As the nation marks the first anniversary of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico today and prepares to celebrate Earth Day on Friday, it’s worth thinking about what are the greatest environmental challenges we face and what can be done about them. At its best, environmental writing can illuminate the world around us; at its worst, it is preachy and dull. Environmental reporter Juliet Eilperin looks at five books that belong in the first camp, providing smart looks at issues ranging from deforestation and poaching in African forests to green innovations that could change the way we live:
1. “Not Your Typical Book About the Environment,” by Elin Kelsey, illustrated by Clayton Hanmer, ages 9-12; 64 pages.
An optimistic look at choices we can make to improve the planet, this book assesses the impact of everything from the clothes we wear to the food we eat. But instead of laying a guilt trip on readers, it points to eco-friendly alternatives, from devising new products to opting for vintage clothes instead of new.
2. “World Without Fish,” by Mark Kurlansky, illustrated by Frank Stockton, ages 9 and up; 183 pages.
With gorgeous illustrations and a graphic novel that runs throughout it, this book tackles the tough question of what to do about threats that could ruin the world’s oceans by the middle of the century. It recounts the toll that overfishing and climate change are having on marine life and provides suggestions on what to do about it.
3. “Why I Care About Sharks,” by Lisa Cook and Joel Simonetti, ages 9-12; 66 pages .
This book provides plenty of cool science about sharks — including a description of their sixth sense, which can detect electrical impulses underwater — along with details about the economic forces that have made sharks the target of fishing operations seeking their fins. It examines how differences between nations and groups can play out in terms of fishing, and how we might share the ocean more fairly.
4. “The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps,” by Jeanette Winter, ages 4-8; 48 pages.
Drawing on Goodall’s writings from her time researching in Tanzania, this picture book biography teaches children about both the scientific method and Goodall’s lifelong crusade to protect the African chimpanzee habitat where she once lived.
5. “Hannah and the Talking Tree,” by Elke Weiss, ages 4-7; 24 pages.
Nicely illustrated and with a quirky take on environmental activism, this tale shows what can happen when a single child pays attention to the environmental changes happening around her.
Juliet Eilperin is a staff writer and the author of the upcoming book “Demon Fish: Travels Through the Hidden World of Sharks,” which will be released June 14.