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Children’s Books for Earth Day 2023

 

A ROUNDUP OF CHILDREN’S BOOKS 

FOR EARTH DAY 2023

 

 

 

The Tree and the River cover bucolic river scene with industry reflectionTHE TREE AND THE RIVER
by Aaron Becker

(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 5-9)

Starred Reviews – Horn Book, Foreward Reviews, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, School Library Connection

Aaron Becker’s wordless picture book, The Tree and the River, shows how humans impact a specific plot of vibrant land. The time-lapse process he uses is fascinating and powerful. Some of the imagery is fictionalized yet this doesn’t take away from the understanding that people’s cities, industry, and war wreak havoc on the land.

I like how the almost totally destroyed landscape can, with a simple acorn, reestablish itself, giving the book (and our world) the possibility that we can recover from damage inflicted.

Beyond the stunning illustrations, Becker did so much more: he prepared by constructing a scale model which he then slowly transformed with clay and wood over many months. The book was inspired by “the rich history of layered civilizations” in Granada, Spain. Be sure to peek under the dust jacket for an alternate image.

 

The Forest Keeper cover Jadav Payeng in forestTHE FOREST KEEPER:
The True Story of Jadav Payeng

Written by Rina Singh
Illustrated by Ishita Jain
(NorthSouth; $18.95, Ages 5-9)

Rina Singh’s picture book, The Forest Keeper, introduces us to a tribesman from Majuli named Jadav Molai Payeng who labored in isolated anonymity for thirty years, growing a forest on an abandoned sandbar in a remote corner of northeastern India. He began in 1979 when the river burst its banks and left hundreds of water snakes to perish in the hot sun. When he sought help from elders and the forest department, he was told “trees don’t grow on sandbars” and was given a bag of bamboo seedlings. His diligence and dedication created habitats for a number of creatures in this 1,359-acre oasis—larger than New York’s Central Park.

The soft-focus illustrations by Ishita Jain bring India’s beauty alive. I particularly like the tiger, elephants, and dramatic trees filled with birds in the twilight.

This book reminds us that Earth Day truly is every day, and that one person can make a huge difference. Be sure to look under the dust jacket for a bonus image that reinforces this story’s humble beginnings. Read an exclusive interview with illustrator Ishita Jain here.

 

Water: How We Can Protect Our Freshwater cover children in village pumping waterWATER: How We Can Protect Our Freshwater 
Written by Catherine Barr

Illustrated by Christiane Engel
(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 5-9)

Catherine Barr’s picture book, Water: How We Can Protect Our Waterways, is broken down into easy-to-follow sections from “The First Water on Earth” through “It’s Water Action Decade!” The facts are thorough yet explained simply. It’s mind-blowing that only 3% of all water on Earth is freshwater; three-quarters of it exists in glaciers and polar ice sheets. I like how each section has an item that relates to a specific place: “These girls in sub-Saharan Africa can go to school because they have a water pump and tap in their village.” This makes the issues feel real and connects us all around the planet.

Christiane Engel’s detailed illustrations bring the world and its water sources to life such as the polluted rivers in India and salmon leaping up a fish ladder in Scotland (because their migration path has been dammed). The brightly colored art is something kids can look over again and again, finding new things each time.

The “How Can I Use Water Wisely?” section at the end is conveyed in a fun, wraparound style. Suggestions include realizing that most everything we use takes water to make and visiting local lakes or rivers to discover the animals and plants living there—if we care about something, we’re more likely to want to help protect it. Taking a few minutes to better understand our water is time well spent.

 

Something Happened to Our Planet cover kids cleaning trashSOMETHING HAPPENED TO OUR PLANET
Kids Tackle the Climate Crisis (Something Happened series)
Written by Marianne Celano and Marietta Collins 
Illustrated by Bhagya Madanasinghe
(Magination Press; $19.99, Ages 4-8)

In Marianne Celano and Marietta Collins’s Something Happened to Our Planet: Kids Tackle the Climate Crisis (Something Happened series), a young girl is worried about the far-reaching effects of plastics in our waterways. Encouraged by her family, she decides one person can make a difference so she starts an Earth Control group at her elementary school to make improvements in the cafeteria.

I enjoyed the illustrations by Bhagya Madanasinghe, especially the facial expressions of the unnamed main character. We feel the ups and downs these kids experience as their desire to help is met with setbacks.

Truly remarkable is the information provided in the Reader’s Note: facts beyond what’s found in similar texts, including a Q&A section to help parents answer hard questions posed by kids. While this section is huge, it’s manageably divided and the possible steps we can all take to mitigate climate change are surprisingly doable with suggestions such as reducing food waste, eating less meat, and using “art and music to give hope and remind others about the importance of nature and a sustainable planet.” This book is a must-have in classrooms, libraries, and at home. The publisher’s website contains several helpful downloadable pdfs.

 

Total Garbage cover kid sitting on trash pileTOTAL GARBAGE:
A Messy Dive into Trash, Refuse, and Our World

Written by Rebecca Donnelly
Illustrated by John Hendrix
(Henry Holt BYR; $21.99, Ages 8-12) 

Starred Reviews -Hornbook Magazine, Kirkus Reviews

Being able to “talk trash” in a way that’s engaging and even funny at times is quite an accomplishment. Rebecca Donnelly succeeds in her middle-grade book, Total Garbage: A Messy Dive into Trash, Refuse, and Our World. It is messy because we’re talking about the mountains of things we cast aside.

The text is guided by simple questions: “What is garbage, where does it come from, where does it go, why do we make so much of it, and how can we do better?” For such an overwhelming issue, the underlying message is hopeful yet does not shy away from the massive scope of this problem, acknowledging there’s no quick solution. Something we can all do is to buy less and use less, keeping in mind what it took to make that item and understanding that things don’t just go away because there’s not such place as “away.”

The book’s blue font is appealing and illustrations by John Hendrix add some levity. I would love to see informative and optimistic books like this one being used in classrooms because being oblivious about the garbage problem really stinks.

 

 

the day the river caught fire cover children watch flames on riverTHE DAY THE RIVER CAUGHT FIRE
Written by Barry Wittenstein
Illustrated by Jessie Hartland
(Simon & Schuster BYR; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

In award-winning author Barry Wittenstein’s eye-opening narrative nonfiction picture book, children are brought back in time to the year of a moon landing, Woodstock, the Vietnam War, and the Stonewall Rebellion. But do they know that this was also the year before Earth Day was founded? Or that a big event that led to its creation was the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland catching fire?

Yes, the river caught fire and it wasn’t the first time! “Since 1886, it happened thirteen times.” Pollution from big industry covered the water in “a thick, gooey layering of sludge, oil, and sewage …” So when KABOOM! flames rose in what would ordinarily have been rather frightening, most citizens viewed it as no big deal. Only it was a big deal! Rivers are not supposed to burn. However, since the Industrial Revolution, rivers around the world were treated as dumping sites with no concern for the health of their inhabitants in the water or nearby.

Thankfully, Cleveland’s Mayor Carl Stokes made his voice heard. The “exploding river” even made it to the cover of Time magazine, but Cleveland was not alone. Fires on rivers were happening in other cities too. Ultimately, Congress passed the Clean Air and Clean Water acts, though these are still under attack today.

Not long after, on April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day took place and more people made their voices heard. It was time to start caring for the planet we all call home. Earth Day is now celebrated around the world with a billion or more people taking part in hundreds of cities. The history of the fire and the lead-up to the first Earth Day is illustrated by Jessie Hartland in colorful gouache. The folk art style spreads will especially resonate with young readers with their warmth and whimsy. I cannot pick a favorite scene since there were multiple spreads I loved, particularly due to her depiction of people (Note: big hair lady on riverboat cruise).

53 years on, this important global movement continues with efforts to curb climate change and all forms of pollution. Seven pages of back matter include a compelling author’s note, a time line, reads and resources, and a black and white photo of an earlier Cuyahoga River fire in 1952. And though the Cuyahoga River eventually got cleaned up, and fish returned, that can easily change if enforcement of environmental laws grows lax and restrictions that help the environment get lifted. Wittenstein’s informative prose is a call to action that none of us can ignore.

 

Another Band's Treasure cover recycled instrument orchestra on landfillANOTHER BAND’S TREASURE:
A Story of Recycled Instruments
by Hua Lin Xie
Translated by Edward Gauvin
(Graphic Universe; $14.99, Ages 8-12)

Xie’s graphic novel debut was inspired by the true story of Favio Chávez, a musician and educator from Paraguay who founded the Recycled Orchestra of Cateura in 2006. To me, this quote at the end speaks volumes, “The world sends us its garbage. We give it back music.”

The story’s main characters are Diego, a musician and music instructor, his friend, Nicolas, a carpenter, and Ada and her younger brother Daniel. They come from a single-parent home, and they, like many of the residents in this poor village likely live hand to mouth. The kids find entertainment treasure hunting on the landfill while their mother would like them to contribute to the household. There is little excitement or motivation in the children’s lives. That is until Diego puts out a flyer offering music lessons. In hopes of helping the kids grow emotionally by exposing them to music and self-expression, Diego and Nicolas also hope this will keep local kids out of trouble.

The graphic novel is divided into seven chapters as the relationships with the students, Diego and Nicolas develop. At first, it’s only Nicolas who scavenges amongst the discards of the landfill for usable items to turn into instruments. Before long, as the kids’ pride in what they’re a part of blossoms, it’s wonderful to watch them start searching for potential musical instruments. Maybe this could be a drum, or maybe a violin.

When Diego receives an invitation from the mayor for the orchestra to perform at a musical event in Asunción, everyone is not only thrilled for a chance to visit the capital but honored at being recognized. So much so that Ada and Daniel tell every single person they meet heading home and shout it from the top of the landfill. “Hey, clouds! We’re going places!!” Of course, they’re a hit and so begins a journey to play concerts all over the world! In an epilogue, Daniel has grown up and now, when he is on summer break, he and other children from the first class come back to Diego’s new class to help out new students and return the kindness that changed their lives.

Seamlessly translated from the French original, this English version has almost no color. Executed in muted greyish-black tones, the art looks like pen and ink but may have been created digitally. The choice of color or lack of it conveys the dullness of life alongside a landfill. The only time color appears apart from the cover is when a guitar is made from an orange-striped paint can. This middle-grade graphic novel is a hopeful story and a beautiful tribute to the dream and dedication of Favio Chávez. Find out more at www.recycledorchestracateura.com.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Additional Recommended Reads for Earth Day

 

No World Too Big cover children holding up EarthNO WORLD TOO BIG: 
Young People Fighting Global Climate Change
Written by Lindsay H. Metcalf 
Written by Keila V. Dawson
Written by Jeanette Bradley
Illustrated by Jeanette Bradley
(Charlesbridge Publishing; $18.99, Ages 5-9)

 

Climate Warriors coverCLIMATE WARRIORS:
Fourteen Scientists and Fourteen Ways We Can Save Our Planet
by Laura Gehl

(Millbrook Press; $24.99, Ages 9-14)

 

 

 

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Celebrate Summer With Our Fabulous Four Books Giveaway

WIN FOUR SIGNED MG & YA BOOKS
Enter our fantastic summer giveaway
Courtesy of Candlewick Press

 

What better way to welcome the summer solstice than with a giveaway? But this is no ordinary giveaway! In April I enjoyed a wonderful pre-LA Times Festival of Books dinner with four fab Candlewick authors and was given autographed copies of their books. Good Reads With Ronna is giving away those signed novels to one lucky winner and it could be you. Read about the books in the giveaway. A handy Candlewick  tote bag is also included:

Burn_Baby_Burn by Meg Medina book coverBurn Baby Burn
Written by Meg Medina
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 14 and up)
Pura Belpré Author Award winner Meg Medina has another hit on her hands with this riveting read which took me back decades to that scary summer following my first year at university in New York. That’s when the letters of the S.O.S. distress signal stood for something much more sinister – the killer, Son of Sam. Here’s a description of the novel from Candlewick:
Nora Lopez is seventeen during the infamous New York summer of 1977, when the city is besieged by arson, a massive blackout, and a serial killer named Son of Sam who shoots young women on the streets. Nora’s family life isn’t going so well either: her bullying brother, Hector, is growing more threatening by the day, her mother is helpless and falling behind on the rent, and her father calls only on holidays. All Nora wants is to turn eighteen and be on her own. And while there is a cute new guy who started working with her at the deli, is dating even worth the risk when the killer likes picking off couples who stay out too late? Award-winning author Meg Medina transports us to a time when New York seemed balanced on a knife-edge, with tempers and temperatures running high, to share the story of a young woman who discovers that the greatest dangers are often closer than we like to admit — and the hardest to accept.
While violence runs rampant throughout New York, a teenage girl faces danger within her own home in Meg Medina’s riveting coming-of-age novel.

Read a sample chapter here.

Honor_Girl by Maggie Thrash book coverHonor Girl
Written and illustrated by Maggie Thrash
(Candlewick Press; $19.99, Ages 14 and up)
I read this graphic novel memoir in three sittings because I just had to find out what happened to Maggie at Camp Bellflower for Girls, the summer she fell in love. I cared about her immensely and so will YA fans into candor, introspection, and the intensity of first love. Here’s a description of this impressive debut novel from Candlewick:

Maggie Thrash has spent basically every summer of her fifteen-year-old life at the one-hundred-year-old Camp Bellflower for Girls, set deep in the heart of Appalachia. She’s from Atlanta, she’s never kissed a guy, she’s into Backstreet Boys in a really deep way, and her long summer days are full of a pleasant, peaceful nothing . . . until one confounding moment. A split-second of innocent physical contact pulls Maggie into a gut-twisting love for an older, wiser, and most surprising of all (at least to Maggie), female counselor named Erin. But Camp Bellflower is an impossible place for a girl to fall in love with another girl, and Maggie’s savant-like proficiency at the camp’s rifle range is the only thing keeping her heart from exploding. When it seems as if Erin maybe feels the same way about Maggie, it’s too much for both Maggie and Camp Bellflower to handle, let alone to understand.
All-girl camp. First love. First heartbreak. At once romantic and devastating, brutally honest and full of humor, this graphic-novel memoir is a debut of the rarest sort.

The Hired GirlThe_Hired_Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz book cover
Written by Laura Amy Schlitz
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 10-14)
While everyone was out at the pool during my Florida vacation this winter, I remained indoors because I could not put down this multiple award-winning novel from Newbery Medalist Schlitz. I relished being brought back in time to 1911 Baltimore following the ups and downs of protagonist Joan Skraggs as she becomes the hired girl in a wealthy Jewish household and tries to find her place in the world. Fans of historical fiction should add this to their must-read list.

Fourteen-year-old Joan Skraggs, just like the heroines in her beloved novels, yearns for real life and true love. But what hope is there for adventure, beauty, or art on a hardscrabble farm in Pennsylvania where the work never ends? Over the summer of 1911, Joan pours her heart out into her diary as she seeks a new, better life for herself—because maybe, just maybe, a hired girl cleaning and cooking for six dollars a week can become what a farm girl could only dream of—a woman with a future. Newbery Medalist Laura Amy Schlitz relates Joan’s journey from the muck of the chicken coop to the comforts of a society household in Baltimore (Electricity! Carpet sweepers! Sending out the laundry!), taking readers on an exploration of feminism and housework; religion and literature; love and loyalty; cats, hats, and bunions.

Dan vs. NatureDan_vs_Nature book cover
Written by Don Calame
(Candlewick Press; $17.99, Ages 14 and up)
Novelist and screenwriter Don Calame, has penned a fast-paced, fun YA novel for the most reluctant of teen readers. If you’re not sure what’s in store, better check out Calame’s clever book trailer here because it really gives you a good taste of the author’s unique sense of humor. High schoolers will appreciate the predicament that the main character, Dan Weekes is thrown into, survive being with his future step-dad or survive the wild.

Shy and scrawny Dan Weekes spends his time creating graphic novels inspired by his dream girl and looking out for his mom as she dates every man in the state of California. Then his mom drops a bomb: she and her latest beau, Hank, are engaged, and she’s sending her “two favorite men” on a survivalist camping trip to “bond.” Determined to trick Hank into showing his true — flawed — colors on the trip, Dan and his nerdy germaphobe best friend, Charlie, prepare a series of increasingly gross and embarrassing pranks. But the boys hadn’t counted on a hot girl joining their trip or on getting separated from their wilderness guide—not to mention the humiliating injuries Dan suffers in the course of terrorizing his stepdad-to-be. With a man-hungry bear on their trail, no supplies, and a lot of unpleasant itching going on, can Dan see his plan through now that his very survival depends on Hank?
From screenwriter Don Calame comes another outrageously funny and raunchy tale of teen boys whose plans go awry — this time, on a survivalist camping trip.

ENTER OUR GIVEAWAY NOW – Increase your chances of winning. You’ll receive an extra entry for following Good Reads With Ronna on Facebook, but please let us know you’ve followed by telling us when you comment below. Thanks and good luck!

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Of Moths, Masks and Music

Guest reviewer Rachel Glade shares her take on this unique graphic novel.

On the planet Sirene, everyone wears masks and communicates through an array of musical instruments. Edwer Thissell, an ambassador to Sirene, has to adjust to the strange customs of this new planet while trying to solve a mystery of murder and mistaken identity. But how can he be sure who he’s dealing with when everyone hides behind a mask?

Based on the classic sci-fi short story by renowned author Jack Vance, The Moon Moth ($17.99, First Second Books, ages 14 and up), adapted by Humayoun Ibrahim, captures the intricate beauty of the original in the form of a graphic novel. Breathtakingly unique artwork combined with a fascinating plot make this book stand out among others. While the book contains dialogue and narrative, only the pictures tell the whole story. Though this can make the plot a bit difficult to follow at times, it really pushes the reader to pay attention to the pictures to figure out what’s going on; I found this particularly fun and engaging. Blending themes of foreign culture, social hierarchy, problem solving and courage, The Moon Moth packs a lot of big topics into a short story. This is a book that should be read many times to get the full meaning. Highly recommended for young adult readers.

Rachel Glade is a junior at the University of Pennsylvania, majoring in Geology. Though passionate about science, she is also an avid reader and writer. Rachel enjoys traveling and learning about foreign cultures, and has done science field work in Mongolia and Puerto Rico. Rachel loves books in almost any genre, including classic literature, science, and science fiction.

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For the Comic Artist in All of Us

Today Debbie Glade reviews an extraordinary book that teaches impressive techniques to professional and budding comic artists.

I’ll start by confessing that one of the many reasons I’ve been excited about reviewing Mastering Comics: Drawing Words & Writing Pictures Continued, ($34.99, First Second Books, ages 14 and up) is that I am a (very amateur) comic strip artist myself. And with graphic novels and new comics exploding, I’m certainly not the only one who wants learn more about visual storytelling.

Mastering Comics is a follow up book to Drawing Words & Writing Pictures: Making Comics: Manga, Graphic Novels and Beyond by comic artists Jessica Abel and Matt Madden. The first book is essentially an introduction course on comic creation, while this new book is a continuation of that course, offering advanced tips to help serious comic artists really hone their skills and to give teachers a great textbook for their students.

This beautiful book is a meaty 318 pages of detailed technique and creative homework assignments. The book starts with lessons about building stories by drawing pictures and working through the challenges of facing blank pages to come up with original ideas. In the section called Writing Words, there are detailed instructions on how to develop a story and write a script while thinking visually.

Readers will also learn how to create visual relationships with their comic panels, create comics for books vs. screens and choose the right style to tell their story. In addition, there’s essential information on lettering and web comics and even an incredible section about using ink and making your own paint tools. The last sections of the book deal with gray scales, color, book covers and getting your comic ready for the printer. There are also a couple of vital chapters dedicated to selling your comics, whether on your own or through a publisher.

Reading this book is a reminder that being a true professional comic artist requires great skill and technique, which take time and hard work to develop. Mastering Comics is like having a private mentor guiding you through the learning process and challenging you to think in wonderful ways you never thought you could.

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Explorer: The Mystery Boxes, a Graphic Novel For Kids Worth Exploring

Reinterpreting the Anthology For a New Generation

Reviewed today by Jason Carpenter

Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone’s enduring legacy has been the impact it’s had on short form storytelling and the generation-spanning celebration of the paranormal-infused science fiction/fantasy genre.  But, alas, for the demographic born after 1990, television has failed to deliver the next culture-defining anthology program.  Perhaps with Explorer: The Mystery Boxes ($10.95 paperback, $19.95 hardcover, Amulet Books, ages 9 and up), as edited by Amulet creator Kazu Kibuishi, with stories by a host of other artists and writers, the graphic novel format will carry the torch of those well-told– often replete with  jaw-dropping, gut-punching finales– morality plays that possess more than a touch of the bizarre.

Explorer holds seven short tales, including one by Kibuishi himself, connected thematically by one element: each work has its own manifestation of a magical, mystical, or otherwise pedestrian-seeming box.  The boxes, whether harboring treasure or inciting mischief, are really the crystal pools in which the true nature of the protagonists are reflected.  The seven stories vary in tone and atmosphere, from the comic to the otherworldly, and, as is wont with anthology compendiums, they achieve varying levels of success.

Chief among the standouts are Emily Carroll’s “Under the Floorboards”; in it, a young girl discovers a duty-bound wax doll that may be evolving (or devolving) into a spiteful doppelgänger.  Carroll’s grim fairy tale plays out like a minimalist hybrid of the gothic whimsy of Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time series and the psychological interior of Marjane Satrapi’s award-winning graphic novel Persepolis.  It’s also the closest in spirit to Serling’s odes to the macabre. Rad Sechrist’s “The Butter Thief” adopts an outline-free aesthetic reminiscent of Genndy Tartakovsky’s elegant Samurai Jack animated series, and is the most action-packed and oddly moving of the bunch.

The scope and spiritual ambition of the Explorer: The Mystery Boxes compilation is admirable– the mystery is why it isn’t attempted more often.

To learn more about Jason, please visit About Our Reviewers page by clicking here.

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Amelia Rules

mailAmelia Rules! The Whole World’s Crazy by Jimmy Gownley is reviewed today by Ellen, a fifth grader from Pasadena, CA. Ellen likes to dance, write and draw.

51tsn05nx9l_ss500_What a great book! This graphic novel/comic book-style story is about a girl named Amelia who has crazy adventures and fun times. She and her friends, Rhonda,
Reggie, and Pajamaman, go camping with Amelia’s dad, have an awesome Christmas, try to find out if Santa’s real or not, go trick or treating, and survive hard gym class. As you may have guessed, I cannot say it enough, “This book was hysterical!” (Editor’s Note:  Originally self-published and now picked up by Atheneum/Simon & Schuster, this book is recommended for ages 7-12)

What makes this book so totally readable is the fact that Pajamaman always wears pajamas and sometimes when his emotion changes an emote icon changes on his pajamas. Also, in one story, Rhonda is in gym class and throws a ball, almost killing a girl named Violet. This was such a clever, humorous book that I want to read the second one!

http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f9/2281217001?isVid=1&publisherID=1635265513

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