Sharing picture books and read alouds are a quick, efficient, and fun way to educate students on different topics including topics related to Earth Day. Here are a few Earth Day books for upper elementary students that you can read aloud this April that cover topics such as trees & forests, recycling, oceans & water, climate change, and endangered habitats.
Many of these books are true stories of inspirational people who made a difference. The theme incorporated in many of these selections is great to show students that it only takes one person to start a movement.
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1. The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry
This classic book is a perfect Earth Day read aloud for upper elementary. The Great Kapok Tree is a story about a man who goes into the forest to cut down a tree. While he lays down to rest in the forest, the creatures that inhabit the tree come to whisper to him. They beg him to save their home. This book's theme is exactly what Earth Day is all about.
2. The Tree Lady by H. Joseph Hopkins
This book shares the true story of Kate Sessions, an activist who helped San Diego grow from a dry desert to a city full of gorgeous parks and gardens. The Tree Lady is an inspirational story about following your dreams, using your talents, and staying strong in the face of adversity.
3. The Boy Who Grew a Forest by Sophia Gholz
When Jadav Payeng was a little boy, he was distraught by the destruction and the deforestation of being caused in his on his island home in India's Brahmaputra River. The Boy Who Grew a Forest tells the story of he decides to turn things around. He began planting trees that ended up growing into 1,300 acres of forest filled with native plants and animals.
4. Wangari's Trees of Peace by Jeanette Winter
Wangari's Trees of Peace is a true story about Wangari Maathai who was an environmental and political activist in Kenya and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. As a young girl, she grew up surrounded by trees. She left Kenya and returned years later shocked to realize that many of the trees had been cut down. She decides to do something about and starts with planting some seeds in her yard. Wangari's Trees of Peace is a great book to compare and contrast with The Boy Who Grew a Forest.
5. The Camping Trip that Changed America by Barb Rosenstock
The Camping Trip that Changed America tells the story of when Theodore Roosevelt went camping with naturalist John Muir. He was in awe of the great sights he saw while also becoming concerned when he realized that trees were being cut down. These sights along with discussions between the two men led to the establishment of National Parks.
6. Ada's Violin by Susan Hood
Ada's Violin tells the story of a girl whose neighborhood was built on a landfill. Almost everyone that Ada knows work as sifters in the landfill looking for things they can sell. Ada has a passion for music, so her grandmother signs her up for music class. When the teacher realizes that there will not be enough instruments for everyone, she gets creative and makes instruments out of trash. Ada masters her instrument and begins to receive worldwide recognition. This is a great story about resourcefulness and determination.
7. One Plastic Bag by Miranda Paul
One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia is an inspirational true story about one African woman who starts a movement to recycle when she sees plastic bags begin to pollute her community.
8. All That Trash by Meghan McCarthy
All That Trash tells the story of a garbage barge that traveled over 6,000 miles because it couldn't find a place that would welcome it. It started a recycling movement in the United States.
9. We are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom
We are Water Protectors is a book inspired by the many movements led by the Indigenous People in the United States. The book is a call to protect our planet and our water. This book is a good option for teaching symbolism as it refers to keeping a "black snake" away from the water.
10. Manfish by Jennifer Berne
Manfish: A Story of Jacques Cousteau tells the story of how Jacques Cousteau became curious about the ocean when he was younger. This curiosity led him to help invent the aqualung, a device that would allow him to go deeper into the ocean and stay there longer. He brought footage of his adventures to landgoers through films. He later discovered what was happening to the seas as a result of pollution and made people aware of the effects.
11. Rising Seas by Keltie Thomas
Rising Seas: Flooding, Climate Change and Our New World discusses the effects of climate change and shows images of the world may look like if the water continues to rise at the rate it has been. This book makes a great scaffold for comparing and contrasting what the world looks now and may in the future. Discussions can then continue onto what the forests may look like, mountain ranges, etc.
12. The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge by Joanna Cole
The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge is another book that discusses global warming and its effects. As always, Joanna Cole uses language that students can understand and makes it engaging through a field trip with Ms. Frizzle.
13. Wild World by Angela McAllister
The book Wild World will speak to the heart of many ELA teachers. It highlights the different habitats around the world through poems. It expresses the fragility of many of the habitats and how we can serve to help maintain them. The illustrations are colorful and eye-catching as well.
Other Earth Day Activities
If you're looking for other Earth Day activities to share with your students, there is a fun activity that encourages students to make games and other resources using recycled materials. It's a great follow up activity to an Earth Day read aloud.
I hope some of these suggestions for Earth Day books for upper elementary have helped you find books you can share that are geared more towards 4th and 5th graders. Do you have any other favorite Earth Day book titles you love to share with your students? Let us know in the comments below, my Co-Teacher.