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ENGU 450: Literature of Children & Young Adults

Children and the Environment:

Green Books, Green Students, Green World

With major global issues such as pollution, loss of habitat and

biodiversity, global warming, depletion of natural non-renewable resources,

and over-consumption increasing at a rate previously unimaginable, it is now

more important than ever to foster a nurturing relationship between children

and our world. One day the fate of our planet will literally be in their hands,

and the sooner teachers and parents plant the seeds for a positive and

nurturing relationship with the environment, the better prepared our children

will be when the time comes for them to make the important decisions that

could decide the future of the planet.

My initial feelings on the matter at hand are best summarized in an

article written by Phillip Cormack and Bill Green for the June 2007 edition of

the Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, “The primary-aged child is

seen as the ‘seed’ out of which the future citizen grows, hopefully one for

whom the state of the environment is a first-order and pressing issue of

concern. In this way it is hoped that a predisposition to eco-citizenship is

inculcated in the work of primary schooling, with literacy as a key means of

capacity-building to that end.” Furthermore, according to an article in the

spring 2007 issue of the Journal of Environmental Education entitled:


“Factors Associated With K-12 Teachers’ Use of Environment-Based

Education” the call for environment-based education is getting louder and

louder as more studies are conducted. “The term environment-based

education describes a form of school-

based environmental education in which an instructor uses the local

environment as a context for integrating subjects and a source of real-world

learning experiences. . . .A growing body of evidence supports the relevance

of environmental education to formal education, with positive student

outcomes in reading, math, and science achievement; critical thinking;

motivation and engagement; and leadership and character skills.”—all

around, this sounds more and more like a win-win scenario.

The simplest way to begin incorporating these important values in the

classroom and evoking thought in young minds is through books. Books can

take you anywhere you want to go and allow you to become anyone you

want to be—they can also be a teaching tool that can open your mind and

expand your frame of reference to the unique and wondrous aspects of our

world, as well as the not so great things that are happening to it. There is

this window of opportunity when we are very young and the world around us

seems so new and exciting. Can you remember when it was this way for

you? Have you ever seen a small child marvel at the pattern of the veins in

a leaf, or be amazed by the many different shades and shapes of the grains

of warm sand on the beach? How about watching raindrops as they roll

down the kitchen window? This is the time when our relationship with nature
begins, and if it is not fostered and nurtured, like nourishing a plant with food

and water, the wonder will dull and fade away as it already has with many of

us.

I’m hoping ecological and environmentally themed books will be used

as introductory and supplemental materials for lessons taught in the

classroom, as well as make up a noticeable portion of classroom, school, and

home libraries. Furthermore, in partnership with these “green” based books,

green awareness and classroom practices should be used in the classroom

as well. “Reduce, reuse, and recycle” should be intertwined with primary

classroom and school culture. I’ve reviewed dozens of books, and will

include summaries of several of

them, as well as examples of how they can be used as part of a classroom

lesson that incorporates how they relate to our world and environment.

There are criteria that must be met in order for a book to be

considered appropriate for use as a tool to facilitate a child’s relationship

with the environment. First and foremost, the information presented, or

storyline, must not frighten the students. Images of melting glaciers and

polar bears swimming for their lives have been all over the media thanks to

the award winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth. But according to a

1997 Newsweek article entitled: “Will Polar Bears Be OK?” images like this

are causing fear and anxiety in children who don’t quite understand that the

situation is not hopeless. Making sure the book is appropriate for the age

group it is being presented to can help avoid any undue stress in students,
and if animals are depicted in dire situations, teachers and parents need to

be prepared to address this with them. Another requirement that must be

met when selecting an appropriate book is that it doesn’t talk down to the

students or present the information in a way that is condescending to them.

Books that do this will actually cause disinterest in the particular subject

matter—something we definitely want avoided in the classroom! Books also

must have striking photography or illustrations that will grab student’s

attention. Lastly, the storyline and information must be presented in an

open ended way in order to spark conversation, inquiry, debate, and a desire

to take a leadership role.

The first book I will recommend is a picture book for children grades k-

2 (but can be used for all age groups); it is called The World That Jack Built

(1991) by Ruth Brown. It starts with the line, “This is the house that Jack

built” and follows a black cat that is chasing a butterfly from the house,

through the trees, past a stream, through a meadow, by the woods, over the

hills, through the valley, then to the hills and valley (and so on) that are next

to it—until the cat reaches “…the factory that Jack built.” As the cat goes

along, the beautiful watercolor images

get darker and darker once the cat reaches the first valley, and as he gets

closer to the factory that is black and in a cloud of smoky pollution. The

effects of human-induced pollution on nature would be an excellent

conversation topic after presenting this story.


The next book is recommended for children in grades 1-2; it’s called

What Planet Are You From, Clarice Bean? (2001) and is written by Lauren

Child. The protagonist Clarice is a young grade school-aged girl whose

brother decides to camp out in a neighborhood tree when he finds out it will

be cut down. Eventually, the whole family and a few friends join Clarice’s

brother in the tree in an attempt to raise awareness and save it—she even

ends up doing her class presentation on it! She starts her class presentation

stating, “This week I have been being an ecowarrior.” She makes many

clever and thought provoking statements in her presentation, which is

featured at the end of the book, including, “Trees are important because

they stop Earth from running out of air. Without trees, we’d have to live in

bubbles like astronauts.” Conservation, how we benefit from the natural

world, and what it means to be an eco-citizen would be ideal conversation

topics with this book.

Everybody’s Somebody’s Lunch (1998) by Cherie Mason covers much

more emotional subject matter. This story is about a young girl whose cat

Mouser is killed by a coyote in the woods behind her house. The readers

follow the girl as she walks through the woods she loves so much, trying to

make sense of her loss. From the back cover of the book, John W. Grandy,

Ph.D., from The Humane Society of the United States, is quoted saying “This

book is an important first step in teaching children that there are no “bad”

animals. Predators are indeed marvelous, fascinating, exciting creatures!

Young readers will understand and appreciate the predator’s place in our
natural world while the story leads them through compassion, tolerance, and

respect for all life. It is great to finally have a book that tackles this

important subject.” Because this subject matter may be more difficult for

younger children to understand, I would recommend this book for children in

third grade and up.

How We Know What We Know About Our Changing Climate (2008) by

Lynne Cherry and Gary Braasch is the most excellent example of “good

literature” that I have read on this subject and the jewel of this topic. It is

masterfully written and the photography is breath taking and spectacular--

the images alone could hold their own as a coffee table book. The first two

sections of the book present the information at hand in regards to what

global warming is and how we know it is happening. The third section is

entitled, “What Scientists and You Can Do” and has wonderful ideas and

suggestions that kids can actually do. The fourth section of the book is an

amazing compilation of resources that relate to environmental subject

matter, including several books that are in my own “works cited” page for

this paper. Included in the compilation is information related to the

teacher’s guide to this book—while the guide is for grades 5-8, I would highly

recommend the actual book itself for all ages, as long as the teacher cherry

picks the most age appropriate information. My own personal copy is

already on its way!


Each of these books meets or exceeds every aspect of important

criteria I was searching for. They can serve as the central theme or

companion to a vast array of lessons in the classroom that will undoubtedly

spill over into the daily lives of students. There are countless hours of

conversation and exploration that can be born from these books. All subject

matter can be tied in with any of these books to completely round out a

lesson. If you are reading about the wetlands, such as in Marsh Morning

(2001), take a field trip to see them—if you cannot do this, take pictures and

bring them to class, or record bird songs and the sound of the breeze

blowing in the grass. There are so many things to learn about in the

wetlands, from native and invasive, edible or toxic plants, to protected

animals such as the salt marsh harvest mouse (who cannot survive without

one particular plant present only in the wetlands). You can teach about how

Native Americans would season their food with pickle weed, or eat cattails,

for a bit of California history. Reproductive rates of certain birds can add a

mathmatical element to the lesson, and there are countless opportunities to

incorporate art.

With a little bit of creative and strategic planning, the environment can

be present in just about any lesson taught in the classroom—and any lesson

on the environment can incorporate just about any subject taught in school.

It doesn’t have to be about becoming a stereotypical “activist” or not

becoming a “thoughtless consumer”—it’s about appreciating what we have

and not squandering it or take it for granted. In the process, critical thinkers
will be born and informed decisions will be made. What more could we

possibly hope for?

This is a message I would like passed on to all children everywhere—it

is a quote by David Strobel from the forward at the beginning of How We

Know What We Know About Our Changing Climate: “Here’s how I look at it.

We can glumly give up, figure we’re knee-deep in quicksand anyway, and

keep those lamplights burning even when nobody’s home. Or we can use

this whole climate change thing (or any other thing for that matter) to

motivate us to clean up our act. Walking more is good for the Earth, but it’s

good for you too. Eating lower on the food chain means you’ll live longer.

Turning off the TV and playing leapfrog in the yard will make you laugh. So

take a deep breath, knuckle down, and read this book. Then fight the good

fight rather than whimper in the corner, and be joyful. And help preserve

this wonderful gift of life on Earth for yourself, your friends, your kids and my

grandchildren. Everyone will be glad you did.”

Earth

The Earth is our home, but we do not own it.

The Earth is our garden, plant a flower, plant a tree.

The Earth is a gift, given only once.

The Earth is a friend. Keep her in your care.

The Earth is in you, the Earth is in me,

The Earth is in every flower and tree,

On the silent land, in the raging sea,


In animals and humanity.

--Earth & You a Closer View (1999)

Works Cited/Consulted

* indicates a book or article directly cited in the paper.

Children’s Books:

Anthony, Joseph. In a Nutshell. Nevada City, CA: Dawn Publications,


1999.

Library of Congress summary: “A acorn grows into a mighty oak, helps sustain
other life, and eventually dies and continues to give life to others.” This is a
touching story of the life of an oak, from cradle to grave. It’s struggles and
triumphs are chronicled, including the benefits of the soil for future trees and
animals after it dies. I would recommend this book for grades k-3.

Atwell, Debbie. River. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999.

Library of Congress summary: “A river gradually becomes depleted as more and


more people use its resources to build cities, transport goods, and handle sewage.”
This book chronicles the life of a river for over more than a century and how the
people who come to live near it affect it in many ways. I would recommend this
book for children in kindergarten through second grade.

Base, Graeme. Uno’s Garden. New York: Abrams Books for Young
Readers, 2006.

Whimsical story about what can happen to nature as cities grow. It incorporates
numbers, addition, and multiplication in the story and illustrations. I think this is a
really great book for first through third grade.

*Berkes, Marianne. Marsh Morning. Brookfield, Connecticut: The


Millbrook Press, 2003.

Library of Congress summary: “Beginning with the first light of dawn, the marsh
comes alive with music as different types of birds tune up and perform nature’s
symphony.” This is an excellent story for grades k-3. The book celebrates the
sights and sounds on a wetland marsh—many of the animals and plants are
depicted, especially the birds which are even labeled. The story has a sing-song
quality and is mostly in an aabb or abab rhyme scheme, included is a glossary of
the musical terms used in the book. Perfect for an introduction to poetry as well as
teaching about wetlands.
*Brown, Ruth. The World that Jack Built. New York: Dutton Children’s
Books, 1991.

This is a stunning picture book with a simple message and striking illustrations that
really make you think. Highly recommended for all age groups as a discussion
starter about how humans have an impact on the world—I will be adding this to my
personal library.

Cherry, Lynne. A River Ran Wild. San Diego: Voyager Books, 1992.

Library of Congress summary: “An environmental history of the Nashua River, from
its discovery by Indians through the polluting years of the Industrial Revolution to
the ambitious cleanup that revitalized it.” Very important factual story about how
nature can be restored. I highly recommend this book for first grade through fourth
grade students.

---. Making a Difference in the World. New York: Richard C. Owen


Publishers, Inc., 2000.

Library of Congress summary: “A prominent children’s book author and illustrator


shares her life, her daily activities, her interest in environmental preservation, and
her creative process, showing how all are intertwined.” Recommended for second,
third, and fourth grades. Shows students how you can do what you love in a way
that helps others and the environment.

---. The Great Kapok Tree: A Tale of the Amazon Rainforest. San Diego: A
Gulliver Green Book, 1990.

Library of Congress summary: “The many different animals in a great kapok tree in
the Brazilian rainforest try to convince a man with an axe of the importance of not
cutting down their home.” This is such a wonderful story with beautiful
illustrations.

*Cherry, Lynne, and Braasch, Gary. How We Know What We Know About
Our Changing Climate:

Scientists and Kids Explore Global Warming. Nevada City, CA:


Dawn Publications, 2008.

“Here is the science behind the headlines: evidence from flowers, butterflies, birds,
frogs trees, glaciers and much more, gathered by scientists from all over the world,
sometimes with the assistance from young ‘citizen scientists;’ also presenting what
can be done to learn about climate change and to take action to make a
difference”—Provided by publisher. There is an excellent forward for students and
teachers written by Professor David Sobel, Antioch University New England
Graduate School. This book is highly recommended for all ages and should be
available in every classroom, public, and private library—it will definitely be added
to mine.

Cherry, Lynne, and Plotkin, Mark J. The Shaman’s Apprentice: A Tale of


the Amazon Rain Forest. San

Diego: A Gulliver Green Book, 1998.

Library of Congress summary: “Kamanya believes in the shaman’s wisdom about


the healing properties of plants found in the Amazon rain forest and hopes one day
to be a healer for his people.” This is a superb story that opens student’s minds
about how nature (not just Western medicine) can be used to heal people. Second
grade and up.

*Child, Lauren. What Planet Are You From, Clarice Bean? London: Orchard
Books, 2001.

Very fun book recommended for children ages 6-10. This excellent story introduces
themes regarding preservation, pollution, and “eco citizenship”. Te layout of the
book is interesting and unique, and the illustrations are quirky and fun.

Cole, Joanna. The Magic School Bus: In the Rain Forest. New York:
Scholastic Inc., 1998.

This book explores the amazing biodiversity in the rain forest. Ms. Frizzle takes her
class on an adventure in the rain forest to find out why her uncle’s cocoa trees are
short on cocoa beans. Great book for teaching about biodiversity, the “fruits” of the
rain forest, and pollination. I would recommend this book for grades two and up.

Dr. Seuss. The Lorax. New York: Random House, 1971.

Library of Congress summary: “The Once’lor describes the result of the local
pollution problem.” The oldest of all of the books I came across. Highly
recommended for all ages—important messages about the devastating implications
of pollution and overuse of natural resources.

Grindley, Sally. Peter’s Place. San Diego: A Gulliver Green Book, 1995.

Library of Congress summary: “Peter helps clean up the disaster when an oil tanker
spills its cargo on his shoreline, but only time will truly heal the place.” This is a
beautiful story about a boy and his very personal relationship with nature. I wish
there was some sort of caution about the fact that oil is toxic and should never be
handled by children as portrayed in the book—simply illustrating the boy with
gloves on is not enough. This is a great story for Kindergarten through second
grade.

Landau, Elaine. Earth Day: Keeping Our Planet Clean. New Jersey: Enslow
Publishers Inc., 2002.
Library of Congress summary: “Discusses the origins of Earth Day, its history, and
how it is observed in the United States today.” This is an excellent informational
book recommended for first grade and up. Includes things children can do for the
environment, as well as a glossary of terms, and websites to consult for further
information.

Leedy, Loreen. The Great Trash Bash. New York: Holiday House, 1991.

Library of Congress summary: “The animal citizens of Beaston discover better ways
to recycle and

control their trash.” Great book with fun illustrations to be used as an introduction
to waste and

recycling for kindergarten and first grade.

*Lewis, J. Patrick. The Earth & You: A Closer View. Nevada City, CA:
Dawn Publications, 2000.

I would recommend this book for use with students from kindergarten through
fourth grade. It is an excellent depiction of the many different aspects that make
up our wonderful planet, including wetlands, mountains, the sky, and school! This
book makes the connection between us and our planet.

*Mason, Cherie. Everybody’s Somebody’s Lunch. Maine: Tilbury House.

Excerpt from summary on cover page: “…This absorbing story puts predators in an
entirely new light as a sensitive young girl, shocked and confused by the death of
her cat, learns the roles that predator and prey play in the balance of nature.
Gently and gradually, she comes to understand why some animals kill and eat other
animals in order to live…” This is a very important lesson we all have to learn—I’d
recommend the book for second grade and up.

Murphy, Stuart J. Earth Day – Hooray! New York: Harper Collins


Publishers, 2004.

Library of Congress summary: “A drive to recycle cans on Earth Day teaches


children of the Maple Street School Save-the-Planet Club about place value.” This is
a great book for children in first grade and up. Environmental and math lesson in
one—gives teachers a sense of how they can incorporate the two.

Testa, Fulvio. Too Much Garbage. New York: North South Books, 2001.

Excellent story about two young boys who marvel at all of the garbage and waste
around them, and when they see a lonely flower sprouting up among the trash, they
realize they need more beauty and nature, and less waste and garbage. I would
recommend this for kindergarten through second grade children.
Van Allsburg, Chris. Just a Dream. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company,
1990.

Library of Congress summary: “When he has a dream about a future Earth


devastated by pollution, Walter begins to understand the importance of taking care
of the environment.” This is an excellent book that I would recommend for first
through fourth graders studying recycling, waste, and pollution.

Articles:

*Cormack, Phillip and Green, Bill. “Writing Place in English: How a School
Subject Constitutes

Children’s Relations to the Environment.” Australian Journal of


Language and Literacy. 30.2

(2007): 85-101.

Craig, Larry. “The Importance of Conservation Education.” Hunt Club


Digest. Fall 2004: 34-35.

*Ernst, Julie. “Factors Associated With K-12 Teacher’s Use of


Environment-Based Education.” Journal

of Environmental Education. 38.3 (2007): 15-32.

Lindroth, Linda. “How to…Recycle—From Trash to Treasure.” Teaching


Pre K-8. 36.5 (2006): 23-24.

*Springen, Karen and Kantrowitz, Barbara. “Will Polar Bears Be OK?”


Newsweek 49.16 (2007): 80.