Top Ten Book Picks To Celebrate Earth Day

Top Ten Book Picks To Celebrate Earth Day


By Christina Krost

Caring for the earth is important to me and my family. And I bet it’s important to you, too. My family’s interest in sustainability began with a desire to save money after my husband’s sudden job loss in late 2008. We exhaustively researched cloth diapering as a way to save money, which led to hunting for non-toxic detergent and personal care products, which led to choosing more organic food options, which increased our awareness of fair trade practices and environmental justice issues. Our change of heart and consumer habits took place over several years and continues to this day, influencing our choices at the grocery store and shopping mall.

But it’s a big wide world and we’re very, very small. How do we as parents instill a desire to care for our shared land, air, and water? How do we teach the connection of families all over the world? We can start by reading. I gave my library card a workout this month to compile a list of 10 books that cover varied topics about earth care including sustainable food & land use, water preservation, energy & climate change, and advocacy. These books are great ways to begin conversations at home about what small things every family can do to help reduce their impact on the earth. No one can do everything, but everyone can do something. And you can start this Earth Month at home, with story time.

Common Ground: The Water, Earth, and Air We Share by Molly Bang (1997)

This book describes how our society has moved from one of community to one focused on self-preservation. Through simple words, concepts, and illustrations, author Molly Bang describes how we’ve taken what should belong to everyone—grass for grazing, fish from the sea, fossil fuels from the ground, water from lakes and rivers—and used it for short-term benefit. Our mentality that there will always be resources to use and land to live on is quickly drying up, and soon we’ll have nowhere else to go and no more resources to deplete. This book appeals to kids’ sense of justice and fairness and might inspire your school-aged children to advocate for clean air and water or find ways to better share the Earth’s resources.

On Meadowview Street by Henry Cole (2007)

This charming book follows Caroline and her family as they move into a new home. Caroline notices some wildflowers growing in the too-tall grass of her new yard, and as her father begins to mow she ropes off an area to save the flowers from certain death. As she notices more and more beauty and biodiversity in her yard, the roped off area becomes bigger and bigger until the family sells their lawnmower and builds up a small little nature preserve within the fence of their backyard. The idea to return Meadowview Street into an actual meadow catches on, and several other families join in until there is a home for everyone—plant, animal, and insect—in their neighborhood. The illustrations are soft and there are few words on a page, making this an excellent read for all ages.

The Earth Book by Todd Parr (2010)

New York Times bestselling author Todd Parr has written another family favorite (His book We Belong Together was reviewed here). His colorful and child-like illustrations catch the eye in this simple children’s book emphasizing ways even the youngest children can help care for the planet. He illustrates simple actions like turning off the faucet when brushing teeth or using both sides of paper to draw on to reflect the characters’ love for the plants, animals, and people around the world. Parr ends the book with this sentiment: “Remember: if we take care of it, it will take care of us.”

Compost Stew: An A to Z Recipe for the Earth by Mary McKenna Siddals (2010)

“Compost is a nature’s way of recycling,” states the author’s note at the beginning of the book. This truth will lead you and your children to discover the many things you can, and cannot, compost. Got a budding chef at home? This book can help make composting part of your food prep routine and make cooking an environmental exercise. Paying close attention to what is and is not compostable might lead to improvements in eating habits. This might spark discussion about one of the easiest ways to reduce your family’s carbon footprint–going meatless for one meal a week. The illustrations are charming and use recycled materials and papers. This book is suitable for preschool aged children and up.

Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney (1982)

Winner of both the American Book Award and Caldecott Award in 1983, this classic story follows a little girl named Alice through her life in turn of the century New England. Alice longs for adventure and to live by the sea, but is ultimately encouraged by her beloved grandfather to “do something to make the world more beautiful.” Though Alice isn’t sure what that thing might be, the story reflects how her life choices and travels to faraway places are framed within these aspirations. When she returns to live by the sea in her old age, though frail, she finds a way to create beauty by planting beautiful blue, purple, and rose-colored flowers called lupine. Though others think her crazy, she ultimately becomes wise like her own grandfather and inspires children of a new generation to go and make the world a more beautiful place, though they don’t yet know what that might be. The soft illustrations and beautiful landscapes make this a book for the whole family to treasure.

Recycle: A Handbook for Kids by Gail Gibbons (1992)

Our children learn at school and at home that they should recycle their paper, plastic, glass, polystyrene, and aluminum, but do they know what happens to it after it’s sent to the recycling center or landfill? The bright and colorful illustrations will engage elementary students in a behind-the-scenes look at the steps our garbage and recyclables take on their journey to reuse and provides helpful tips on ways they can help clean up the environment. The illustrations include people of varied ages, genders, and colors, reinforcing the idea that everyone can do their part to recycle.

The Green Mother Goose: Saving the World One Rhyme at a Time by Jan Peck and David Davis (2011)

Who doesn’t love nursery rhymes? With familiar verses reworked to reflect a care for creation and whimsical recycled paper collage illustrations printed with soy-based ink on paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, this book will charm your preschool and elementary-aged children. It’s become a new family favorite in my house! Familiar characters like Old Mother Hubbard, Mary Quite Contrary, and Little Jack Horner normalize earth-friendly actions like eating organic, using cloth shopping bags, composting, eliminating toxic pesticides, harnessing wind and solar energy, and upgrading to energy-efficient light bulbs. The overarching message is that care for our common land, air, and water can be fun when we work together.

The Lorax by Dr. Seuss (1971)

A favorite environmental book for more than four decades, The Lorax is always kid-approved for story time. Dr. Seuss’ imaginative landscapes and funny characters take us through the causes of an environmental catastrophe. Children can easily connect how deforestation and industry affects the animals, water, and air in the surrounding ecosystem. Though the book’s cheerful scenery ultimately ends in a grim landscape, there is encouragement for future generations: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

Bag in the Wind by Ted Kooser (2010)

This book, written by a former US Poet Laureate, was inspired by an item that is often challenging to eliminate from daily life or to recycle. A thoughtful narrative of a lone plastic grocery bag that escapes a landfill, we follow the bag’s travels and interactions with people on the fringes of society and one industrious little girl. The book lends itself to conversations about compassion, conservation, and connection. Soft illustrations of wintry rural landscapes on 100% post-consumer waste paper add to the charming nature of this picture book. The author’s note at the end gives helpful information about why plastic bags are so difficult to get rid of and what simple changes we can make to keep them out of the garbage.

Why Should I Save Energy by Jen Green (2001)

Have your children ever experienced a power outage? Do they wonder where energy comes from and what might happen if it runs out? How can they conserve energy? This book helps answer such questions in a kid-friendly way. Humorous illustrations, simple text, and speech bubbles help make this book relatable and easy to understand for the preschool and elementary-aged child. The author’s note at the end gives tips on how to discuss energy use with children, suggests follow-up activities, and offers other books to read on this topic. Other books in the “Why Should I” series include topics on protecting nature, recycling, and saving water.

Christina Krost is teacher, mother, and United Methodist pastor’s wife who works for Faith in Place, an Earth care non-profit. She lives with her husband and three young daughters in rural central Illinois and blogs at


7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess: A Book Review

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess: A Book Review

By Christina Krost

7 cover artI am sitting on the floor trying to reconcile fifth- and first-grade school supply lists with things we already have on hand when my daughters wandered in to inspect my neat piles.

“Isn’t that my stuff from last year?” Yes, I kept those blunt-tip scissors.

“Why can’t we just get all new stuff like everyone else?” Because that three-ring binder and pencil box can be embellished with patterned duct tape.

And so begins a typical battle in the war I’m waging against excess. It’s true that we can afford all new school supplies, but does that mean we must buy everything new, every year? Of course we all want the best for our kids, but does it always have to cost us?

This is the basic premise of Jen Hatmaker’s book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. Hatmaker, her family, and “The Council,” a group of close friends and advisors, embarked on a seven-month experiment against waste in their households. Hatmaker chose seven areas in which to reduce: food, clothes, possessions, media, waste, spending, and stress. She focused on each area with her family of seven for an entire month.

Hatmaker, a pastor’s wife, writer, and speaker, journals her struggles and successes giving up what we would consider common American comforts while working through her desire to follow religious teachings about possessions. For example, during the food month she and her family chose seven foods to eat: chicken, eggs, whole-wheat bread, sweet potatoes, spinach, avocados, and apples. During the clothing month she chose and wore only seven articles of clothing. She gave away much of what remained in her closet. The possessions month went the same way–she gave away seven items each day.

The media month shut down seven screens including TV, gaming, Facebook, Twitter, and radio. Cell phone use was limited to emergencies and the Internet was only used when necessary for jobs or schoolwork. The family learned to recycle, compost, and garden during waste month. They drove only one car and bought only local or thrifted goods. Spending month had them funnel their money to only seven vendors—a gas station, farmer’s market, online bill pay and Target.  During stress month they kept one night a week as a “sabbath” to recharge as a family.

Though Jen Hatmaker is an author and was likely paid in advance to turn her experiment into a book, her purpose was to see what would happen to her heart, her family, and her close friends by living with less. No one died from lack of anything. In fact, the family started truly living.

How? Hatmaker’s family began living with purpose. Instead of falling victim to the affliction of immediate gratification, they started watching their dollars carefully and intentionally. They saved more and gave more away. They found that their basic needs could be met with far less than originally thought. They waited before making purchases to see if after a month they still needed it or simply forgot about it. They stopped being slaves to stuff. As they stopped consuming they started reducing their impact on the Earth, but increased the impact they were making in their community.

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess is written by someone raised in a Christian tradition. I would have liked to read more about how other faith traditions handle consumption or prosperity theology. I am certain we have much to learn from each other and that much common ground exist between us.

It’s been a few years since the Hatmaker experiment with excess, and I’m curious if all the lessons stuck. In my work with an Earth care non-profit, I see this happen frequently: people are inspired to make real change after presented with information about smart energy and climate change or sustainable food and land use, but a few months later they’ve slid back into old routines. But in the end, Maya Angelou’s famous words ring true: “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”

I sent my kids off to school this year with old backpacks and lunchboxes, reused pencil cases, binders, scissors and folders. We bought new crayons and markers because, well, I’m not a monster. We purchased tree-free bamboo tissues and paper towels for the classrooms. I spent slightly less than usual, but I feel slightly more in control of our consumption. And that’s an excess I can live with.

Christina Krost is teacher, mother, and United Methodist pastor’s wife who works for an Earth care non-profit. She lives with her husband and three young daughters in rural central Illinois and blogs at

Gathering Around the Table with Bread & Wine – A Book Review

Gathering Around the Table with Bread & Wine – A Book Review

By Christina Krost

imagesBread&WineI’m balancing my lunch plate on my lap, trying to enjoy a sandwich slapped together after feeding my one-year-old. She toddles up to me, eyes focused on my plate. Her gaze meets mine as if to say, “Some for me?” I tear apart some bread crust and hold it out for her pudgy fingers to grab. She mashes it into her tiny, drooly mouth. Sometimes the youngest among us understand best how to be nourished.

Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes by Shauna Niequist is about the sometimes complicated desire to nourish ourselves and the ones we love. Niequist writes from her experiences as a pastor’s kid, musician’s wife, and mother of two boys. And she knows how to feed her people well.

But it wasn’t always that way. Like many girls growing up in the 1970s and 80s, Niequist’s own mother shooed her out of their kitchen, seen as a place of oppression for many women of her generation. Instead Niequist’s cooking chops were earned piecemeal, by devouring cookbooks like trashy romance novels in her college and newlywed years, throwing elaborate dinner parties, and learning (often humorously) by trial-and error.

Niequist saw her cooking forays as exotic, intense, and satisfying. She tried new-to-her combinations—savory bacon-wrapped dates, simple-yet-impressive mango chicken curry, and rich dark chocolate sea salted toffee—which she shares here. The collected recipes remind her of her travels to Spain, Paris, and Italy alongside memories of home in western Michigan, San Francisco, and Chicago. The variety of tastes and favors she cultivates in her cooking helps her articulate her desires for her family. She writes, “I want my kids to taste and experience the biggest possible world, because every bite of it, every taste and texture and flavor, is delicious.”

For those that don’t find cooking thrilling or easy, Niequist offers some advice: “I believe every person should be able to make the simple foods that nourish them, that feel familiar and comforting, that tell the story of who they are…to nourish ourselves in the most basic way and to create meals and traditions around the table and tell the story of who we are….And the only way to get there is to start where you are.” Though this book highlights spiritual nourishment, readers need not be practicing Christians to appreciate her message.

Through different vignettes that jump around her timeline of early marriage and motherhood,   Niequist tackles infertility and pregnancy, grief and loss, body image and acceptance, multitasking and being present, fasting and feast. She introduces you to her varied circles of friends: church friends, musicians, family, neighbors, and her cooking club. By the end of the book, you feel as if you know them, and you’ll want to be part of their club. You can imagine yourself, and them, around her table. Though I myself can’t imagine planning and preparing all of her exotic recipes for my own friends and family due to the lack of “fancy” ingredients in my small central Illinois town [population 1600], I’ve learned that what one makes is less important than how and why it is made.

Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes is a must-read for those who love to entertain or those who want to learn. Definitely not a Martha Stewart kind of how-to book, Bread & Wine presents tried and true recipes with helpful guidance from the author. As we grow closer to holiday celebrations that gather our own loved ones around our tables, Niequist helps remind us that the stress that comes with the holidays is often self-imposed. If you’ve ever invited over friends or cooked for any number of people, you understand how much thought and preparation goes into every bite. Niequist gently guides us to the idea that if you are going to feed the people you love, it’s best to try to do so equitably and safely (whether that means gluten free, nut free, meat free, etc.).

Perhaps the most resonant of Bread & Wine’s lessons is that “What people are craving isn’t perfection. People aren’t longing to be impressed; they’re longing to feel like they’re home. If you create a space full of love…they’ll take off their shoes and curl up with gratitude and rest, no matter how small, no matter how undone, no matter how odd.”

Take a lesson from my daughter: turn to the ones you love, ask for what you need, and eat.

Christina Krost is an elementary teacher turned full-time mom turned United Methodist pastor’s wife. She lives with her husband and three daughters in rural central Illinois and blogs at