Editor’s note: This is the first of a weekly guest spot by children’s media consultant Ashley. Ashley is a television and online producer and Executive Editor of Children’s Media Consultant.com. She holds a B.A. from Columbia University and a M.A. concentrating in children’s educational media and preschool ecology from New York University. She resides with her family in downtown New York City. You can visit her blog at childrensmediaconsultant.com.
The Green Series: Eco Kids Books
I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately on how families and children can “go green” without spending a fortune. Let’s face it: bamboo cribs, cork floors and reusable diapers aren’t for everyone. Additionally, there’s an issue about how to teach kids about the environment. Parents and caregivers are in a position to either foster an appreciation for the natural world, or, unfortunately, terrify their kids into submission (no more polar bears!).
The truth of the matter is, media can sometimes play a hindering role in eco-education, challenging families to stay indoors and watch TV rather than go outside and jump in the leaves. But not all the time. Children’s media has its role on the green bandwagon, too. So with that idea comes the first in what will hopefully be more of Children’s Media Consultant’s The Green Series.
Eco Kids Books
Here’s a list of just a few of my favorite ecology-themed children’s books. These books all teach how to appreciate and care for the Earth, including ideas of conservation, reusing materials, and animal appreciation.
The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss
Ages 4 – 8
‘The Lorax’ tells the story of a money-hungry Once-ler who takes for granted the beautiful Truffula trees, using their tufts to create Thneeds (sort of a knitted jumpsuit, of sorts). Eventually he cuts down so many of these trees that the animals and creatures that live in their shade must abandon the land. It’s a sad — but not scary — lesson about materialism, where things come from, and how actions can affect others’ environments. The final message says it best: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” Hands down, ‘The Lorax’ is the best pro-environment children’s book I’ve read.
Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White
Ages 8 – 12
Although ‘Charlotte’s Web’ is one of my favorite books, it also makes its way onto The Green Series because of the story’s themes of animal appreciation, ecosystems, and, of course, life cycles. ‘Web’ gives us the story of a young girl, Fern, who saves a runt pig, Wilbur, from the seemingly inevitable fate of becoming breakfast. Along with the help of an articulate spider named Charlotte, Fern and the other inhabitants of the barn team up to tell a beautiful story of friendship. I’m partial to the book over the recent movie version, however both media provide opportunity to compare the versions, as well as ample occasions to expand vocabularies.
The City of Ember, by Jeanne DuPrau
Ages 9 – 13
Although not an overtly ecologically conscious children’s book, ‘The City of Ember’ finds a habitat of people who live in an oppressed (post-nuclear?) society doomed to eternal darkness. The world our 12 year-old heroes Doon and Lina live in is run on hydro power (how green!). But when food and light bulbs begin to run out, a mystery *ignites*, catapulting them on a journey to find an elusive city of light. If you haven’t read ‘Ember’ yet, the book may provide a little post-Potter solace. The first book is the best of the three book series. Also, apparently there’s a movie coming in 2008.
The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein
In Silverstein’s tender story about a tree “who loved a boy,” we learn about the harmonious relationship humans can have with nature. While many interpret the story as a message about taking and not giving back, others find messages about appreciating all that nature (in this case, the tree itself) can provide us, and how we should not take it for granted.
Blueberries for Sal, by Robert McCloskey
Ages 4 – 6
McCloskey tells the story of the innocent sense of wonder inherent in young children. While Sal goes picking blueberries with her mother, a bear cub and her mother wander the fields in pursuit of a snack. As the little ones get progressively further away from their mothers, distracted by juicy berries and rolling hills, we witness the kids in a comedy of errors. A perfect read aloud.
50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth, by The EarthWorks Group
Ages 9 – 12
This book provides the perfect primer for older kids who already have expressed interest in saving the planet. Chock full of compelling, age-appropriate statistics, each “simple thing” starts off with an environmental problem, and then offers several solutions. Most of the activities suggested do require some parental supervision, and include everything from going on nature walks, to what to tell a cashier if you don’t want to use the plastic bag, and how to make a birdhouse out of a milk carton.
The Great Kapok Tree, by Lynne Cherry
Ages 4 – 8
‘Kapok’ is a simple story about a man who is compelled to chop down a large tree in the Amazon rain forest, only to hear the pleas of the animals – including a snake, butterfly, jaguar, and a child – who wish to show the interconnectedness of all living things. Although a sweet and simple narrative, the story includes a powerful messages of conservationism and deforestation.
The Empty Lot, by Dale H. Fife and Jim Arnosky
Ages 4 – 8
Closely related to the messages in ‘The Great Kapok Tree,’ ‘The Empty Lot’ teaches conservationism from a closer-to-home perspective. The story finds Harry who decides to sell the empty lot that was once part of his grandfather’s farm. After some careful thought about the tree, stream, and other natural wonders that have inhabited the land, Harry realizes the empty lot isn’t empty, after all.
Be Green About It
In order to be truly green, you might want to consider borrowing these titles from your local library, or buying them used. Alternatively, you can read books online (although it’s preferable to limit time in front of the screen and actually hold a physical book in hand!)
The books above are just a few of my favorite green kids books. Do you know any you think I missed? How are you going green with your family? Email me or post a comment below!
UPDATE: Apartment Therapy: Green and its always helpful readers offer additional thoughts how the act of reading books can go green, including the plant-a-tree-per-book site Eco-Libris.
Kendra Holliday says
I totally agree with all of these choices except The Giving Tree. I don’t think the book relays a message about nature at all, much less a positive one. A tree is supposed to last multiple human generations, not just one! I think the tree is a symbol for a mother and reinforces 1) the sexist attitude our society maintains about how mothers should sacrifice everything for their children, and 2) how greedy American children can be. I wish the book would be rewritten and titled “The SHARING Tree” and ends with a bunch of the boy’s friends swinging through the branches, eating apples and someday bringing their own children to the tree.
Jennifer Lance says
I agree with your comments Kendra. Although I am nostalgic about The Giving Tree, the message is strange. When I have read it to my own children, we have used it as a basis for discussion about what giving and taking really means. I also use it to discuss resources usage, and how when you cut down a tree, that is it for that living thing.
This is what I wrote about the book for Green Family Values (http://jenniferlance.greenoptions.com/2007/06/06/green-family-values-environmental-childrens-literature/):
“The anthropomorphism of the tree endears readers to feel compassion for her self-sacrifice and for all the trees that have been felled for human use. The book has been criticized for its message of self-sacrifice on the part of the tree and the selfishness of the boy; however, the end result demonstrates that the boy did not need all the material items he got from the tree’s resources to find true happiness. This message is important for children to hear in our culture of overconsumerism. The Giving Tree is open to multiple interpretations which may change with every reading.”
Hi Kendra –
I think that any great piece of literature allows its readers to extrapolate multiple themes and ideas. I’m glad to hear another perspective on “The Giving Tree” — very interesting!
Raz Godelnik says
Thank you for this great list and also for mentioning Eco-Libris.
I would like to add another book to your list – The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle. You can find today a recommendation on this book written by Stefani Newman of teensygreen on our holiday green gift guide for book lovers.
This guide is aimed to help people find the best green books to give as gifts this holiday season.
Hey!…Man i love reading your blog, interesting posts ! it was a great Tuesday
Hi, can anyone here help me find a book on nature’s way of dealing with the death of an animal, for young children. I’m looking for a book that will explain why all living things die and what purpose the dead has on the earth ie. biodegrading, feeding other animals etc. Thank you.
Jennifer Lance says
I think that Lifetimes is the perfect book for presenting natural death to children. It is beautifully illustrated and presents death as natural as birth.
Madeline Kaplan says
Actually, I do know a title you missed. I humbly ask that you review a copy of “Planet Earth Gets Well” which is currently available on http://www.amazon.com as well as on other online websites.
http://www.treehugger.com gave it a wonderful review and I am hoping that you will do the same!