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Going Green with Children's Literature

 | Apr 11, 2012

Later this month we will be celebrating Earth Day on Sunday, April 22, 2012. This week’s column from the International Reading Association Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) promotes environmental stewardship through children’s literature. Helping children and young adolescents connect, experience and learn how they can make a difference in the environment is intertwined in all of these titles. 


Beard, Alex. (2012). Crocodile’s tears. New York: Abrams.

Croc Tears

Concerned because Crocodile is lying in the sun by the Mburu River with tears in his eyes, Black Rhino and Tickbird wonder what’s bothering him. Since they are leery about approaching him, they decide to ask the other animals. After much searching, they find Golden Eagle who offers his thoughts before sending them looking for Elephant who, in turn, sends them looking for Tree Frog. Their journey continues as each animal provides hypotheses but no real answers as to why Crocodile might be crying. They all agree that perhaps he misses the trumpeting of elephants, the tree frogs’ singing or possibly the patterns of butterflies’ wings. Eventually, Black Rhino bravely approaches Crocodile and receives a surprising but practical answer. The story has a traditional tale flavor to it, complemented perfectly by the pen, ink, and watercolor illustrations. Young readers will enjoy the repetitive nature of the story as Black Rhino and Tickbird seek answers to their questions, but they will also appreciate the book's implied message about endangered species and habitat. Back matter includes an Author’s Note describing Kenya’s Shompole Camp, an animal preserve that will benefit from the book’s sales, and a Glossary of Animals with photographs and thumbnail sketches describing the status of the threatened animals. 

- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

Brouwer, Sigmund. (2011). Justine McKeen: Queen of green. Illus. by Dave Whamond. Victoria, Canada: Orca.


This novel is perfect for beginning readers because it includes illustrations and eleven brief chapters. The book begins with the school bully, Jimmy Blatzo, depositing a juice can in the garbage. Justine digs through the trash to find the can and puts it in a recycling bin. This infuriates Jimmy, “You made me look bad. I’m not letting you get away with this” (p. 9). Justine responds to him in kindness and gives him brownies. Later she even asks for his help and explains to her friends, “When you criticize people they get defensive, it’s better to ask them for their help” (p. 42). Sprinkled throughout this book are environmental facts such as how much water is wasted when there is a leaky faucet and how farmers in Argentina are measuring the methane cows produce. Along with some friends, Justine builds a plastic-bottle greenhouse to grow vegetables for fundraising. Included in the back are notes for students and teachers about each chapter. 

- Deanna Day, Washington State University Vancouver  

Buchanan, Jane. (2012). Seed magic. Illus. by Charlotte Riley-Webb. Atlanta, GA: Peachtree.


Neighborhood children and Rose are looking for something beautiful in the city like the pictures of gardens they see in library books. The wheelchair bound, crazy Birdman in the park feeds seeds to the pigeons and the children wonder how he finds beauty and pleasure in that. He convinces Rose to take a handful of seeds home and place them on her windowsill and watch what happens. Through the ridicule of her brothers Natty and Toby, Rose is patient but skeptical. Then one day, birds discover the seeds and birds of all colors flock to the windowsill pecking for their dinner as they eat the seeds. The flash of wings is a beautiful and colorful sight as the illustrations use bright vivid acrylic paint and broad brushstrokes to portray the color and motion. 

- Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library & Reading Consultant

Drummond, Allan. (2011). Energy Island: How one community harnessed the wind and changed their world. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 

Energy Island

So many times, it seems as though the world’s problems are insoluble, but this delightful picture book describes how one community on a small island in Denmark solved its reliance on nonrenewable energy. Now often called Energy Island because of the changes, Samso astoundingly--and energy-efficiently--reduced its carbon emissions by 140 percent in 10 years. No longer dependent on the nonrenewable fuel that had to be shipped to the island, its citizens now harness the wind and the sun and rely on biomass furnaces for their energy needs. The repetition of the apt phrase "Hold on to your hats!" and the appealing cartoon illustrations with smiling, if wind-blown citizens, offer an appealing, eco-friendly message offering alternatives to reliance on nonrenewable energy sources. Green sidebars on several pages provide additional information, and the author's note explains his own interest in telling this particular story. The fact that a teacher spearheaded the government's energy independence project adds to its appeal, making the book’s message even clearer: It could happen here, too, after all. 

- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman 

Peck, Jan & Davis, David. (2011). The green mother goose: Saving the world one rhyme at a time. Illus. by Carin Berger. New York: Sterling. 

Mother GooseThis is Mother Goose for Earth Day! With thirty very eco-friendly reworked Mother Goose rhymes, this collection of familiar poems makes a strong statement for recycling, ecology, water, light bulbs and other environmental concerns.  Authors Davis and Peck have teamed up to rewrite such tales as Little Boy Green, Old King Coal and the squeal of the three little pigs as they re-re-recycle all the way home. Carin Berger’s collage illustrations use many recycled materials, found art and recycled paper to support the text. Use with National Geographic Kids Green Tips for a science and literature connection:

- Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library & Reading Consultant

Walsh, Melanie. (2012). 10 things I can do to help my world. Somerville, MA: Candlewick. 

10 Things

Through eye-popping colorful acrylic illustrations, this simple book shows ten different green-friendly actions that can save energy and reduce the human carbon footprint. For instance, readers are reminded to turn off lights when they are not in the room or turn off the faucet when brushing their teeth. Each right-hand page flips up or down to reveal how that action can be kind to the Earth. Even the book itself is made from 100 per cent recycled materials. After reading this simple title, surely the least environmentally savvy individual will have no excuse for not taking at least one step to make a difference in the world. 

- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman   

Yezerski, Thomas F. (2011). Meadowlands: A wetlands survival story. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. 


The ability of human beings to heal or destroy is particularly evident in the inspiring story of the recovery of New Jersey’s 20, 000 acre Meadowlands. These wetlands were once home to several plant and animal species until industrialization changed all that. Concerned that the once-environmentally healthy area had become an ecological disaster, a dumping ground for trash and toxic industrial waste, several activists, government organizations, and regular folks helped the area recover. The turn-around began in 1969 once the state placed an embargo on dumping. Four decades later, the area consists of industry, housing, and businesses co-existing with 8,200 acres of wetlands, waterways, and open spaces, offering hope for the Earth's future. The text and pen-and-ink watercolors portray the domino effect that occurs as pollution is filtered from the water and soil, encouraging insects, birds, and fish to return to the area. The area’s recovery comes full circle with the encouraging birth of an osprey in a nest in the Meadowlands for the first time in several decades. Beautiful thumbnail illustrations of birds, plants, and buildings are drawn all across the book's border, some of birds, plants, and buildings, all with some significance to the environmental story being told here. 

- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman   


Burns, Loree  Griffin. (2012). Citizen scientists: Be a part of scientific discovery from your own backyard. Photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz. New York: Henry Holt.

CitizenWhat is a citizen scientist? The book opens with the definition “the study of our world by the people who live in it…All men, women and children who use their senses and smarts to understand the world around them can be citizen scientists” (p.5). Each chapter is divided by season and suggests projects for kids to become involved in like spring frog counting; summers photographing ladybugs, winter bird counting or fall tagging of monarch butterflies. Excellent photographs, diagrams, sidebars, and checklists make this book alive with information and intrigue. Collecting animal data with this hands-on approach gives the research process a life beyond a textbook or Internet. Take this book a step further and check out The National Wildlife Conservation website for the Citizen Scientist Program: or explore the author’s Research Trips at her website:

- Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library & Reading Consultant 

Christie, Peter. (2012). 50 climate questions: A blizzard of blistering facts. Illus. by Ross Kinnaird. Toronto: Annick Press. 

50 Climate Questions

The six chapters in this informative but amusing book answer the burning questions many young readers have about climate changes, providing historical perspective on an issue that is a hot topic now, but actually has been important throughout Earth’s history. The questions and answers are provocative and intriguing, and the cartoons that accompany the text guarantee its kid appeal. Questions and answers, typically a page or two in length, range from the importance of gas, “planetary flatulence” (p. 5) as the author calls it, to the role of whale waste in fighting global warming. Even adults will be able to learn something from this unique approach to an ever-increasing environmental problem. Back matter includes an index, a bibliography, and suggestions for further reading. 

- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman   

Kooser, Ted. (2012). The house held up by trees. Illus. by Ted Klassen. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.


Former American Poet Laureate (2004-2006) Ted Kooser turns his writing to the picture book genre. A young father and his two children live in an isolated house surrounded by woods. Father works diligently to keep the forest seedlings from sprouting in his year and spends years keeping his lawn free of the forest debris. As the children grow up and leave home and the yard work becomes too much for the father, he, too, eventually moves on leaving the house abandoned. Over time, the forest encroaches and the seedlings sprout into young trees. Trees sprout and blossom and grow right next to the house eventually lifting the house into its branches and continue to reach toward the sky. At the end of the story with the soft and muted colors of artist Ted Klassen, this quiet and gentle story speaks to the passing of time, the young and the old, and the results of continued growth with time. By the end of the book the reader is looking up through the trees at the house held up by trees. 

- Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library & Reading Consultant


Hiaasen, Carl. (2012). Chomp. New York: Knopf Books for Young Readers.


Middle grader Wahoo Cray has a rather unusual home life shared with his father Mickey’s monkeys, turtles, raccoons, snakes, and a twelve-foot long alligator named Alice. The family has fallen on difficult financial times, forcing Mickey to agree to allow a reality show to film some of the animals on his property. But the star of the show, Derek Badger, is all about showmanship and his own ego. Given to ordering around anyone near him and known for devouring some of the creatures he encounters on his faked adventures, Derek is determined to wrestle Alice. The battle doesn't turn out the way he expects, and the crew for the show moves on to another Florida location. Derek is beyond ridiculous with his spray-on tan, arrogance, pretentiousness and sweet tooth. Once Derek’s so-called wilderness reality show hires the Crays as consultants for their airboat trip through the Florida waterways, things go from bad to even worse. Wahoo’s classmate, Tuna, who is on the run from her abusive father, comes along with them, prompting her own father to track her down. Once Derek becomes convinced that he has contracted rabies from a bat he tried to eat, he heads for the Florida wilds. The paths of the two fathers inevitably cross, leading readers on a merry chase through the Everglades. The passages describing how the Everglades and portions of Florida have become overrun by exotic species released into the wild by their former owners after becoming too large to handle clearly show how humans’ careless actions have once again wreaked havoc on the environment. 

- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman


Davies, Nicola. (2011). Gaia Warriors. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.

GaiaFirst published in England in 2009, this is an updated handbook on the study of climate change and provides a wealth of information. Starting with the distinction between weather and climate and based on the Gaia definition posed by scientist James Lovelock, author Nicola Davies, a zoologist, explains the impact and eventual consequences of climactic change. The book offers a plethora of ideas to make the world a better and “greener” place to live for populations today and in the future. Profiles of people around the world who are making changes in lifestyles offer recommendations for others to help preserve our planet. The design and layout of the book make it very teen reader friendly and the author has given lists of resources to help readers find extended information.

- Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library & Reading Consultant

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