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16 Books That Will Help Turn Kids Into Young Environmentalists

Like many adults, I think regularly about the increasingly horrible environmental legacy we are leaving today’s kids, to say nothing of the kids of the future. How do I talk to my tiny niece about climate change and endangered species and why we should recycle and take care of our resources, and why we should not kill elephants (or other living creatures) for fun? And how do I do that without sending myself into a panic spiral?

Luckily, kids’ books are here to help, even if our administration isn’t. These 16 tomes — adding on to The Lorax and the young reader’s version of An Inconvenient Truth — are targeted to children of various ages and will increase their sense of global connection and duty to the planet in myriad ways. Added bonus: They may also help adult readers feel a little bit more empowered, or, at the very least, more informed. (And, as luck would have it, unlike trees and bees, there are a lot more where these came from.)

This new picture book from the illustrator of The Day the Crayons Quit will help parents explain the incredible, multifaceted world — from Earth to space to humanity — to their little ones, as well as how we should treat one another. Oliver Jeffers created the book for his own son, so it’s user-tested (and beautiful).

In a changing Arctic environment, Tigluk and his grandmother just want to help a polar bear cub that’s lost its mother. Start here, and make your way through Jean Craighead George’s entire nature-glorifying catalogue, which also includes Julie of the Wolves and My Side of the Mountain.

Shel Silverstein’s classic picture book was published more than 50 years ago, and it’s still stirring up controversy about what it means. Is it a thesis about parenting, or is it about how we treat nature — assuming it will always be there for us, until it’s not? Either way, this book will teach a child not to take the world around them for granted.

This book about the friendship between a boy and his fox — and the devastating war that separates them — will move you to tears, but also fill you (and young readers, who it will captivate) with hope.

Teach kids about the importance of clean drinking water — and that not everyone has it — with this book inspired by the childhood of model and former Miss Africa Georgie Badiel, who grew up in Burkina Faso.

Rachel Carson published Silent Spring in 1962 to bring environmental concerns about pesticides to the attention of the American public. It inspired a social movement. This sweetly illustrated biography for kids conveys her passion, her struggles, and the power of her work.

From The Hungry Caterpillar to Slowly, Slowly, Slowly Said the Sloth, Carle’s bright, energetic works demonstrate the fascinating processes of the natural world in a way that’s delightful for small kids to ingest. Mister Seahorse might be my favorite, though, for its depiction of a bunch of underwater fathers who lovingly take care of their babies.

Kids can learn the alphabet, feed the worms, and help save the planet all at the same time, with this cute and informative book about starting a first compost pile. (Oh, and it rhymes, too!)

A robot named Roz is shipwrecked on an island and must make friends with the animals who live there in this “heartwarming and action-packed novel about what happens when nature and technology collide.” (Stay tuned for The Wild Robot Escapes, out in March)

There are no words in this book about the plight of the honeybee (and a little girl’s friendship with a very special one), but as they say, an adorably illustrated picture is worth a thousand buzzes.

In this picture book, Bob Marley’s daughter Cedella adapts his song “One Love” and applies it to the story of a girl who brings her community together to make their neighborhood a more beautiful place.

The first in Julian Lennon’s White Feather Flier Adventure trilogy, Touch the Earth takes readers on a journey in a magical plane that allows them to send clean water to the thirsty, clean oceans of pollution, and “make the world a better place.” A portion of proceeds go to the White Feather Foundation, Lennon’s conservation organization.


Like Jean Craighead George, Carl Hiaasen has a long list of books that celebrate the natural world and its creatures — particularly those that inhabit his beloved Florida. Start by saving the owls, then move on to fighting pollution, greedy oilmen, and more.

Grade-school biography lovers (which I was, when I was a kid) will love and be inspired by Jane Goodall’s story of traveling to Africa at the age of 26 to study chimps in the wild. For younger readers, try the illustrated I Am Jane Goodall, from Brad Meltzer’s Ordinary People Change the World series.

Environmental activist Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize, began a movement to reforest Kenya, paying women to plant trees throughout the country. This book will help empower kids in their own quest to make a difference.

With beautiful illustrations that somehow capture the magic of nature, Naoko Stoop tells the story of a little girl who finds a tree in which to store her books and makes friends with an entire forest, bringing reading and environmentalism full circle. (Read all the Red Knit Cap Girl books for even more fun.)

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16 Books That Help Turn Kids Into Young Environmentalists