A Text Set for Teaching about Climate Change and Climate Justice

Guest Blog Post by Ysaaca Axelrod, Denise Ives, & Rachel Weaver

Climate change is not a new issue, however, over the past decade it has gained visibility and more and more people are concerned about climate change and its impact on our planet and our lives. Youth are becoming more vocal and involved in efforts to address climate change and many are the face of climate activism. One of the challenges of talking and teaching about climate change is that it is a complex topic that sometimes feels overwhelming because of the scientific complexity and the magnitude of the effects of climate change on our planet. However, while the science behind climate change is complex and constantly changing and evolving, it continues to affect the lives of every living creature on our planet. Yet, we are not all impacted equally.

The most marginalized and least-resourced communities on the planet suffer disproportionately from the changing climate’s devastating effects, making climate change not just a scientific matter but ultimately a social justice issue. As educators we believe that in spite of the magnitude of the topic, it is imperative that we talk to children about climate change and climate justice.

Sharing carefully selected books can create opportunities for learning and discussion. Books on climate change and climate justice can be found across several genres: non-fiction, fiction, and narrative nonfiction, and together can provide children with an understanding of the concept of climate change, the ways that different living creatures and people are impacted by these changes, as well as ideas for how we can all be engaged and work towards climate action. 

Pasquet, J., & Arbona M. (Illustrator). (2017). My Wounded Island. (S.B. Watson, Trans.). Orca Book Publisher. (Original work published 2009) Narrative Fiction

Image result for My Wounded Island.

Using the metaphor of a monster, the narrator, Imarvaluk, a young girl from Sarichef, one of the islands near the Arctic Circle, describes the changes to her island due to rising sea levels. The book describes shifts in their way of life due to climate change, and how they are losing their traditions as well as being forced to move because of environmental changes. This book can help to understand the concept of ‘climate refugees,’ people who are displaced due to climate changes, as well as a look at some of the populations around the world who are most vulnerable to climate change. 

Winter, J. (2019). Our House is On Fire: Greta Thunberg’s Call to Save the Planet. Beach Lane Books. Narrative Nonfiction

Image result for Our House is On Fire: Greta Thunberg's Call to Save the Planet.

This book is a  biography of Greta Thunberg, a Swedish environmental activist, who at the age of 15 started to strike for climate action outside the Swedish Parliament. Inspired by her, children around the world. joined her in climate strikes. This book includes biographical information, interspersed with Greta Thunberg’s own words and calls for action. 

Paul, M. (2015). One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia. Millbrook Press. Narrative Nonfiction

Image result for One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women

This book tells the true story of an African woman, Isatou Ceesay, from The Gambia,  who started a movement to recycle the plastic bags that were polluting her community. This book celebrates a creative solution to real-world problems and illustrates how one person can make a big difference. Isatou Ceesay was recently dubbed the Queen of Plastic Recycling in The Gambia by Climate Heroes. 

Cherry, L. (2002). A River Ran Wild: An Environmental History. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. (Original work published 1992) Narrative Nonfiction

Image result for A River Ran Wild: An Environmental History.

This particular book is particularly relevant to us, located in Massachusetts. It is important to read books that provide examples of how climate change impacts our local communities as well as those that are far away. In this book, the author, Lynne Cherry (who is also the author of The Great Kapok Tree: A Tale of the Amazon Rainforest), tells the true story of the Nashua River and the efforts to clean the river and restore and protect the water through local and legislative efforts. This story shows the ways that individuals, communities and policymakers can work together to enact change.  

Godsey, M., & Kellner, C. J. (Illustrator).  (2018). Not For Me, Please! I Choose to Act Green.  CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. Narrative Nonfiction. 

Image result for Not For Me, Please! I Choose to Act Green.

In this book, Luke, a little boy, talks about how he shifted from not caring about his actions and the environment to being aware of the consequences of his behaviors. It highlights how interconnected we all are, and how small changes on our part, can positively impact the planet and its inhabitants. The book provides concrete examples for children (and adults), how we can act green. 

These are some of the books we have used with children and teachers in classrooms to help support the teaching and learning about climate change. Our hope is that together, we can work towards climate justice to save our planet for us and generations to come. 

Additional Resources: 

Earthrise, a climate poem by Amanda Gorman

Bigelow, B., & Swinehart, T. (Eds.). (2014). A People’s Curriculum for the Earth: Teaching about the Environmental Crisis. Rethinking Schools 

Young Voices for the Planet Films

A collection of inspiring short films featuring young climate activists.

Bigelow, B. (2019). Our House is on Fire – Time to Teach Climate Justice. 

The Story of Stuff (2007)

A 20-minute online documentary video created by Annie Leonard that describes how the things we buy and use get created, distributed, and discarded. Also, available in Spanish.

Axelrod, Y., Ives, D., & Weaver, R. (2020). We are all learning about climate change: Teaching with picture books to engage teachers and students. Bank Street Occasional Papers, 36-47.

Ysaaca Axelrod is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Teacher Education & Curriculum Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Email: yaxelrod@umass.edu

Denise Ives is an Associate Professor in the Teacher Education and Curriculum Studies department at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Email: dives@umass.edu

Rachel Weaver is a 3rd grade teacher at the International School of Frankfurt Rhein-Main, located in Frankfurt, Germany. Email: rachel.m.m.weaver@gmail.com

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