Inspiring picture books about pollution and a healthy planet.

Inspiring Picture Books about Pollution and a Healthy Planet

Exploring picture books about pollution is a great way to introduce the concept of pollution to your students. They will help them understand the dangers and effects of pollution. They also illustrate ways to prevent pollution to keep our planet clean. With the increasing environmental concerns, providing children with the knowledge and skills to become responsible global citizens is crucial.

A group of children holding signs that say save our future planet.

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What is Pollution and Why It's Important in the Elementary Classroom

Pollution is a problem that affects everyone. There are three main types of pollution – air, water and land.

Pollution is like a dark cloud that can cover our cities, rivers, and skies. It’s the stuff we don’t want — like smoke, plastic, and chemicals — that gets into our natural world and causes harm. 

I saw this firsthand when I taught in Malaysia. A toxic smog hung over the country when trees were slashed and burned for palm oil. Schools closed, and we had to wear masks for over a month.

Not all pollution is so visible. This is why we need to talk about pollution in the classroom. Understanding pollution and its effects on the planet and its inhabitants empowers our students to make changes and protect the Earth.

When children learn about pollution, they can help make a difference by making choices that reduce pollution and help keep our planet clean.

Why Read Picture Books about Pollution?

Incorporating stories about pollution into your curriculum can be a powerful tool. Through picture books, your students will see the changes in landscapes, the impact on animals, and the consequences of actions through a story that engages them far more deeply than facts and figures ever could.

Picture books provide visual cues that help children grasp complex topics like pollution, the cause and effect of pollution on the environment, how it harms people and animals, and the environmental consequences. 

Stories about pollution in picture books offer real-life and fictional accounts of people and communities taking action. They also bring up ways to stop pollution and its environmental impact.

Such stories help your students understand they are important in making a difference in reducing pollution. Reading children’s books about pollution shows:

  • Pollution harms people and the environment.
  • New ways to stop pollution and reduce its environmental impact.
  • Ways to make better choices regarding pollution.
  • How to spread awareness about pollution and how to reduce it.
  • We can be powerful advocates for reducing pollution.
A boy holding a sign that says stop plastic pollution.

Analysis of Character Traits

In many books about pollution, characters exhibit traits like creativity and responsibility in addressing environmental issues. They feature characters who understand the effects of pollution on the Earth and promote attitudes and actions, including empathy and responsibility. These characters also:

  • recycle and encourage others to do the same.
  • think creatively to solve problems.
  • take part in community clean-ups.
  • educate others about the consequences of pollution.

To help children understand the importance of pollution, it is essential to contrast characters who practice these concepts with those who do not. Some attitudes and actions that can be highlighted include: 

  • ignoring rules and tossing trash anywhere.
  • not thinking about the impact of their actions.
  • resisting change even when they know it’s harmful.
  • wastefulness and carelessness

Questions to Use With Picture Books about Pollution

  • What kind of pollution did you see in the book?
  • How did pollution affect the characters’ lives?
  • What could the characters have done differently to prevent pollution?
  • How can we help reduce pollution in our school or home?
  • What would happen if nobody cleaned up pollution?
  • What are some ways people in the book tried to fix the pollution problem?
  • How did the actions of one character affect the community?
  • What can we learn from the characters’ mistakes in the book?
  • What does pollution do to the environment?
  • What is the impact of littering on the environment?
  • How can we reduce our use of single-use plastics?
  • How do the books about pollution we’ve read illustrate the impact of environmental issues?

Children’s Books about Pollution

These picture books depict the challenges of pollution and the triumphs of taking action and making positive changes.

Alba and the Ocean Cleanup by Lara Hawthorne

Alba loves collecting sea treasures. As she ages, it notices things changing from beautiful shells to plastic bottles and tin cans. On a treasure-hunting trip, Alba gets stuck in a bottle and drifts until Kaia finds Alba. Kaia gathers her neighbours to clean up their beach and save Alba’s home.

Alba the Hundred Year Old Fish promotes discussions on the impact of pollution, environmental conservation, community action, and empathy towards marine life.

The Brilliant Deep: The Story of Ken Nedimyer and the Coral Restoration Foundation by Kate Messner

Ken Nedimyer is an ocean conservation pioneer who started the Coral Restoration Foundation, a group dedicated to restoring the world’s coral reefs. Using innovative techniques, he and his team worked to grow new corals and plant them on damaged reefs.

The Brilliant Deep sparks conversations about environmental conservation, the importance of marine ecosystems, an individual’s role in making a difference and determination.

The Crown by Emily Kapff

In the future, a girl wears a crown of the trash surrounding her. She discovers a book filled with images of our current world, revealing the stark contrast between a world filled with life and her own, overwhelmed by waste. She envisions a future where her crown represents life instead of waste.

The Crown explores hope, human environmental impact, pollution, sustainability, action, consequences, and the role of individuals and societies in preserving the environment for future generations.

The Curious Garden by Peter Brown

Liam, a young explorer, stumbles upon a wilting garden on an abandoned train track. With time, care, and patience, Liam nurtures the garden back to life. His hard work pays off when his blossoming oasis spreads throughout the city. 

The Curious Garden sparks discussions on sustainability, adaptability, perseverance, cooperation, and the impact one person can have on their environment.

Flotsam by David Wiesner

A boy stumbles upon an old camera on the beach. Developing its film reveals an underwater world beyond imagination, a visual narrative linking children across time and space.

Flotsam, a wordless book, inspires discussions on perception, perspectives, curiosity, and observation.

Ganesha Goes Green by Lakshmi Thamizhmani

During her town’s Ganesha Chaturthi festival, Prema becomes concerned about the pollution caused by the immersion of Ganesha statues in the river. She takes it upon herself to create an eco-friendly Ganesha statue, sparking a wave of change in her community.

Ganesha Goes Green is a great conversation starter about environmental responsibility and the power to effect change. It encourages your students to think about how they can proactively protect the environment.

The High Line: A Park to Look Up To by Victoria Tentler-Krylov

The world took notice when a group of New York neighbours came together to transform a derelict elevated train line into a vibrant, green community space. Known as the High Line, cities around the globe have been inspired to do the same. 

The High Line can spark conversations about pollution, change, activism, communities making a difference, collaboration and innovation. 

Iqbal and His Ingenious Idea: How a Science Project Helps One Family and the Planet by Elizabeth Suneby

In Bangladesh, Iqbal is troubled by his family’s open-flame cooking. He sees an opportunity to help, and with creativity and determination, Iqbal builds a solar cooker, making their life healthier and safer.

Iqbal and His Ingenious Idea promotes discussions on problem-solving, scientific thinking in everyday life, environmental sustainability, and the impact of individual actions.

Just a Dream by Chris Van Allsburg

Walter disregards the importance of recycling and caring for the environment until he experiences a vivid and unsettling dream about the potential future. He sees the grim consequences of neglecting environmental responsibility. Upon waking, Walter understands everyone has a crucial role in respecting and preserving our environment to ensure a positive and sustainable future.

The Last Straw by Zoe Matthiessen

Sippy is a plastic straw that ends up in the sea after being thrown away. It encounters marine animals and learns how single-use plastic adversely affects their lives.

The Last Straw uses cause and effect to make children aware of the consequences of their actions on the environment and encourages conversations about recycling, sustainability, responsible consumption, and reducing plastic use.

Little Turtle and the Sea by Becky Davies

As the years pass, a sea turtle encounters changes in her beloved ocean due to pollution, particularly plastic waste. Despite these challenges, she persists, showcasing her love for the ocean and her struggle for survival.

Little Turtle and the Sea promotes discussions on environmental conservation, the importance of marine life, resilience in adversity, and the effects of pollution.

The Lorax by Dr Seuss

Once-ler, an industrialist, chops down all the trees in the Truffula forest to make Thneeds. The Lorax warns the Once-ler about his environmental destruction, but his pleas are ignored. In the end, the Once-ler gives a young boy the last Truffula seed, entrusting him with the future of the forest. 

The Lorax sparks conversations about environmental conservation, the impact of human actions on the environment, environmental responsibility, and sustainable practices.

The Odd Fish by Naomi Jones

Little Fish encounters an Odd Fish unlike any other it has seen before. Intrigued, it embarks on a journey to help the Odd Fish find its family. It becomes clear that this fish does not belong to the sea. It is a piece of human-made pollution.

Read The Odd Fish to discuss environmental pollution, conservation, and the consequences of human actions on nature.

One Plastic Bag by Miranda Paul

In Gambia. Isatou Ceesay is worried about plastic bags littering her community. She collects them and, with a group of women, turns them into beautiful handbags. Despite initial resistance, their innovative recycling efforts significantly impact their community.

One Plastic Bag promotes discussions on environmental conservation, women’s empowerment, community action, creativity, and resilience.

One World by Michael Foreman

Fascinated by the diversity of animals on Earth, two siblings explore the seashore and create a mini-marine world in a rock pool. Through this experience, they realise the fragility of nature and the impact of their actions on the environment.

One World promotes discussions on environmental conservation, the interconnectedness of life, personal responsibility, and the impact of human activities on nature.

Rainbow Weaver by Linda Elovitz Marshall

Ixchel, a young Mayan girl, is passionate about continuing her community’s weaving tradition. Unable to use traditional materials, she uses colourful plastic bags, transforming waste into a woven rainbow fabric.

Rainbow Weaver sparks discussions on sustainability and recycling, empowering indigenous female characters, persistence and creative problem-solving.

Rocket Says Clean Up! by Nathan Bryon

During a trip to her grandparents in Jamaica, Rocket is sad to see the beach littered with trash and a baby turtle caught in plastic. She mobilises the local community to clean the beach.

Rocket Says Clean Up! inspires conversations about our responsibility towards the environment, taking action, and the power of community efforts in bringing about change.

Somebody Swallowed Stanley by Sarah Roberts

Stanley, a striped plastic bag, is mistaken for a jellyfish and swallowed by various sea creatures. He encounters a series of marine animals affected by his presence, highlighting the impact of plastic waste on marine life. 

Somebody Swallowed Stanley! sparks conversations about environmental conservation, the impact of human activities on marine life, and personal responsibility in combating plastic pollution.

The Tale of the Whale by Karen Swann

A child explores the vast blue ocean with a friendly whale. They encounter various sea creatures, dance with dolphins, and discover coral reefs and shipwrecks. They also witness the reality of plastic pollution affecting marine life.

The Tale of the Whale explores friendship, empathy and understanding for animals, conservation, environmental stewardship and the issue of plastic pollution in our seas.

Walk of the Whales by Nick Bland

A group of whales leave the ocean to walk on the land. Soon, shops go out of business, farms flood, and humans heckle the mammals with anti-whale words. It takes a little girl to discover the whales have left their home because of ocean pollution.

Walk of the Whales explores conservation, the interconnectedness of living things, ocean pollution and its impact on marine life, and the effects of humans on the environment.

We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom

An Indigenous girl takes a stand to protect the precious natural resources of her community threatened by the ‘black snake’. She shows the urgent need to safeguard our water and preserve the balance of our planet.

We Are Water Protectors explores activism in protecting, preserving and respecting water, Indigenous communities’ cultures and traditions, and their deep connection to the land and water.

Where the Heart Is by Irma Gold

Old Joao finds a penguin covered in oil on a beach near Rio de Janeiro. He nurses it back to health, and the penguin stays with Joao long after it is healthy. After a year, the penguin travels over 8,000km to a penguin colony in Patagonia, only to return to visit Joao.

Where the Heart Is explores unexpected friendships, a sense of belonging, caring for others and following your heart.

Framework for Discussing Sensitive Issues Related to Pollution

Some children may feel overwhelmed when discussing pollution, so approach discussions carefully and provide hope alongside truths. Reassure students that for every problem, people like them are working on solutions.

Conclusion: Key Takeaways and Final Thoughts

Pollution matters, and so does our role in teaching about it. It’s not just about the problem; it’s about empowering our students to be part of the solution.

Picture books help children understand the importance of environmental protection and encourage them to take action.

Using picture books about pollution in our classrooms and libraries plays a pivotal role in educating young minds about environmental stewardship.

What children’s stories about pollution do you have in your classroom or library? If I don’t have them on the list, let me know about them in the comments!

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