It’s hard to believe sometimes that the fight for the environment has been going on for so long. In 1970, 20 million people came together to do just that, creating the first Earth Day. It’s sad that we have to use the word ‘fight’. It makes it sound like there’s an enemy. Someone, something to thwart. The Earth Day website uses the word ‘mobilised’, suggesting something more akin to a battle. Surely we’re all in this together, but it does feel like a struggle. A fight. So who is the fight against? Governments, corporations, society, ourselves, even?

In truth, we’ve all played our parts in some way or another. But, people are changing. 50 years after the first Earth Day, the 20 million has grown into 1 billion. And they’re making their voices heard. Historically, change has come from the people. The environmental crisis is no different, and the fires of the revolution are burning. However, any good fire needs fuel, and it needs to be sustainable. What’s more flammable and sustainable than education?

The theme of this year’s Earth Day is Invest In Our Planet. What Will You Do? Investing in our planet means education, and books are always an investment in education.

Our young people are special. With each generation, the world moves another step in the right direction. More voices are heard and people do listen. Ok. Perhaps not everyone, yet. But the figure will continue to increase. Publishers are listening to the demands of their readers, and climate-focused books are increasingly popular. Schools are listening too. Far from the days when schools only teach children what we think they should know, they’re starting to listen to the issues that are important to our young people. Anyone who has worked in education will tell you how loud children can be when they come together. Using books and education to stimulate these voices, making them shout in unison, is world-changing.

It’s easy to think of nonfiction for real-world issues. However, there are many fiction books with environmental themes. Hope Jones Save the World by Josh Lacey is a young girl’s blog. It’s loaded with facts and is sure to inspire readers in reducing their reliance on plastic, like the title character. Children will also relate to the struggle of getting those in charge to listen to their views.

Fiction also helps teach us about other cultures and the impacts of climate change on the landscape and people. Melt by Ele Fountain looks at those affected directly by the warming oceans and receding ice in an Arctic village. People’s ways of life are being threatened now, and Melt gives an important perspective of another culture experiencing the effects of climate change. Something on these shores we’re distant from. But books set in other cultures can also be familiar and relatable like A Good Day for Climbing Trees by Jaco Jacobs. Originally in Afrikaans, it’s a tale of children protesting to save a tree that developers want to cut down.

What these books have in common is that they feature people/organisations that put profits before the planet. The fact that this is a universal problem should in itself be a great unifier. It could lead to interesting discussions about consumption and consumerism and what each of us would be willing to change in our lives, or sacrifice, to do our bit. Also, conversations about authority figures and who gets to make decisions for the rest of us. This could lead to discussions about school councils and pupil voices.

Nonfiction is vital too, of course. Responsible information from reliable sources is key in education. As with fiction books, they give the reader the motivation to make change happen, and also give the reader agency to make decisions for themselves.

How You Can Save The Planet (Puffin) gives readers step-by-step guides on ‘Actions’ they can take to help the environment. Each ‘action’ is accompanied by a Why? section and a What Will it Achieve? explanation, which facilitates understanding and gives important context.

Usborne’s Helping Our Planet answers many questions readers will have. As a result, making readers an authority in the classroom and gives them confidence. Having a voice is important to make change happen, but having the confidence to use it is a whole other skill. Schools and classrooms are safe places where children can practise without fear of judgement, and also receive feedback on how to respectfully hear others and put their points across. Flexing skills in constructing, and countering, arguments is vital to being able to put your points across verbally and in writing.

Thus, these books can be used in the classroom, not just to educate about climate change, but in the use of language and communication too. It’s no surprise that many books on the subject feature graphics and illustrations of placards and protests, people standing up and looking directly at the readers demanding a response. Words such as ‘heroes’, ‘rebels’, ‘YOU’ in uppercase, and the use of imperative verbs give an urgency to the rhetoric. Discussion jumping-off points could be:

  • What is this book trying to achieve?
  • What techniques does it use?
  • Is it successful?
  • How would the message change if we used a different word?
  • What makes a good placard?

Climate conscious teachers can use books in story sessions. For the youngest of readers, there are many picture books with themes on littering, plastic use, and endangered species. Older year groups might want to read about real-life figures in biographical texts like Climate Rebels by Ben Lerwill. Bringing environmental issues to the front of the classroom gives them high status and the chance for children to voice their views. A Gentler or broader approach could be the use of nature poetry and art.

Investing in our planet means investing in our children, which means investing in books. They can be both a tool to educate about the climate and to inspire young people to take a stand. Each is equally important. Moreover, a book is a form of protest, a placard without the pole. Hold them up high in the classroom and make change happen. You think your children are loud now? …Just wait until they’ve read some books.