Blogger Tess Prendergast

Climate & Environment Picture Books

Photo Credit: T. Prendergast

As someone who teaches contemporary children’s literature, I have been following the surge of picture books about climate & environment topics for several years. While there has been some great scholarly research about such books (cited below), I have devised a simple framework for grouping these kinds of books. This 4-tiered categorization may help you decide what to read, suggest, or display in various scenarios and for different audiences. 

Category 1: Appreciating Nature

We need to raise children who appreciate the natural environment. These books are meant to foster a love of living ecologies and a sense of wonder at the natural world. 

Look and Listen: Who’s Who in the Garden, Meadow, Brook? Written by Dianne White and illustrated by Amy Schimler-Safford. 

This lovely simple book introduces young children to the wonders of the outdoors and includes an easy guessing / eye spy element. A vocabulary list with definitions of the wildlife featured in the book makes this a great choice for expanding a young child’s ecological knowledge.

Say Hello to a Worm written and illustrated by Kari Percival.  

Young children will delight in this engaging story about gardening. Expressive and colourful illustrations will capture imaginations while explaining the tiny wonders at work in a new garden. 

Category 2: “Light-touch” Coverage

These kinds of books have content that is subtly adjacent to climate issues. I think they are great for starting conversations with very young children about the environment and what we need to do to fix it. 

Dear Polar Bears written by Gabrielle Prendergast and illustrated by Marcus Cutler 

At the south pole, the penguins decide to invite some polar bears to their summer party. This whimsical story includes an informative afterword that points out the risks that both creatures’ habitats are facing due to climate change and other human activities. 

Our Green City written by Tanya Lloyd Kyi and illustrated by Colleen Larmour 

This lovely book is perfect to recommend to parents and caregivers for one-on-one reading. It is full of detailed pictures and explanations of how communities can be sustainable by working together that are sure to inspire thoughtful approaches to addressing environmental and climate issues in communities.

Category 3: Direct Message

These books present clear messages about the negative impacts of climate change and other environmental threats on the Earth’s inhabitants. Discussing these books with children may encourage them to express their fears and hopes for a cleaner future for all living things.

Polar Bear written by Candace Fleming and illustrated by Eric Rohmann

Stunningly illustrated, this book explains how a mother polar bear must travel to find food to nourish herself and her new cubs over the course of one year. But the arduous journey is made even more difficult because the ice on which she depends is shrinking. The polar bear family’s journey demonstrates in vivid detail some of the global impacts of melting ice.

Water Day written by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Olivia Sua

In a vibrant Cuban community, water day is a big deal. That’s the day that the young narrator’s family receives a week’s worth of water that they is stored in blue tank on their roof. The young girl describes her community’s usage of water while reflecting on how the town’s water supply has changed since her mother was a child.

Category 4: Children as Activists

These books present visions of children who are actively protesting the impacts of human activity on the climate and environment. Some of these texts are based on real children while others are fictionalized narratives about children taking action. 

Nibi’s Water Song written by Sunshine Quem Tenasco and illustrated by Chief Lady Bird.  

Nibi is a thirsty kid who can’t find clean water anywhere! Her energy and insistence on clean water captures her community and they protest together until someone listens. The book includes an afterword with information about the lack of clean drinking water in many Indigenous communities and encourages readers to become part of the solutions needed to change this.

Our House is On Fire: Greta Thunberg’s Call to Save the Planet written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter

Researchers and journalists have coined the “the Greta effect” to refer to the influence that the Swedish activist Greta Thunberg has had on society. Winter’s picture book tells Greta’s story with an engaging clarity that brings young readers into Greta’s world and follows her unique path to activism that has literally changed the world.

Research on Climate & Environment in Children’s Literature

Axelrod, Y.D., Ives, D.,  Weaver, R. (2020) “We are All Learning about Climate Change: Teaching with Picture Books to Engage Teachers and Students.” Occasional Paper Series 2020.44 (2020): 5.

Benevento, S. V. (2023). Communicating climate change risk to children: A thematic analysis of children’s literature. Early Childhood Education Journal, 51(2), 201-210.

Beeck, N. o. d. (2005). Speaking for the trees: Environmental ethics in the rhetoric and production of picture books. Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, 30(3), 265-287.

Ginsburg, J. L., & Audley, S. (2020). “You don’t wanna teach little kids about climate change”: Beliefs and barriers to sustainability education in early childhood. International Journal of Early Childhood Environmental Education, 7(3), 42.

Climate & Environment Themed Booklists and Blog Posts

Climate & Environment Picture Books

East Gwillimbury Public Library: Climate Change for Kids

FVRL Climate Stories

Sno-Isle Libraries: Climate Change Books for Children

How to Support Children’s Climate Knowledge (ALSC Blog Post)

Climate Change Books for Children (ALSC Blog Post)

Sustainability and Children’s Services (ALSC Blog Post)

Do you have any other climate & environment themed resources to share? Please add them in the comments! 


This post intends to address the following Competencies for Librarians Serving Children in Libraries:

I. Commitment to Client Group and IV. Collection Knowledge and Management


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Blogger Tess Prendergast

Tess Prendergast worked as a children’s librarian for 23 years. She has a PhD in early literacy education and now teaches librarianship and children’s literature courses at The School of Information, University of British Columbia, in Vancouver, Canada. She currently facilitates the ALSC Preschool Discussion group and has served on both the Geisel (2023) and Caldecott (2016) committees.

2 comments

  1. Sandra

    Absolutely love this list and how you suggest how each book is useful . Thank you.
    Am sharing with Margarita Engle and others!

    1. Tess P

      Thank you Sandra, for your kind words and for sharing this list with Margarita Engle (whose work I adore!) and anyone else who might enjoy it.
      Take care,
      Tess

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