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Rebuild the Planet with Reading: Inspiring Children’s Books to Celebrate World Environment Day

What is World Environment Day?

Celebrated annually on June 5, World Environment Day highlights the importance of protecting the environment and ensuring that our planet remains a better place for current and future generations. The first World Environment Day was held in 1974 by the United Nations with the theme “Only One Earth.”

This year, in an effort to help rebuild the planet, the United Nations announced the theme for World Environment Day 2021 is ecosystem restoration and introduced the slogan, “Reimagine. Recreate. Restore.” In the last few decades, worldwide issues such as plastic pollution, global warming, illegal wildlife trade, and water scarcity have destroyed millions of natural habitats and have endangered multiple species, some of which are now extinct.

Page excerpt from Professor Noah's Spaceship

From Professor Noah’s Spaceship, written and illustrated by Brian Wildsmith

How Can You Celebrate?

For World Environment Day, you can contribute by teaching your children good habits for sustaining the environment. Through education and exploration, children develop a love for nature and nurture other beneficial skills like social responsibility, tolerance, and critical thinking.

Be it an exciting story on saving a swamp from disaster or a somber tale on poisonous waste, books can be influential teaching materials. Below is a list of books that will inspire children of all ages to be a part of the green literate force and protector of Planet Earth!

Books for Babies and Toddlers

Baby Loves Green Energy!
By Ruth Spiro, illustrated by Irene Chan
Board Book, Ages 0-2
Expertly written for babies, this book is a great introduction to climate change and green energy options. It includes STEM concepts in age-appropriate language that will spark babies’ interest in nature.

Hello, World! Planet Earth
By Jill McDonald
Board Book, Ages 0-2
The latest installment in the Hello, World! series, this board book details different countries, continents, oceans, landforms, habitats, and Earth’s place in space.

Mrs. Peanuckle’s Hiking Alphabet
By Mrs. Peanuckle, illustrated by Jessie Ford
Board Book, Ages 0-3
Learn about animals, plants, and more with this unique set of ABCs! Using vivid images and playful text, this book is sure to engage little ones and inculcate a love for the outdoors.

Books for Preschoolers and Early Elementary Readers

The Boy who Grew a Forest
By Sophia Gholz, illustrated by Kayla Harren
Hardcover Picture Book, Ages 5-8
The Boy Who Grew a Forest follows the real-life story of Jadav Payeng, a young boy who single-handedly planted over twelve hundred acres of lush forest on a barren island in northeastern India.

Greta and the Giants
By Zoë Tucker, illustrated by Zoe Persico
Hardcover Picture Book, Ages 4-7
Author Zoë Tucker explores the journey of young environment activist Greta Thunberg who rose to global recognition while raising awareness about the climate crisis. This book was also included on the 2020 Green Earth Book Awards’ recommended reading list.

Marjory Saves the Everglades: The Story of Marjory Stoneman Douglas
By Sandra Neil Wallace, illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon
Hardcover Picture Book, Ages 5-9
Named a Green Earth Book Award recommended title, this is a biography of journalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas who fought to save the Florida Everglades from becoming an abandoned swamp and land for a jetport.

The Mess We Made
By Michelle Lord, illustrated by Julia Blattman
Hardcover Picture Book, Ages 5-7
Using a rhythmic crescendo and digital artwork, The Mess We Made dives into the impact of waste on marine biodiversity. The book also provides details on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch disaster and ocean pollution and conservation.

Artwork from Professor Noah's Spaceship featuring wildlife against a background of artistic trees and smoke

From Professor Noah’s Spaceship, written and illustrated by Brian Wildsmith

My Friend Earth
By Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Francesca Sanna
Hardcover Picture Book, Ages 3-5
A perfect book for any beginner! It covers interesting environmental facts through interactive die-cuts and poetic text, making it a dynamic reading experience for toddlers and young readers alike.

Professor Noah’s Spaceship
By Brian Wildsmith
Hardcover Picture Book, Ages 4-8
Written and illustrated by renown artist Brian Wildsmith, this book unfolds a quirky tale of animals whose habitats are destroyed. When they seek new homes, the animals are transported back to the time after Noah’s biblical flood.

We Are Water Protectors
By Carole Lindstrom, illustrated by Michaela Goade
Hardcover Picture Book, Ages 3-6
Winner of the 2021 Caldecott Medal, this is a lyrical narration of a young Indigenous girl’s quest to save water, the most revered resource, from harm and corruption.

What a Waste: Trash, Recycling, and Protecting our Planet
By Jess French
Hardcover Picture Book, Ages 6-9
Written by Dr. Jess French, a qualified veterinarian, What a Waste takes readers on an informative journey on issues of pollution and solutions like recycling and renewable energy. Filled with fun facts and illustrations, this book is apt for any budding ecologist!

Books for Upper Elementary and Middle School Readers

Darcy Moon and The Aroona Frogs
By Catherine Carvell, illustrated by Michael Scott Parkinson
Paperback Chapter Book, Ages 8-11
This book weaves a delightful tale about Darcy Moon, who feels like a misfit around everyone else. Darcy soon learns that she is an Earth Guardian and her mission is to save the local swamp from disaster!

Monarch Mysteries
By Claire Datnow, illustrated by Ruth Palmer
Hardcover & Paperback Chapter Book, Ages 9-12
Part of the Adventures of the Sizzling Six eco-mystery series, this installment follows a group of six preteen girls as they try to protect endangered monarch butterflies from interfering city officials and even the weather!

Building Vital Intergenerational Relationships through Reading

Many people are losing out on time with family members during the pandemic, but this isolating reality has been particularly hard-hitting on the elderly. They are unable to see their grandchildren, youthful chess companions, or book club members who offer a sense of community.

 

Children, teens, and young adults are losing out too. They don’t get to converse or bake with their grandparents or elderly loved ones.

 

Reading is one of the fundamental pillars of human connection. It allows people across generations to relate to each other and discuss characters or themes that pertain to their own lives. Literature is a staircase into another world, and it is possible for two generations to scale those stairs together, forming a bond that can benefit both parties.

 

Young people and older relatives who live in the same household can read together in-person. For those who live apart, technology exists to connect with family members worldwide via FaceTime or Zoom, and this bonding can be furthered through reading.

 

What are the benefits of forming an intergenerational bond?

Relationships offer mutual benefits we might not consider. Intergenerational bonds reward both young and old people because they can learn from each other (stringing together the past and future). Reading together brings out the inquisitive and social sides to of everyone, but there are individual benefits as well.

 

For elder generations, reading together:

  • Prevents loneliness.
  • Keeps them updated on current trends.
  • Allows them to share their own stories and pass on lessons.

 

For children, teens, and young adults, reading together:

Reading with grandparents is a beautiful and rewarding experience for everyone. (from Read to Me, illustrated by Kyra Teis)

 

Grandparents/elders reading with young children

Children and grandparents can build many fond memories reading together, whether it’s five minutes a day or two hours per week. Children can share their dreams for the future by recognizing themselves in books, and grandparents can encourage them to pursue their interests. This also intensifies a child’s sense of family belonging and reinforces the place a grandparent has in it.

 

Here are some tips to make efficient use of reading time:

  • If reading together remotely, record yourself reading aloud for a change of pace from
  • FaceTime or Zoom.
  • Allow children to pick a book. It shows that you trust their opinion, no matter how many times you reread the same book.
  • Keep a stockpile of genres handy so there are lots of options.
  • Ask each other questions about the book.
  • Make sound effects while reading.
  • Give books as presents.
  • Take turns reading aloud.

 

Grandparents/elders reading with teens, college students, and health workers

A book club is one of the best ways to engage in a cross-generational gathering.

 

A book discussion group can be anywhere with anyone: over an online platform, on a patio, in a church basement, at an assisted living facility, or in any community space where people who love literature can come together.

 

The best way to facilitate a book discussion is to keep the group under ten people with an equal number from older and younger generations. Participants should be excited and willing!

 

Pick books that feature friendship amid a generational gap, use icebreakers during the first meeting, have a set of rules and expectations to build structure, make accommodations for anyone who is hard of hearing or visually impaired, and if online, ensure that everyone is able access the platform and feel comfortable in this environment.

 

Group discussions can be quite rewarding. Other enriching elements are friendships formed outside of a club and creative, book-related group activities.

 

However you choose to read together, be authentic and let the book be a guide toward connection. There is power in shared experience.

The Extraordinary Benefits of Bedtime Stories

Reading a bedtime story with your child is a great way to wind down after a long day. You can start reading together at any age—but the earlier you start, the better. However, reading at different stages will allow for different experiences. Babies between 4 and 6 months old will begin to show an interest in books through touch, and by their first year, they’ll be able to understand basic concepts such as colors and shapes. It’s a good idea to start reading board books with children ages 3 and younger. Children ages 4 and up can continue reading a variety of picture books.

Bedtime reading with children can be a magical experience. (images from Read to Me) 

 

Along with introducing your child to early literacy, regularly reading to them has numerous benefits that will help your child as they grow. Here are some of the most important ones!

 

Scheduling a time to read with your child will help establish a routine. Practicing healthy routines at an early stage will prove beneficial. It aids in the development of organization skills, so when children grow older they can practice time management. Separating time to read and relax is just as important as time spent working. Choose a time that works best for you and your child. You don’t have to read every night, but you should set a goal for how much you do want to read. Try not to frame reading as a chore—it should be something your child looks forward to doing with you.

 

Reading stories will broaden your child’s vocabulary. Bedtime stories can be used to practice speech and reading comprehension among all languages. This is an especially helpful tool for homes where more than one language is spoken. If your child comes across a word they don’t know, take time to look up and learn the word together. You may already be familiar with the word, but it is important that your child takes time to practice searching for words unknown to them. This habit will help them when they start reading on their own. You can write down the words you learn together in a notebook and look back at them after you finish each storybook. If your child is learning more than one language, you can write down the word’s translation alongside its definition.

 

Use bedtime stories as a learning tool. You can use storybooks to introduce your child to their own cultural background and ancestry. Or venture from the stories you read growing up and find new, fun retellings of classics. Don’t limit the stories you read—there are countless bedtime tales from around the world. Be sure to research storybooks by authors from diverse backgrounds. Reading stories from various backgrounds will help children learn about different cultures and the importance of diversity and inclusion. Ask your child what types of stories interest them and if there is a country or culture they are curious about. Take time to reflect on the stories you read.

 

 

Read different types of books! Storybooks come in many different forms. Board books are ideal for children in their very early stages of reading and listening, picture books are recommended for children ages 4 and up, and beginner-level chapter books can be read as early as age 5, depending on the content. Graphic novels are also a great choice when your child grows out of the early stages of reading. There are many kid-friendly graphic novels for different age groups. In addition, audiobooks are a practical option, especially after a long day of work and school. You can purchase books that include audio guides or look for the audiobook versions of your favorite storybooks. Play the audiobook and follow along together if you have a physical copy with you. If not, actively listen to the story with your child.

 

A lot of our books make great bedtime stories including Read to Me; Good Night, Little Sea Otter; and Woolly the Wide Awake Sheep.

The Benefits of Telling Old Stories in New Ways

For many of us, classic literature and stories can be daunting at best and inaccessible at worst. The language can be tough to understand and the plots can seem completely outdated and unrelatable. However, retelling old stories in new ways can open up a whole world of literature for people by making it more relevant and understandable. This is especially true for children and teens.

 

When we tell a story, there are two core questions in the backs of our minds: “Why do we tell it?” and “What can we learn from it?” Stories can mean different things to different people, of course, but we tell and retell stories that have an impact on us because at the heart of them are relevant themes: love, hope, perseverance, family, to name a few.

 

Most school systems still have students read works by Shakespeare. If we want people to understand the core messages in a well-known play such as Macbeth—which contains contemporarily relevant questions around tyranny, betrayal, and morality—then why not make it understandable? By using simplified vocabulary and plots, stories like Macbeth can be accessible to a wider audience.

 

As humans, we will always retell stories, modifying them to fit contemporary needs. Consider the Grimm Brothers’ version of Cinderella, for example, and compare it to the more contemporary Disney-movie version. The Grimm Brothers’ version is quite different. It contains some more gruesome elements. Disney’s version eliminates those plot points while keeping other key points, such as the stepmother and stepsisters, similar. There are also other retellings of Cinderella that use the classic story to focus on contemporary issues like feminism.

 

For children especially, stories that contain big words they don’t understand can lead to frustration. While there are definitely benefits to reading stories like The Odyssey to youngsters—such as language acquisition and experiencing the story in its original format— it can be overwhelming. Children also have shorter attention spans than adults, making it much harder to get them to sit and listen to long stories. Starting children off with shorter stories with simpler vocabulary is a great way to build a strong language foundation and love of literature.

Brian Wildsmith (Professor Noah’s Spaceship)

A book like Professor Noah’s Spaceship by Brian Wildsmith allows for the age-old tale of Noah’s Ark to be read in a way that is accessible, exciting, and engaging for young children. They can comprehend the core plot and message of the story, while also being introduced to contemporary worries like environmental protection.

 

When used side-by-side, modern retellings can help readers start to develop an understanding of the original text. For instance, The Lizzie Bennett Diaries series on YouTube is a retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. While the setting is modern-day and the language fits our contemporary vocabulary, the story itself follows the same path and the underlying plot and message are both still there.

 

Modern retellings can also lead to questions that can help engage with the text, like why something is omitted, why a character’s gender has been changed, etc. Asking these questions and thinking on their subsequent answers allow for a deeper understanding of the original text.

 

There are still immense benefits to reading classic stories in their original languages or translations. However, we should have fun with these texts, transform them, and make them more widely understandable. At the end of the day, stories are meant to be told. Whatever way is most digestible to a given audience, be it children, teens, or adults, should be celebrated and encouraged.