There’s no way around it: This is a hard topic for kids. It’s a hard topic for all of us.
I think it’s important to understand the readiness of your child, not just by age, when discussing big issues like this. In my personal opinion, often climate change books aimed at children are either (a) very depressing, anxiety-inducing, and without hope, or (b) burdensome for children, meaning we tell them 50 things they should be doing to fix the problem.
It seems that adults are often more interested in transferring our anxieties and failures onto our children than taking action ourselves to provide remedies. It’s classic tell vs. show. We tell our kids: “The planet is on fire and here’s a hose, little 4 year old, to stop it. Be brave!” There is a difference between inspiring kids who are inclined to care and impact our world for good versus burdening kids by way of guilt or fear. In addition, how can we burden children with the responsibility if we are unwilling to participate in the solutions ourselves?
Now, don’t hear me wrong: the climate crisis is indeed a harsh reality that directly impacts children’s lives. They are aware. They are capable. They are full persons who can learn much and accomplish much. Many awesome teens are out there doing amazing and brave advocacy work in spite of uncaring adults. I do not want to sound like I’m interested in shielding my children from reality (as if I could) or that I do not believe children can change our world! I just think we do need to pay attention to the content we are sharing with what ages/readiness. There is a responsibility we have as adults as to how we communicate with children. It’s worth reading this article for more on this topic: What is the Point of Children’s Books About the Climate Crisis?
This is also a guide I’ve found helpful: Beginning the Climate Conversation: A Family’s Guide (The Climate Reality Project)
It’s also worth noting that learning the actual science of climate change can be quite complex and young children in early education will not be ready to digest this kind of information. So, if you see an in-depth book about climate science aimed at 5 year olds … maybe leave it on the shelf for now.
Below I am sharing some fiction and nonfiction books that share Earth advocacy themes (with a special focus on climate change), both through narrative and engaging factual information. For the younger children, I personally feel it is more effective to reach them on these hard topics through narrative as opposed to nonfiction books. Why? Because narrative appeals to the child’s imagination and meets them where they are at. It’s less about adults telling kids “interesting facts” and more about immersing the child in Earth care through their full selves. Ideally this is paired with actual time spent in nature. No amount of reading books will instill in a child a desire to care for the Earth if they never encounter it in its wildness. Last Child in the Woods is a great read for this particular point!
I fully acknowledge that this is an overwhelming topic and you might disagree with me about which of these books are valuable for a particular age range. My aim here is to provide a starting point to those who are interested in exploring these topics with their children. Like I said, many children are aware. They pick up on this stuff and it’s so good as parents to be equipped to handle these conversations. Many of us actually need to spend time educating *ourselves* before speaking with our children. There is no shame in picking up a book aimed at an 8 year old or a 12 year old to learn about this for yourself! Several of these nonfiction picture books are quite effective at distilling the information into accessible content.
Below are just a few selected favorites from the above list, curated by age range.
Picture Book Narratives:
My preference is to mostly not worry about nonfiction at this age. Note that the above narratives featured are not even directly about climate change, just generally focused on Earth care. I do think The Big Book of Belonging is a good nonfiction option for this age because it is playful and gentle in content, but even so this could feel like an overwhelming amount of information. I have a lot of theme-based lists on my Amazon Favorites that can work well for this age as well to inspire an appreciation of this Earth. I think celebrating the goodness and wonder of the Earth at this age is more valuable than discussing the degradation.
Picture Book Narratives:
Picture Book Narratives:
Ages 12 +
Climate Change Novels for Middle Grade
I haven’t read any of these but have found some good suggestions!
The Last Wild by Piers Torday
One Small Hop by Madelyn Rosenberg
Melt by Ele Fountain
Rumble Star by Abi Elphinstone
More generally, here are helpful book lists for more environmentally-conscious Middle Grade books:
Middle Grade Fiction About the Environment (Book Riot)
Thanks for Reading!
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Note that I have received review copies via the publisher of the following books. Opinions are my own: My Friend Earth, Greta and the Giants, The Story of Climate Change, Waking the Mountain, Planet Power, It’s A Wonderful World, It’s Up to Us, Old Enough to Save the Planet, We Have a Dream, Climate Emergency Atlas, Our World Out of Balance, Zero Waste Kids, Fresh Air Clean Water, Palm Trees at the North Pole, Urgent Message From A Hot Planet, Plasticus Maritimus.