and maybe how we can help to save it. As with The Cloud Thief, I believe it will be our young people who will help to bring about the changes needed to help save our planet.

The front covers of Wilding, Fantastically Great Women Who Saved the Planet, What Do You See When You Look At a Tree, What Is A River, The Promise, and Little People Big Dreams: Greta Thunberg

1. Wilding by Isabella Tree, illustrated by Angela Harding

When I first read about the Knepp estate and its amazing rewilding project I was completely blown away. This new edition with Angela Harding's beautiful illustrations is a real treat and really brings the story of Knepp's evolving landscape to life right before your eyes. Packed full of facts and information about the various species that have taken up residence or returned to the landscape, as well as advice and guidance for rewilding in our own gardens, the story of Knepp helps us to see that nature really just needs a gentle helping hand to start getting things back on track.

2. What Do You See When You Look at a Tree? by Emma Carlisle

I love trees. There is something solid and reassuring about them but also something entirely otherworldly and magical. One of my favourite picture books ever, What Do You See When You Look at a Tree? makes you stop and think carefully about the trees we may see in our own gardens, or local park, or just out in the street. Who planted them? How long have they been growing for? What do trees feel? What will the tree look like in the future? It also asks us to be more tree-like ourselves to help our own wellbeing and metal health. What Do You See When You Look at a Tree? is a truly sumptuous book, richly coloured with the most heartfelt and detailed illustrations, and is sure to enchant readers.

3. What is a River? by Monika Vaicenavičené

The illustrations absolutely lift this to another level and it's a book I return to over and over for its beauty, in a similar way as I do with What Do You See When You Look At A Tree? This book, What is a River?, stands out for the way it delicately weaves facts and figures into the beautiful story, rich with myth and legends. It shows us the power and mystery of rivers all around the world, which impact and help to bring life to the planet.

4. Little People Big Dreams: Greta Thunberg by Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara, illustrated by Anke Weckmann

This ingenious and bestselling series is one I have bought as gifts and am now enjoying with my eldest daughter. The books offer us the loveliest glimpse into the lives of some of the most fascinating people to have lived and the impact that they have had on our world. Greta's story is told in an accessible and engaging way that does not shy away from presenting the truth of climate change, but without being frightening to younger readers. The illustrations are eye-catching and lively and all help to bring this story – of one of the most amazing and determined young people and how she made a change and raised awareness of the massive challenges facing our planet – to life.

5. Fantastically Great Women Who Saved The Planet by Kate Pankhurst

I am a massive Kate Pankhurst fan and I'm proud that her Fantastically Great Women books are already in my daughter's library at home. These books burst to life with Kate's fantastic illustrations and engaging and accessible snippets of information that help to build a picture of amazing women. In this book focusing on the planet, Kate dives into the lives of 14 amazing women who, in many different fields, have had a massive positive impact on the planet. There were many names here that I personally did not know before – which is just another thing to love about these fantastically fun and informative books.

6. The Promise by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Laura Carlin

In this deceptively simple but stunning tale from Nicola Davies, a young thief's life is transformed when she steals a bag of acorns from an old woman in an alleyway. The simple act of planting the acorns transforms the world that we see on the pages of the book from one that is over-industrialised, soulless and dull to one bursting with life, colour and hope. Laura Carlin's heartfelt illustrations can be enjoyed endlessly, with always a new detail to spot and delight over. Ultimately, The Promise is a book that shows us that the first steps to transforming and saving the world are as simple, but no less effective, as planting more trees.

The Cloud Thief by James Nicol is out now.

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