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 http://www.5matches.com/.