Turning Kids Green: Sustainability Literature

Sustainability is a buzz word these days, but the concepts are important, especially to children. After all, much of what people are trying to do with sustainable practices is make the world a better place (and still exist) for the children of today when they grow up and their children and so on.

While sustainability is big conceptually, if you break it down into categories, you’ll find that there is a lot of great literature out there for kids in areas like recycling, home gardening, and biking and easy sustainable practices. All of these books help children understand that they can be a part of the solution and sometimes, they can take charge too. Check it out!


Home Gardening

  • Dig, Plant, Grow: A Kid’s Guide to Gardening by Felder Rushing and Growing a Garden by Marie Schuh are both excellent resources as they provide hands on tips for children trying to start either their own garden, or help out with the family’s.
  • Yucky Worms by Vivian French. This fun picture book explains the importance of worms to a garden.
  • The Garden Project by Margaret McNamara is an easy reader about a class coming together to plan and work a garden.
  • In the Garden by Peggy Collins.  This picture book shows how much fun gardening can be and is ideal for prereaders to early readers.

Biking and Easy Sustainable Practices


The Tragedy of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

Today is the sad anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. On March 25, 1911, 146 garment workers were killed because they were locked in at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory during a fire due to labor practices at the time. Though this is a tragic event, it changed the face of labor relations and for children interested in history, particularly women’s history, this flash point event is important. I have already highlighted some parts of women’s history earlier this month, but felt that this particular event needed it’s own post. Here is some reading on the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire:


Swept Away: Books About the Ocean

I just finished reading Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus and I loved it. It’s a story of a young Japanese boy who is shipwrecked with his friends and goes on a great adventure that finds him traveling the world on a whaling ship. Throughout the story the reader comes across whaling and sailor lingo and it really gives you the feeling of a life at sea. It got me thinking about other books about the ocean. As the weather starts to get warmer, a life at sea, or at least at the beach, starts to sound like great idea. Here are some good ones you should check out:

  • Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm. This Newbery Honor book takes place in the Florida Keys and you really get the feel of Conch culture, which involves a lot of fishing and a lot of nicknames.
  • I Wonder Why the Sea is Salty: and Other Questions About the Ocean by Anita Ganeri. I love this book. It answers so many questions kids have about the world above and below the sea and is in an easy to use format.
  • Out of the Ocean by Debra Frasier. A picture book about a mother and daughter walking on the beach, the simple text and bright pictures make the treasures they find just that much more entertaining.
  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne, retold by Jaqueline Morley. A classic retold in graphic novel format, Verne’s story has never seemed more exciting.

As the weather gets warmer, look to the ocean for reading inspiration.

Focus on the Illustrator: Eric Carle

I’ve realized that throughout this blog, I’ve mentioned Eric Carle a number of times. When talking about children’s literature with non-librarians, when I mention him, all I have to say is The Very Hungry Caterpillar and they know who I am talking about. His style is written in the memories of many children and his dedication to children’s learning is impressive.

Like many of my favorite illustrators, Carle is also an author. He has, through writing and illustrating, been involved in more than 70 different books and his stories have been translated into dozens of languages.

What makes Carle such an important influence of children’s literature? In my opinion, it’s how he writes for children and, more importantly in this blog post, how he illustrates. Using a unique collage style, his illustrations are always very colorful and very interesting to look at. His focus on nature, as seen through The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Tiny Seed, The Mixed-Up Chameleon, and The Very Lonely Firefly, among many others, is something that children love to read about.

Carle is not something new to most readers, but he is someone to pay attention to. Through his many board books, he has taught many children about concepts such as shapes, colors, sounds, and the alphabet. His legacy is so great that he has a museum dedicated to his work. Another great part of Carle’s style is how children love to emulate it. An idea for a lesson plan is to read some of his works and then try to make collages using his hand painted paper style. It’s another way to connect kids to literature and make them a part of it.

Spring has Sprung

Today is the first day of Spring. Merriam-Webster defines spring as “a time or season of growth or development; specifically : the season between winter and summer comprising in the northern hemisphere usually the months of March, April, and May or as reckoned astronomically extending from the March equinox to the June solstice.” What better way to celebrate the season of growth than through children’s literature? I think that the changing colors and scenery make spring ideal for picture books, though the theme also works well in easy readers and chapter books as well. Some of my favorite (and new favorite) books about Spring (and the changing of seasons) are:

  • Snow Rabbit, Spring Rabbit: A Book of Changing Seasons by Il Sung Na. I only read this one recently, but the illustrations are stunning. Watch Rabbit move through the seasons as they change and Rabbit changes too.
  • The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle. Though this focuses on a seed as the seasons change, the real growth happens in Spring, when things like flowers come alive. Eric Carle’s distinct style is always a crowd pleaser and the lesson within about change and growth make this one a perennial favorite.
  • When Will It Be Spring? by Catherine Walters. How do you get a baby bear to hibernate when he is just so excited for Spring? That’s what this story is about and children will learn about how the world changes when it becomes Spring. It also works well as part of a lesson plan on Earth Science, as this blog post explains.
  • Ready for Spring by Marthe Jocelyn. Don’t know what to wear for Spring? This fun board book explains what’s weather appropriate.
  • A Child’s Book of Seasons by Satomi Ichikawa. I believe this book is now out of print, but if you can get your hands on it, I highly recommend it. This was one of my most interesting picture books I had growing up and though Autumn was always my favorite part of this book, the illustrations make all seasons beautiful.

Aside from my favorite, Apples 4 the Teacher has a nice list of books about spring. This website has a fairly through list, which separates the books into age groupings, helpful for quick selection. Find something about spring and celebrate it. Baseball is starting up again, flowers are growing, trees are turning green. All of this lends itself to great read alouds and adventures that can be paired with books.

Children and eReaders

There has been a lot of talk about eReaders lately, especially in light of Harper-Collins decision to limit checkouts of their books on Overdrive to 26 for the lifetime of the book. The Swiss Army Librarian has a good breakdown of what is going on with eReaders lately.

What does this have to do with children’s literature? Much of what people talk about these days is about the children of today and the digital divide. Kids growing up today are considered digital natives. Check out this video about what the kids of today want from their libraries:

So digital content is necessary and this is why so many libraries are either now using or are considering using eReaders. Their interactive content and the shiny readers they come in make them appealing to children. At my internship, iPads are being used in select libraries as part of a pilot program and every time it comes out, you can see the kids lurking around the sides, ready to play with it. There is much to learn about this new form of delivering information and I forsee their role being expanded in libraries.

However, if you are not comfortable using eReaders, there is still time to learn. Furthermore, though we talk about the youth of today and their interest in technology and digital content, I have an anecdote that you should keep in mind. At this same internship where the kids swarm around the iPad, the library struggles to keep enough books about dinosaurs on the shelf. The project I am working on involves a category for trains. Despite how different children might be today in terms of technology, they still love to read the same categories of books that many of us did and those that came before us as well. It might show up in a different form, but kids will still argue about which dinosaur is best.

(PS: It’s stegosaurus).

The Last Frontier of Literature: Books about Alaska

When talking about princesses and Cinderellas the other day, I failed to mention a new favorite in the Cinderella variations – The Salmon Princess, which is an Alaskan Cinderella story (you can tell because it’s about salmon fishing and the princess wears Xtratufs). This got me to thinking about Alaskan children’s literature. I am originally from Alaska. I was born and raised in Juneau, the capital city, and because of this I have a fondness for stories about Alaska. Plus, anything you can do to dispel myths that Alaska is constantly covered in snow, that there are 24 hours of sunlight or darkness in all parts of Alaska (it’s a big state!) and that everyone lives in igloos (this ignores so much of Alaskan Native cultures), the better. Alaska is the Last Frontier and there’s a lot of children’s literature about it, ranging from information books to folklore to historical and contemporary fiction.

(Sandy Beach from my last winter trip home, December 2009)

Alaska has a great history of storytelling because of the Native Alaskan traditions as well as the early Russian immigrants and the Filipino, Irish, and other immigrant groups of Alaska. I’m particularly fond of the Tlingit/Haida tales I heard growing up in Southeast Alaska, especially those about Raven. Raven is a trickster and is involved in a number of Tlingit creation stories, like how Raven stole the daylight (included in this volume of Native American creation myths). Check out stories like Totem Tale: A Tall Story from Alaska,The Wave of the Sea-Wolf, and The Frog Princess: A Tlingit Legend From Alaska (retold by my very favorite Eric Kimmel) for good examples of this Alaskan storytelling tradition.

Alaska is a vast wilderness and the people who grow up and live there have a unique view on life and many feel a special connection to nature. There are many subjects about Alaska that children would enjoy reading about, including:

  • the Iditarod Sled Dog Race
  • amazing animals like all types of bears (especially the fearsome Kodiak Grizzly), caribou and moose, salmon, puffins, and narwhals
  • Gold Rush. The stories from Skagway are especially interesting and this book is a good place to start. Another part of Alaskan storytelling comes from the Sourdoughs, the miners that came to find gold in Alaska. One of my favorites growing up, partially because of a particularly good reading by my 8th grade English teacher, was The Cremation of Sam McGee.
  • modern stories from Alaskan Native cultures. There is a tendency for many non-Native children (and adults) to view Native cultures as something that exists in the past when these cultures are still very much alive. Learn more about the tribes of the Aleutians, the tundra, the far North, Southeast, and all the varying regions of Alaska.
  • nature! From temperate rainforests (my hometown area) to the tallest mountain in North American (Denali) to the tundra, Alaska is filled with beautiful wilderness and exciting things for children to learn about

If subjects are too broad, a couple of great authors to start with are Cherie B. Stihler (she did a great adaptation of the Gingerbread Man called the Sourdough Man) and Susi Gregg Fowler. Both of these authors have a number of different types of books based in Alaska that will get you started on your journey into the Last Frontier.