By Kathy G. Short, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ
Global news reports are constantly documenting increasing temperatures, extreme weather, and natural disasters from around the world. The 2023 K-12 global recommended book lists indicate an increase in books on climate change, endangered animals, and conservation of the environment. The books are set in different parts of the world and depict both the problems and possible responses.
Many recent informational books document issues related to climate change and conservation. What is noteworthy about these books is their focus on documenting the problems and the actions that readers can take in response to the crises. Youth can easily feel overwhelmed by the extent of climate change and so their awareness of the problems needs to be balanced by information on actions they can take to make a difference. For young children, the picturebook To Change a Planet by Christina Soontornvat and Rahele Jompour Bell (2022) briefly reveals the causes of climate change and suggests possible solutions using minimal text and bright illustrations. Another picturebook, Zero Waste: How One Community is Leading the Way Recycling Revolution by Alan Drummond (2023), follows two children visiting their grandmother in Kamikatsu, a town in Japan that has developed a zero-waste plan based on careful recycling, reuse of what they have, and reduction of further purchasing.
There are excellent informational books for middle grade readers on action. Kids Fight Climate Change by Martin Dorey and Tim Wesson (2022) provides tips on ways kids can help save the planet in 60 missions to become superheroes. The book also includes climate statistics, resources, and stories of change. No World Too Big: Young People Fighting Global Climate Change by Jeanette Bradley (2023) contains poems about 12 activists who are fighting global climate change. The poems are written by a range of authors and additional information on each activist is presented. Total Garbage: A Messy Dive into Trash, Waste, and Our World by Rebecca Donnelly and John Hendrix (2023) is a scientific and cultural history of the waste humans produce, explaining why we make so much trash, why we’re so bad at handling it, and how we can stop ruining the planet.
Another trend in informational books is biographies of children and adults who take action in different parts of the world. The Girl who Heard Music by Marni Fotelson and Marta Alvarez (2023) is set on the island of Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island. Mahani Teave’s talent as a pianist leads to worldwide fame, which she uses to get rid of the trash left by tourists and to build a school of music and art that is solar-powered on the island. The Forest Keeper: The True Story of Jadav Payeng by Rina Singh and Ishita Jain (2023) is set in northeastern India, where a boy planted a forest after a river flooded an island in 1979, killing the snakes that washed ashore. He learns to balance the needs of humans, animals, and the river through planting trees with his work going unnoticed until 2009. Stand as Tall as the Trees by Patricia Gualinga (2023) is a biography of a Kichwa activist in the Amazon in Ecuador who worked with Indigenous communities to protect and preserve sacred lands and forests.
Endangered animals remain of high interest to children and two new series provide short chapter books easily accessible to elementary readers. Surviving the World series by Remy Lai (2022) are graphic novels about animals trying to survive due to natural disasters or human actions including koala in Australia and elephants in Malaysia. The Save the… series is written by various authors (2023), with each book focusing on an endangered animal and providing information on their habitat, why they are endangered, and efforts to save them. Current books include koalas, rhinoceroses, elephants, and tigers. Finally, Border Crossings by Sneed Collard and Howard Gray (2023) is a picturebook that follows endangered ocelots as they face obstacles in crossing the U.S./Mexico border due to the environmental impact of the Wall.
Climate change and natural disasters are also interwoven into fiction picturebooks for young children. My Ciudad Sings by Cynthia Harmony and Teresa Martinex (2022) tells the story of a girl and her neighbors helping rebuild their city after a devastating earthquake in Mexico City. Not a Monster by Claudia G. Martinez and L. Gonzalez (2023) highlights the life of the endangered axoloti, a water-based salamander found in the polluted canals of Xochimilco in Mexico City.
Three recent fiction picturebooks are based on the real actions of the wombat in Australia to help other creatures survive drought and wildfires. In these books, the wombat invites neighbors into her burrow for safety during the wildfires, conveying the grim reality of climate change along with generosity of spirit. Humorous details in text and gorgeous illustrations draw readers into Wombat The Reluctant Hero by Christian Trimmer (2023), Wombat Said Come In by Carmen Agra Deedy and Brian Lies (2023), and Room for More (2022) by Michelle Kadarusman and Maggie Zeng (2022). Wildfires are also the focus of What to Bring by Laura Nicholson and Ellen Rooney (2023), which is set in Canada where a family’s home is threatened by wildfires and Malia must select only what will fit into a backpack as her family flees.
Individual action is portrayed in A Dream of Birds by Shenaz Palel and Emmanuelle Tchoukriel (2022), a picturebook translated from French and set in Mauritius. A girl who shares her love of birds with her grandfather sets free a neighbor’s caged parakeets, risking punishment. Runs with Stars by Darcy Whitecrow (2022) is a picturebook in which an Ojibwe grandfather teaches a child about the Ojibwe horses that once roamed Ontario and his role in keeping a small herd alive.
Middle grade novels that focus on climate change and environmental issues include Turtles of the Midnight Moon by Maria Jose Fitzgerald (2023), an eco-mystery about two girls trying to stop sea turtle poaching in their coastal Honduran village. Two other novels use parallel stories across global contexts to convey the widespread damage caused by climate change. Global by Eoin Colfer, Andrew Donkin, and Giovanni Rigano (2023) is a graphic novel in which the alternating voices of two boys tell the story of damage from climate change in a fishing village along the Bay of Bengal and in northern Canada threatened by polar bears. Two Degrees by Alan Gratz (2022) tells the alternating stories of three children who endure climate change disasters—a wildfire in California, a hungry polar bear in Canada, and a massive hurricane in Florida—and how they emerge committed to changing the world.
In YA literature, Wings in the Wild by Margarita Engle (2023) is a novel about a teen who escapes from Cuba when her parents are arrested for their art. She joins the efforts of Daniel to protect the environment in Costa Rica as well as works to bring attention to imprisoned artists in Cuba. Amazona by Canizales (2022) is a YA graphic novel set in Colombia in which an Indigenous young woman returns to her land on a mission to capture evidence of the illegal mining that displaced her village.
What was missing this year from books on climate change are fantasy novels, such as Flood City by Daniel Jose Older (2021), and novels focused on water shortages and conservation. Given the increase in books on climate change between summer 2022 and 2023, the most likely scenario is the publication of many more books around these topics during the coming year.
WOW Currents is a space to talk about forward-thinking trends in global children’s and adolescent literature and how we use that literature with students. “Currents” is a play on words for trends and timeliness and the way we talk about social media. We encourage you to participate by leaving comments and sharing this post with your peers. To view our complete offerings of WOW Currents, please visit its archival stream.
- Themes: Alan Drummond, Alan Gratz, Amazona, Andrew Donkin, Border Crossings, Brian Lies, Canizales, Carmen Agra Deedy, Christian Trimmer, Christina Soontornvat, Claudia G. Martinez, Climate Change, Cynthia Harmony, Daniel Jose Older, Darcy Whitecrow, Dream of Birds, Ellen Rooney, Emmanuelle Tchoukriel, Eoin Colfer, Flood City, Forest Keeper: The True Story of Jadav Payeng, Giovanni Rigano, Girl Who Heard Music, Global, Howard Gray, Ishita Jain, Jeanette Bradley, John Hendrix, Kathy Short, Kids Fight Climate Change, L. Gonzalez, Laura Nicholson, Maggie Zeng, Margarita Engle, Maria Jose Fitzgerald, Marni Fotelson, Marta Alvarez, Martin Dorey, Michelle Kadarusman, My Ciudad Sings, No World Too Big, Not a Monster, Patricia Gualinga, Rahele Jompour Bell, Rebecca Donnelly, Remy Lai, Rina Singh, Room for More, Runs with Stars, Shenaz Palel, Sneed Collard, Stand as Tall as the Trees, Surviving the World, Teresa Martinex, Tim Wesson, To Change a Planet, Total Garbage, Turtles of the Midnight Moon, Two Degrees, What to Bring, Wings in the Wild, Wombat Reluctant Hero, Wombat Said Come In, Zero Waste
- Descriptors: Debates & Trends, WOW Currents