Reading aloud to a child is perhaps the single most important activity parents can do to help their child's developing mind. The benefits of reading aloud are numerous. Time spent snuggling up with Mom or Dad while listening to a story, provide children with a feeling of warmth, love, and security. The coziness and intimacy of sharing a book with a loved adult delights children. Evidence from research says that reading and talking to your child may be the single most important thing in determining your child’s intellectual, economic and social success.
The benefits of reading aloud to children also extends to seaking meaning from the messages present in the literature. Storybook content and illustrations provide a catalyst for discussing the green values expressed by the author and/or illustrator and espoused by your family. There are many wonderful children's books that use the narrative form to express green values and ideas, especially conservation. The following environmental children's books are amongst my five favorites as a teacher and a parent.
The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
The Lorax is the original children's book on the need for conservation, originally published in 1971. Dr. Seuss cleverly used rhymes and silly words to warn several generations of the consequences of overusing natural resources. The truffula trees are rapidly cut down to be used in the manufacturing of thneeds, causing creatures, such as the brown bearbaloots and swamee swams, to flee from the habitat loss and pollution caused by the thneed factory. At the end of the tale, readers are left with a glimmer of hope, when one truffula tree seed is given to a boy. "Plant a new Truffula. Treat it with care. Give it clean water. And feed it fresh air. Grow a forest. Protect it from axes that hack. Then the Lorax and all of his friends may come back." You can read more about the Lorax in "Green Family Values: Who Speaks for the Trees?"
The Tree by Dana Lyons and David Lane Danioth
Beautifully illustrated, The Tree is an old growth Douglas Fir that hears the bulldozers coming to end its life. With simple text inspired by a song, the tree reflects upon its life in the forest. "For eight hundred years I have lived here, through the wind, the fire and the snow…There's a river flowing near me, and I've watched that river change and grow." As the tree ponders who will enjoy such sacred beauty once it is gone, the bulldozers get closer. The tree is saved by the children, who encircle its trunk in their arms. This book is published by Illumination Arts, a company devoted to publishing "high quality, enlightening children's picture books with enduring, inspirational and spiritual values."
Brother Eagle, Sister Sky by Susan Jeffers
Brother Eagle, Sister Sky was the first children's book I ever bought for my daughter. It is an adaption of the famous speech delivered by Chief Seealth (Seattle) during the 1850s. "We did not weave the web of life, we are merely a strand in it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves." Although there is controversy as to whether Chief Seealth (Seattle) ever actually said these words, the point is moot in my opinion, especially in considering this quality children's book is written for children and not historians. The book has also been criticized for not representing the rich diversity of Native American cultures or representing images of Cheif Seealth's tribe; however, the message of Chief Seealth's word ring true! These words were spoken as an elegy for the way of life he saw ending. The beautiful, detailed images that accompany the text throughout evolve from Native Americans living in harmony with nature to a bleak clearcut from logging to a modern family planting trees. The final image leaves us with a sense of hope and renewal.
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
The Giving Tree, like The Lorax, is another classic tale from my childhood, that some may interpret as a message of conservation, whereas others may find a different moral to the story. The story begins, "Once there was a tree…and she loved a little boy." The tree proceeds to try and fulfill the boy's happiness by giving her apples, branches, and trunk until the tree is nothing more than a stump. When the boy returns as an old man and contentedly rests on the stump, the tree is happy again. 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.
The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry
The Great Kapok Tree is set in a rain forest about to be logged. An ax man enters the jungle, then f
alls asleep and dreams about the extraordinary and diverse inhabitants of the jungle. Snakes, butterflies, jaguars, a child, etc. whisper into his ear the consequences of deforestation. The anteater says to the man," Senhor, you are chopping down this tree with no thought for the future. And surely you know that what happens tomorrow depends upon what you do today. The big man tells you to chop down a beautiful tree. He does not think of his own children, who tomorrow must live in a world without trees." When the man awakes, he can not cut down the tree. Lynne Cherry's detailed illustrations reveal a reverence for nature and beauty.
For more great green picture books, please read Kelli's post "Teaching Your Children Well: Picture Books for Eco Kids", including my favorite The Tin Forest. We invite you to add to this list of environmental children's literature by leaving a comment!