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Must-Read Picture Books about Sustainability and Positive Environmental Actions

Picture books about sustainability are a powerful tool to teach children about conserving resources, protecting natural habitats, and understanding the impact of their actions on the environment. By presenting characters who make small but significant choices like recycling, conserving energy, and protecting wildlife, these picture books inspire children to become active participants in creating a sustainable future.

A little girl, passionate about sustainability, stands next to a pond with garbage bags, determined to clean up the environment.

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How Teaching Sustainability Shapes Future Generations

Sustainability is about meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs. In the classroom, it’s about teaching children every action we take affects the planet — from the water we drink to the paper we scribble on.

Children learning about sustainability can develop strategies for making better decisions and taking positive environmental actions to benefit their communities and the environment. 

Making Sustainability Accessible: The Role of Picture Books

Exploring picture books about sustainability helps to simplify complex ideas and make them accessible. They take the vast concept of sustainability and break it into tangible, relatable stories.

Teaching sustainability with picture books encourages your students to become environmentally conscious.

It’s easy to talk about “being green,” but what does that look like through the eyes of a child? A picture book might show a character choosing to walk instead of taking a car or illustrate a community garden where everyone shares the harvest.

A group of children sitting around a table with books about sustainability and a recycle bin.

Benefits of Using Picture Books when Teaching Sustainability

Using picture books when teaching sustainability visually represents environmental issues and encourages children to think critically about them. Children’s books about sustainability spark discussions about: 

Saving the environment is important for future generations.

  • Acting now to prevent large-scale environmental issues.
  • Different ways to help conserve and sustain the environment.
  • Everyone can get involved in sustainability.
  • The importance of renewable energy sources.
  • The effects of reducing non-renewable resources like coal or oil.
  • Reusing and recycling materials to conserve natural resources and decrease pollution.

Character Traits in Picture Books that Promote Sustainability

Picture books present characters that exhibit specific attitudes and actions, such as reducing waste, conserving energy, and protecting wildlife. 

Good sustainability and positive environmental action require specific character traits such as responsibility, empathy, and problem-solving skills. Characters in sustainability picture books are often:

  • Resourceful about finding new uses for old things.
  • Curious about the world and how it works.
  • Respectful of nature and other people.
  • Community-minded.
  • Understanding that small actions add up.

On the other hand, a character who does not practice sustainability and positive environmental actions may exhibit behaviours such as: 

  • Leaving taps running and wastewater
  • Throwing away things that could be reused
  • Being disconnected from how their actions impact the environment
  • Wasting resources
 
A group of children reading books about sustainability in a classroom.

Engaging Discussions: Questions to Ask About Sustainability in Picture Books

  • How did the characters in the story practice sustainability?
  • How did the character’s choices affect the environment around them?
  • Can you think of a time you reused something instead of throwing it away?
  • Why is it important to share resources like the characters do?
  • How can a small action make a big difference? Can you give an example?
  • How do plants and animals benefit from human sustainable practices?
  • What environmental challenges did the character face? How did the character solve those challenges?
  • What did you learn from the character’s actions?
  • What challenges do you face that relate to sustainability? How can you overcome those challenges?
  • What actions can you take to reduce waste?
  • What would happen if we did not care for the environment?
 

Recommended Reads: Picture Books that Teach Sustainability

These picture books about sustainability illustrate meaningful ways to protect the environment and highlight positive environmental actions and attitudes.

111 Trees: How One Village Celebrates the Birth of Every Girl by Rina Singh

Sundar Paliwal thought it important for boys and girls to be treated equally. But in his village, only boys were celebrated at birth. So Sundar quit his job and became the leader of Piplantri. He asked the villagers to plant 111 trees whenever a girl was born. 

These trees gave the villagers food, water, and jobs for women. Paliwal wanted to show that everyone can work together to help the environment, empower women, and build a stronger community.

Ada's Violin is a children's book that beautifully illuminates the power of recycling.

Ada's Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay by Susan Hood

Ada Río dreams of playing the violin, but her financial circumstances prevent her from pursuing this aspiration. This changes with the arrival of an innovative music teacher who creates instruments from discarded rubbish. 

Paraguay’s inspiring world-renowned Recycled Orchestra highlights the power of music, ingenuity, and the human spirit.

I Am Farmer: Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon by Baptiste Paul

As a child, Tantoh’s curiosity about Cameroon’s agriculture and hard work led to significant transformations in his home country’s landscape, including developing over 800 community gardens and clean water initiatives.

I Am Farmer promotes discussions on environmental stewardship, the power of perseverance, and the impact one person can have on a community.

Bag in the Wind by Ted Kooser

From being discarded in a landfill, a plastic grocery bag is carried by the wind through different landscapes and situations before landing in the hands of a young girl who decides to recycle it. 

Bag in the Wind promotes discussions on recycling, the effects of littering, environmental conservation, and our responsibilities towards our planet.

Beatrix Potter's Countryside by Linda Elovitz Marshall

Beatrix Potter’s beloved Peter Rabbit books captivated generations of children and enabled her to make an incredible contribution to preserving the Lake District in England. With the profits from her book sales, Potter purchased 4,000 acres of countryside, which she dedicated to the National Trust.

Today, the beautiful landscape remains largely unspoiled, thanks to Potter’s determination to protect the area and her generous donation. 

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.

A Forest by Marc Martin

A lush forest transforms slowly succumbs to urbanisation. With a message of hope and resilience, the forest begins to regain its former glory, symbolising the power of nature to rejuvenate and heal itself.

A Forest encourages discussions on environmental conservation, the effects of urbanisation, the importance of co-existence, and the resilience of nature.

The Girl Who Planted Trees by Caryl Hart

Inspired by her grandfather, a girl planted a forest in her village. She perseveres, and soon, her diligent efforts bear fruit as saplings emerge from the earth. Her achievement appears to be in vain when a storm razes the trees, but the villagers unite to replant the forest. 

The Girl Who Planted Trees highlights hope, deforestation, inspiration, determination, resilience, optimism, perseverance in the face of adversity, and the value of community.