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Earth Day began on April 22, 1970, when 20 million Americans took to the streets to raise awareness about the environment, climate change, and endangered species.

“Any holiday or observance is a great time to promote literacy for children and teens of all ages,” says Cindy Welch, associate director of UT’s Center for Children’s and Young Adult Literature. “This list of books includes fun and entertaining selections which offer a variety of ways to teach, learn, and discuss environmental awareness of the planet we call home.”

Welch recommends the following selections:

Picture Books

Animal Ark: Celebrating Our Wild World in Poetry and Pictures, photographs by Joel Sartore, words by Kwame Alexander. Haiku combines with dramatic photos of more than 40 disappearing and endangered species to create a memorable experience in sharing. (Ages 4 and up)

If You Plant a Seed, written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson. A brown bunny and small mouse plant vegetables but have to deal with some greedy birds at harvest time. (Ages 4-8)

Tokyo Digs a Garden by Jon-Erik Lappano, illustrated by Kellen Hatanaka. Young city-dweller Tokyo is given seeds by a mysterious old woman and the resulting plants take over, reclaiming the urban landscape for the natural world. Is it a problem, or a new way to think about living? (Ages 4-7)

What’s the Difference? An Endangered Animal Subtraction Story by Suzanne Slade, illustrated by Joan Waites. A combination introduction to endangered species, their habitats, and math concepts using those animals. (Ages 4-8)

Early Elementary

John Muir Wrestles a Waterfall, written and illustrated by Julie Danneberg. In 1871, naturalist John Muir was exploring Yosemite Falls and had a close call with a small ledge and a big waterfall. (Ages 8 and up)

One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia, by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon. When villagers threw their used plastic bags on the ground they started to multiply and become an eyesore and a hazard, so the women of Njau, Gambia, found a new use for them. (Ages 5-9)

Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees by Franck Prévot, illustrated by Aurélia Fronty. The story of  Wangari Maathai, also known as Mama Miti, “the Mother of Trees,” who planted trees—and peace—in Kenya. (Ages 6-9)

Middle School

Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot by Sy Montgomery, photos by Nic Bishop. This large New Zealand parrot that smells like honey, lives on the ground, and doesn’t fly is protected by living on a special island refuge. (Ages 9-13)

Nature Ranger by Richard Walker. This book details outdoor projects and ideas for exploring the natural world. (Ages 8-12)

Not Your Typical Book about the Environment by Elin Kelsey, illustrated by Clayton Hanmer. A cartoon-filled exploration of the connections between children’s lives (video games, clothing, food) and environmental concerns. (Ages 9-12)

Untamed: The Wild Life of Jane Goodall by Anita Silvey, with a foreword by Jane Goodall. A biography of scientist Jane Goodall, from her groundbreaking work with chimpanzees to later work with preserving animal habitats. (Ages 8-13)


Climate Changed: A Personal Journey through the Science, written and illustrated by Philippe Squarzoni. Written in the form of a graphic novel, this is an exploration of Squarzoni’s attempt to talk to leading experts in fields from science to economics in order to understand what is happening to our climate now and in the immediate future. (Ages 12 and up)

Eyes Wide Open: Going Behind the Environmental Headlines by Paul Fleischman. The author invites teens to “notice, gather information, reflect, refine, and act” on environmental headlines. (Ages 12 and up)

Plants vs. Meats: The Health, History, and Ethics of What We Eat by Meredith Hughes. A basic introduction to agriculture and its impact on the environment, popular diets, and even 3-D-printed food. (Ages 12 and up)

Fun Fiction for Teens

Hoot by Carl Hiaasen. Teens help save an endangered burrowing owl, and thwart a greedy corrupt construction company along the way, in this comedic Florida-based young-adult novel. Read the book and then watch the movie. (Ages 12 and up)


Cindy Welch (865-974-7918,

Tyra Haag (865-974-5460,