20 of the Best Picture Books to Teach Kids about the Environment

by - Monday, April 06, 2020

Beyond the Lorax- 20 of our Favorite Picture Books to Teach Kids about the Environment

Talking to our kids about the environment right now is really hard. How do you teach your little ones about Climate Change without keeping them up at night? How do you talk about our responsibility for the planet without overwhelming them with guilt and responsibility?

One great tool that I love to use is books. And I find more every year, so check out our updates at the end of the post! 

The Lorax may speak for the trees, but he certainly isn't the only one. As Earth Day approaches and we see climate catastrophe all around us, introducing these ideas to our kids can be intimidating or scary. It's no wonder that people lean on familiar and comfortable books!

As I have become more aware of Dr Seuss's approach to race, I have purged my kids Seuss library, but I can never say good bye to the Lorax. I like that the narrative makes a bold, direct, and unapologetic connection between consumerism, manufacturing, and environmental destruction. Though I don't want Dr Seuss to be a cornerstone of our library, I have left this voice as one among many.

Looking for more books to share with your kids? I have tons of great ideas, perfect for days at home or the build up to Earth Day. Let's do this!

I am listing these as Amazon links so you can see them and their reviews, but don't be silly and get them this way! You don't know me from a hole in the ground, so go check out these books in the library before you buy them. Amazon is essentially the Walmart of the internet, and a lot of their practices are pretty cruddy for the environment, so borrowing and buying local are both significantly better options. I am an Amazon associate and take a tiny cut if you buy them this way, but seriously, that should hopefully be a last resort.

Check your local booksellers too! Seattle's Third Place Books, Oregon's Powell's Books and many more are still using online orders, so you can support a small business and stay social distanced as needed.

Ok, let's do this!

1. Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth - Oliver Jeffers

This book is beautiful, and every time we read it, I think we should just read it every day. A perfect book for embracing our own smallness and how we fit into this world. This works so well as a partner book to so many others on this list (and I just think it belongs in every library).

2. A Stone Sat Still - Brendan Wenzel

This is a book I thought I might love (we got it as a gift), but it might not keep the attention of my kids. It's quiet and poetic and beautifully illustrated. I was so wrong; my five year old frequently asks for me to read it. The rhythm just draws kids in.. It's quickly becoming one of my absolute favorites.

3. Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian - Margarita Engle

Maria Merian was one of the world's first entomologists, and this book is about her childhood examining bugs and reptiles in a time where people still saw them as evil and menacing. In our house, this book leads to great discussions of looking closely and how much you can learn by slowing down and observing. For my classes, we make our own sketchbooks and go out with magnifying glasses to help slow down our looking at nature. Even the littlest kids can do this!

4. Magic Trash: A Story of Tyree Guyton and his Art - J. H. Shapiro

Trash is a huge topic, and kids are shockingly great at putting their knowledge about waste into practice (my son knows that we try to avoid plastic and that we save containers we can use again). This is a beautiful book about waste, community, and seeing the beauty in things others don't even notice the value of. It also pairs perfectly with making your own art projects with anything out of your garbage (we save our best trash in a bin in our basement).

5. We Are Water Protectors- Carol Lindstrom

This brand new book is outrageously pretty to look at, and it sets you up to do more research and reading about indigenous people and their battle to protect water all over North America. Our kids love stories about heroes, so introduce them to heroes they may not know much about.

6. Thank You Bees - Toni Yuly

This is a fun, bright, and positive book that really resonates with little ones (2-3) but can be discussed with preschoolers and early readers too. Not a ton of words, but plenty to talk about when you are done, and it adds to my general goal that my kids understand bugs, bees, and spiders as helpers.

7. Sofia Valdez: Future Prez - Andrea Beaty

I love all the books in this popular series from Ms. Grier's second grade class (Rosie Revere is the favorite in our house), but Sofia is the first one to make me cry! This book is about courage, team work, and turning Mount Trashmore into a park instead. The story illustrates the dangers and destruction of trash when it accumulates, and it stresses to kids that they are never too small to lead and collaborate. Everybody get this gem.

8. Big Book of Bugs series - Yuval Zommer

These beautifully illustrated books share fun facts about all sorts of creatures from bugs to sea life to birds. Bugs is my favorite, and it pairs perfectly with Maria Merian, but any of these are a perfect pick if you have a kid who likes non fiction information, not just stories. And seriously great inspiration for making your own animal-inspired art!

9. Goodbye Winter, Hello Spring- Kenard Pak

With my three and five-year-olds, we are just getting to conversations about seasons and change. These are simply and lovingly addressed in these books (they have one for every seasonal change), but I mostly love that these are written like a conversation, a subtle reminder that we are witnesses and participants in what is happening in nature.

10. The Magic Schoolbus- Joanna Cole

All of these books are wonderful, but my favorite is probably the one about bees. Why? Because bees are a perfect example of humans perceiving nature as a threat when creatures like bees are actually vital to keeping us all going. It's not that heavy handed, but it helps build understanding, which minimizes fear. I always learn something reading these books too.

11. The Magic and Mystery of Trees - Dr Jen Green

A beautiful book that is super dense with information. Great for slightly older children, but it can be fun to browse through with little ones too.

12. What's so Bad about Gasoline: Fossil Fuels and What They Do - Anne Rockwell

This isn't the best book in terms of literary merit, but if you have a kid who needs some direct answers, this can be really helpful. I love that it is pretty clear while making the science accessible to kids.

13. Field Notes or Decomposition Books

There is really nothing like getting your kiddo out into nature and experiencing the real thing. I have had some really surprisingly wonderful mornings with my kids with pens and paper (and if I am really on point, a magnifying glass). Even if you are only exploring your neighborhood, practice looking closely and drawing what you see. I do this with almost all of my classes, and it is always a hit in its own way. The best option is to use paper you already have, but if you want a specific space for these observations, check out field notes and decomposition books. 

If you don't feel confident just having a blank page, we liked this nature journal for more direction. 

14. If you Plant a Seed - Kadir Nelson

Super simple, but it uses growing as a metaphor for how the way we treat people grows into the bonds we make with each other. A perfect read for this time of year, especially if you are planning a garden (which I highly recommend. Starting a garden with my kids may be the best thing I ever did as a parent).

15. All Around the World - Geraldine Cosneau

If you have a kid who loves stickers, but you don't love the waste, All Around the World is a pretty great option. The stickers are reusable, and each page is like its own lesson on habitats, eco-systems, and nature's interdependence. Super beautiful.

16. The Street Beneath my Feet - Charlotte Guillian and Yuval Zommer

This strange and wonderful book folds out the length of our living room, so our kids can inspect and study the many layers of Earth underneath them. This isn't a part of nature we often think of, but the book effortlessly connects ecology and geology, so kids can think about everything from plumbing to fossils.

17. National Geographic Children's Books

How do you pick just one? Their books are consistent, accurate, and filled with gorgeous photographs. I tend to gravitate towards a good story or beautiful illustrations, but my five year old cannot resist a good encyclopedic non-fiction book, so he loves the Big Books of things. They have these kinds of books for geology, animals, and more specific subjects like birds. These are always gems and worth picking up at the library.

18. The Wonderous Workings of Planet Earth: Understanding our World and Its Ecosystems - Rachel Ignotofsky

This book is so beautiful, and it gives so much interesting information about the planet. I think it also really works as a call to action, pressing us to protect the planet. It always makes me think about how we need to relearn to love nature, because we can only save what we love. Here, the planet is portrayed throughtfully and lovingly.

19. Andy Goldsworthy Coffee Table Books 

There isn't a Goldsworthy book for children, but if you get a book of images like this one "A Collaboration with Nature" it is likely a win. I have never had a class that didn't get invested in flipping the pages and trying to guess how he makes his outdoor installations.

Perfect for talking about how things in nature are always changing, and it can be a particularly lovely day outside searching for materials and making their own art. Kids as little as three can really enjoy making their own piles and collections.

20. Heal The Earth - Julian Lennon

I have to be honest, I have mixed feelings about this one. My kids love it, and it straightforwardly explains a few major issues our planet is facing, but I worry that it gives my kids a sense of an easy solution. All you have to do is press a button, and the coral reefs are fixed! Still a great one if you want to start introducing issues without freaking your little one out.

We have found even more amazing nature books since writing this post! Here are our new favorites: 

Easy Peasy Gardening for Kids - Kirsten Bradley

A gorgeous little collection of projects and ideas for kids to try in their garden, from making their own potato man to a bee hotel to pollinator gardens. We are all about these projects right now. 

The Boy Who Spoke to the Earth- Chris Burkard

We got this book at a National Park, and the experience of reading it for the first time really helped my kids practice mindfulness in big natural spaces. We got to talk about all of our senses, what we loved in nature, how it felt to be at the ocean vs a forest vs a desert. I think it helps establish skills we will keep using to try to be more mindful in nature. 

Slow Down: 50 Mindful Moments in Nature - Rachel Williams

This book is another beauty that might make a really lovely bedtime book, creating a practice to slow down and appreciate nature. It just feels really special. 

20 of the Best Picture Books to Teach Kids about the Environment

Beyond the Lorax- 20 of our Favorite Picture Books to Teach Kids about the Environment

Beyond the Lorax- 20 of our Favorite Picture Books to Teach Kids about the Environment

Ok, the beauty of books is that there are just so many amazing ones out there, so I know I am missing your favorite book about nature. Please comment with it!

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