Read Harder: A Book About Climate Change

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Kathleen Keenan

Staff Writer

Kathleen Keenan is a writer and children's book editor in Toronto. In addition to Book Riot, she has written for Reel Honey, The Billfold, and The Canadian Press. She also edits a monthly newsletter for the indie bookstore A Novel Spot. Kathleen has an MA in English with a focus on nineteenth-century fiction, and there is nothing she loves more than a very long Victorian novel. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @KathleenMKeenan or find her writing even more about books at

This list of books about climate change for the 2020 Read Harder Challenge is sponsored by TBR: Tailored Book Recommendations.

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Climate change has had a huge impact on fiction over the past couple of years. It even has its own genre name now: cli-fi, or climate fiction. We’ve seen a lot of recent fiction grapple seriously with what might happen if we don’t work to solve the climate crisis. Sometimes that takes the form of dystopian fiction, sometimes it’s a version of our own world that’s just a little bit…off.  Reading is one of the ways we make sense of the world around us, and the world around us is in pretty dire circumstances right now. So here are some books about climate change, for adults, young adults, and children, to read to fulfill this Read Harder challenge. Some of these books deal directly with the effects and consequences of climate change, others come at it sideways, using it as a backdrop to tell a character’s story.

Adult Books About Climate Change

cover of American War by Omar El-AkkadAmerican War by Omar El-Akkad

This beautifully written novel is one of my favorite books about climate change. In a version of America not too far from our own, a second Civil War has broken out. Oil is outlawed, a horrific plague has swept through the population, and parts of the country have been lost to rising tides. When Sarat Chestnut and her family are forced into a camp for displaced persons, it’s the beginning of a series of events that will change the country forever.

Flight BehaviorFlight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver by Barbara Kingsolver

Dellarobia Turnbow has been trying to get by as a wife and mother ever since she got pregnant at 17. Unhappy with her life, she’s on her way to meet a younger lover when she sees something that shocks her: a valley full of butterflies bright as fire. Is it a miracle? Is it a sign that something in the natural world isn’t quite right? As scientists, religious figures, and the media all gather to debate the truth, Dellarobia finds herself drawn into a mystery that will change her life.

cover of Greenwood by Michael ChristieGreenwood by Michael Christie

This book is already out in Canada and releases February 25, 2020, in the U.S. Greenwood is a multi-generational saga that follows members of the Greenwood family over a century of change. In 1934, Everett Greenwood makes a discovery that tangles him in a web of secrecy. In 1974, Willow Greenwood has just been released from jail after an environmental protest. In 2008, carpenter Liam Greenwood is recovering from a fall. And in 2038, Jacinda Greenwood is a tour guide to the rich in one of the world’s last remaining forests. What binds these stories all together is the family’s fierce, complicated tie to the trees all around them, the trees that have made their fortune but also been their source of their crimes.

cover of Parable of the Sower by Octavia ButlerParable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

Sometimes, what you want is a science fiction take on climate change, and boy was Butler ahead of her time with this 1993 novel. It’s set in the 2020s…just a few years away. Outside Los Angeles, Lauren and her family, along with a group of others, have eked out their own small society despite sickness, war, and water shortages. Lauren’s hyperempathy makes her extremely sensitive to others’ pain. When disaster strikes and she’s forced out into the wider world, she must make her way to safety while using her abilities to help others.

cover of The Migration by Helen MarshallThe Migration by Helen Marshall

It isn’t enough that there are storms and bad flooding around the world—now a mysterious disease has struck, and the young are the worst afflicted. When Sophie’s sister, Kira, is diagnosed, their mother brings them to England, where they will live with their aunt, who works to control the disease. Rumors are flying: that the disease is spreading, that the symptoms are getting worse, that the dead won’t stay dead…Sophie must decide who to trust and what to believe.

cover of The Swan Book by Alexis WrightThe Swan Book by Alexis Wright

In the near future completely altered by climate change, a mute young woman named Oblivia is sent from a displaced Aboriginal community to marry Warren Finch, the first Aboriginal president of Australia. Confined to a tower in a flooded southern city, Oblivia meets strange and interesting characters in this story that draws on fairy tales and myths.

Young Adult and Children’s Books About Climate Change

The Marrow ThievesThe Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

This powerful young adult novel is set in a world ravaged by global warming, where people have lost the ability to dream. Dreamlessness has led to chaos and psychological problems. But not for the Indigenous peoples of North America, who can still dream. And now they are hunted for their blood, which settlers are trying to use to develop a cure. Fifteen-year-old Frenchie is on the run when he falls in with a group of fellow people struggling for survival and must learn how to trust others with his life.

cover of Wilder Girls by Rory PowerWilder Girls by Rory Power

The Raxter School for Girls has been under quarantine since the Tox, a mysterious illness, hit. Confined to their isolated island, Raxter’s students are turning restless and feral as they wait for the cure that’s been promised. But when Hetty is given a key job to keep the others alive, she is torn between her loyalty to her friends and her responsibilities. And when her friend Byatt goes missing, Hetty has to choose whether she wants to know the truth about their quarantine…

cover of Our House Is on Fire by Jeanette WinterOur House Is on Fire: Greta Thunberg’s Call to Save the Planet, written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter

This picture book tells the story of climate activist Greta Thunberg. When Greta learns about climate change in school, she’s devastated. What can be done? On her own, Greta goes on strike to demand change, skipping school every Friday to protest at the Swedish Parliament. At first she’s alone, and then others join her, and then…well, you know the rest. Greta is now the face of a global movement, and the Fridays for Future protests have swelled to millions of participants. In this picture book, young readers will learn that you’ve never too small to make a difference.

cover of The Water Walker by Joanne RobertsonThe Water Walker, written and illustrated by Joanne Robertson

This is another picture book about one person who made a difference. Josephine Mandamin is an Ojibwa grandmother who decided to walk to raise awareness of the need to protect our water. She starts a campaign with the Mother Earth Water Walkers, walking all around the Great Lakes and other waterways. In reading Josephine’s story, readers will be inspired to wonder how they, too, can make a difference.

Note: I’ve stuck to fiction books about climate change for this Read Harder post because there are just so many interesting, well-written novels about climate issues. I also find that reading fiction is a productive way to unpack anxiety about climate change (if, like me, you feel a lot of anxiety about climate change!). If you’re looking for nonfiction books about climate change, check out these posts: 12 books about climate change solutions; 5 nonfiction books about the climate emergency; and 10 climate change books to help you understand the environment.

Find all the Read Harder 2020 content here.