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Take time for nature on World Environment Day — 5 June

May 26th, 2020 By Chelsea Heap

You may have stumbled upon the ‘nature is healing’ meme online and laughed at its firmly tongue-in-cheek showcase of the natural world thriving, whilst us humans were locked away in our homes. But one positive we can take from these strange times is that pollution levels did decrease, and birdsong filled the air when we slowed down our lives.

The manifesto for 2020 World Environment Day on 5 June is 'time for nature'. It urges us to consider the impact our lives have on the environment and to take the time to re-evaluate and change our habits for a more sustainable future. This blog post has some curriculum-supporting resources to help you celebrate World Environment Day in the classroom and encourage students to read and reflect.

Kea flying in the mountains
The endangered kea is the world's only alpine parrot. Image by Karl Anderson. Unsplash. License to use.

This year's theme: biodiversity

Biodiversity encompasses all the myriad of animal and plant life on Earth. June 5 is also Arbor Day in New Zealand, which boasts a long history in this country. It's a great opportunity to raise awareness of the vital role of trees and forests to life on Earth. Forest & Bird’s Kiwi Conservation Club is running a week-long event starting 5 June where young people can vote for their favourite tree.

Books detailing animal habitats make a great starting point for understanding biodiversity and how species are reliant on each other.

Sandra Morris is the author of — among other nature-related books — Discovering New Zealand Trees, which gives a good, illustrated overview of 20 native trees. Likewise, Andrew Crowe's life-size guides cover the spectrum of New Zealand flora and fauna with books on trees, ferns, insects, birds, and beach life.

Gavin Bishop's Wildlife of Aotearoa is a beautifully illustrated, large-format book, which showcases the vast array of native and introduced species in New Zealand. It seamlessly weaves in Māori myths and Māori names for creatures and is a well-deserved Storylines Notable Book.

Kauri: Witness to a Nation's History by Joanna Orwin tells the story of the great Kauri, from the Māori world to today and the ecological challenges we face to save them.

For a comparative view of habitats around the world, Rachel Ignotofsky's The Wondrous Workings of Planet Earth is a comprehensive information source for ages 8 years and above and includes an array of maps, illustrations and infographics.

For older readers, Zealandia: The Valley That Changed a Nation by James Lynch is a visionary conservation success tale. Visit the Zealandia website for further activities and resources.

Younger readers will enjoy Rock Pools by Ned Barraud, which dives into the wondrous low-tide world, while author Poppy Bishop and illustrator Jonathan Lambert take you on a globe-trotting adventure in Where in the Wild.

To complement these print resources, Science Learning Hub has an extensive collection of activities related to biodiversity for both primary and secondary levels.

Conservation

Conservation goes hand-in-hand with biodiversity. Te Ara offers a fantastic overview of conservation in New Zealand. Of particular note is their detailed summary of Kaitiakitanga — the Māori concept of guardianship and conservation.

Top of our book list for conservation is always the bilingual book Mōtītī Blue and the Oil Spill by Debbie McCauley, translated to Māori by Tamati Waaka. It recounts the disastrous effects the Rena oil spill had on the environment and the resulting mission to save the little blue penguins.

For older readers, How to Go Plastic Free: Eco Tips for Busy People by Caroline Jones is a handy little book of tips to flick through for inspiration.

World Without Fish: How Could We Let This Happen? by Mark Kurlansky is a non-fiction graphic novel on the depletion of our oceans and, more importantly, the steps we can take to save our seas.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch by Laura Perdew and The Dakota Access Pipeline by Sue Bradford look at the human impact on the environment in relation to current worldwide events.

As the situation can feel overwhelming, Conservation and You and Be a Conservationist offer children practical activities they can undertake at home or school.

Hop online to Young Ocean Explorers for more conservation fun with a distinctly New Zealand flavour.

Books to inspire action

Exciting tales of wildlife warriors help inspire the younger generation to take action.

Recently published New Zealand Nature Heroes by Gillian Candler introduces Kiwi kids to 15 home-grown heroes helping to save the environment. Chosen as another Storylines Notable Non-fiction 2020, it’s a well-recommended read with activities to boot for ages 8–14 years. Additionally, Candler has collated these online resources, which can help with further research.

Indoor Edible Garden by Zia Allaway helps readers save on food miles by growing their own.

To discover inspiring and diverse nature heroes from around the globe, there’s Earth Heroes by Lily Dyu, illustrated by Jackie Lay, and Eric Braun's Taking Action to Help the Environment.

For younger readers, non-fiction biographies told in picture book format are a simple way to introduce famous figures and concepts. Hero of the Sea by David Hill and illustrated by Phoebe Morris follows our own Sir Peter Blake. Oldie-but-goodie Elwyn’s Dream by Ali Foster and illustrated by Viv Walker tells of takahē restoration. Other popular choices are:

  • One Plastic Bag by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon, and
  • Mama Miti by Donna Jo Napoli, illustrated by Kadir Nelson.

A good step for students interested in taking action to help save the world is to become Kiwi Guardians. This Department of Conservation activity programme aims to grow future environmentalists. There are also Forest & Bird’s:

To dream

The wider issues concerning climate change can certainly feel very 'doom and gloom'. Fictional stories of children taking ‘time for nature’ can help the topic feel more relatable and manageable, as well as fun and exciting.

For younger readers, we can’t go past well-loved:

For more competent readers, we recommend:

Disaster and dystopia

In her article The failings of climate change fiction, teacher Ellen Bees provides an interesting look at why YA and junior fiction rarely feature the issue of climate change and explores examples of books that feature it using the framework of 'difficult knowledge':

To face difficult knowledge, we need to learn about the climate crisis, its causes and its impacts. Non-fiction is a useful resource for teaching scientific background, underlying causes, and solutions. However, I would argue that fiction (and non-fiction narratives) should also play a key role in teaching about climate change. Stories can act as guides. They can take knowledge that is difficult and help us digest it. Stories can show us the problem, make us care about it and point us in the right direction for dealing with it. We just need to find the right stories.

A bleak view of the future can be a rallying call to arms:

  • Breathe by Sarah Crossanfeaturesa dystopian, treeless world where only the rich can afford life-giving oxygen.
  • The Sea-Wreck Stranger by Anna Mackenzie showcases a dystopian future, with contaminated seas that leaves an island and its inhabitants cut off from the world.
  • Dry by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman is a disturbing look at a parched world where humanity quickly slips away.
  • Bad Oil and the Animals by L P Hansen is an exciting tale of teens taking on the palm oil industry in a bid to save the orangutans.
  • How to Bee by Bren McDibble is set in a world where bees are extinct. Download the Auckland Writers Festival example Book and Beyond educator guide for 'How to Bee'.

Topic Explorer digital resources

Find quality, curated resources on a range of environment-related topics to support and inspire inquiry. Each topic features a carefully selected set of national and international resources, including websites, images, videos, books, and more:

Celebrate World Environment Day

With the COVID-19 pandemic, World Environment Day is being celebrated online in many countries. Schools, communities, and individuals have an opportunity to register their sustainability initiative on the World Environment Day website and it may appear on their global map.

And be sure to let us know your favourite environmental books in the comments below.

Happy reading!

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