Once, the only sounds to be heard were the buzzing of bees in the grass, the murmuring of moles in the earth, and the song of birds in the sky. These warmed the hearts of those who cared to listen – until the others came to fill the sky with a cacophony of noise.
(Varmints by Helen Ward)

Earth Day 2021 is being held from 20th- 22nd April.  Last year marked 50 years of Earth Day which first started in 1970 with twenty million people (10% of the then US population) taking part.  It has become the planet’s largest civic event and is now a worldwide phenomenon with more than 75,000 partners in 190 countries. It has led to legislative changes to protect the environment. This year most children will be at home on this day, so why not check out a few of these links and books to initiate a conversation at home about the things we can do to take care of our very special Planet Earth.

The organisers say:

It’s time to set up climate education. Climate literacy is the key to building a greener workforce. 

The website has a mechanism to link you to existing community events or even create your own.  It also has a stock of Teach-in Toolkits you can access (aimed at young adult/ adult audience). 

Earth Day reminds you of your own agency:

As an individual, you yield real power and influence as a consumer, a voter, and a member of a community that can unite for change.

Children need help to understand this agency, why it is important and the power that it can yield. They also need help to understand the issues that need addressing. 

This is when well-chosen books come into their own. Through fact and fiction, real stories and creative tales, books can help children explore complex subjects, relate global issues to their own lives and think through the implications of their actions.  As educators we all desire that children can articulate the rationale behind their choices and actions; we want them to be empowered and informed. Books can play a really essential role in this particularly with regard to environmental issues and even at a very young age.

Current Curriculum Provision

Indeed the new national curriculum for PSHE, introduced in 2020, includes sustainability and the environment. The PSHE Association (a government-funded body to provide guidance in the teaching of PSHE) in their guide to requirements suggests that for Learning opportunities in Living in the Wider World at Key Stage 1 pupils learn

About things they can do to help look after their environment.

 Whilst at Key Stage 2 pupils learn:

Ways of carrying out shared responsibilities for protecting the environment in school and at home; how everyday choices can affect the environment (e.g. reducing, reusing, recycling; food choices).

Books with concern for the environment feature across our programmes and we are seeing an increasing number of titles reviewed by our expert review panel.

Firstly, there are books that encourage appreciation of the natural world.  For example, When the Stars Come Out by Nicola Edwards is a beautifully illustrated non-fiction book that explores the magic and mysteries of the night-time from stargazing and planets to city and savannah. This hugely informative book highlights what is so extraordinary about our earth and the universe at night.  Whilst A Cat’s Guide to the Night Sky by Stuart Atkinson is almost a practical handbook to help you stargaze with your child.

Secondly, there are others that warn of damage and degradation. The Lost Stars by Hannah Cumming shows young children what can happen if we neglect our environment and the beauty we could lose.  Likewise, the recently published The Tale of a Toothbrush by M.G. Leonard follows the story of Sofia’s discarded toothbrush called Sammy. In doing so it tells the story of plastic in our oceans in an engaging way.  The Last Tree by Emily Haworth-Booth is billed by the publisher as a story of hope and rebellion, about our relationship with the environment and with each other… Can the children save the last tree?

Thirdly, there are those that focus on individual agency and role models. Earth Heroes: Twenty Inspiring Stories of People Saving Our World by Lily Dyu shares courageous and encouraging stories of individuals whose pioneering work is having a positive impact on the planet.  Whilst Valentina Camerini’s The Schoolgirl Who Went On Strike To Save The Planet details the story of Greta Thunberg.

Books can be powerful, emotive, challenging and shocking.  Just because they are being read by children does not mean that the themes cannot be complex and deep.  Our Take One Book programme – a flexible, literature-based framework for teaching English – is able to take the time to explore books more fully really delving beyond the surface into their deeper meanings.  As humans our relationship with nature is multi-faceted. Books such as Greenling by Levi Pinfold and Varmints by Helen Ward explore this complexity and our Take One Book programme gives you a ready-made framework to develop this depth of understanding in your classroom.

Earth Day

The award-winning Varmints was selected for Take One Book because it is a stunning picture book which explores the destruction of nature through lyrical prose and dramatic illustrations. Although this is a relatively straightforward story and can be accessed by children in the earlier junior years, the subject provides plenty of scope for discussion with older juniors. It is a captivating book that takes the readers on a journey of joy, destruction, despair and ultimately hope. 

Earth Day

In Greenling Levi Pinfold’s stylised realistic and detailed paintings provide lots of opportunities for discussion. Set in Australia in the mid-twentieth century, the atmosphere evokes the frontier stories of the American Mid West. Like David Grant’s iconic painting, American Gothic, Pinfold’s characters, a farmer and his wife, (the Barleycorns) are depicted against the backdrop of their outback farmhouse, inviting connections with Grant’s painting and the many meanings that have been attributed to it.

Take One Book gives you the tools to examine a text and illustrations at depth.  It is a four-stage framework for reading based on up-to-date research and tested in schools.  Skills for reading, comprehension, fluency and vocabulary are taught through exciting book-based units which offer engaging reading experiences.  High-quality dialogic teaching underpins and is key to the process. It covers both Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2.

If you would like a more practical approach to marking the day then the website The School Run has a focus on climate change for children with great suggestions of activities for both home and school around caring for the environment and raising an environmentally conscious child.  Whilst Just Imagine’s independent reading programme The Reading Journey features How to Help a Hedgehog and Protect a Polar Bear by Jess French (zoologist, naturalist, entomologist, author, vet and television presenter).  This surveys habitats from hedgerows to wetlands to mountains with attractive illustrations and more importantly 70 simple things you can do for our planet.

What do the hills and trees have planned?

Does Mr. Barleycorn quite understand?

When winter has passed, spring is to hand…

What will be growing on Barleycorn land?

(Greenling by Levi Pinfold)