The best middle-grade/young adult environmental fantasy books

The Books I Picked & Why

Heartwood

By Pollyanna Darling, Kirsty Chalmers

Book cover of Heartwood

Why this book?

A fable about forest creatures coming together and putting differences aside to save their home from the Smashbasher. This book is an early chapter book for 7-9-year-olds and includes beautiful illustrations. The trees have names and are inhabited by various creatures. Heartwood will bring children closer to the magic of the forest and nature. 

I recommend this book because I live in the redwood forest and love trees myself. The book captures the essence of the magic we feel when we enter an unspoiled forest, and how important it is to protect these sacred and life-giving places. The fact that the only way for the forest creatures to save their home is to find their similarities and work together strikes me as particularly relevant today.


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Emma Oliver and the Song of Creation

By Susan Elizabeth Hale

Book cover of Emma Oliver and the Song of Creation

Why this book?

Soon to be a musical, this enchanting story is about an eleven-year-old girl who doesn’t know she can sing until she gets to know an oak tree in her garden, Annie Oakly, who becomes her best friend and is actually a tree spirit. As the story unfolds, and Emma is confronted with family troubles, she learns of her own vital role in saving the trees; Emma must sing! 

I’m recommending this book because of my own love for both trees and music. In fact, I often sing to the redwoods where I live and sometimes imagine they are singing along with their rustling squeaks and creaks. The author tells a story grounded in everyday problems, such as living with a grandmother with dementia, while bringing the fantastical and magical world of nature vividly alive.


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The Word for World Is Forest

By Ursula K. Le Guin

Book cover of The Word for World Is Forest

Why this book?

Ursula K. Le Guin is one of my favorite writers. The story reminds me a bit of the movie, Avatar, in that a peaceful earth-loving society is being taken over by a group that enslaves them and exploits their resources. I love trees and so the title of this classic attracts me right off. Le Guin explores ideas of how to stand up to oppression and environmental and cultural destruction without losing the most precious parts of ourselves, our communities, and our natural environment. 


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A Long Walk to Water

By Linda Sue Park

Book cover of A Long Walk to Water

Why this book?

Living in California, where droughts are becoming increasingly common, I was deeply moved reading this story of a Sudanese girl, Nya, who has to walk two hours every day to a pond to fetch water. My heart was also touched reading about the second main character, a homeless boy named Salva who loses his parents to war. There are so many homeless people everywhere now, and Salva’s true story of courage and persistence gave me hope that with kindness and help, even the most challenging situations can be solved. 


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My Side of the Mountain

By Jean Craighead George

Book cover of My Side of the Mountain

Why this book?

This classic story of a boy running away to the Catskill Mountains and surviving on his own in the wilderness has stayed in my mind for years. Camping in the mountains of California with my comfortable sleeping bag and tent is so much different than reading about Sam Gribley, who brings only his knife, flint, and steel to light fires, some rope, and his ingenuity. Sam bonds with a falcon who helps him survive the harsh winter, which he spends living in a hollowed out log. 


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