Nobody “speaks for the trees” better than the Lorax, and Dr. Seuss’s classic is still my go-to book to kick off our unit about the problems facing our natural world. There are, however, plenty of other fabulous children’s books that build awareness about climate change, alternative energy, and what children can do to help reverse the damage to our planet.
Even if you don’t have time for an environmental service project or an Earth Day extravaganza, you can still bring environmental awareness into your classroom by sharing some of these books with your middle grade students.
The Common Core is running around my brain nonstop these days (am I the only one with this affliction?), and that means that I look at the books I share with my class through a fairly critical lens. I’m trying both to maintain a judicious fiction/nonfiction balance and to meet the CCSS’s qualitative guidelines for text complexity. Fortunately, there is an abundance of interesting, high quality books about environment that definitely meet the criteria. While Earth Day is around the corner on Monday, April 22, these are books worth reading with your class any time of the year!
I set up a display of environmentally themed books in my classroom library at the beginning on April, and I put additional copies of those books in a special basket. Of course, you don’t have to relegate these books to Aprils.
You don’t need to be a Nobel Prize–winning scientist to take big steps to save our planet. That’s the takeaway lesson in Heroes of the Environment: True Stories of People Who Are Helping to Protect Our Planet. Each of the 12 short chapters in this book focus on “regular” people, some of them children, from around our country who are fighting pollution in powerful and creative ways. The chapters are useful as stand-alone texts, perfect for high-level reading groups, “jigsaw” groups for cooperative learning, or shared reading.
These books are as factual as a science textbook, complete with graphs, charts, and diagrams, but are far more appealing with their comic-book narration. Understanding Global Warming With Max Axiom, Super Scientist and Getting to the Bottom of Global Warming: An Isabel Soto Investigation are definitely content-heavy nonfiction that address both the causes and effects of global warming. There is a particularly effective scene in which Isabel Soto visits a coastal Alaskan village that is melting and crumbling into the sea.
In Global Warming, children’s nonfiction guru Seymour Simon teamed up with the Smithsonian Institution to write this well-balanced introduction to the science behind the increase in the earth's temperatures. Check out the meaty book trailer on Simon’s website to preview many of the images and much of the information in the book. You can also share a video interview with Seymour Simon in which he discusses climate change.
Lauren Child’s crazy-colored collages complement her quirky protagonist in Clarice Bean: What Planet Are You From? Clarice becomes a backyard eco-warrior when she and her lovable family campaign to save a neighborhood tree from destruction. My students particularly like the mixed-up fonts and unique page layouts in this book. After I read it aloud to the class, it’s constantly checked out from the library.
The Down-to-Earth Guide to Global Warming is the most comprehensive and engaging middle grade book that I’ve found about the subject. The four chapters focus on the scientific causes of man-made global warming, the disastrous effects, and what we can do to help. Children are hardwired to enjoy the light, irreverent tone of the book and the complex, colorful page layouts. Every single page has a scrapbook-like combination of drawings, photos, sidebars, charts, and more — plenty of visual interest to inspire students to wade through the meaty text.
I assigned pairs of students to read sections of this book together. Then they created cause and effect mini posters to share what they learned with the other students in the class.
The very windy Danish island of Samso was just an ordinary place until the residents joined together to harness that wind and lead the way to becoming almost completely energy independent. In Energy Island: How One Community Harnessed the Wind, Allan Drummond tells the story with a friendly young narrator and lively illustrations. I like that this totally true account reads like a traditional picture book.
Combining carefully researched information with graphic novel-style chapter introductions and a passionately persuasive tone, Mark Kurlansky’s The World Without Fish: How Kids Can Help Save the Oceans will appeal to young adult readers. The book addresses important concepts about biodiversity and the interconnectedness of marine ecosystems. Kurlansky helps readers realize that we humans are at the eventual end of the food chain — so as fish disappear, we’re putting ourselves at risk as well. Entice your advanced readers to challenge themselves with this book with this video book trailer.
The Storia eBook Earth in Danger is perfect for projecting from a laptop or iPad for an interactive “big book” read-aloud with your students. One of the challenges of reading nonfiction aloud in the classroom is that my students can rarely get near enough to closely “read” the diagrams, images, and captions. I can read the text aloud, but without studying the other text features, my students are really missing out. When I project Storia eBooks from my laptop onto the board in my classroom, my students can all examine the nonfiction page layouts together, tiny captions and all. This e-book has plenty of topical vocabulary and lends itself to a cause-and-effect nonfiction reading lesson.
What are your favorite books about the environment? Does your school plan any Earth Day activities? I’d love to hear about how you teach your students to be responsible stewards of the planet.