From Greta Thunberg to Sally Morgan: 10 books to help kids come to grips with climate crisis

The Book Nook Introducing younger readers to environmental emergency is a daunting task. Guardian Australia’s new kids’ books columnist Amelia Lush is here to help
A boy reading a book in a treehouse.
Children are carving out their own platforms to demand a voice. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

When I worked as a children’s bookseller, I received many requests from parents, teachers and young readers for books that could help them understand the destruction being wrought by climate crisis. While adults were often seeking a tool that would allow them to explain the frightening facts, it was children who sought advice on what could be done to make it better.

Bookshops and libraries are the places people find themselves when countless solutions seem beyond reach. With news reports on droughts, ocean garbage patches and dwindling populations of bees sparking curiosity in children, books can be the best place to turn.

In November 2018, following the United Nations Climate Change Conference, then 15-year-old Greta Thunberg initiated the school strike for climate movement, which saw over 50,000 people from 100 countries rally together in a call for action. Four months later, 1.4 million students from around the world participated in school strikes. Children are not only witnessing climate crisis but participating in protests and carving out their own platforms to demand a voice. Greta’s speeches, including her fierce calls to action at both the UN and UK parliament, have now been collected in a single volume entitled No One is too Small to Make a Difference. It’s a small but mighty manifesto on the destruction wrought by prior generations, and the drastic and immediate action required to protect future generations. Beyond her years, she simply states, “Homo sapiens have not failed yet … there is time to turn things around.”

Carbon dioxide is not the only contributing gas towards climate change. Other gases like methane and nitrous oxide are far more dangerous than carbon dioxide alone.

Her first and hopefully not last contribution to literature is a great tool for school students to see one of their own demanding more from those in power. While Greta’s collection of speeches are better suited for students in years five and up, there are many books for younger readers that reflect her tenacity.

Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type – Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin

Simon & Schuster, ages 4+
cover image for picture book Click Clack Moo Cows that Type by Doreen Cronin and Betty Lewin Pinterest
Highly recommended as the ideal introduction to the importance of standing up to authority and civil disobedience. Venture along in the fight of cold and overworked cows against Farmer Brown. Learn how they make use of an old typewriter to demand a change in their conditions or they’ll strike, cutting off the supply of milk.

Our Little Inventor – Sher Rill Ng

Allen and Unwin, ages 6+ The innovation of youth is showcased wonderfully in Australian author and illustrator Sher Rill Ng’s stunningly illustrated story of a young inventor whose determination to clean the air of pollution in the town near where she lives is thwarted time and time again by adults who refuse to pay attention to her brilliant new invention.

The Rhythm of the Rain – Grahame Baker-Smith

Templar, ages 5+

Cover image for The Rhythm of the Rain by Grahame Baker-Smith
Guiding children in their understanding of just how big the planet is, and that natural environments exist beyond what they have witnessed with their own eyes, can be a challenge, one made easier with the help of this exquisite new picture book. Baker-Smith introduces children to the water cycle, and the incredible connections that link all water on the planet. Opening with a young boy pouring a glass of water into his local river, we follow the water as it heads upstream, into the ocean, up among the rain clouds, returning to aid the growth of a single flower. A perfect harmony of lyrical language and landscapes of greens and blues, Baker-Smith’s book sets a tone of wonder and magic in nature.

Precipitation (rain and snowfall) has increased across the globe, on average. Yet some regions are experiencing more severe drought, increasing the risk of wildfires, lost crops, and drinking water shortages.

Mallee Sky – Jodi Toering and Tannya Harricks

Walker Books Australia, ages 6+ This timely release takes place in the Mallee in country Victoria, known to First Peoples of the land as Nowie,meaning Sunset Country.Harricks, an award-winning painter, invites the reader on a journey across wide-bellied landscapes of the Australian outback with her crafted use of oil paints. The gorgeous full-page illustrations provide a superb backdrop for Toering’s considered and poetic text.

The Last Dance – Sally Morgan

Little Hare Books, ages 4+
Cover image for picture book The Last Dance by Sally Morgan Pinterest
The Last Dance might have been published almost 10 years ago, but its message is more important than ever before. Still one of the gentlest and kindest reminders in print to care for our native wildlife, Morgan, who is of the Palyku people of the eastern Pilbara, tells a story encompassing all of Australia, from rainforests to beaches to desert, bringing attention to wildlife affected by human beings, including Gilbert’s potoroo and the flatback turtle.

A Planet Full of Plastic – Neal Layton

Hachette, ages 7+ Did you know that we manufacture over 300 million tonnes of plastic every year? I didn’t until I read Neal Layton’s A Planet Full of Plastic. This is even more concerning when you realise eight million of those tonnes end up in our oceans. For the more factually minded child, A Planet Full of Plasticboth tells the history of plastic invention, use and overuse alongside suggestions for how we can wean ourselves off it. Lively and informative text paired with Layton’s trademark mixed media collages will guarantee the message hits home.

Seagull – Danny Snell

Working Title Press, ages 4+
Cover image for picture book Seagull by Danny Snell Pinterest
Photograph: Working Title Press
Danny Snell’s book takes this quintessential Australian bird that many children will have chased by the ocean and uses it to highlight the very real threat that garbage on the beach poses to local wildlife. Recounting the story of Seagull, who becomes grounded when some fishing line and plastic tangles around his foot, this is an accessible tale for younger children, and the perfect segue into a chat about the dangers of littering and single-use plastic to our marine wildlife.

Precipitation (rain and snowfall) has increased across the globe, on average. Yet some regions are experiencing more severe drought, increasing the risk of wildfires, lost crops, and drinking water shortages.

Somebody Swallowed Stanley – Sarah Roberts and Hannah Peck

Scholastic Australia, ages 5+ Expanding on the plastic theme is Someone Swallowed Stanley, a picture book by the animal behaviourist and environmental expert Dr Sarah Roberts. Giving life and personality to a small plastic bag, Stanley, who is definitely “not like the other jellyfish”, Roberts cleverly demonstrates how marine life, including turtles, sharks and squid, might mistake Stanley for food as he slowly floats down towards the sea bed.

How to Save the Whole Stinkin’ Planet – Lee Constable and James Hart

Penguin Random House, ages 8+ Did you know books on garbage can be laugh-out-loud funny? It can. Bear with me. How to Save the Whole Stinkin’ Planet by the TV presenter, science communicator, and Captain Planet devotee Lee Constable covers topics from compost to button mending and it’s packed with quizzes and science experiments you can do at home. This book succeeds masterfully in demonstrating to kids the many ways they can reduce their carbon footprint, while also having a good giggle.

The climate change scenario was much stable before the industrial revolution and has been rapidly changing since then. Today the reality is that climate change is going to get worse than yesterday.

Welcome to Country – Aunty Joy Murphy and Lisa Kennedy

Black Dog Books, ages 6+ For young people to believe that they can be change-makers and caretakers of this planet, and to encourage the next generation of activists and environmental leaders, we start where all conversations should begin, with stories. It takes little encouragement for little people to make a stomping-big impact, and books are an easy introduction to make the most of their curiosity and compassion for the world around them and beneath them. As Murphy says: “You must only take from this land what you can give back.”