The Best Earth Day Children’s Books

onePlasticBagOne Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia (2015)
by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon

Plastic bags are cheap and easy to use. But what happens when a bag breaks or is no longer needed? In Njau, Gambia, people simply dropped the bags and went on their way….The bags accumulated in ugly heaps alongside roads. Water pooled in them, bringing mosquitoes and disease….Something had to change. Isatou Ceesay was that change. She found a way to recycle the bags and transform her community. This inspirational true story shows how one person’s actions really can make a difference in our world.

Check out Miranda Paul’s books!

Here Comes the Garbage Barge!Here Comes the Garbage Barge! (2010)
by Jonah Winter, ilustrated by Red Nose Studio

This New York Times Best Illustrated Book is a mostly true and completely stinky story that is sure to make you say, “Pee-yew!” Teaching environmental awareness has become a national priority, and this hilarious book (subtly) drives home the message that we can’t produce unlimited trash without consequences.

Check out Jonah Winter’s books!

What On Earth Can We Do?What On Earth Can We Do? (2016)
by Emily Sper

This fun and informative book introduces kids to actions they can take to help make the Earth healthier, such as making less garbage, repair-reuse-recycle, composting, planting a tree, or not wasting electricity or water—without being preachy or silly. Colorful graphics and simple explanations of electricity, carbon dioxide, global warming, renewable energy, and the importance of trees and water add meaning to the actions proposed.

Check out Emily Sper’s books!

The EARTH BookThe EARTH Book (2011)
by Todd Parr

With his signature blend of playfulness and sensitiviy, Todd Parr explores the important, timely subject of environmental protection and conservation in this eco-friendly picture book. This book includes lots of easy, smart ideas on how we can all work together to make the Earth feel good — from planting a tree and using both sides of the paper, to saving energy and reusing old things in new ways.

Check out Todd Parr’s books!

Simon and Schuster Little Green Books Series

The Adventures of a Plastic Bottle: A Story About Recycling The Adventures of a Plastic Bottle: A Story About Recycling (2009)
by Alison Inches, illustrated by Pete Whitehead

Learn about recycling from a new perspective!  Peek into this diary of a plastic bottle as it goes on a journey from the refinery plant, to the manufacturing line, to the store shelf, to a garbage can, and finally to a recycling plant where it emerges into it’s new life… as a fleece jacket!

I Can Save the Earth!: One Little Monster Learns to Reduce, Reuse, and RecycleI Can Save the Earth!: One Little Monster Learns to Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle (2008)
by Alison Inches  and Viviana Garofoli

Meet Max the Little Monster. He is a cute, furry green monster who is an environmental nightmare. Among other things, he leaves on all the lights, keeps his computer plugged in, blasts the TV, hoards his old toys and uses so much toilet paper it clogs the toilet until finally, his excessive ways cause a power outage. With no TV to watch, computer to play on, video games to play with, Max finds there is a whole big world outside that he can make a difference in the environment.

Check out I Can Save the Ocean and Alison Inches’ other books!


Compost StewCompost Stew (2014)
by Mary McKenna Siddals, illustrated by Ashley Wolff

Kids everywhere are knowledgeable about the environment and climate change. Not only is composting becoming more common in households and residential gardens, but many school gardens feature compost piles, too. But how do you start a compost pile? What’s safe to include? Perfect for an Earth Day focus or year-round reference, this inviting book provides all the answers for kids and families looking for simple, child-friendly ways to help the planet.

Check out Mary McKenna Siddal’s other books and compost-related activities!

Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World (2014)
by Laurie Lawlor, illustrated by Laura Beingessner

In celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Silent Spring, here is a biography of the pioneering environmentalist. “Once you are aware of the wonder and beauty of earth, you will want to learn about it,” wrote Rachel Carson, the pioneering environmentalist. She wrote Silent Spring, the book that woke people up to the harmful impact humans were having on our planet.

Check out Laurie Lawlor’s books!


onEarthOn Earth (2008)
G. Brian Karas

Climb aboard a giant spaceship . . . the Earth! In glorious art, G. Brian Karas illuminates our Earth and its cycles and does a brilliant job of making the concepts of rotation and revolution understandable. As you travel, watch shadows disappear into night, and feel the sun on your face as winter turns into spring. All these amazing things happen because the Earth is constantly in motion, spinning and circling, gliding and tilting. As passengers of the Earth, our voyage never ends!

Check out G. Brian Karas’ books!

Common Ground: The Water, Earth, and Air We Share (1997)
by Molly Bang

Common GroundA simple story of our planet’s natural resources with jewel-like paintings by Caldecott Honor author Molly Bang. Through the example of a shared village green and the growing needs of the townspeople who share it, Molly Bang presents the challenge of handling our planet’s natural resources.

Check out The Sunlight Series by Penny Chisholm and Molly Bang!

The Tiny SeedThe Tiny Seed (2009)
by Eric Carle

Eric Carle’s classic story of the life cycle of a flower is told through the adventures of a tiny seed. This mini-book includes a piece of detachable seed-embedded paper housed on the inside front cover. Readers can plant the entire piece of paper and watch as their very own tiny seeds grow into beautiful wildflowers.

Check out Eric Carle’s books!

The Curious GardenThe Curious Garden (2013)
by Peter Brown

One boy’s quest for a greener world… one garden at a time. While out exploring one day, a little boy named Liam discovers a struggling garden and decides to take care of it. As time passes, the garden spreads throughout the dark, gray city, transforming it into a lush, green world.

Check out Peter Brown’s books!

When the Wind Blows

When the Wind Blows (2015)
Linda Booth Sweeney

When wind chimes start singing and clouds race across the sky, one little guy knows just what to do—grab his kite! But as the kite soars, the wind picks up even more, and soon he and his grandma are chasing the runaway kite into town. As they pass swirling leaves, bobbing boats, and flapping scarves, breezes become gusts and the sky darkens. Rain is on the way! Can they squeeze in one more adventure before the downpour?

The Snowy DayThe Snowy Day (1962)
Ezra Jack Keats

In this Caldecott Award-winning book, a small boy named Peter experiences the joy of a snowy day. First published in 1962, this now-classic book broke the color barrier in mainstream children’s publishing. The vivid and ageless illustrations and text, beloved by several generations of readers, have earned a place in the pantheon of great American children’s literature.

Check out Ezra Jack Keats’ books!

Giant SquidGiant Squid (2016)
by Candace Flemin, illustrated by Eric Rohmann

The giant squid is one of the most elusive creatures in the world. As large as whales, they hide beyond reach deep within the sea, forcing scientists to piece together their story from those clues they leave behind.

Check out Candace Flemin’s books!

Sparrow GirlSparrow Girl (2009)
by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Yoko Tanaka

Ming-Li looked up and tried to imagine the sky silent, empty of birds. It was a terrible thought. Her country’s leader had called sparrows the enemy of the farmers–they were eating too much grain, he said. He announced a great “Sparrow War” to banish them from China, but Ming-Li did not want to chase the birds away.

Check out Sara Pennypacker’s books!

symphonyOfWhalesA Symphony of Whales (2002)
by Steve Schuch, illustrated by Peter Sylvada

Glashka can hear the voices of the whales in her dreams. . . but with that mysterious power comes great responsibility. When she discovers thousands of whales trapped in a rapidly freezing inlet, she knows it is up to her to gather the people of her town to help them. Based on an actual event, this inspiring story follows Glashka and her people as they come to understand the importance of all life.

Check out Steve Schuch’s books and music!

owlMoonOwl Moon (1987)
by Jane Yolen, illustrated by John Schoenherr

Late one winter night a little girl and her father go owling. The trees stand still as statues and the world is silent as a dream. Whoo-whoo-whoo, the father calls to the mysterious nighttime bird. But there is no answer. Wordlessly the two companions walk along, for when you go owling you don’t need words. You don’t need anything but hope. Sometimes there isn’t an owl, but sometimes there is.

Check out Jane Yolen’s books!

Swan SkySwan Sky (1988)

Despite the devoted attentions of her family, a young swan is unable to accompany them on the journey to their summer home.

Check out Tejima’s books!


Swallows and Amazons

Swallows and Amazons (1930)
by Arthur Ransome

The first title in Arthur Ransome’s classic series, originally published in 1930: for children, for grownups, for anyone captivated by the world of adventure and imagination. Swallows and Amazons introduces the lovable Walker family, the camp on Wild Cat Island, the able-bodied catboat Swallow, and the two intrepid Amazons, Nancy and Peggy Blackett.


























My First YouTube Video — What On Earth Can We Do?

There have been days when I’ve come close to throwing my computer out the window. Like the day the mouse no longer moved the cursor. With a new lightweight laptop for travel and back-up, I wasn’t overly concerned. But when I turned on my back-up computer, its cursor didn’t move, either. Having been my own IT department for 26 years, I had a slew of solutions for earlier problems. None worked. So I brought both computers to the local repair shop. Of course, once there, they worked fine. Home again in my office, neither worked. It’s a good thing my blood pressure makes my doctor envious. After an hour wasted on the phone with tech support, I had a brilliant idea: I walked one computer to another room. Voilà! The cursor moved! The mouse had been trying to connect to both computers. Where were the days when mice didn’t have blue teeth? Give me back my Rapidograph, t-square, and triangle!

But, wait, isn’t that drop shadow cool? I change colors with a click and play with fonts. My design playground is huge. When I draw with a pencil on paper, I miss the “Undo” command. I can erase, but not bring back what I erased or save multiple versions. And, my digital photos aren’t dusty or scratched. Magic.

And the Internet. So much information waiting to be found. Online tutorials, forums for troubleshooting, and search engines make the impossible possible. At first, the Adobe Premiere Pro workspace made as much sense as the control board of a rocket ship. But, with tutorials, I found my way and created my first YouTube video for What On Earth Can We Do? Miraculous! And, before I forget everything, it’s time to make a video trailer for Follow the Yarn.



Growing Up Along the Hudson River

cov_whatonearth_250pxI was walking down the street thinking about ways to engage kids during my upcoming presentation about What On Earth Can We Do? at Newtonville Books when I found myself thinking about Pete Seeger and realized the roots of my book go back to my childhood in Croton-on-Hudson, NY. I’ll still ask questions: Do you take your own bag to the supermarket? Does your family have a compost bin? Who wants to join me for lunch at the Worm Café? But, there’s more to tell.

The hill behind my house
The hill behind my house

The dedication to What On Earth Can We Do? reads: Dedicated in loving memory to my parents, Rose and Roy Sper, who chose to bring me up in a house surrounded by trees. When I wrote these words, I was thinking how wandering in the woods on the hill behind my house gave me a strong connection to nature. Perched on my favorite rock, when the trees were bare, I could see a sliver of the Hudson. Deer roamed the hill and were common sight in our backyard. Birds were plentiful. Hedgehogs, too.

The Croton Dam
Croton Dam

My house was a mile from the Croton Reservoir, which at one time was the main source of New York City’s drinking water. Everyday, my school bus drove over the Croton Dam. When the reservoir was low, we’d watch the water inch up to the top of the spillway until it crashed down over the massive stone steps of the spillway. We’d rush to the right side of the bus to see the dam overflowing.

Silver Lake
Silver Lake in winter

The water that didn’t travel the aqueduct to New York City flowed down the Croton River. The village swimming hole, Silver Lake, was on the river below the dam. There we swam in water that made ice cubes feel warm. The early Tarzan movies were filmed a bit farther down the river, which eventually empties into the Hudson River.

Hudson River
Hudson River

Nobody swam in the Hudson. The river was polluted. I couldn’t see the toxins in the river or the striped bass full of PCBs, but when we had picnics at Croton Point Park, there were small dead fish washed up on shore. It turned out that some people not only put a toe in, but their whole bodies. In middle school, I was invited out on my friend Nancy’s motorboat. If I wanted to water ski, there was no way around jumping in. It was scary. The incentive to stay up was huge.

My button collection
My button collection

Pete Seeger believed we could bring the Hudson back to life and set out to bring people, up and down the river, together to take action. I remember Pete at the New York Boat Show, where he sat at an information table talking to people about building a sloop to sail the Hudson, educating people of all ages about the river. Those of us living along the river helped fundraising efforts by attending Hudson River Sloop festivals from Irvington to Poughkeepsie. Performers ranged from Pete and Arlo to counselors from Camp Trywoodie performing a Croation folk dance. When enough money was raised, the Clearwater was built. We felt a part of it.

The small festivals consolidated into one big annual festival at Croton Point with multiple stages and famous (and some local) musicians. Today’s Clearwater Festival takes place along a river where swimming, fishing, and boating are not horror film material. And today the Croton Dump is landfill. In the early years, when the festival abutted the dump, every now and then a breeze filled my nostrils with a putrid smell. “If you get lost anywhere in the county,” a friend’s mother said, “get on a dump truck.”

For an eighth grade English project, I wrote the screenplay for a film set at the Croton Dump. Nobody stopped us from climbing onto the piles of garbage.

Black-and-white: A girl is walking in the dump with a fishing pole made out of the garbage, a pole and string. She sits down on a pile of garbage and casts her line.

Cut to color: The girl is sitting on a rock at Silver Lake. She catches a fish (bought at the Grand Union supermarket) and is about to grab it.

Cut to black-and-white: The girl is back in the dump and grabs a piece of garbage. Disgusted, she throws it down and walks away.

es_reeds_rockI realize now that middle school was a time of environmental action. I was among a group of students who, with our science teacher, Mrs. Kaplan, attended an environmental hearing against building the second Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant. I remember learning how hot water discharged from the plant’s cooling system into the Hudson killed fish.

It was at a school-wide assembly in 1970 that we heard about the first Earth Day. The seventh graders cleared out garbage from the woods next to our school. A friend remembers some sort of play. After we graduated from middle school, our film was shown on Earth Day.

The highlight of seventh grade was the week we spent at Camp Rainbow,  a local camp for city kids during the summer. A whole week without regular classes! We learned about tadpoles, turtles, and the natural world. There was even a hike up Bear Mountain.

By the Hudson River
By the Hudson River

And, yes, I was a Girl Scout. The draw was camping at the tip of Croton Point, where we explored the red clay banks, learned to make teepee-log cabin fires, and slept in tents. During the summer at Camp Trywoodie, camping meant dragging our S & H Green Stamps sleeping bags up a hill, building a campfire over which we cooked dinner and roasted marshmallows, singing songs, and sleeping under the stars. At Camp Med-o-Lark, I learned how to sail on Washington Pond. Then in high school I sailed on the Hudson in a program offered by the Croton Recreation Department. I loved to move with the wind over the water.

Teatown Lake Reservation
Teatown Lake Reservation

We also swam in lakes and ponds, and when they froze, we skated. Teatown Lake was the best because, even with kids playing hockey, there was still plenty of free ice. And there were islands around which to skate. I’ve never adapted to skating circles in a rink. Where are the islands? Where are the trees? Where are the birds? When I took up cross-country skiing, I skied the hiking trails around the lake. Just last weekend, on my way to New York City, I detoured to Teatown Lake Reservation. A walk around Teatown Lake is different from hiking in the White Mountains, the Blue Hills, or Middlesex Fells. It’s home.







What On Earth Can We Do?

Does anyone know of a book good for 3-4 year olds about the concept of conservation/environmentalism?  I think our kids have not yet hit the developmental milestone in which they understand not wasting water when they play at the sink, etc, but we would love something to help us make it click.  We do compost and recycle with them and have even take them to the recycling center/dump once but thought a book might help them put it all together.

What On Earth Can We Do? coverThe above query was posted to Congregation Dorshei Tzedek’s listserv. I responded that I had just the book Phoebe was looking for. After many incarnations, beginning in 2008, I thought my book was finished. Ha! It took five months of rethinking, rewriting, restructuring, creating new and revised illustrations, and coming up with a new title to complete What On Earth Can We Do? I listened to the wise feedback of colleagues, friends, and relatives.


Six years ago, I was a member of an Eco-team. Working with the book, Low Carbon Diet: A 30 Day Program to Lose 5000 Pounds by David Gershon, we measured our carbon footprints and looked for ways to reduce our impact on Earth. Each week, one of us presented a relevant topic to the group. I brought a dummy of The Cool Earth Alphabet Book, as my book was then titled. It began with “animals” and ended with “zero footprints left behind,” a bit of a stretch for “Z,” as was “oXygen” for “X.”

The Cool Earth Alphabet Book dummy

Next up, The Cool Earth Book focused on problems, which was depressing, as a friend put it. So I moved on to what we can do, a more positive take. The actions in What On Earth Can We Do? are direct and easy to understand, enhanced by colorful graphics. For the child who wants to learn more, the end includes complex information broken down into simple explanations, not too much for four to eight-year-olds (or adults like me) to absorb.

Originally, my book had a Jewish slant, meant to follow The Kids’ Fun Book of Jewish Time (2006, Jewish Lights Publishing) replete with flaps, wheels, and other interactive elements.

Peah flaps and shmita wheelFaucet on-offThere was even a faucet that “turned” the water on and off. You could “open” the compost bin to see what was inside, watch the sapling “grow” into a tree, and spin the wind turbine. Unfortunately, the cost for interactive elements is crazy high, though understandable since real people are gluing the flaps onto the pages, etc.

Protecting Earth is a universal concern (or should be) so What On Earth Can We Do? is for everyone. Looking back on early versions, it’s hard for me to believe how many times I thought my book was finished. I have a hunch that it will never really be finished. Published, but not finished. Already, LED light bulbs are replacing compact florescent bulbs. Some towns have banned plastic bags and bottled water. Finished or not, our work is ongoing. For kids, and some families, my hope is that reading What On Earth Can We Do? will be the beginning.