21 Children’s Picture Books for Exploring Eco-Friendly Actions

by Marsha Rakestraw

Earth Day may be every day, but our relationship to the natural world often gets a little extra attention in April. Children are hungry to connect with their world and learn what they can do to make a positive difference. Check out these 21 children’s books that help inspire a desire to care for the earth.

1.  Michael Recycle by Ellie Bethel
2008. Grades K-2.
A rhyming story about Michael Recycle, who descends upon a town and inspires them to clean up their trash and go green.

2.  What Planet Are You From, Clarice Bean? by Lauren Child
2002. Grades K-4.
When Clarice’s brother decides to save their neighborhood tree from being chopped down, the whole family gets involved, and Clarice’s school project gets more complicated.

3.  Ants in Your Pants, Worms in Your Plants! (Gilbert Goes Green) by Diane de Groat
2011. Grades K-2.
Gilbert is stuck on what to do for his Earth Day project. Everyone else seems to have taken all the good topics
— from energy conservation to alternative transportation. And then he finds a terrific idea right in front of him….

4. Green City: How One Community Survived a Tornado and Rebuilt for a Sustainable Future by Alan Drummond
2016. Grades K-4.
When a tornado swept through Greensburg, Kansas, the city was destroyed in nine minutes flat. While the community was small, they were resilient and passionate about rebuilding. As the community began to rebuild, they decided to take advantage of the opportunity to make their community even better by building a greener community.

5.  These Seas Count! by Allison Formento
2013. Grades PreK-2.
Mr. Tate’s class helps clean trash off a beach and from the sea, while learning from Captain Ned — and the sea — about the ocean’s animal life (counted from 1-10) and why it’s important for us to keep our oceans clean.

6.  Where in the World is Away? by Michael Franti
2011. Grades 1-3.
In rhyming text the story follows Little Lee and Little Lou as they contemplate the best place to throw their juice bottle “away.” When they encounter Mo the Crow, he teaches them about recycling and reuse.

7.  Sandy’s Incredible Shrinking Footprint by Femida Handy and Carole Carpenter
2010. Grades K-2.
Sandy loves visiting her Grandpa’s house each summer and playing on the beach. One day she discovers a whole mess of trash left on the beach. As she picks it up, she encounters the “Garbage Lady” who encourages Sandy to think about ways she can reduce her ecological footprint: “.. the footprint of your life is the mark you leave on the world. Its size depends on what you eat … what you play with … how you get around .. all kinds of little choices can make your footprint smaller.”

8. Seeds of Change: Planting a Path to Peace by Jen Cullerton Johnson
2010. Grades 1-5.
Wangari Maathai was raised to respect the trees in her community. When she’s given the chance to go to school, she uses her education to help her community and to restore the environmental destruction that has occurred in Kenya. She launches the Green Belt Movement and helps foster the economic security of women in Kenya and beyond. Despite much resistance to such a powerful woman, Wangari is elected to Kenya’s parliament and wins a Nobel Peace Prize.

9.  Our House is Round by Yolanda Kondonassis
2012. Grades 1-4.
“Our Earth has gotten messy. What should we do?” Through questions and simple information the author encourages readers to think critically about how the Earth has gotten “messy,” how our actions affect the planet, and how we can do more good and less harm.

10.  Stuff! Reduce, Reuse, Recycle by Steven Kroll
2009. Grades PreK-3.
When the neighborhood has a tag sale, Pinch the pack rat doesn’t want to give up any of his stuff. But when he sees how much money he can make from selling his stuff (and how good it feels to declutter his home), Pinch gets an idea that will help the whole community.

11.  Moon’s Messenger by Virginia Kroll
2016. Grades K-3.
Moon is sitting on a beach when a sea turtle approaches her and asks her to join him on a journey to see some of the destruction humans have caused to animals and the earth. Although Moon is disheartened about what she learns — climate change, habitat destruction, oil spills, and more — she feels hopeful when she learns what she can do to make a positive difference.

12.  The Tree: A Fable by Neal Layton
2017. Grades PreK-2.
A sparsely worded book in which a human family buys a plot of land with a large tree on it. When they begin to cut down the tree to build their own home, they discover that the tree is a home to many nonhuman animals. Immediately contrite, the couple does what they can to repair their mistake and to find ways to live in harmony with their new animal neighbors.

13.  The Earth Book by Todd Parr
2009. Grades PreK-2.
“I take care of the earth because I know I can do little things every day to make a BIG difference.” The narrator lists several simple actions each of us can take to create a better world so that we can all — human and nonhuman — be “happy and healthy.”

14.  One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of Gambia by Miranda Paul
2015. Grades 1-4.
Used to items that biodegrade back into the earth, the people of Njau, Gambia, just dropped their plastic bags whenever they broke or were no longer needed. Bags began to clog roads and waterways and bring disease and kill animals. Isatou noticed the harm all the bags were causing and decided to do something. She began gathering up the plastic bags, cleaning them, and crocheting them into purses. Soon Isatou taught other women in the village to crochet the plastic into new items, and they began selling them at local markets and beyond.

15.  A Boy and a Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz
2014. Grades K-3.
Alan stutters … except when he talks to animals, like the jaguar at the Bronx Zoo. It makes Alan sad to see animals in cages, and he promises the animals that “if I can every find my voice, I will be their voice and keep them from harm.” Alan’s passion to help animals takes him to Belize, where he uses his voice to convince the government to create a jaguar preserve.

16.  Each Living Thing by Joanne Ryder
2000. Grades PreK-2.
In rhyming text readers are invited to celebrate the creatures of the earth and are encouraged to respect and protect them.

17.  Love Your World: How to Take Care of the Plants, the Animals, and the Planet by Dawn Sirett
2009. Grades PreK-1.
Using colorful photographs, a “green team” of young children show different ways kids can “love our world” and do things “the greener way.” Suggestions are both general (e.g., “love animals”) and specific (e.g., “We won’t leave litter anywhere.”)

18.  Sheila Says We’re Weird by Ruth Ann Smalley
2011. Grades K-2.
Sheila is friends with a family she says is pretty weird. She doesn’t understand why they bike instead of drive, conserve energy and water, or grow food in their own garden; but she seems to enjoy their flowers and homemade soup, their cozy woodstove and their homemade popcorn. In fact, Sheila seems to like hanging out with them quite a lot.

19.  Miss Fox’s Class Goes Green by Eileen Spinelli
2009. Grades PreK-2.
When Miss Fox arrives at school via her bicycle, her students learn that Miss Fox is “going green.” Soon everyone in class is working to make choices that can help the earth, and their message soon spreads to the whole school.

20.  The Dumpster Diver by Janet S. Wong
2007. Grades PreK-2.
“Steve the electrician dives for buried treasure right smack here in our backstreet alley.” The neighborhood kids help Steve with his dumpster diving and transform junk into wonderful, often useful, treasures.

21.  My Forever Dress by Harriet Ziefert
2009. Grades K-3.
A girl’s grandmother sews her a party dress, which can be upcycled as she grows. When she outgrows the dress, it becomes a welcome hand-me-down for her cousin.


Find more of our suggested children’s books dealing with humane themes and issues in our Resource Center.