Every Day Is Earth Day | Books to Celebrate

Titles to introduce environmental themes, nurture an appreciation of nature, and launch creative projects.
Celebrate Earth Day (April 22) and welcome spring with these engaging and stunningly illustrated read-alouds. These captivating books can also be used year round to introduce environmental themes, nurture an appreciation of nature, and launch creative projects focused on the outdoors.

A Love Letter to Planet Earth

April Pulley Sayre’s Thank You, Earth (Greenwillow/HarperCollins, Feb. 2018; K-Gr 5) combines eloquent verses with spectacular full-color nature photos to offer a stirring ode to our planet. Handsomely laid-out pages highlight a variety of ecosystems, spotlight particular plants and animals, and celebrate day-to-day marvels. “Thank you for tiny/and towering” reads one spread, which pairs a crisp close-up of a beetle with a photo of a maple tree, the eye focused upward along its substantial trunk and yellow-leafed branches filling the frame. Pulled-back panoramas portray colorful coastlines or expansive mountain scenes, while zoomed-in shots encourage closer consideration of nature’s forms and textures—the “prickles” of a saguaro cactus, “patterns” adorning the shells of green sea turtle hatchlings, or “shapes that repeat” in the face of a sunflower. “Thank you for beginnings,/for endings,/for lifetimes./Thank you for being/our home.” A glorious read-aloud for all ages, this book can be used to delve more deeply into the flora and fauna introduced, discuss poetic structure and imagery, or inspire students to pen and illustrate their own “Dear Earth” love letters. An informative author’s note offers kids numerous ideas and starting points for turning “a thank you into action.”

Every Day Is Arbor Day

The rhyming text and exquisite watercolor artwork of Laura Knowles and Jennie Webber’s picture book depict the life cycle of a sycamore tree. “It starts with a seed./But where does it lead?/To a root, to a shoot, to a few tiny leaves.” The realistically rendered illustrations, neatly framed and positioned consistently on right-hand pages, clearly show the growth process, both above and beneath ground, encouraging youngsters to follow closely and reflect upon each and every change. As the tree grows through the years, the elegant spreads explore its role in the ecosystem (“Strong branches reach out” to “give shelter and shade:/a home where the animals/don’t feel afraid”) and changes that occur through the seasons. Finally, summer fades to autumn, and an image of the now-mature sycamore fills a four-page fold-out, its branches and the surrounding area teeming with wildlife, and its helicopter seeds “ready to float in the breeze…/and some of them…/…might just grow into…/..new trees.” An entrancing read-aloud (though kids will want a closer look at the artwork), It Starts with a Seed (words & pictures, 2017; PreS-Gr 2) introduces the subject matter while also conveying a sense of wonder at how a tiny seed transforms into a magnificent entity that serves as centerpiece to a bustling-with-life ecosystem. Lemniscates mixes lyrical text with eye-catching artwork to provide a mesmerizing appreciation of Trees (Candlewick Studio, 2017; PreS-Gr 2). Vibrant spreads depict changing landscapes as “Trees sleep in winter/and wake up in spring./They bear fruit in summer/and drop their leaves in autumn.” For the most part, simple sentences introduce the basic characteristics and environmental role of trees (they provide homes to many, “clean the air we breathe,” etc.). Concepts are sometimes imaginatively expressed (“Trees have their heads in the clouds/and their feet on the ground”), providing opportunity to mix science with a touch of poetry. The statement that “Trees use their roots to communicate and to help one another” (the accompanying image whimsically shows the roots beneath two trees reaching out to form heart shapes) will stimulate curiosity and discussion. A black bird wings its way throughout the pages, adding continuity, and a boy appears at book’s end to rest in a tree’s shade, appreciate a fallen apple, and plant and nurture its seeds. In addition to a rousing ode to these “marvelous beings,” this book makes an inviting starting point for scientific investigations, and, with its simple text and stylized illustrations, inspiration for creative writing and art projects. Online, the author illustrates a related project for children and offers downloadable resources. A Spanish language edition of the book, Árboles (EKARE, 2016), is also available. Why are trees important to Earth’s ecosystem? Liz Garton Scanlon answers this question with a picture book that is both engaging and informative. Lilting language introduces a man who lives alone in a creaky house atop a steep hill where the wind continually blows—banging shutters, tumbling tables, stirring up dust, driving birds away, and even whooshing laundry off the line (Lee White’s charming mixed-media illustrations show red-and-white polka-dotted boxers soaring into the sky). Kate lives in the town below, and when the man’s wind-whisked hat practically ends up in her lap (along with a call for help), this resourceful young heroine comes up with a solution. She can’t stop the wind, of course, but she can load her wagon with saplings and wheel them up the hill to plant. As time passes, the trees grow (along with Kate), blocking the wind, tamping down the dust, offering homes for wildlife, and providing shade for a picnic (shared by the now-teenage Kate and gray-haired man). An author’s note offers more info about the “starring role” played by trees in keeping our planet “beautiful, healthy, and productive;” a list of tree-advocacy organizations; and ways for kids to make a difference—just like Kate, Who Tamed the Wind (Schwartz & Wade, Feb.2018; K-Gr 4). The Tree (Candlewick, 2017; Pre-Gr 2) stands tall, gracing a stretch of open countryside and serving as home to a variety of animals. After purchasing the land, an enthusiastic couple arrives on the scene with tools in tow and a “wonderful plan” to build their dream home. Their first job is to cut down the evergreen. However, after a few strokes of their double-handed saw, they get a “terrible surprise”—frightened owls fly from their hollow, rabbits flee from their nestled-under-the roots burrow, and a nest of tweeting birds tumbles to the ground. Devastated by what they have caused, the man and woman go back to the drawing board—adapting their architectural design so that the tree can serve as home to everyone, humans and animals alike. Neal Layton’s spare text and evocative pen-and-wash illustrations pack a powerful emotional punch, and open discussion about living in harmony with nature. Standing on a corner, Big Tree is a cherished neighborhood landmark that provides “shelter, shade, hiding place. Just right for sharing secrets, leaning, and dreaming. All seasons, all weathers.” Then one day, a storm hits hard, resulting in Big Tree Down (Holiday House, Feb. 2018; PreS-Gr 2). The loud noise and snapped power lines cause residents to lean out of windows to make sure everyone is safe. Never fear, a call to 9-1-1 quickly brings an emergency team and soon workers are busy setting things right. That evening, with the electricity still out, folks empty refrigerators and freezers and gather outside for an impromptu cookout, and share stories about their long-time neighbor. Even after Big Tree is chopped up, chipped down, and hauled away by the forestry crew, it still contributes to the community, leaving behind firewood, mulch, and trunk sections arranged in a circle for “sitting and sharing secrets, leaning, and dreaming.” And that autumn, a sapling is planted on the corner. In addition to describing how a community deals with an emergency, Laurie Lawlor’s energetic text and David Gordon’s bright-hued illustrations reveal the important role trees play in the day-to-day life of an urban neighborhood.

It’s Never Too Late: Tales of Renewal and Hope

Jacqueline Briggs Martin and Claudia McGehee tell the true story of an ecosystem in Iowa that was lost, found, and lovingly restored. Home to brook trout and other living things, a creek once “tumbled” across a prairie valley but was filled with dirt by a farmer to expand his cornfield. When Mike Osterholm purchased the land years later, he learned about the one-time stream from a neighbor who once caught a brook trout there. Mike resolves to go Creekfinding (University of Minnesota Pr., 2017; Gr 1-4), marking the water’s path from an old photograph, calling in an excavator to scoop and dig, laying bedrock, and planting cordgrass along the banks. As seasons passed, “Plants grew./Insects flew in,/whirred and buzzed/and laid eggs in the water/and on the grass.” After two more years, sculpin swam into the creek, a sign that the water was clean and clear…and ready to receive tubs of finger-sized trout that successfully grew and reproduced. Today, thanks to Osterholm's vision, hard work, and persistence, the creek ripples and burbles across the prairie, and flora and fauna abound. Accessible yet lyrical text, artwork that swirls with color and texture, and informative sidebars tell an inspiring tale about caretaking and cherishing our environment. Joseph Kuefler blends understated text and eye-catching artwork into a reader-grabbing picture book with an unlikely hero. Crane, Dozer, and Digger are hard at work in their gravel-textured, gray-hued urban landscape, building tall structures, roads, and bridges. When Digger discovers a tiny purple blossom in the rubble, he is mesmerized, and returns every day to water, nurture, and sing to it. The flower thrives, but so does the city, and there is only one spot left to build. Before Digger can stop him, Dozer cuts the flower down with his sharp blade. Heartbroken, Digger scoops up the seeds left behind, drives them to a far-away green hilltop, digs and scoops a hole, and tucks them into the “warm earth.” Under his gentle care the seeds flourish…and the final wordless pages show tiny sprouts spreading toward the city. Resounding with genuine emotion (who knew heavy machinery could be so expressive?), The Digger and the Flower (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins, Jan. 2018; PreS-Gr 2) is a poignant and thought-provoking read-aloud. Pete, a badger, likes to keep the forest Tidy (S. & S., 2017; PreS-Gr 2). With cleaning supplies and vacuum in hand, he snips off flowers that don’t match, picks up stray sticks, and even polishes rocks. When autumn leaves begin to fall, he manages to load all of them into garbage bags (piles and piles of garbage bags); but “now the trees looked bare and scrappy,” so Pete digs up every single one. Annoyed by the resulting flooding and mudding, he brings in construction vehicles and paves everything over. “This forest is practically perfect,” he declares—until he realizes that his dinner (beetles and worms) and his burrow have been buried under concrete. After a hungry and sleepless night, he appreciates his terrible mistake. The next morning, with the help of the other animals, Pete works hard to put everything back to the way it was (“But maybe less ordered—and not quite as clean”) and resolves to turn over a new leaf. The final scene depicts the forest and its denizens wreathed in lush springtime glory (however, though ants carry away Pete’s cleaning materials, the badger keeps a scrub brush hidden behind his back, leaving the ending somewhat open-ended). Told with a balance of snicker-inducing humor and searing acumen, Emily Gravett’s tale encourages discussion of environmental destruction, how actions have consequences, and the importance of learning from mistakes.

Appreciate the Beauty in Your World

Who needs paper or paint? In a lively first-person narrative, a young pigtailed protagonist introduces herself as an Anywhere Artist (Clarion, 2017; PreS-Gr 2) who can create masterpieces using only her imagination and objects found in nature. Nikki Slade Robinson collages vivacious cartoon images of her character with photos of the featured items to convey the girl’s creative process as she visits a forest (and concocts a beastie out of “fluffy lichen, twisted sticks…smooth stones [and] lacy leaf skeletons”); cartwheels along a beach (and shapes sand, shells, and seaweed into an image); dances in the rain (to make puddle patterns and a mud mouse); and lies in the grass (using her imagination to paint pictures with the clouds). “So, what will you make today?”, she asks readers, inspiring youngsters to get outside and get creative. In Jillian Tamaki’s They Say Blue (Abrams, Mar. 2018; PreS-Gr 2), a young girl uses her senses and her imagination to contemplate the colors and wonders of the everyday world. Luscious spreads filled with brush-stroked textures and vivid hues delineate the action. The lyrical verses hum with active language and the excitement of discovery. Sitting on the beach under a swirling blue sky, the child contemplates the ocean: “They say the/sea is blue, too./It certainly looks/like it from here.” But when she goes into the water and holds it in her hands, “it’s/clear as glass./I toss it up in/the air to make/diamonds.” Seasons pass and moods change. Later on, as the weather warms, she imagines shedding her winter gear, stretching her hands to the sky with “fingers open wide,” and, voila, “I sprouted” (the accompanying series of illustrations show her gradually transforming into a tree). Now her perspective shifts, as she views her surroundings from her arboreal point of view, angling her “green/leaves to feel the sun” in summer, wiggling her “toes in the/soft pile” of leaves at her feet in fall, and gazing upon the “all white” of winter before closing her eyes…to wake up once more as a girl, ready to marvel at the sights outside her window. An enchanting choice for encouraging outdoor exploration, creating awareness of simple pleasures, and inspiring poetry and art projects. Pairing 12 haiku poems written by Richard Wright more than 50 years ago with Nina Crews’s photocollage artwork, Seeing into Tomorrow (Milbrook, Feb. 2018; K-Gr 3) expresses the author’s perspective and celebrates the many joyful ways that children interact with nature. Each selection is presented on a double-page spread and adorned with a montage of artfully arranged images that interpret and expand upon the text. Crews explains, “I photographed African American boys for this book, because I wanted the reader to imagine the world through a young brown boy’s eyes.” The results are a lovely celebration of everyday moments. One youngster looks up and smiles as he walks his mountain bike along a forest pathway (“Is this the dirt road,/Winding through windy trees,/That I must travel?”); a boy strides purposefully along a pier with fishing rod in hand (“As day tumbles down,/The setting sun’s signature/Is written in red”); another child sits still while tracing the progress of an insect (“‘Say, Mr. Beetle,/Are you taking a detour/Crawling on my knee?’”). Crews appends an introduction to this poetic form, a brief but informative biography of Wright, and an invitation to readers to try their hand at writing haiku. And this book’s universal expression of wonder, heart-soaring appreciation of beauty, and sense of hopeful possibility just might inspire them to do so.   Information and educator resources on Earth Day can be found at the Earth Day 2018 website.

Additional thematically related articles by Joy Fleishhacker include "Gardens Galore" and "Green Thumbs and Bountiful Imaginations."

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