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Find more Classroom Connections
Help students take an active role in caring for the earth with these recent books.
Literature provides one way to help children and young adults learn about the environment, the great outdoors, and economic, social, and environmental systems. Through books, young readers can discover how to reduce, reuse, and recycle, as well as find out about preserving the natural world and the work of ecologists. No one is too young to take an active role in becoming an environmental steward. In this article, we share fiction and nonfiction published in the last year that encourages earth-friendly living. Taken together, the titles below remind us to ask ourselves, What is our part in protecting our fragile earth? What are our contributions as responsible stewards of the earth? For more, see the October 2009 Book Links article “Saving the Earth—One Book at a Time,” featuring environmentally themed novels and ecofiction thrillers.
Books for Younger Readers
The Adventures of a Plastic Bottle: A Story about Recycling. By Alison Inches. Illus. by Pete Whitehead. 2009. 24p. Simon & Schuster/Little Simon, paper, $3.99 (9781416967880). K–Gr. 2. A plastic bottle describes his life’s journey, starting as crude oil deep underneath the ocean floor, then being pumped to an oil refinery, becoming a pile of plastic crumbs, and, finally, being manufactured into a clear plastic bottle. Next he is sterilized, filled with water, and labeled. After being purchased and emptied by a little boy, he finds himself in a recycling bin. Later, he is taken to a recycling center, where he is shredded, washed, rinsed, and dried into something brand-new—a synthetic fleece sweatshirt for an astronaut.
Bag in the Wind. By Ted Kooser. Illus. by Barry Root. 2010. 48p. Candlewick, $17.99 (9780763630010). K–Gr. 2. Mindful of the longevity of a plastic bag—it takes years for one to decompose—the author imagines the journey of one yellow plastic bag that flies out of a landfill only to become useful in many different ways. As the bag goes from hand to hand, person to person, and place to place, the theme of recycling and reusing materials is threaded throughout and portrayed in soft, sentimental illustrations.
The Buffalo Are Back. By Jean Craighead George. Illus. by Wendell Minor. 2010. 32p. Dutton, $16.99 (9780525422150). 599.64. Gr. 2–4.In this follow-up to The Wolves Are Back (2008), George describes the demise of America’s 75 million buffalo, reduced to a herd of 300. In simple yet effective prose she explains how the plains were overfarmed, and how the loss of the buffalo contributed to the Dust Bowl. Minor’s beautiful landscape paintings are an effective backdrop for the story, which illustrates how quickly greed and carelessness can destroy nature’s bounties.
Earth: Feeling the Heat. By Brenda Z. Guiberson. Illus. by Chad Wallace. 2010. 32p. Holt, $16.99 (9780805077193). 577.27. K–Gr. 3.Reminding readers that they can make all the difference in the world, this easy-to-understand picture book alternately asks who can save 12 different imperiled creatures and then lists several actions to halt global warming. The warm, sun-drenched illustrations echo the message perfectly; for instance, showing hungry caribou searching for lichen after beetles have destroyed the trees. Back matter includes a map showing where each threatened species is located.
Global Warming. By Seymour Simon. 2010. 32p. illus. Collins, $17.99 (9780061142505); lib. ed., $18.89 (9780061142512). 363.738. Gr. 3–5. Simon’s informative collaboration with the Smithsonian makes the large, complex issues surrounding climate change understandable. Simon distinguishes between weather and climate and succinctly explains the greenhouse effect and the dangers of rising levels of greenhouse gas emissions. Thoughtfully chosen full-page photos complement and reflect the text. The book concludes with realistic ways that individuals, families, and communities can help ease the planet’s woes.
How the World Works: A Hands-On Guide to Our Amazing Planet. By Christiane Dorion. Illus. by Beverley Young. 2010. 18p. Candlewick/Templar, $17.99 (9780763648015). 550. Gr. 3–5.“What is a carbon footprint?” “Why does it rain?” Dorion and Young team up to answer many big questions about how the world works, from plate tectonics to weather, using pop-ups, pull-tabs, flaps, and other interactive elements. Though better suited for browsing than research, this is an engaging introduction to earth science and will inspire thinking about how humans impact the planet.
Love Your World: How to Take Care of the Plants, the Animals, and the Planet. By Dawn Sirett. Illus. by Rachael Parfitt and others. 2009. 36p. DK, $8.99 (9780756645908). 333.72. PreS–Gr. 2. “Let’s take care of all the things in our world.” In colorful photographs young children share how they can be a part of the “green team” and save our planet. Simple suggestions appear on each page, including growing plants in the garden for bees and butterflies, giving old toys to charity, and putting litter in the trash. The book closes with a “super green star award” that each child can sign.
The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge. By Joanna Cole. Illus. by Bruce Degen. 2010. 48p. Scholastic, $16.99 (9780590108263). Gr. 2–4. Verbal and visual elements work together in this eco-friendly entry in the Magic School Bus series as Ms. Frizzle and her students study climate change, the greenhouse effect, alternative energy sources, and carbon dioxide emissions. Back at school and at home, they put energy-saving practices into effect.
OK Go. By Carin Berger. Illus. by the author. 2009. 32p. Greenwillow, $17.99 (9780061576669). K–Gr. 2.Incorporating recycled materials into her collage illustrations, Berger fills each page with vehicles, humans, and other life forms moving rapidly from one place to the next. As everyone screeches across the pages, the word GO! is repeated, until a two-page spread reveals the air polluted by all this transportation. As everyone comes to a stop to reconsider his or her actions, a gatefold shows what each person can do to stop the pollution and waste. A closing spread offers even more suggestions for going green as well as recommended books and Web sites.
Our World of Water: Children and Water around the World. By Beatrice Hollyer. 2009. 48p. illus. Holt, $16.99 (9780805089417). 363.6. Gr. 2–5. Published in association with Oxfam, this photo-essay introduces readers to six children—from Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Mauritania, Peru, Tajikistan, and the United States—and shows how they use water in their daily lives. Colorful photographs and artful design features present the children, their families, chores, lifestyles, homes, and surroundings, as well as their efforts to conserve the precious commodity. A great companion to Rochelle Strauss’ One Well: The Story of Water on Earth (2007).
A Place for Frogs. By Melissa Stewart. Illus. by Higgins Bond. 2010. 32p. Peachtree, $16.95 (9781561455218). 597.8. K–Gr. 3. Using two levels of text, Stewart introduces young readers to the ways human action and inaction can affect frogs and describes how people can protect these amphibians and their habitats. The beautiful, realistic paintings are so lifelike that readers almost expect the subjects to jump off the pages. Pair this with Stewart and Bond’s A Place for Butterflies (2006) and A Place for Birds (2009).
Rachel Carson: Clearing the Way for Environmental Protection. By Mike Venezia. Illus. by the author. 2009. 32p. Scholastic/Children’s Press, lib. ed., $28 (9780531237045); paper, $6.95 (9780531207789). 333.95. Gr. 2–4.In this title in the Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Inventors and Scientists series, Venezia uses a mix of approachable facts and irreverent drawings to introduce the maverick environmentalist. Middle-grade readers can learn more in Patricia Lantier’s Rachel Carson: Fighting Pesticides and Other Chemical Pollutants (2009), while older readers will find a more thorough profile in Ellen Levine’s Rachel Carson (2007), from the Up Close biography series.
This Tree Counts! By Allison Formento. Illus. by Sarah Snow. 2010. 32p. Albert Whitman, $16.99 (9780807578902). PreS–Gr. 2.Only one oak tree is growing behind Oak Lane School. Mr. Tate’s class prepares to plant more trees in the schoolyard and learns that the giant oak has a story to tell. This gentle counting book explains how animals depend on the tree for a home and shelter. Snow’s beautiful cut-paper illustrations help convey the important environmental message.
We Are Extremely Very Good Recyclers. By Lauren Child and Bridget Hurst. Illus. by Tiger Aspect Productions. 2009. 32p. Dial, $16.99 (9780803733350). K–Gr. 2. Lola loves to keep things—clothes, toys, and books. She decides to clean her room and throw it all away, but her brother, Charlie, recommends that she recycle the items: “Because if we throw everything away, then we will be completely buried under a massive, huge pile of garbage.” Together, Charlie and Lola recycle as much as they can, using a “tree counter” to keep track of what they give away.
Books for Older Readers
Earth Heroes: Champions of the Wilderness. By Bruce Malnor and Carol Malnor. Illus. by Anisa Claire Hovemann. 2009. 144p. Dawn, paper, $11.95 (9781584691167). 333.72092. Gr. 5–8.This follow-up to Fran Hodgkins’ Earth Heroes: Champions of the Ocean (2009) weaves together the biographies of eight environmentalists who made the world a better place: Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Theodore Roosevelt, Aldo Leopold, Richard St. Barbe Baker, Margaret Murie, David Suzuki, and Wangari Maathai. Readers learn about their childhoods, careers, contributions, and environmental legacies.
Earth in the Hot Seat: Bulletins from a Warming World. By Marfe Ferguson Delano. 2009. 64p. illus. National Geographic, $19.95 (9781426304347); lib. ed., $28.90 (9781426304354). 363.738. Gr. 4–8.The solitary polar bear clinging to a chunk of ice on the cover of this striking photo-essay forcefully delivers the message that global warming has dire consequences for earth’s inhabitants. The author describes nature’s bulletins—the signs of global warming and the science to back it up—in the first chapters, then tackles the consequences of life in a warmer world and offers solutions.
Heroes of the Environment: True Stories of People Who Are Helping to Protect Our Planet. By Harriet Rohmer. Illus. by Julie McLaughlin. 2009. 112p. Chronicle, $16.99 (9780811867795). 333.72092. Gr. 3–8.Highlighting 12 contemporary conservationists who have dedicated their lives to the environment, this book is divided into chapters featuring cartoonlike drawings of each hero, photographs and illustrations, and a narrative describing each person’s work. For example, when Alex Lin was 11 years old he decided to educate his town about e-waste (computers, cell phones, TVs). The mix of personal stories and current issues is effective, and a final section covers “How You Can Get Involved.”
Mission: Planet Earth. By Sally Ride and Tam O’Shaughnessy. 2009. 80p. illus. Roaring Brook/Flash Point, $19.95 (9781596433106). 525. Gr. 4–6. Supported by scientific information throughout, Ride and O’Shaughnessy explain how earth’s climate began to change, and recommend lifestyle alterations that can help reduce the crisis. Eye-popping photographs reveal the planet’s fragility, and specific examples—such as the fact that mountain pikas cannot survive temperatures over 88 degrees—make the issue more immediate. This book is a companion to the authors’ Mission: Save the Planet: Things You Can Do to Help Fight Global Warming! (2009).
Our Choice: How We Can Solve the Climate Crisis. By Al Gore. 2009. 208p. illus. Viking, $24.99 (9780670012480); Puffin, paper, $16.99 (9780142409817). 363.738. Gr. 5–8.Describing the changes in earth’s climate, Gore casts the crisis as a problem to be solved, providing specific ways readers can make a difference. With readable text and illustrations and photographs, the book ponders the difference between acting and failing to act. The front cover features a globally warmed Earth, while the back cover illustrates the blues and greens of a healthy planet.
Recycle This Book: 100 Top Children’s Book Authors Tell You How to Go Green. Ed. by Dan Gutman. 2009. 288p. Yearling, paper, $5.99 (9780385737210). 640. Gr. 2–12.Picture-book authors such as Gail Gibbons, Eve Bunting, and Rosemary Wells, along with intermediate authors Lois Lowry and Susan Patron and young-adult authors such as Matt de la Peña and Laurie Halse Anderson, offer essays with ideas for saving energy, reducing waste, and helping the environment. Divided into “Your Home,” “Your School,” and “Your Community,” this is ideal to use as a discussion starter on what students can do on an individual level.
We Are the Weather Makers: The History of Climate Change. By Tim Flannery and Sally M. Walker. 2009. 320p. Candlewick, $17.99 (9780763636562); paper, $9.99 (9780763646561). Gr. 7–12.Adapted by award-winning science writer Walker, this youth edition of Flannery’s adult title The Weather Makers (2005) is filled with disturbing facts about how humans have changed earth’s climate, explaining the problems and then calling for action. Sidebars at the end of each chapter suggest ways that young people can reduce carbon emissions in their homes, schools, and communities. For an interview with the author, see Talking with Sally M. Walker.
Series Nonfiction Connections
The following new environmental series were recently recommended in Booklist magazine and will be useful to students who are researching the topics of energy, green initiatives, ecology, and more.
Climate Change series. Marshall Cavendish. Individual titles, 32p., lib. ed., $19.95. Gr. 3–6.
Compact Research: Energy and the Environment series. ReferencePoint. Individual titles, 96p., lib. ed., $25.95. Gr. 9–12.
Diminishing Threats series. Morgan Reynolds. Individual titles, 112p., lib. ed., $28.95. Gr. 7–12.
Earth SOS series. Black Rabbit/Sea-to-Sea. Individual titles, 32p., lib. ed., $28.50. Gr. 3–5.
Going Green series. Bearport. Individual titles, 32p., lib. ed., $25.27. Gr. 2–5.
A Great Idea! Going Green series. Norwood. Individual titles, 48p., lib. ed., $18.95. Gr. 4–7.
Green-Collar Careers series. Crabtree. Individual titles, 64p., paper, $10.95; lib. ed., $30.60. Gr. 4–8.
Green Generation series. Compass Point. Individual titles, 64p., lib. ed., $31.99. Gr. 5–8.
Green Matters series. Rosen. Individual titles, 64p., lib. ed., $21.95. Gr. 5–8.
Protecting Our Planet series. Rosen. Individual titles, 24p., lib. ed., $21.25. Gr. 3–5.
Scientists Saving the Earth series. Enslow. 112p., lib. ed., $31.93. Gr. 5–9.
Tell Your Parents series. Mitchell Lane. Individual titles, 64p., lib. ed., $21.50. Gr. 4–7.
Barbara A. Ward teaches English/language arts in Tallulah, Louisiana, and Deanna Day and Terrell A. Young are on the faculty at Washington State University.
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