15 Helpful Books for Young Environmentalists

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Jean Kuo Lee

Staff Writer

Jean Kuo Lee is a writer from California with a B.A. in English from UCLA, a former career in interior design, and a current calling to homeschool her children. She writes for parents and kids on several blogs with publications forthcoming. To contact her or to see more of her work, visit Twitter: @JeanKuoLee

The future belongs to our children. What will it be like on planet earth in ten, twenty, fifty years? These sustainability books for kids try to address that question.

Climatologists have been warning us for years about climate change, environmental degradation, and the need to “act now” by changing practices that harm the environment. But equally important to this call for change is educating the kids who are inheriting these problems. They will need to innovate smarter and more sustainable ways of living. They will need to understand the impact we have and how to reduce our footprint on the earth. Many are already sensing the urgency – their actions are featured in some of the sustainability books for kids recommended below.

An environmental education begins early with a simple love of nature. It makes sense that we cannot develop protective feelings for the environment if we do not first connect with it, experience it, and learn to love it. Some of the books below encourage this simple connection with nature and its joys. Other books delve more into the problems we have created for ourselves through industrialization, our wasteful consumption patterns, and harvesting and polluting resources that are not renewable. Climate change and sustainable living – these are all difficult topics to understand – and yet they are more urgently needed in the education of our children than ever before, because the future belongs to them. Here are 15 helpful books to aid in that task.

The Story of Climate Change by Catherine Barr Book Cover

The Story of Climate Change: A first book about how we can help save our planet by Catherine Barr, Steve Williams, Amy Husband, and Mike Love

A great first book to introduce kids to the concept of climate change. This book combines science with history by providing not a scientific explanation of climate change but also the story of how our actions have caused climate change.

Tall Tall Tree by Anthony D. Fredericks Book Cover

Tall Tall Tree: A Nature Book for Kids About Forest Habitats by Anthony D. Fredericks and Chad Wallace

In this gorgeously illustrated picture book, readers take a walk in the old-growth redwood forests of northern California to luxuriate in a world teeming with animal life. Readers will climb up into the trees to see the owls and woodpeckers; and dig down in the dirt to see the woodrats and slugs. It’s enough to inspire any young naturalist and nature lover.

A Seed is Sleepy Book Cover

A Seed is Sleepy by Dianna Aston and Sylvia Long

In this beautifully illustrated picture book, kids will grow a sense of wonder at the variety, beauty, and nature of seeds. As kids learn about plants and how they reproduce, they grow an appreciation for nature and hopefully a protective attitude toward the environment.

The Life of a Little Cardboard Box Book Cover

The Life of a Little Cardboard Box by IglooBooks and Gisela Bohorquez

The trouble with a “disposable packaging” mentality is that we never think where the cardboard comes from and where it goes afterward. This book ends that naïveté and helps kids to understand why we need to recycle and reuse.

A Stone Sat Still Book Cover

A Stone Sat Still by Brendan Wenzel

Beautifully illustrated with collage and paint, this book tells the story of what a simple rock means to creatures in our ecosystem. This book teaches kids to shift perspective and see how something which may at first have little value for us, holds a lot of value for other living things.

The Life of a Little Plastic Bottle Book Cover

The Life of a Little Plastic Bottle by IglooBooks and Gisela Bohorquez

For the kids who may be curious about what happens to the plastic bottle after we’re done using it.

The Last Straw by Susan Hood Book Cover

The Last Straw: Kids vs. Plastics by Susan Hood and Christiane Engel

In this book, kids will learn why plastic is found everywhere in our modern products, and how the amount we throw away is hurting the environment. It also features inspiring kid activists who are doing something about the problem.

Our World Out of Balance by Andrea Minoglio Book Cover

Our World Out of Balance: Understanding Climate Change and What We Can Do by Andrea Minoglio and Laura Fanelli

This book introduces kids to the many ways they can solve the problem of climate change, touching on topics like air pollution, rising seas, plastics and increased waste, and wildfires. It features young activists and scientists who are working to change our planet for the better.

The Wondrous Workings of Planet Earth by Rachel Ignotofsky Book Cover

The Wondrous Workings of Planet Earth: Understanding Our World and Its Ecosystems by Rachel Ignotofsky

A guide to planet earth, this book explains how our diverse ecosystems work and the importance of biodiversity. There is plenty of information, infographics, maps and illustrations to keep kids fascinated with the science behind planet earth.

What a Waste by Jess French Book Cover

What a Waste: Rubbish, Recycling, and Protecting Our Planet by Jess French

In this picture book, young environmentalists will get an eye-opening look at the wasteful practices that result in shocking truths, such as the fact that every single toothbrush ever made still exists in the world today. The book details how people around the world are striving to change their habits for a positive impact.

The Lonely Polar Bear by Khoa Le Book Cover

The Lonely Polar Bear by Khoa Le

A small polar bear wakes up the arctic alone. He finds friends in the puffins, elks, wolves, and a little girl. This is a stunningly illustrated picture book to cherish all on its own, but also because it gently introduces very young kids to the issue of climate change.

We are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom Book Cover

We are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom and Michaela Goade

Winner of the 2021 Caldecott Medal, this picture book stands up for the urgent need to protect the earth’s most sacred resource: water.

Earth Ninja by Mary Nhin Book Cover

Earth Ninja: A Children’s Book about Recycling, Reducing, and Reusing by Mary Nhin and Jelena Stupar

This fun book is part of the Ninja Life Hacks series that was developed to help kids learn life skills. In this one, Earth Ninja learns how to recycle, reduce, and reuse.

If You Come to Earth by Sophia Blackall Book Cover

If You Come to Earth by Sophia Blackall

Books like these inspire children to love our planet and each other. The author-illustrator takes us on a tour through our wondrous planet, sharing how we are each unique and as worthy of care as the earth is.

Follow the Moon Home by Philippe Cousteau Book Cover

Follow the Moon Home: A Tale of One Idea, Twenty Kids, and a Hundred Sea Turtles by Deborah Hopkinson, Philippe Cousteau, and Meilo So

Through its watercolor illustrations and the story of Viv, we are inspired to make a difference, too. Through teamwork, volunteerism, and activism, young people can impact the world for good.

For other books for kids on the environment, see 10 Inspiring Children’s Books on the Environment.