Teaching kids about the importance of caring for the environment and finding ways to practice eco-friendly habits aren’t always straightforward. These picture books offer engaging stories to simplify ways that kids can make a difference and help them appreciate taking care of the environment.
This post was originally published in April 2017 but has been updated to include many new and wonderful books great for the whole family.
As our boys get older, and especially now that we don’t live in a particularly urban area, I’ve been much more inclined to help our boys understand and appreciate the importance of taking care of the environment.
We’ve been teaching the boys about which items go into the recycling bin versus the trash can. We remind each other to turn out lights that we aren’t using. I encourage them to help me garden.
We make efforts and have conversations that hopefully have an impact on their respect for the world around them. But it’s not always easy to put into “kid speak” how we appreciate butterflies and flowers or why we can’t just throw our trash on the ground wherever we feel.
In honor of Earth Day (and just because it’s a good thing to do), we checked out a bunch of picture books from the library this week about recycling, the environment, being green, and planting trees. Here are a few of our favorites that your family might enjoy as well.
15+ Fun Picture Books That Encourage Children To Care for the Earth
Wangari’s Trees of Peace by Jeanette Winter
After growing up in Kenya and attending school in the United States, woman returns to her hometown in Kenya to realize that nearly all of the trees and lush vegetation she knew as a child was gone. The books tells the story of her mission to bring trees back to the barren Kenyan landscape and how her efforts spread across the country to revive the tree landscape in many parts of the country.
Earth Day, Birthday by Maureen Wright
This cute story celebrates Earth Day in the jungle when each animal shares an idea about how to be better stewards to our environment while a little monkey keeps telling everyone it’s his birthday (but no one believes him!). I’ll let you read the book to find out if the monkey is telling the truth.
The Secret Of Black Rock by Joe Todd-Stanton
Too often, we often don’t appreciate nature when we can’t understand it. Such is the case when a seemingly large rock formation routinely creates apparent danger for local fishermen. The town residents decide to destroy the rock, but a little girl saves the rock after discovering how much life it supports just below the surface of the water. The book encourages children to respect our environment and look beyond what something might initially appear to be. First impressions aren’t always true.
Tokyo Digs a Garden by Jon-Erik Lappano
A little boy living in the city plants a small garden that quickly takes over the entire city. What once was a concrete jungle is now lush with plants and filled with animals. The boy discusses with his family how the area used to be filled with nature before the city took over and cleared out all the trees and animals. The little boy soon realizes how important it is to learn to live with the animals and plants instead of pushing them aside without a care.
The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind by William Kamkwamba
Based on a true story, this book explores the accomplishments of a young boy in Malawi, in Africa, who watches his family’s farm die off due to drought. Using his local library and teaching himself English, the language in which all the scientific books are written, he figures out how to use trash and miscellaneous parts lying around his community to create a windmill. He uses the windmill to create electricity and, eventually, power a well for his family’s garden. This story is so wonderful for children on so many accounts; it discusses environmental issues of drought, poverty, innovation and creativity, and highlights characters from another part of the world. That it’s based on a true story also helps children connect with the reality of the issues addressed.
The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever by H. Joseph Hopkins
A leader and change maker in so many ways, Kate Sessions grew up loving nature and the trees around her. When she moved to San Diego, she found a dry dessert as well as a handful of trees surviving quite well in the arid conditions. She wanted to change the landscape of San Diego, so she quit her teaching job to become a gardener and began planting trees around the city. Her efforts led to many city parks, the most notable of which is the current Balboa Park than spans across a large part of the city. This book shares the true story of her journey in a fun and enlightening way for children and adults alike.
The Dumpster Diver by Janet S. Wong
Three young friends living in an apartment building befriend a fellow resident who dives through the dumpster routinely to discover treasures that other people considered trash. With him, they learn to look at trash in new ways and use it to build new things that are very useful to them. My boys love this book because it’s a fun read, and I love that it sends such a great message about reconsidering what is really trash and the value of something that someone else may no longer love.
One Tree by Leslie Bockol
A story for young children about the seasons of one tree’s life over the course of the year. It has nice, simple illustrations and is even made with 98% recycled materials.
Miss Fox’s Class Goes Green by Eileen Spinelli
In this story, a school teacher shares with her students all the ways they can be more green. Then each child shares about the idea they tried with their family to make a small but meaningful impact on the environment. As the students practice being green, others join in the fun and the whole school community gets involved. I liked that it creatively offered lots of actionable ideas that kids can implement in their own homes.
What Does It Mean To Be Green? Eco-Pig Explain Living Green by Lisa S. French
The eco-friendly pig drops into a very clean and beautiful town. Not long after he arrives, he starts to see some of the neighbors doing things that aren’t so great for the environment. He helps teach the town why the practices are not so great and offers more eco-friendly alternatives. This book is part of a series of books starring Eco-Pig that includes titles like The Terrible Trash Trail: Eco-Pig Stops Pollution and Who Turned Up The Heat?: Eco-Pig Explains Global Warming.
Michael Recycle by Ellie Bethel
Dressed in green, Michael Recycle is a kid super hero that travels to a town full of filth. He teaches the town residents how to recycle and, more importantly, why it’s so important. He encourages the town to take ownership of the cleanliness of their town and, ultimately, is no longer needed because the town is so clean and everyone recycles. With bright, colorful pictures, and written in rhymes, this is a cute story that highlights the community-building benefits of recycling.
A Place for Butterflies by Melissa Stewart
This book teaches children all about butterflies: what they eat and where they live, why they are important to the environment, and how they transform from caterpillars into butterflies. I’ve been thinking about creating a little butterfly garden in our yard, so this was a great place to start that adventure.
Busy Buzzers Bees in Your Backyard by Nancy Loewen
This pretty picture book helps children understand the importance of bees in our yards and gardens. In an engaging story with nice illustrations, the author also includes a fun fact about bees on each page. Even I learned a lot.
Curious George Plants a Tree by Margaret & H.A. Rey’s
In this story, Curious George learns and gets excited about all the ways he can help take good care of the planet and the environment. As usual, he gets into a little accidental mischief along the way, but he ends up planting several trees in a park with a community group to make for a happy ending. The book also includes 20 ways kids can help keep our planet a little greener and healthier.
The Curious Garden by Peter Brown
This is a lovely story about a little boy who lives in a city of concrete and bricks, void of nature’s beauty. One day, on his adventures, he finds a few little plants struggling to survive near old, unused railroad tracks. He decides to start caring for the plants and begins to grow a garden. His garden flourishes and, ultimately, he shares the beauty of his curious garden with so many other dwellers in his city. This book is written well and has really great illustrations.
Compost Stew: An A to Z Recipe for the Earth by Mary McKenna Siddals
Written in the form of a poem, this book is about all the things that can go into a compost bin and how to care for it. I love that it helps kids (and me!) learn about the extensive list of items that can rot and turn into nourishing soil instead of continuing to fill our landfills. This books also has really great, colorful pictures.
Michael Recycle Meets Doug Litterbug by Ellie Bethel
Our little boys could definitely relate to this story that translates environmentalists and polluters into a super hero and little boy villain, respectively. The story isn’t mean at all and doesn’t encourage hatred or disdain for the little boy that litters. Instead, the super hero comes to show him how being a steward of his community and caring for the environment will help him make more friends and, ultimately, make him a ‘super hero’ as well. It’s a fun and cute story that definitely puts the concepts into a context kids can understand and appreciate.