Sometimes adults can unintentionally underestimate the ability of children to understand complex topics, but children can understand big topics if they’re taught about them in the right way. While the best way for kids to learn about anything is by observing, learning through reading is just as important. There’s something very special about children’s books, especially children's books that help teach kids to grow up with respect for people and the planet.
Here are some of the best books on sustainability that will help teach kids about the importance of caring for our planet:
FOR YOUNGER KIDS
The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
The Lorax tells the story of how Truffula trees almost go extinct because people keep turning them into “must have” garments.” In the book, a small boy meets the Once-ler, who tells him the story of why all the trees were cut down. In the book, the Once-ler represents industries, the Truffula Trees represent the environment, and the Lorax represents activism. The story emphasizes the power we have as individuals to make a difference. The Lorax is such a popular children’s book that it was even turned into a movie.
One Plastic Bag by Miranda Paul
This award winning book tells the inspiring true story of how one African woman started a movement to recycle plastic bags that were polluting her community. Isatou Ceesay and her friends find a way to recycle bags, eventually realizing economic empowerment through their project. One Plastic Bag helps teach children how one person can truly make a difference if they try.
We Are Extremely Very Good Recyclers by Lauren Child
This book is all about recycling and teaches kids about the importance of recycling their toys. Lola and her classmates recycle as many plastic, metal, and paper items as they can with the hope of winning a recycling competition. Their prize is a living tree to plant. The book comes with a tree poster so kids can keep track of their own recycling.
Compost Stew: An A to Z Recipe for the Earth by Mary McKenna Siddals
This book teaches kids about the importance of composting and how to do it. They’ll learn what to put in a compost pile and what should be left out of one. Compost Stew is a rhyming children’s book with great reviews.
10 Things I Can Do to Help My World by Melanie Walsh
This is a simple book that has 10 suggestions for making the world a better place. From turning off the lights to walking instead of driving, kids will learn 10 things they can do on a regular basis to make a difference.
Why Should I Recycle? by Jen Green
In Why Should I Recycle?, Mr. Jones takes his class on a field trip to a recycling plant to teach them about how recycling works and why it’s important.
Can We Save the Tiger? by Martin Jenkins
This book highlights the ways in which human behavior can either threaten or conserve the animals of this planet. Can We Save the Tiger? is a nonfiction book that’s full of facts about extinct animals, endangered animals, and animals that are no longer endangered because humans made an effort so save them.
World Without Fish by Mark Kurlansky
World Without Fish explains how the fish we eat are at risk of disappearing over the next 50 years. It also tells the story of what would happen if the world’s fish were to disappear. Kids will learn practical ways to help save fish, like using less plastic or not eating fish that are endangered.
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer
This book tells the story of 14 year old William Kamkwamba, who figures out how to bring electricity to his village after it’s hit with a drought. William becomes a local hero by building a windmill out of junkcard scraps, and is thus the boy who harnessed the wind.
Flush by Carl Hiaasen
Flush is a young adult novel that tells the story of Noah and his dad, who try to prove that a casino boat is dumping raw sewage into the ocean. When Noah’s dad tries to fix the problem himself and fails, Noah must try to expose the illegal sewage-dumpers himself.
A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
A Long Walk to Water is a short novel based on a true story that begins by telling the two separate stories of Nya and Salva. Nya is a girl who lives in Sudan in 2008, and Salva is a boy who lives in 1985. Twice a day, Nya must walk 2 hours to fetch water, and Salva becomes a “lost boy” of Sudan. The two stories intersect toward the end of the book.
The Sandcastle Empire by Kayla Olson
This book depicts some of the effects of climate change and world war. Eden’s life was easy before the war, but once the revolution happened, everything changed for her. A powerful group called the Wolfpack now control the earth and its resources, and Eden must do everything she can to escape their power.
Reading about sustainability to kids is great, but the next best way to teach them about sustainable living is to involve them in a sustainable lifestyle. Reading about how to live sustainably in books and then implementing what you’ve learned with your child into your lives is a great way to make sure they grow up to love and respect the planet.
INVITE KIDS TO HELP IN THE KITCHEN
Kids love hands-on activities, and cooking can be a fun way to teach kids about healthy foods and how to prepare them. Even if your child is too small to help with something like chopping onions, they might be able to help throw handfuls of cilantro into a bowl or put cloth napkins onto a table.
TEACH GOOD SHOPPING HABITS
One of the best ways to teach kids how to use less plastic is by showing them how to grocery shop without it. Try asking kids to bring reusable bags to the store, and bring containers to buy in bulk. If you have the means and resources to shop at farmers markets, this can be a great opportunity to teach kids about supporting small farms.
START A GARDEN TOGETHER
Starting a garden with kids, or even growing small herbs on a windowsill, can be a great way to teach kids about how food grows and where it comes from.
Jessy Humann lives and writes out of Spokane, Washington. When she's not writing about sustainability and why it's important, she loves to write poetry and do other types of creative writing. Her first children's book comes out next year.
Connect with Jessy on LinkedIn.