14 books to teach children to care for our planet

There’s no escaping the fact that the Earth is facing an environmental crisis.

From climate change to plastic pollution, the actions of humans are destroying the planet we call home, along with the habitats that sustain its other inhabitants.

Children are more aware of this emergency than ever before and many are leading the charge to change our behaviours, from the fearless activist Greta Thunberg to the armies of young litter pickers cleaning our parks and beaches.

While its vital to tackle the topic with the next generation and educate them about why and how they can make a difference, ‘eco anxiety’ is a common concern. Choosing the right language for the conversation is key.

To mark Earth Day, the annual global event to bring attention to environmental protection, we’ve picked 12 books that will foster a love for conservation and sustainability from a young age, today and every day.

1. Look After Us by Rod Campbell. £6.99 (board book), Macmillan

Fans of classic lift-the-flap book Dear Zoo will love this 21st Century twist on the tale, which takes the reader on a journey around the globe in search of some of our most majestic wild animals. But there are few lions, camels and orangutans to be seen because “we need to look after them better”.

The toddler adores looking for his favourite creatures behind the flaps (which look like trees and grass rather than the cages of its predecessor), which means he’s having lots of fun and expanding his vocabulary while taking in an important conservation message. Buy from Amazon

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2. The Last Tree by Emily Haworth-Booth. £6.99 (paperback), Pavilion

Once upon a time, a group of friends were looking for a place to rest when the found the first tree. The forest was the perfect home bit over time they started to use its wood to make fires, homes and a wall.

Before long there was only the last tree left and the friends had become suspicious of each other. Can the children help their parents to change their ways and make the last tree the first again?

This modern fable by Emily Haworth-Booth is beautifully told and poignant, offering lots of opportunities for discussion with your child. We love her effective green, black and white artwork too, which gives a meaningful contrast between the vibrant wood and the miserable tree-less village. Buy from Amazon

3. Fish by Brendan Kearney. £6.99 (paperback), DK Children

Fisherman Finn and his dog Skip set sail before dawn to scour the sea for their tea. But their sole catch of the day is a mountain of rubbish.

Back on the shore, they meet a group of young litter pickers who teach them about the blight of plastic pollution in our waters and how this is killing our precious sealife.

An educational but enjoyable offering by author-illustrator Brendan Kearney, which should empower kids to feel we can play a role in cleaning up our oceans for the benefit of all living creatures. Buy from Amazon

4. The Lorax by Dr. Seuss. £6.99 (paperback), HarperCollins

It’s half a century since Dr Seuss published this eco-fable about a gruff but lovable creature determined to speak up for the trees and rally against the mindless progress and the corporate greed that threaten them. But sadly, it remains as relevant as ever.

The story uses the writer’s trademark zany turn-of-phrase to explain the dangers of destroying our natural resources to young readers, while the illustrations are incredibly powerful, especially the dark, dank colours of the world after the Once-ler has done his worst compared to the vibrant forest of Truffula trees beforehand.

Apparently it was Dr Seuss’s favourite of his books because he could address the environmental and economic issues that made him angry without being dull – and it might ours too. Buy from Amazon

Read our full review of The Lorax by Dr Seuss

5. When The Bees Buzzed Off! by Lula Bell and Stephen Bennett. £7.99 (paperback), Little Tiger

When the bugs awake one day and the bees are nowhere to be seen, they start to panic. Who will pollinate the flowers and fruit that feed them?

The only thing for it is to bring them back and after a journey through the garden, they discover that planting wildflowers will ensure these crucial insects have a safe place to call home.

Combining brilliant bee facts with an adventure story and colourful artwork, this lift-the-flap book is perfect for little bug hunters. Buy from Amazon

6. Eco Baby: Oceans by Lorna Freytag. £6.99 (board book), Studio Press

Bold, bright and bursting with facts, this series of board books introduce babies to key environmental concepts in the most stylish of ways.

In the Oceans edition, we learn about the value of water and what we can do to protect these habitats, while also discovering first concepts like size and weather.

Recycling, Ice Caps and Rainforest editions are also available. Buy from Amazon

7. Hedgehogs Don’t Live In The City by Lucy Reynolds and Jenna Herman. £7.99 (paperback), Doodles & Scribbles

There’s something quintessentially British about spotting a hedgehog snuffling in the garden. But while they were a common occurrence in my childhood, I doubt my boys have ever seen one.

This atmospheric autumnal story by Doodles & Scribbles duo Lucy and Jenna is a charming follow up to Parrots Don’t Live In The City, following Grace and Archie on the trail of these endangered quilled creatures.

We love the vibrant and detailed artwork, rhyming text and hidden nature trail within the pages. Just gorgeous. Buy from Amazon

8. Noa and the Little Elephant by Michael Foreman. £6.99 (paperback), HarperCollins

An estimated 20,000 elephants are killed each year, which means these majestic animals will be extinct by 2040 if we don’t take action.

This moving story by award-winning author Michael Foreman follows a boy called Noa who takes in an orphaned elephant he names Tembo, after the animal’s mother is killed by poachers wanting her tusks.

The child vows to do all he can to preserve the wildlife living in harmony with his village and the elephant returns the favour by saving him during a storm. A touching tale that demonstrates we are all in this together. Buy from Amazon

9. Clean Up! by Nathan Bryon and Dapo Adeola. £6.99 (paperback), Puffin

Rocket can’t wait to visit her grandparents on the island they call home, go surfing and help at their animal sanctuary. But when she arrives, she is dismayed to see the state of her beloved ocean and the rubbish washing up on the shore. What can she do to help?

This positive story starring kick-ass character Rocket shows children that it is possible to make a difference, however small you are. It’s perfect for anyone overwhelmed by the climate challenges we face and also a good advert for the community spirit and sense of achievement from a good old litter picking session! Buy from Amazon

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10. Little Explorers: In The Rainforest. £8.99 (board book), Templar

The Little Explorers interactive non-fiction series is a brilliantly accessible way to introduce three to eight-year-olds to all sorts of concepts about the natural world and science.

The titles come in oversized board book form, with a plethora of flaps to reveal fascinating facts, while still offering eye-popping and compelling illustrations that younger ones will enjoy looking at.

This rainforest edition is especially vibrant, opening up your child’s eyes to all sorts of flora and fauna, as well as explaining the role these habitats have to play in the health of our planet. Under The Sea and Bugs are also in the range should your little eco warrior want to explore further. Buy from Amazon

11. Tidy by Emily Gravett. £6.99 (paperback), Two Hoots

You can’t beat a nice tidy house but when Pete the Badger decides to give the forest a spring clean, he takes things a bit too far. After binning a few fallen leaves, his mission for neatness escalates into deforestation, a concrete jungle and a miserable group of animals.

Emily Gravett deftly combines wit and comic visuals with a subtle message about preserving the environment in this award-winning and charming story. We love the drama of Pete’s extreme litter pick with dire consequences and the rich illustrations. It’ll make you feel better about having a slightly messy garden too. Buy from Amazon

We meet award-winning author and illustrator Emily Gravett

12. Meet The Oceans by Caryl Hart and Bethan Woollvin. £6.99 (paperback), Bloomsbury

Step into your submarine and explore the seven seas in this stunning follow-up to Meet The Planets, which combines fascinating facts with engaging rhyme and utterly gorgeous artwork.

Caryl Hart and Bethan Woollvin are a dream team picture book pairing, and we can’t get enough of the latter’s distinctive monochrome style which has added neon brights and a slightly retro feel.

Taking you from the Arctic to the Mediterranean, your child will learn about the threat to the coral reefs and plastic in the Pacific, while getting a crash course in geography too. Buy from Amazon

13. Can We Really Help The Polar Bears? by Katie Daynes, illustrated by Roisin Hahessy. £9.99 (hardback), Usborne

Yes, we can! The plight of the Arctic polar bears is the starting point for an accessible and informative exploration of the big issues behind the climate emergency, what it means for our world and how we can make a positive difference.

The bears write to a group of children about how their icy home is melting and the clever kids come up with a plan that would put world leaders to shame, covering everything from cutting CO2 from vehicles and farming to how feasible electric planes are.

With bright and fun artwork, peep through windows and tons of green facts, this story is great for sparking discussions about the environment and parents will definitely learn a few things too – real life climatologist Dr Steve Smith consulted with the author and illustrator during the book’s creation. Ideal for young eco-activists aged five and older. Buy from Amazon

14. A Song of Gladness by Michael Morpurgo and Emily Gravett. £12.99 (hardback), Two Hoots

Two giants of children’s literature team up for a poetic story of hope and kindness towards our natural world. Former Children’s Laureate Michael Morpurgo puts himself inside the book, asking a blackbird to spread the message to every animal in every corner of the Earth, to join in with a song to lift the sadness.

Award-winning illustrator Emily Gravett’s artwork is expansive and atmospheric, taking children on a journey around the planet from Devon to the African savanna and the deepest oceans, showing how closely we are connected to the animal kingdom – and how much we need each other. Apparently Morpurgo was inspired to write this picture book after listening to a blackbird singing in his vegetable patch during the early days of lockdown last year and it could not be more timely. Buy from Amazon

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