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Environmental Kids Literature Awards from Around the World

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Ann-Marie Cahill


Ann-Marie Cahill will read anything and everything. From novels to trading cards to the inside of CD covers (they’re still a thing, right?). A good day is when her kids bring notes home from school. A bad day is when she has to pry a book from her kids’ hands. And then realizes where they get it from. The only thing Ann-Marie loves more than reading is travelling. She has expensive hobbies.

It’s not a new thing, but like a tree in the forest, the sub-genre of Environmental Kids’ Literature is growing so big, you cannot ignore it. Kids care about the environment; more than most adults will give them credit for. And it shows in their reading: since 2019, the number of children’s books about the environment has more than doubled in number. Kids are asking for more books and better books to support their environmental interests. Thankfully, there has also been an increase in the number of book awards designed for environmental kids literature. In fact, Environmental Kids Literature is a common theme found all around the world. For parents looking to support their kids’ environmental interests, here are our favourite Environmental Awards for Children’s Literature. 

Children’s Book Awards Dedicated to the Environment

The Green Earth Book Award

Born from a partnership between The Nature Generation and Salisbury University, this annual award has four (4) categories, each focusing on the common theme of environmental stewardship and the promotion of positive action. The judges for the awards are literary, environmental, and educational professionals who volunteer to review the books. 

Green Earth Book Award Winners 2021 for environmental kids literature

The winners for 2021 have been announced: 

Picture Book: Butterflies Belong Here: A Story of One Idea, Thirty Kids, and a World of Butterflies by Deborah Hopkinson and Meilo So

Children’s Fiction: Hello from Renn Lake by Michele Weber Hurwitz

Children and Young Adult Nonfiction: You Can Change the World: The Kids’ Guide to a Better Planet by Lucy Bell

Young Adult Fiction: Bright Shining World by Josh Swiller

The Veolia Foundation Environment Book Prize

The Veolia Foundation is part of the larger Veolia group, an international corporation based in France. Veolia Group specialise in water management, waste management, and energy services. Since 2006, the Veolia Foundation has awarded its Environment Book Prize to support and promote writers raising public awareness of environmental issues. The award also includes the Youth Award Winner, the first national literary recognition in France to honour children’s books directly linked to major environmental issues. 

The 2021 Youth Award Winner: Permacity! The City of My Dreams by Olivier Dain-Belmont and Fachri Maulana

The Environment Award for Children’s Literature

Australia has an entire week dedicated to Nature Books! Spearheaded by the Wilderness Society, Nature Book Week is filled with events like storytime for kids, talks with conservation biologists, writers workshops, and yarns with indigenous storytellers and scientists. The highlight of the week is the announcement and celebration for the Environment Award for Children’s Literature — possibly the oldest award of its kind, started in 1994. The Wilderness Society has been supporting artists and authors throughout Australia who have used their creative skills to inspire the next generation of environmentalists. 

Environment Award for Children's Literature finalists for 2021

The 2021 winners are: 

Picture Fiction: The Giant and The Sea by Trent Jamieson and Rovina Cai

Nonfiction: Tree Beings by Raymon Huber and Sandra Severgnini

Fiction: The Power of Positive Pranking by Nat Amoore

Growing Good Kids Book Awards

Environmental Literature isn’t limited to big science concepts. Many kids can relate to environmental issues on a ‘ground roots level’; looking at the environment immediately around them. Issues like gardening and ecology can give kids a practical application of the bigger issues without adding to the questions already overwhelming their young minds. The Growing Good Kids Book Awards come from the combined efforts of the Junior Master Gardener Program and the American Horticultural Society to engage and inspire environmental kids’ literature within these same themes. 

The winners for 2021 are: 

One Little Lot: The 1-2-3s of an Urban Garden by Diane C. Mullen and Oriol Vidal

Mae the Mayfly by Denise Brennan-Nelson and Florence Weiser

Butterflies Belong Here: A Story of One Idea, Thirty Kids, and a World of Butterflies by Deborah Hopkinson and Meilo So

The Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Awards (SONWA)

Sigurd Olson was an American author and environmentalist, known greatly for his determination to protect the Boundary Wates in Minnesota. In honour of both his literary and conservation work, Northland College established the SONWA in 1991 with the inclusion of children’s literature in 2004. The SONWA seeks to recognise and encourage writers who captures the spirit of the human relationship with the natural world, just like Olson. 

The winner for the 2020 SONWA Children’s Book is Butterflies Belong Here: A Story of One Idea, Thirty Kids, and a World of Butterflies by Deborah Hopkinson and Meilo So. 

Environmental Kids Literature Honourable Mentions

The Wainwright Prize

While this prize is not dedicated to Environmental Children’s Literature, the 2020 winner deserves a special mention. The Wainwright Prize is a much-loved UK Nature Writing award, named after the nature writer Alfred Wainwright. It started in 2013 as a way to showcase the growing field of nature-writing and environmental issues. In 2020, the prize was awarded to the youngest-ever recipient, 16-year-old Dara McAnulty for the book Diary of a Young Naturalist. The book was lauded for its personal portrayal of Dara’s experience as an autistic teenager living an everyday life while balancing a passion to campaign for environmental issues.

New Zealand Book Awards for Children & Young Adults

A final special mention goes to the nation of New Zealand. There is no award specifically aimed at environmental kids literature, however, it is worth noting the all but one of the winners featured environmental issues. I don’t know if this is simply indicative of New Zealand as a nation, or a sign that environmental topics are so prevalent, they dominate the standard book awards. Either way, I think there will be more environmental awards for children’s literature in the years to come. 

The 2021 winners included: 

Book of the Year and Junior Fiction: Charlie Tangaroa and the Creature from the Sea by T K Roxborogh

Picture Book: Kōwhai and the Giants by Kate Parker

YA Fiction: The Pōrangi Boy by Shilo Kino

Nonfiction: Egg and Spoon: An Illustrated Cookbook by Alexandra Tylee and Giselle Clarkson

Russell Clark Award for Illustration: Hare & Ruru: A Quiet Moment by Laura Shallcrass

Wright Family Foundation Te Kura Pounamu Award for Te Reo Māori: Ngake me Whātaitai by Ben Ngaia and Laya Mutton-Rogers

First Book Award: Kōwhai and the Giants by Kate Parker

Sometimes, literature awards can offer a wide range of book suggestions for you. Sometimes, they can be dominated by one amazing book! If you are interested to learn about other children’s literature awards, check out fellow Rioter Sarah’s article about Non–American Library Association awards here. Awards are always a good place to start for inspiration, but never be afraid to spread your branches and search for more in the environmental kids’ literature section!