April 22, 2010, is the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, and there is no time like the present to be an environmental advocate. To teach children about the consequences their actions have on plants and animals—and how small changes can help Mother Nature—picture books provide important lessons, simple instructions and fun illustrations.

Veteran author and illustrator Todd Parr (Reading Makes You Feel Good) gives children concrete reasons to care for the planet in The EARTH Book, a colorful first-person story. No task is too small; even the little things can “make a BIG difference.” For example, “I take the school bus and ride my bike because . . . I love the stars and I want the air to be clear so I can see them sparkle.” In passages such as these, Parr demonstrates the relationship between our choices and the environment: recycling equals a cleaner planet, using less bath water means helping the fish, bringing reusable bags to the market can conserve trees. The bright and blocky illustrations convey the diversity of life on earth, from carrots in the ground to big blue whales. Simple text delivers a powerful message, so early readers can discover—on their own—ways to commemorate Earth Day.

Save the animals, or they’ll be gone
Frances Barry celebrates the grandness of our endangered species—and how we can help them survive—in Let’s Save the Animals. The paper collage, lift-the-flap illustrations are a delight, and children will be entranced by the forest of the orangutan, the sea of the dolphin and the meadow of the butterfly. That joy will be sobered by the small-print facts on every page, such as one stating, “Amur tigers live in the forests of eastern Russia, which are being cut down.” The book’s final words pack a punch, stating that if we don’t save the animals, they will be “gone forever.” This message is echoed by a clever visual trick: One side of the flap shows silhouettes of endangered animals, but the opposite side of the flap is blank, showing a vast nothingness. The story ends on a positive note, however, explaining simple actions children can take to protect and save animals, from visiting a wildlife sanctuary to recycling paper.

“Cooking” for Mother Nature
Compost Stew is a rhyming how-to book on the importance of composting, the simple act of turning kitchen and yard waste into nutrient-rich soil. Mary McKenna Siddals’ energetic text shows how fun and easy it can be to turn “apple cores, bananas, bruised, coffee grounds with filters, used” into something “dark and crumbly, rich and sweet.” Ashley Wolff provides collage-style illustrations that portray a bustling and happy neighborhood where everyone is eager to help. Upon finishing this book, readers are bound to want to get in on the action, asking their parents about starting a compost heap. And Siddals ensures that their curiosity does not end with her book; she provides resources for aspiring composters, such as a web address with further instructions. The final page in the book is a “Chef’s Note”—or information on what (and what not) to put in a compost. (“Earth? Yes! Meaty? No! Synthetic? Stop! Natural? Go!”) This Earth Day, why not make a resolution to throw fruit peels, dryer lint and more in a compost instead of the trash can?

It’s the little things that count
We Are What We Do is a global movement to change the world one step at a time, based on the equation “small actions x lots of people = big change.” With 31 Ways to Change the World, the organization took suggestions from 4,386 children and compiled a list of earth-changing habits and activities, from “Don’t sing in the shower” (because shorter showers mean less wasted water) to “Stand up for something.” The book, which is intended for a middle-grade audience, is filled with cartoons, scribbles and photographs and has the feel of scrapbook. And it’s not all serious. Some tips, like “Talk trash to your parents,” are sure to leave kids in giggles (and energized to make a difference). The last tip in the book should be the most inspiring; readers are invited to fill in the blank with their own invented action to change the world, emphasizing the fact that saving the planet can start with you.

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