There are very few primary school-aged children today who haven’t heard of campaigner, Greta Thunberg, or who don’t have strong views on environmental issues themselves. It is important, therefore, that schools and teachers are equipped with the right texts to spark debate, accurately inform, and to inspire the next generation of politicians, scientists and campaigners. Below are some of my favourite (tried-and-tested) titles about a range of topical issues, ideal to use in the classroom or begin conversations.
1. ‘Varmints,’ by Helen Ward and Mark Craste (Templar Publishing)
Varmints is a deliciously dark picture book which I have used in upper key stage two to promote discussion about effects of urbanisation on the habitats of other animals. It would work equally well alongside topics of global warming and deforestation.
Set in a futuristic world where once there was the sound of bees buzzing and birds singing for the few who cared to listen. But then the OTHERS came, strange, alien, rabbit-like creatures who were intent on building immense skyscrapers and making noise which scared all other creatures away. Its message is a simple but timely one – every individual has a part to play in protecting the natural world and in ensuring its regeneration.
2. ‘The Promise,’ by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Laura Carlin (Walker Books)
This title by Nicola Davies is just one of many wonderful books that she has written with a strong environmental theme. The reason I chose this book to share with you, is that it would sit very well alongside ‘Varmints’ as part of a topic.
When a young girl living in a dark and angry city tries to steal an old woman’s handbag, she clings onto it with surprising strength. Eventually she lets go, but only after securing a promise from the girl that she will continue to plant what’s inside. Confused, the girl agrees. When she opens the bag, she doesn’t find money, but acorns. She then understands the promise she’s made and starts planting the acorns around the city, transforming it from a grey concrete expanse to an oasis of green. As she plants, her heart softens and the people of the city become happier too. An ode to the healing power of nature and of hope.
3. ‘Alba the Hundred Year Old Fish,’ by Lara Hawthorne (Big Picture Press)
A highly topical picture book about the damage plastic pollution does to the coral reef home of Alba and how the local community work together to clean the surrounding ocean. Stunningly illustrated with beautiful endpapers showing the world of the coral reef.
Alba has lived on the reef her whole life and each year, on her birthday, Alba finds something beautiful to add to her collection. However, over the years Alba notices there are less and less beautiful things to collect and that there are less friends to celebrate her birthday with. She’s also noticed more and more unusual metal and plastic objects killing the coral and making the water dark and murky. Alba sets off further afield and finds more than she had bargained for.
This would be a good choice to highlight the importance of looking after our planet and how taking practical action can make a difference.
4. ‘Kids Fight Plastic,’ by Martin Dorey, illustrated by Tim Wesson (Walker Books)
This is a fantastic non-fiction title to promote taking practical action to reduce plastic consumption. It is written in the style of 16 major ‘superhero’ missions (highlighting the importance fighting plastic and saving our oceans) and mini missions which score readers different amounts of points.
My family and I trialled some of the suggestions in the book to discover ways to be a #2MinuteSuperhero and reduce our plastic consumption. We found it very easy to quickly identify some changes we could make in our home to reduce plastic waste. There are also plenty of tips that would be very easy to introduce in a school and a section at the back full of useful websites to visit for further information. All the tips and facts are presented in a highly-illustrated and engaging manner - perfect for dipping in and out of.
5. ‘Earth Heroes,’ by Lily Dyu, illustrated by Jacki Lay (Nosy Crow)
‘Earth Heroes’ is a collection of twenty short biographies of some of the most inspirational environmental campaigners and protectors of our planet. Some, readers will almost certainly have heard of – like Greta Thunberg or Sir David Attenborough. Others, like Bittu Sahgal or Marina Silva may be less familiar. I particularly like that this book highlights people from a wide range of backgrounds: business, fashion, conservation, the food industry, showing children that there are many different ways in which we can work to protect the environment.
This book would be perfect for an end of day read as each biography could be read in twenty minutes. It is also sure to spark some interesting conversations about what the children could do individually and collectively to help combat climate change and protect the planet’s resources.
By sharing quality texts, discussing and questioning what they hear in the news, and thinking about important issues for themselves we can hope that pupils might start to think about the impact they can have on the environment now and as adults in the future.
About the Author
Jo Cummins is a primary school teacher, English subject leader and children’s book blogger. She set up her blog almost four years ago as a way to promote new titles to parents and teachers who may otherwise struggle to find them themselves. This has expanded to a Library Girl and Book Boy podcast which features author and illustrator interviews and book reviews by pupils. Jo has also been involved in judging and long-listing for national book awards such as Scholastic’s Laugh Out Loud Book Awards and the Blue Peter Book Award. She is also passionate about promoting the value of funny books and is currently working with education consultancy Just Imagine on developing their Ha Ha Boing Book Club programme.