This is a list of books that I, myself, have read and do recommend. I continually add to this list. I try to feature books here that are factually accurate since children (and their parents) trust books to offer factual information. I’ve listed an article about this issue by a children’s non-fiction author under Additional Resources below.
That being said, children’s books are sometimes a great way to introduce and learn about a complex topic, such as plastic pollution or climate change, in a condensed or simplified format. It’s often easier to learn basics and build knowledge from there. So never be ashamed to read children’s books!
I use the age recommendations from Amazon, but they are only suggestions. I read books of all levels to and with my son. You may be able to find these at your local library, so always check there first before you buy. Bonus – it’s fun to take your children to the library! Libraries rock!
Here are the topic areas if you want to quickly get to a specific section:
Garbage, Trash, Composting, & Recycling
Tammy Turtle: A Tale of Saving Sea Turtles
by Suzanne Tate
This is a story about a turtle going through her entire life cycle from birth, to giving birth. Tammy Turtle eats a plastic bag, mistaking it for a jellyfish. “Helpful Humans” assist her and her health returns. There’s actually a whole nature series by the same author and illustrator. Recommended ages 5-7.
Pesky Plastic: An Environmental Story
by Leticia Colon de Mejias
While not the most well-edited book, this story comes from a great organization and I do recommend it. The author is the founder and CEO of GreenEcoWarriors.org whose mission is “Creating a Culture of Sustainable thinkers” through education aligned with national standards. Pesky Plastic is a cute story is about how plastic pollution affects marine animals and how children can help prevent plastic pollution. “Plastic seems easy to use and throw away, but sometimes the easy choice is not the right choice!” The book also features educational guides, a glossary, and instructions to make a fabric bag. Recommended ages 4-8.
Join the No-Plastic Challenge!: A First Book of Reducing Waste
by Scot Ritchie
This story is about a boy who decides to go plastic-free for one day with his friends, including his birthday party. They learn about plastic pollution, participate in a beach clean-up, and most importantly they realize how easy it can be to go plastic-free. I really like this book! Recommended ages 4-7.
Plastic, Ahoy!: Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
by Patricia Newman
This is a photojournalistic book that follows three young female scientists living and working aboard a research ship that was part of the Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastics Expedition (SEAPLEX). It details how the scientists learned more about the impact of plastics in the Pacific Garbage Patch. The author summarizes their research and offers information on minimizing environmental impact. Recommended ages 8-12.
Plastic Sucks!: How YOU Can Reduce Single-Use Plastic and Save Our Planet
by Dougie Poynter
This is a cleverly written book about the environmental problems caused by plastic. The author interviews many leaders in the environmental movement and offers many inspiring tips on ways that kids can help. Self-described as “just your average person who has a love for wildlife and the oceans and a natural curiosity and concern about pollution,” he teaches kids how to lead by example and spread the message positively. “With a bit of awareness and the right course of action, even the smallest changes in our everyday lives are having a huge impact.” The book was written from the UK, but plastic is a global problem so the information is relevant in any part of the world. Recommended ages 8-12.
The Last Straw: Kids vs. Plastics
by Susan Hood
The book uses different styles of poetry interspersed with factual information to provide an overview of the threat of plastic waste and its consequences on human and animal life. The book also features the story of kids around the world who are fighting for change to save our planet. The end of the book features additional information about plastic pollution; a timeline of plastic’s history; a chart of major ocean polluters; and additional resources. Recommended ages 4-10.
One Turtle’s Last Straw: The Real-Life Rescue That Sparked a Sea Change
by Elisa Boxer
Inspired by the true story and subsequent viral video of scientists extracting a plastic straw from the nostril of a sea turtle. From the publisher: “In the waters off of Costa Rica, scientists spot an endangered sea turtle and pull him aboard to study him. But he has something stuck in his nose. A barnacle? A stick? No…it’s a plastic straw! This heroic story of one turtle’s rescue reminds us that even the smallest straw can hurt our ocean life–and that the smallest demand for change can grow into something big!” Recommended ages 4-8.
Kids vs. Plastic: Ditch the straw and find the pollution solution to bottles, bags, and other single-use plastics
By Julie Beer
This is an excellent and accurate overview of the plastic problems in our world. I highly recommend it for older kids (and adults!). From the publisher: “Discover shocking stats and surprising facts; inspirational interviews with National Geographic explorers and leading researchers who are working tirelessly to protect the planet; tons of simple suggestions for sustainable swaps; and more eco-friendly choices and smart action steps. This book answers all of your burning questions about plastic and offers tangible ways to get involved, reduce plastic use, and create a more plastic-free future!” Recommended ages 8-12.
Kids Fight Plastic: How to Be a #2minutesuperhero
by Martin Dorey
Environmentalist author Martin Dorey presents plastics and the real problems plastic creates. There are lots of practical things kids can do to help educate about plastic and trash, as well as tips for how to help the environment. This is a great book for any environmentally-conscious kid! Recommended ages 7-12.
Washed Ashore: Making Art from Ocean Plastic
by Kelly Crull
I was very excited to find this book, as I’ve featured Washed Ashore projects on my Plastic Art Projects page for several years! The organization was founded by artist Angela Haseltine Pozzi, who was distrubed by the plastic trash polluting the beach near her home. With the help of volunteers, she started gathering trash from beaches and using it to create sculptures of wildlife. These sculptures travel the country to teach people about problems caused by plastic pollution. From the publisher: “Author and photographer Kelly Crull highlights fourteen spectacular sculptures, along with hints to find common objects hidden among the debris. There’s information about each ocean animal as well as tips for how you can reduce your plastic use, hold a beach cleanup and make your own plastic art. Be inspired to get creative in protecting the world’s oceans!” Recommended ages 6-10, but good for any age!
One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia
by Miranda Paul
This is a true inspirational story about a woman in The Gambia who chose to upcycle waste, challenge womens’ roles, and increased employment, all by making plastic bags into new items, such as purses. Check out my full review! Recommended ages 5-9.
Bag in the Wind
by Ted Kooser
This book is a really good tale of a plastic bag that blows through different environments. The story touches on pollution, recycling, homelessness, landfills, and even composting. While the book is listed for ages 5-8, I think this is more appropriate for the latter years of that range. A worthy read regardless. Recommended ages 5-8.
I’m Not A Plastic Bag
by Rachel Hope Allison
Foreword by Jeff Corwin
This graphic novel/comic book tells the story of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch through beautifully illustrated images. There are very few words in the story part but they aren’t necessary here. Recommended for all ages.
Ocean & Water Pollution
All the Way to the Ocean
by Joel Harper
This is a cute story about children learning how their actions can directly affect nature and ocean pollution. For example, the characters learn that trash that gets into storm drains eventually reaches the ocean. The book offers motivational calls to action for kids. It was endorsed by the Save Our Seas Foundation and the Surfrider Foundation. Recommended ages 5-8.
We Are Water Protectors
by Carole Lindstrom
Winner of the 2021 Caldecott Medal, this beautifully illustrated book addresses protecting our most precious resource – water. “Inspired by the many Indigenous-led movements across North America, We Are Water Protectors issues an urgent rallying cry to safeguard the Earth’s water from harm and corruption.” The author included a note about why she wrote the book and about the Native Nations that are fighting oil pipelines. Recommended ages 3-6 but I believe over age 6 will benefit from its poetic expression.
The Day the River Caught Fire: How the Cuyahoga River Exploded and Ignited the Earth Day Movement
by Barry Wittenstein
From the publisher: “After the Industrial Revolution in the 1880s, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio, caught fire almost twenty times, earning Cleveland the nickname “The Mistake on the Lake.” Waste dumping had made fires so routine that local politicians and media didn’t pay them any mind, and other Cleveland residents laughed off their combustible river and even wrote songs about it. But when the river ignited again in June 1969, the national media picked up on the story and added fuel to the fire of the recent environmental movement. A year later, in 1970, President Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency—leading to the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts—and the first Earth Day was celebrated. It was a celebration, it was a protest, and it was the beginning of a movement to save our planet.” Recommended ages 4-8.
Black Beach: A Community, an Oil Spill, and the Origin of Earth Day
by Shaunna & John Stith
This an excellent summary of the history of the oil spill that helped spawn the modern environmental movement and the first Earth Day. From the publisher: “In 1969, Union Oil caused an oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara that would change the world. Hazardous crude oil from the blowout flooded the Pacific Ocean, harming wildlife and devastating habitats. But from this ecological disaster sprang a new wave of environmental activism that continues to this day.” Recommended ages 6-9.
Kai and Gaia Discover the Gyre
by Kristal Ambrose
This book is colorful and exciting as Kai’s ocean friends teach her about ocean pollution, especially plastic pollution. From the publisher: “Inspired by Kristal Ambrose’s journey of inspiration as an activist that led to her founding The Bahamas Plastic Movement, this book is about an ocean-loving young Bahamian girl named Kai (Ocean) who is inspired to bring an end to ocean plastic pollution after her best friend, a sea turtle named Gaia (Earth), becomes stuck at sea in a trash gyre. As Kai learns about the threats facing her marine friends, her determination and passion show the amazing potential of a single child to bring on incredible change. In this story, Kai and Gaia represent the joining of land and sea and the need to protect both environments.” Recommended ages 3-8.
The Ocean Story
by John Seven
This is a cute book for young children, and it briefly introduces children to the problems of oil spills and ocean pollution. It explains that balance is essential within the ocean as well as between the Earth and the ocean, but on a young reader’s level. It does not address very well why ocean pollution happens, as I’m not sure that was the author’s intention. I enjoyed reading it to my son. Recommended ages 5-7.
The Pout-Pout Fish Cleans Up the Ocean
by Deborah Diesen
I love the entire Pout-Pout Fish series – the rhythmic rhymes and the attractive illustrations. I’ve been reading these to my son since he was 2. This newest edition addresses pollution and encourages children to join along and help clean up the ocean pollution we’ve created. The fish meet together and discuss what to do: “It’s awful that we caused it, But this bad news can be good, For it means that we can solve it – If we all agree we should.” And they all agreed! If only it were this simple with us grown-ups. Recommended ages 3-6.
by Brendan Kearney
This is a cute story about the problem of trash pollution in the ocean and its effect on fish and wildlife populations. It has a cute message about how we can all change what we are doing with waste and work together, though it is a bit idealistic in its solutions. The illustrations are fun and colorful. Recommended ages 3-7.
Crabby’s Water Wish: A Tale of Saving Sea Life
by Suzanne Tate
An adorable tale of marine life who suffer from various types of pollution. Clean Water Charlie, seen in the boat on the cover, teaches school children how to stop pollution and keep the water clean. Everyone works hard to clean it up over time, and the marine life was happy when the water was clean and clear again! Recommended ages 5-8.
by Eve Bunting
This book is based on the 1992 event when multiple cargo containers fell off of a ship and dumped 28,800 plastic bathtub toys into the ocean. They washed up for many years on different shores and their drift patterns were studied and recorded by scientists based on location reporting. This story follows the life of one yellow bathtub duck who floats endlessly in the sea until he washes up and is found by a child. It’s a really cute short story that can introduce children to the notion of floating plastics, pollution, and cross-oceanic shipping. Recommend ages 3-7.
Mara Saves The Sea
by Shalanta Boli
In this story, Mara discovers that her ocean friends are sick from plastic and pollution. She works with her village to come up with solutions. Colorfully illustrated and easy to read. My son insisted this book should be listed on this page! Recommended ages 4-8.
The BP Oil Spill
by Peter Benoit
This book was an honest account of the Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill in 2010. Written for ages 7-9, it explained the spill in an open way, showing how BP was responsible for causing the disaster. The author explained many of the economical and environmental consequences resulting from this and oil spills in general. These included tourism, the fishing industry, endangering already threatened species, the effects on the entire food chain, and damage to the Gulf of Mexico, the ocean, and the environment. This is a really good introduction to those topics. Recommended ages 7-9.
Garbage, Trash, Composting, & Recycling
Can I Recycle This?: A Kid’s Guide to Better Recycling and How to Reduce Single-Use Plastics
by Jennie Romer
This is the best children’s book on recycling that I’ve ever found. This is an adaptation of the adult version; the author is a lawyer and sustainability expert. Recommended for ages 5-10 but I honestly recommend it for all readers, as it simply lays out the simple facts of waste and recycling that so many people aren’t aware of. For example: “The recycling facility tries to sell these bales to businesses who will use them to make new products. This means that recycled materials only get made into another item if a business wants to buy them.” There is an overwhelming amount of plastic in the world and most of it does not get recycled. Many people don’t know that. This book also has fun illustrations and funny captions. This is a must-read!
What Happens to Our Trash?
by D. J. Ward
his book from the Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out Science series is an excellent beginning source for young readers on the waste crisis. It explains the basics of landfills, the dangers of toxins from landfills, recycling, and how to reduce waste. Your child will need to know that not all proper practices surrounding landfills are put into place and that most plastic recycling doesn’t actually get recycled. But this is a good place to start. Recommended ages 4-8.
What a Waste: Trash, Recycling, and Protecting our Planet
by Jess French
This is an excellent introductory book to the problems of our disposable culture and the best book on concepts surrounding waste. It explains how our throwaway culture and excessive fossil fuel energy use are connected to climate change, pollution, human and animal health hazards, deforestation, endangered species, the increase in extreme weather. I honestly believe this book is also good for adults that may not know much about these topics because it provides great tidbits of information. It explains how sewer systems function; addresses the hazards of fast fashion; even increasing space waste. Tips like using beeswax wraps instead of plastic wrap or washing your clothes on cold to save energy are helpful to everyone. At the end, it has ideas on how to be part of the change and provides resources to learn more. “Our planet is drowning in waste, but if we act now, it’s not too late to save it.” Recommended ages 6-9 but I would argue that this book could be helpful to people of all ages.
All That Trash: The Story of the 1987 Garbage Barge and Our Problem with Stuff
by Meghan McCarthy
This is the true story of a full barge of garbage from New York City that traveled for 5 months and 6,000 miles. The city landfill was full, so the garbage, intended to be incinerated to harvest the methane, was loaded onto a barge and sent to North Carolina. The state rejected it and the garbage barge was subsequently rejected by every state and nation as it traveled along. It eventually ended up back in New York where it was burned (but not for methane capture). The barge had become a national news story and it raised environmental awareness about the need for recycling. The book tells the story concisely, has factual information at the end, and is visually appealing with illustrations by the author. Recommended ages 4-8.
Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion
by Loree Griffin Burns
This book is aimed at teen and young adult readers, but I even learned a lot from reading it. Oceanographer Dr. Curtis Ebbesmeyer tracks trash in the ocean scientifically, and beachcombers all around the world send him data and images. In five chapters the book presents information about ocean currents and tides; ocean gyres; cargo spills and the scientific model that assists with current simulation, OSCURS; the Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch; and the huge problem of ghost nets. This is a great resource! Recommended ages 10-13.
The Little Recycler (Teenie Greenies)
By Jan Gerardi
This adorable little board book also has lift-the-flap pages and teaches toddlers how they can reduce, reuse, and recycle. One of my favorites from my son’s early years. Recommended ages 1-5.
Bottle Tops: The Art of El Anatsui
by Alison Goldberg
This is a good introductory story to the Art of El Anatsui. From the publisher: “The inspiring biography of Ghanaian artist El Anatsui whose handmade sculptures, created from discarded bottle tops, have received international acclaim and been showcased around the world.” The book features additional information and resources, as well as instructions on how to make art with recycled materials. “If you touch something, you leave a charge on it and anybody else touching it connects with you, in a way.” -El Anatsui. Recommended ages: 8-12.
Compost Stew: An A to Z Recipe for the Earth
by Mary McKenna Siddals
This is a great introduction to what should go into compost collection, with fun collage-style illustrations. Using the alphabet, the author weaves a rhyming verse with items that should be included. At the end of the book, there is a short list of items that shouldn’t be placed into compost. Recommended ages 2-6.
Sea Bear: A Journey for Survival
by Lindsay Moore
This book explains climate change through the perspective of a polar bear struggling to survive its changing Arctic environment. From the publisher: “Informed by the author’s background in marine science, Sea Bear is a vivid and moving page-turner with a vital message about our changing planet. This is a gorgeously illustrated book, with the perfect marriage of scientific fact and poetry, that shows the reality of climate change and how it poses a threat to the animals of the Arctic.” There is additional information about Arctic animals and climate change at the end. Recommended ages 4-8.
Why Are the Ice Caps Melting? The Dangers of Global Warming
by Anne Rockwell
This book teaches about global warming and its major contributors. It’s very easy to understand for all age levels, and it offers many ways humans can change their behaviors and actions to make a difference. The illustrations help tell the story as well for younger children. My favorite part is that the book addresses the belief by some that global warming is a natural process. Even if it is natural, “it’s still a good idea for us to do whatever we can to try to stop the amount of greenhouse gases from increasing.” Absolutely, we should all be doing what can – and we should be teaching our children to do what they can. Recommended ages 4-8.
The Story of Climate Change: A first book about how we can help save our planet
by Catherine Barr
This book explains climate change throughout Earth’s history and then focuses on the human causes of global warming. Even if you’re an adult looking for a simple overview of the climate crisis, this book will give you just that. It’s factual, colorfully illustrated, and gives ideas on what we can do to solve the problems. Recommended ages 5-10.
Global: One fragile world. An epic fight for survival.
by Eoin Colfer
This is a work of fiction but features the real effects of climate change, from the migration of animals to the loss of coastal villages and fragile sea ice. Beautifully illustrated and engaging, I had a hard time putting this book down. Recommended ages 10-14 but appealing to anyone who appreciates graphic novels.
The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge
by Joanna Cole & Bruce Degen
Climate change is a big problem. This book teaches children about climate change and steps they can take to stop it. As in all Magic School Bus books, the students take an odd trip with their favorite teacher to learn first hand. Recommended ages 6-8.
A Warmer World: From Polar Bears to Butterflies, How Climate Change Affects Wildlife
by Caroline Arnold
This book introduces climate change and its impact on wildlife. It is accurate, factual, and honest in that it does not offer false hope about the future in regard to the climate crisis. It has colorful and beautiful illustrations, a glossary, and lists of additional resources for further research. Recommended ages 7-10.
How Do We Stop Climate Change?
by Tom Jackson
This is an excellent book for older children, young adults, and even adults! Colorfully illustrated, it explains the problems in a simple and straightforward manner and includes information about how weather, climate, and human activity all interact. My only objections to the book were in the Technology chapter. The author explains some solutions, such as Genetically Modified (GMO) Foods, as a positive solution, and that is incorrect. The author includes some of the other solutions scientists are exploring, such as intentional global dimming by pumping dust into the air to reduce temperature and aerating the surface of the ocean to cause more reflection. I am not familiar with some of these theories, so I am not sure if they are good introductions or placed out of context. It does feature a section at the end about what we can all do right now to help. Overall, I think this book is an excellent overview of climate change! Recommended ages 8+.
Our World Out of Balance: Understanding Climate Change and What We Can Do
by Andrea Minoglio
This is a comprehensive book that touches on all aspects of climate change, from garbage to wildfires to coral reefs to overpopulation. From the publisher: “Filled with engaging big ideas that will inspire children to think about their role in keeping our world healthy, Our World Out of Balance details how humans have thrown the planet off-balance and ways we can work together to be part of the solution and create a healthier world.” The book could have been stronger on the issues of plastic recycling, but its strengths far outweigh that. Recommended ages 8-12, though this book is a great introduction to climate change issues for any age, including adults.
What Is Climate Change?
by Gail Herman
This is a decent, thorough overview of climate change. The author presents different viewpoints about climate change, though there are parts that could have been more assertive about the effects of it. Regardless, I recommend this book for children and adults who want to learn about climate change and need a good source to start with. It covers a wide array is issues from glacial melting to bleached coral reefs and from endangered species to the human struggle for freshwater. Recommended ages 8-12.
Buried Sunlight: How Fossil Fuels Have Changed the Earth: How Fossil Fuels Have Changed the Earth
By Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm
This book explains the Earth’s carbon cycle from the Sun’s perspective. The Sun tells how fossil fuels have developed over millions of years while life on Earth evolved, and how humans are using those fossil fuels now for energy. But using so many of those fossil fuels is causing our planet to heat at a faster pace than normal climate change does. Recommended ages 4-8; but this is a great introductory book for anyone wanting to understand the basics of fossil fuels and climate change.
Follow the Moon Home: A Tale of One Idea, Twenty Kids, and a Hundred Sea Turtles
by Philippe Cousteau and Deborah Hopkinson
This book explains the process of how baby turtles use the moon to find their way to the ocean. More importantly, it teaches children how they can participate in their coastal community and help protect endangered sea turtles. Recommended ages 5-8.
Wild Kratts, Wild Sea Creatures: Sharks, Whales and Dolphins!
by Chris and Martin Kratt
A Step into Reading young science book featuring zoologists from the Kratt brothers. Introduces many sea creatures and vocabulary words. Recommended ages 4-6.
Ocean Sunlight: How Tiny Plants Feed the Seas
by Molly Bang & Penny Chisholm
This book explains the importance of phytoplankton, the tiny plants that form the basis of the ocean’s cyclical food chain. “Acclaimed Caldecott artist Molly Bang and award-winning M.I.T. professor Penny Chisholm use poetic language and dazzling illustrations to introduce the oceanic world. From tiny aquatic plants to the biggest whale or fish, Bang and Chisholm present a moving, living picture of the miraculous balance sustaining each life cycle and food chain deep within our wondrous oceans.” There are several pages of additional scientific information at the back of the book that I found helpful. Recommended ages 4-8.
Killer Whales: Animal Predators
By Sandra Markle
This book is a little older but the information seems accurate. It mainly focuses on how orcas hunt collaboratively and how they raise their young. I’m featuring this one because I’ve read several children’s books about orca and so far, most have inaccuracies. Recommended ages 9-11.
by Dr. Sylvia Earle
This National Geographic title features illustrations and photography of the vast array of sea animals and fish, organized by scientific category. Recommended ages 6-9.
The Tide Pool Waits
by Candace Fleming
This is a cute, rhythmic story that is a great introduction to tidal pool marine creatures on the Pacific Coast. There is an illustrated guide at the back of the book, listing a description and facts about each animal mentioned in the story. There is also a full-page colorful diagram of the various tide zones. Recommended ages 4-8.
Coral Reefs: A Journey Through an Aquatic World Full of Wonder
by Jason Chin
This nonfiction book explains the wonders of the coral reefs through the eyes of a girl who is reading a book about them at the library. The library building gradually evolves into the ocean and coral reef gardens, as the girl imagines while reading. It put my two of my favorite things together, a library and the ocean. How clever! My son chose this book himself (at the library) and enjoyed it immensely. Recommended ages 5-9.
The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding the World’s Coral Reefs: The Story of Ken Nedimyer and the Coral Restoration Foundation
by Kate Messner
This nonfiction story about the Coral Restoration Foundation’s project is uplifting, inspiring, and fascinating. Ken Nedimyer transplanted living coral to dead reefs to see if they’d survive and grow – and they did! I was not familiar with this story and was surprised this worked. It truly does takes just one person’s ideas to spawn great change. The illustrations are absolutely gorgeous and exceptionally colorful. This book won several awards, including the ALA Notable Children’s Books Award, the NSTA-CBC Best STEM Trade Books Award, the Junior Library Guild Selection, and the ILA Teacher’s Choices. Recommended ages 5-9.
Hello, Fish! Visiting The Coral Reef
by Dr. Sylvia Earle
This National Geographic book features a map of the world’s coral reefs and introduces young readers to some of the coral reef’s most fascinating animals and fish. Includes large, detailed photographs. Recommended ages 3-7.
I Am Farmer: Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon
by Baptiste & Miranda Paul
Based on a true story, a child in Cameroon grows up with the desire to farm, rather than work an office job. He learns how to bring clean water and food to his area, becoming an environmental leader. This was an enjoyable book. Recommended ages 7-11.
Our House Is on Fire: Greta Thunberg’s Call to Save the Planet
by Jeanette Winter
This is Greta Thunberg’s story: at age 15, after learning about the climate crisis, she began a “School Strike for Climate” that took hold across many nations and spawned youth activism. She now speaks to audiences of world leaders at the United Nations Climate Conference and the World Economic Forum. “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic…I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.” She has shown everyone that even the smallest person can make a big difference. Recommended ages 3-8.
Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees
by Franck Prevot
Wangari Maathai was the founder of the Green Belt Movement, a movement under the National Council of Women of Kenya to respond to the needs of rural Kenyan women, deforestation, and environmental degradation. This is an amazing true story about female leadership, racial divides, and environmental crises. Maathai’s work and the Green Belt Movement continue today. The book is also beautifully illustrated with vibrant scenery and people. Recommended ages 6-9.
Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai
by Claire A. Nivola
This is a wonderful book about the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner, who worked tirelessly to save the Kenyan environment and the people who live and work there. The story explained how the land was cleared of trees to plant crops to sell, and this changed how the local people ate. They no longer grew their own food and instead bought their food from stores, which was more expensive and less nutritional. Then, the land, stripped of trees with deep roots to hold moisture and hold soil in place, began eroding and drying out. This caused water shortages and small dust storms. Wangari worked to establish tree planting and educated people about the importance of preserving the local environment through the Green Belt Movement. Recommended ages 5-9.
Elephants Remember: A True Story
by Jennifer O’Connell
I put this book under the “Environmental Leaders” category because while the book is about elephants, it is also about Lawrence Anthony. He was a conservationist who established the Thula Thula Reserve in South Africa. From the publisher: “This nonfiction picture book tells the story of Lawrence Anthony and the deep bond he forged with the matriarch of the herd he saved at his animal reserve in South Africa. When Lawrence died, the matriarch led all the elephants from remote parts of the reserve in a procession to his home, where they gathered to mourn him. They returned on the same day at the same time for the next two years — because elephants remember. This moving story of human-elephant mutual love and respect will inspire readers of all ages.” Recommended ages 4-8.
The Boy Who Grew a Forest: The True Story of Jadav Payeng
by Sophia Gholz
From the publisher: “As a boy, Jadav Payeng was distressed by the destruction deforestation and erosion was causing on his island home in India’s Brahmaputra River. So he began planting trees. What began as a small thicket of bamboo, grew over the years into 1,300 acre forest filled with native plants and animals. The Boy Who Grew a Forest tells the inspiring true story of Payeng–and reminds us all of the difference a single person with a big idea can make.” This book is also beautifully illustrated with vibrant imagery of animals and landscapes. Recommended ages 5-8.
Saving American Beach: The Biography of African American Environmentalist MaVynee Betsch
by Heidi Tyline King
“This heartfelt picture book biography illustrated by the Caldecott Honoree Ekua Holmes, tells the story of MaVynee Betsch, an African American opera singer turned environmentalist and the legacy she preserved.” MaVynee’s great-grandfather first established American Beach on the Florida east coast during segregation as a destination for African American families. Post-segregation the area fell into disrepair until developers started building. MaVynee moved back to American Beach when her mother became ill and spent the remainder of her life trying to save it. Because of her efforts, the NaNa sand dune and American Beach became part of the National Park Service and later was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Florida Black Heritage Trail. She passed away in 2005. This book is a good starting place for learning about topics related to the environment, racism, and preservation. Recommended ages 4-8.
Old Enough to Save the Planet
by Loll Kirby
This book is a great introduction to true stories of children across the world making a difference. From the publisher: “The world is facing a climate crisis like we’ve never seen before. And kids around the world are stepping up to raise awareness and try to save the planet…Meet 12 young activists from around the world who are speaking out and taking action against climate change. Learn about the work they do and the challenges they face, and discover how the future of our planet starts with each and every one of us.” The end of the book features things we can all do right now to make changes and additional resources. Recommended ages 8-12.
Heroes of the Environment: True Stories of People Who Are Helping to Protect Our Planet
by Harriet Rohmer
This book features the true and inspiring stories of 12 people in North America who have achieved great environmental accomplishments! Stories of growing food for a local community; fighting a natural gas company to prevent pollution; helping to establish electronic waste laws; and many other amazing efforts. Recommended ages 9-14.
Spring After Spring: How Rachel Carson Inspired the Environmental Movement
by Stephanie Roth Sisson
This beautifully illustrated and adorable book explains the importance of Rachel Carson’s work and begins with her childhood wander and wonder. This quest for knowledge about the natural world led Rachel to study science and to write about her observations and discoveries, especially about the dangerous chemicals used in pesticides and fertilizers. Her work was so important that she is credited with starting the environmental movement. This is an awesome biography for young children. Rachel Carson wrote, “As human beings, we are part of the whole stream of life.” Recommended ages 4-8.
Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World
by Laurie Lawlor
This biography of environmentalist and writer, Rachel Carson, is slightly more advanced than the previous title. It provides a thorough overview of her life journey that led her to become an acclaimed author, including the challenges of having to care for her family members and the obstacles she faced because she was a woman. Recommended ages 6-9.
Untamed: The Wild Life of Jane Goodall
by Anita Silvey; foreword by Jane Goodall
This National Geographic Kids book tells the story of Dr. Jane Goodall’s life, from childhood to the present. Her bravery and breakthrough discoveries on chimpanzees and life in Africa exhibited in this book will inspire children. There are many photographs, maps, and charts to enhance the reader’s understanding. Recommended ages 8-12.
Harlem Grown: How One Big Idea Transformed a Neighborhood
by Tony Hillery
This book is about the true story of a man who transformed a vacant New York City lot into a lush garden with the help of kids from a local underfunded school. Those children and their families enjoy the bountiful produce from the garden, and Harlem Grown is a non-profit organization whose mission is to inspire youth through urban farming, sustainability, and nutrition. Recommended ages 4-8.
Energy Island: How One Community Harnessed the Wind and Changed Their World
by Allan Drummond
This book explains the story of the Danish island of Samsø, which became a completely energy-independent community. In just ten years, they reduced their carbon emissions by 140% and become almost completely energy independent. This book is a great introduction to this story and to renewable energy sourcing. Many pages include accurate factual sections about fossil fuel dependence, renewable energy, global warming, and climate change. It’s inspiring and I intend to read more about Samsø! Recommended ages 6-10.
Pedal Power: How One Community Became the Bicycle Capital of the World
by Allan Drummond
From Amazon: “Cycling rules the road in Amsterdam today, but that wasn’t always the case. In the 1970’s, Amsterdam was so crowded with vehicles that bicyclists could hardly move, but moms and kids relied on their bicycles to get around the city. Pedal Power is the story of the people who led protests against the unsafe streets and took over a vehicles-only tunnel on their bikes, showing what a little pedal power could do!” Recommended ages 6-10.
Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist
by Jess Keating
This book captured the interest of son through the audiobook version – we listened to this book every day for about a month traveling to and forth school. The book not only tells the story of Eugenie Clark, but also promotes the protection of and education about all shark species. Recommended ages 4-8.
Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle
by Claire A. Nivola
This brief and simple biography of Dr. Sylvia Earle offers an age-appropriate introduction to this ocean explorer, scientist, and protector of oceans. The illustrations are detailed and colorful and the book mentions some of her greatest adventures, such as when she lived underwater for two weeks. “I wish that everybody could go live underwater if only for a day,” Dr. Earle wrote of the experience. The Author’s Note at the end has more detailed information about her life. Recommended ages 4-8.
Ocean Speaks: How Marie Tharp Revealed the Ocean’s Biggest Secret
by Jess Keating
This book is about Marie Tharp, a geologist and oceanographic cartographer who mapped an underwater mountain ridge in the 1950s. She was the first to map the Earth’s mid-Atlantic ridge, supporting the theory of continental drift, which was still controversial in the scientific world. It took years for her map to be accepted. But what she discovered is the single largest geographic feature on the planet: a system of underwater mountain ranges spanning 40,000 miles. This colorfully illustrated book features additional information at the back of the book. Recommended ages 4-8.
Nature & Ecosystems
We Are the Ocean
by Captain Paul Watson
This book simply explains how we are all part of and bound to the ocean. The illustrations are beautiful and most feature a child with a dog, which is usually very appealing to children. From the publisher: “The author beautifully describes the importance of the ocean in sustaining life of all living plants and animals…When children learn that the ocean is part of them, they will hopefully learn to love and appreciate it, and take care of the ocean as they grow older.” Recommended ages 3-6.
Before The Saltwater Came
by Captain Wendy Wilson Billiot, aka “The Bayou Woman”
This adorable story features an otter family which lives in the wetland marshes of Louisiana. Wetland loss and landscape changes over generations affect how the otters eat, play, and inhabit their environment. This story rings true to the damaging effects of dredging and oil digging, as well as global warming. We are losing one of the most important wetlands in the world. Recommended ages 8-12.
by Jason Chin
In this story, the boy reads a non-fiction book about Redwood trees while riding the train. His imagination while reading brings him to the California forests while learning about their history, growth, ecosystem, and great importance. It is packed with information, and I even learned a lot that I didn’t know, just from reading it to my son. It has beautiful illustrations and a page at the end about the endangerment of the Redwood forests. Recommended ages 4-8.
by DK; foreword by Steve Backshall
We learned a lot from this book, and the illustrations are attractive. From the publisher: “This is the ultimate book about the Galápagos for kids, covering the formation of the islands, the fascinating animals that live there, the evolutionary traits of the flora, the diverse climates, the brilliant conservation efforts and much more! This beautifully illustrated and photographic book provides a fascinating tour of the flora, fauna, and geology of the Galapágos islands. Children can learn about the unique and incredible wildlife, volcanoes, climate and Darwin’s theory of evolution from his visit to the Galápagos.” Recommended ages 7-11.
Tall Tall Tree
by Anthony D. Fredericks
This book is about the redwood forests along the northern Californian coast and its surrounding environment. It features the animals that inhabit the redwood forests. The story has a rhyming pattern with number counting. It’s fun to read to young children and early readers can enjoy it on their own. The end of the book features STEAM activities and scientific information about redwood trees and the habitat they create. It is also beautifully illustrated! Recommended ages 2-6.
Protecting Our Planet
One Child, One Planet: Inspiration for the Young Conservationist
by Bridget McGovern Llewellyn
We love this book! The book rhymes like a long poem while teaching about conserving nature and slowing down climate change. The book is not illustrated; instead, it features beautiful photography of nature scapes and animals. It calls the reader to think about what changes they can make to help the planet through loving and caring actions. Recommended ages 5-8.
Martha Speaks: Martha Go, Go, Goes Green!
by Susan Meddaugh
This book from the Martha Speaks series with a talking dog is about alternative energy sources and upcycling. Recommended ages 4-7.
by Dr. Seuss
This classic book explores consumerism, deforestation, and pollution through a colorful, imaginary world that children love. This story teaches children not to take advantage of our beautiful planet and to protect it. It also provides children with the inspiration that just one person, though small, can make a difference! This is a timeless must-read. Recommended ages 5-9.
Little Helpers by Green Start
This board book may be difficult to find new or in a library, but worth searching for. There were several in the series. These books were “Made from 98% recycled materials” and eco-friendly ink. I actually purchased my copy at Whole Foods several years ago and this was one of my son’s favorites at the time. It featured an inspiring message of helping people, animals, and the environment. Recommended ages 2-4.
Eco Babies Wear Green
by Michelle Sinclair Colman
I found this board book while I was pregnant at a museum gift shop in New York City, and began reading it to my son as soon as he was born. It is a very simple book about being eco-friendly with brightly colored illustrations. Another favorite from my son’s early years. Recommended ages birth-3.
Earth Day Every Day
by Lisa Bullard
In this cute story, a young girl explores what it means to celebrate Earth Day every day. She learns about planting trees, reusing, and trading items for reuse, reducing waste, and recycling. She starts an Earth Day Club with her school. Recommended ages 5-8.
Touch the Earth
by Julian Lennon
This is the first in a series of three books about making the world a better place through love, caring, and helpful efforts. I love this series, as they are inspiring to young children! Recommended ages 3-6.
Heal the Earth
by Julian Lennon
This is the second book in the series by Lennon. An interactive adventure that explores healing people, the ocean, the air, the rainforests, and the animals. “If we can all work together, we can make our planet better!” Recommended ages 3-6.
Love the Earth
by Julian Lennon
The third book of this series, this interactive book shows children the beauty of the Earth, the connectedness of all people, the importance of keeping our environments clean, and the importance of helping each other. “Love is why we’re here. Help is what we give!” Recommended ages 3-6.
Wildlife & Endangered Species
Don’t Let Them Disappear: 12 Endangered Species Across the Globe
by Chelsea Clinton
This is a beautifully illustrated book featuring unique facts about twelve of our endangered species. The book also explains why each species is threatened with extinction. I highly recommend this book as an introduction or conversation starter with children about endangered species and how we can help. Recommended ages 4-8.
Beauty and the Beak: How Science, Technology, and a 3D-Printed Beak Rescued a Bald Eagle
by Deborah Lee Rose and ane Veltkamp
This is an inspiring true story about an eagle that survived a gunshot wound to the face. But she lost most of her beak, the lifeline for a bird of prey. This is one story where plastic helped a beautiful creature, instead of harming her! Recommended ages 8-13.
Animal Ark: Celebrating our Wild World in Poetry and Pictures
by Joel Sartore and Kwame Alexander
This poetic book exposes children to the Photo Ark project, created by National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore. It features colorful, full-page portraits of about forty of the Earth’s most interesting creatures. Your child will view details of the textures and characteristics of each animal. I love this book and so does my son! Recommended ages 4-8.
Back from the Brink: Saving Animals from Extinction
by Nancy F. Castaldo
This non-fiction book is targeted for ages 10-12 (grades 5-7), but I read it and learned a few new things. The book covers the history and current state of several species including Bald eagles, California condors, American alligators, the Galapagos tortoise, and the American bison. It also includes a brief history of legislation related to pollution, toxic chemicals, and the Endangered Species Act. This is a really good book to start with if your young reader or researcher is interested in this topic. Here is a quote from the book regarding lead in ammunition (which is highly poisonous and gets into the food chain): “On President Obama’s last day in office, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued an order phasing out the use of lead ammunition on national wildlife refuges by 2022. However, this phaseout was reversed by President Donald Trump’s appointee, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, on his first day in office less than three months later.” We can all do better! Recommended ages 10-12.
The Elephant Scientist (Scientists in the Field Series)
by Caitlin O’Connell and Donna M. Jackson
From the publisher: “In the sprawling African scrub desert of Etosha National Park, they call her “the mother of all elephants.” Camouflaged, holding binoculars closely to her eyes, Caitlin O’Connell–the American scientist who traveled to Namibia to study African elephants in their natural habitat—could not believe what she was seeing: as the mighty matriarch scanned the horizon, the other elephants followed suit, stopping midstride and standing as still as statues. Extraordinarily, this observation would be one of many to guide the scientist to a groundbreaking, crucial discovery. A major breakthrough in the study of elephant communication was afoot.” The book includes maps, a glossary, and lists of additional resources. Recommended ages 10-12.
Stories about Animals
Saving Fiona The Story of the World’s Most Famous Baby Hippo
by Thane Maynard
This hippo was born prematurely at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden in 2017. It was the first time a baby hippo had been born prematurely in captivity, and this is Fiona’s story. The team of doctors, zoologists, and scientists worked together to ensure her survival. The book is filled with color photos of Fiona’s progress. This was heart-warming, especially since hippos are a threatened species. It’s a great and engaging story for any age! Recommended ages 4-7.
Tarra & Bella: The Elephant and Dog Who Became Best Friends
Tarra became the first resident of the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee after retiring from the circus. Tarra was not close to other elephants, but when she met a stray dog named Bella, the two became best friends and were inseparable. They ate together, slept together, and even understood each other! When Bella suffered a severe spinal injury, Tarra was by her side through Bella’s recovery. This is a beautifully photographed and true story of an unlikely friendship!
The Spirit of Springer: The Real-Life Rescue of an Orphaned Orca
by Amanda Abler
This is the true story about the 2003 rescue of Springer, a Northern Resident Orca who got separated from her pod after her mother (likely) passed away. Several organizations and scientists worked together to identify, rehabilitate, and return her to her pod off of the coast of British Columbia. It’s an endearing and accurate account of Springer’s journey. The book features additional information and resources as well. Recommended ages 7-10.
Orca Rescue! The True Story of an Orphaned Orca Named Springer
by Donna Sandstrom
This book is an accurate account of Springer’s journey, but the book is for slightly older readers than The Spirit of Springer. From the publisher: “A captivating account of the only successful orca rescue and reunion in history told in first person by Donna Sandstrom, a citizen participant of the rescue…Orcas and their survival are a topical issue, and readers will discover what it’s like on the front lines of whale rescue, including the collaboration and teamwork that are required.” Recommended ages 8-12.
Koko-Love! Conversations With a Signing Gorilla
by Dr. Francine “Penny” Patterson
This is Koko the Gorilla’s story. Koko was able to learn and communicate with American Sign Language, showing an understanding of words for objects, actions, and emotions. She even had kittens as pets over the years. Sadly, Koko passed away in 2018. But the organization is still active with one other gorilla, Ndume, and their mission focuses on conservation and fostering programs that help and study primates. Visit koko.org for more information. This book is a great way to learn the story of Koko, Penny, and the other gorillas in their care. Recommended ages 8-12.
Yoshi and the Ocean: A Sea Turtle’s Incredible Journey Home
by Lindsay Moore
This is a true story about Yoshi the sea turtle who was rescued and rehabilitated and eventually released. It is beautifully illustrated and visually explores the problems sea turtles face during their voyages. Yoshi lived at an aquarium in South Africa for 20 years before being released. She traveled 25,000 miles in 1,003 days to find her way home. I highly recommend this book, as it tells a story while examining environmental problems. Recommended ages 4-8.
When the Whales Walked: And Other Incredible Evolutionary Journeys
by Dougal Dixon
This book is an excellent scientific exploration of evolution. It was awarded an Outstanding Science Trade Book for Students: K–12 in 2019 from the National Science Teachers Association and the Children’s Book Council. It is well-organized, beautifully illustrated, and fascinating. While a children’s book, I learned a good deal from it myself and recommend that anyone who wants to learn about evolution read it. We borrow most books from the library, but this is a book I plan to purchase and keep on the shelf for my son. Recommended ages 8-12.
A Kids Guide to Giving
by Freddi Zeiler
This guide provides kids with the knowledge to be able to give money, raise money, donate goods, and/or volunteer for charitable organizations. It includes practical safety measures and how to verify that a charity is legitimate. Although it could use an update since it was published in 2006, much of the material is still relevant and this is a great guide for children and young teens to get started with. Recommended ages 9-14.