Learning about global warming and sustainability doesn’t have to be dry and boring. Get lost in the novels listed on our Best Environmental Fiction page. These great works of environmental literature will captivate and transform your way of viewing our environment.
Table of Contents
Best Environmental Fiction for Adults
The Monkey Wrench Gang, by Edward Abbey
Edward Abbey’s classic, raunchy novel The Monkey Wrench Gang, tells the story of four crazed misfits as they seek to destroy the corporations that turned America into a mined, manufactured, paved oasis.
George Washington Hayduke III returns from war and is shocked to find the dramatic changes in the American West wrought by corporate development. Abbey’s account of Hayduke and his gang’s tear through the American West is filled with equal parts hilarious absurdity and serious introspection on the human ravages of nature. In an original, 1976 review, Jim Harrison at The New York Times commends the characters and subjects of The Monkey Wrench Gang: “They are all plausible, sympathetic, in their sometimes comic torments, and Abbey renders them as convincingly as he does the landscape with all the breathless intensity of a true desolation angel.”
The Year of the Flood, by Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood is the dramatic, intriguing second book of her MaddAddam trilogy (though it’s not necessary to have read the first book, Oryx and Crake.)The two protagonists, Ren and Toby, are rare survivors after a waterless flood has destroyed most of Earth’s natural resources and human lives. Like Atwood’s other books, The Year of the Flood extrapolates “imaginatively from current trends and events to a near-future that’s half prediction, half satire,” writes Ursula Le Guin.
Jeanette Winterson of the New York Times praises Atwood’s much-deserved genius: “it’s like one of those mirrors made with mercury that gives us both a deepening and a distorting effect, allowing both the depths of human nature and its potential mutations.” The Year of the Flood is a thoroughly riveting, chaotic story that forces its readers to look beyond the narrative on the page.
The Drowned World: A Novel, by J.G. Ballard
This special, 50th Anniversary of J.G. Ballard’s legendary fiction book first published in 1962, A Drowned World tells the story of London in 2145 after global warming has melted the ice caps and nature has taken over the city. Drowned World follows renowned biologist Dr. Robert Kearns and his team as they attempt to maintain their sense of humanity while trying to save humankind, amidst primordial creatures and dramatic landscapes. A review from a 1963 publication of The Guardian praises Ballard’s creativity: “the main action is in the deeper reaches of the mind…The book blazes with images, striking and continuously meaningful.” The Drowned World is otherworldly and fantastical, yet it successfully reminds us of the imagined earth after climate change ravages it.
Flight Behavior, by Barbara Kingsolver
Named 2012’s “Best Book of the Year” by USA Today and the Washington Post, Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver is a beautifully wrought, dramatic novel about a bored young housewife whose accidental discovery changes her life as well as the lives of those around her.
Dellarobia Turnbow is a discontented mother and wife living in Appalachia, who, while on her way to beginning an affair, stumbles across millions of monarch butterflies in a valley. Her discovery plummets Turnbow into a competitive world of “religious leaders, climate scientists, environmentalists, politicians,” while simultaneously enlightening the reader to the paramount issues of climate change.
National Public Radio’s review lauds Flight Behavior as a novel that “extols the ecstasy of passionate engagement — with people, ideas and the environment,” and praises its gentle, elegant honesty.
Prodigal Summer, by Barbara Kingsolver
Filled with romance, intrigue, and timely nods to ecological crises, bestseller Barbara Kingsolver’s novel Prodigal Summer tells the interwoven stories of three characters in southern Appalachia. Throughout their dramatic narratived, Kingsolver works in complex environmental issues such as the use of herbicides and tobacco farming.
Publishers Weekly raves that readers will “respond to the sympathy with which she reflects the difficult lives of people struggling on the hard edge of poverty while tied intimately to the natural world and engaged an elemental search for dignity and human connection.” As usual, Kingsolver’s prose is elegant and aware, and Prodigal Summer is a nod to how the environment works its way into all of our persona lives.
The Wall, by John Lanchester
John Lanchester’s dystopian novel The Wall focuses on an unnamed island—assumed to represent Great Britain—whose residents have built a perimeter long wall to protect themselves from a dangerous entity called the Change. The story follows Joseph Kavanaugh, an assigned ‘Defender’ of the wall, as he tries to protect his section of the wall from the effects of the Change, which includes rising sea levels, increased immigration, and extreme weather. Alec Nevala-Lee at The New York Times writes of Lanchester: “Lanchester constructs a more elegant wall in prose than any politician could in concrete,” reminding us of both the current political and climate importance that the book carries.
The Overstory, by Richard Powers
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in fiction and William Dean Howells Medal, in addition to spending over a year on the New York Times bestseller list, The Overstory by Richard Powers is a compelling epic that weaves together tales and characters in a dramatic vision of our future (and past). The book follows nine main characters, eight of whom follow paths that lead to environmental activism. Although the arguments and methods they use are all different, they all echo the realistic and dire need for change. Barbara Kingsolver at The New York Times writes about Powers’s prose: “Using the tools of story, he pulls readers heart-first into a perspective so much longer-lived and more subtly developed than the human purview that we gain glimpses of a vast, primordial sensibility while watching our own kind get whittled down to size.” The Overstory has amassed awards, prizes, and much critical praise. It is beautifully written, deeply insightful, and important work in environmental fiction.
Salvage the Bones, by Jesmyn Ward
A 2011 National Book of the Year recipient, Salvage the Bones is about a family living in poverty in rural Mississippi in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina. It tells the story of Esch, pregnant at 14, as she and her three brothers struggle alone to prepare for the hurricane. Parul Senghal at The New York Times writes that Salvage the Bones “is a taut, wily novel, smartly plotted and voluptuously written. It feels fresh and urgent, but it’s an ancient, archetypal tale.” Jesmyn Ward is a gifted writer who combines sorrow with love, rage with tenderness, and whose portrayal of human emotions is utterly genuine.
Best Environmental Fiction for Children
Young Children: Toddler – 6 Years
The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss
Dr. Seuss’s beloved story The Lorax tells of a fuzzy orange environmental crusader, The Lorax, who tries to convince the Once-ler, who represents the consumer industry, to stop cutting down trees to make a profit.
The Once-ler is naively greedy and manages to decimate his natural resources in the course of the story, but The Lorax is ultimately an uplifting tale where a young child regenerates life with a single, simple act. Offering hope to readers young and old, USA Today writes that “The Lorax. . . has been a perennial favorite of kids and parents since it was published in 1971.” This is definitely a book to add to your Best Environmental Books library.
Blue Floats Away, by Travis Jonker and Grant Snider
Blue Floats Away is the story of Little Blue, an iceberg who floats away from his parents and goes on an exciting journey through the water cycle. He meets new animals and sees new places as he shrinks and melts into water, then turns into a cloud and eventually back into a snowflake. Author Travis Jonker tells an important story about growing up, while subtly highlighting the issues of global warming and educating his young readers about the natural water cycle.
Kirkus Reviews writes about Blue Floats Away: “Dazzling illustrations, created with cut paper, colored pencil, and white ink, will hold kids’ rapt attention while they hear, wide-eyed, about Blue’s destiny.”
The Lonely Polar Bear, by Khoa Lee
Written and illustrated by artist Khoa Lee, The Lonely Polar Bear tells the story of a young polar bear that wakes up after a storm without his mother, but soon encounters a little girl and various other animals. It is a gentle introduction to the topic of climate change and global warming, specifically in arctic environments, with beautiful whimsical illustrations.
The Tree in Me, by Corinna Luyken
New York Times bestseller Corinna Luyken’s dreamlike book, The Tree in Me, celebrates the wonder of nature. With beautiful watercolor illustrations, The Tree in Me depicts scenes of children reveling in nature—forests, gardens, skies, and enjoying food from the earth.
Kirkus Reviews calls The Tree in Me a “celebration of humankind’s connection to the natural world, as a child joyfully observes how a tree—and all the elements that allow it to flourish—lives on in people.” Instead of favoring a narrative depiction, The Tree in Me shows its young readers the natural beauty that exists in the world and teaches them to how to celebrate and enjoy it.
Zonia’s Rainforest, by Juana Martinez-Neal
Zonia’s Rainforest tells the story of Zonia, a young Asháninka girl living in the Amazon rainforest. She has a special connection with the rainforest, with which she communicates every day, and where she meets and plays with her animal friends. One day, however, the rainforest asks Zonia for help and she is quick to respond.
Zonia’s Rainforest is beautifully illustrated by acclaimed author-artist Juana Martinez-Neal and offers young readers a delightful introduction to the implications of climate change on our natural world.
Winston of Churchill: One Bear’s Battle Against Global Warming, Jean Davies Okimoto
Winston is a polar bear living in Churchill, Manitoba. Known as the “polar bear capital of the world” Manitoba is visited by hundreds of tourists every year. One year, Winston notices that he and his fellow polar bears are losing their homes due to global warming and melting ice caps, so he rallies the animals together to help educate the tourists. Along the way, however, Winston realizes that he himself isn’t perfect, and he must understand his own role in the warming environment.
Winston of Churchill is a fun read for young learners to help them learn about responsibility and the importance of protecting our environment.
What is a River?, by Monika Vaicenaviciene
Written and illustrated by Monika Vaicenaviciene, What is a River? invites the reader into a conversation between a child and her grandmother about what is a river. The book not only answers the question factually, but also includes elements of mythical history, wonder, and even magical creatures.
By focusing on rivers, Vaicenaviciene provides her reader with an in-depth and unique perspective on this often forgotten life source, and she achieves it quite poetically—she said in an interview that she wants her readers “to reach faraway places and times by means of imagination.”
Young Readers: Ages 6 – 8
The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge, by Joanna Cole; illustrated by Bruce Degen
Mrs. Frizzle is back with her time traveling, planet-hopping school bus, and this time she’s showing her enthusiastic students how the earth has changed since global warming, and how the younger generations can help. The Magic School Bus tells an honest, as always, fun story that’s full of vibrant and detailed drawings. As Kirkus Reviews says of Cole and Degen’s work: “it’s a tested formula that’s still as effective as ever for cluing in younger readers with a mix of instruction and droll side remarks.”
Middle Grades: Ages 8 – 12
How We Know What We Know About Our Changing Climate: Scientists and Kids Explore Global Warming, by Lynne Cherry and Gary Braasch
Intended to help answer children’s unending trains of “why?” questions, Lynne Cherry’s and Gary Braasch’s How We Know What We Know looks at data and evidence from all over the world to show that the climate is actually changing. The authors’ writing is positive and gives children (and the adults helping them read the book) helpful tips that they can use to help the environment. How We Know What We Know is more advanced than the other books in this category, though it does include fun charts and many photos.
One Earth: People of Color Protecting Our Planet, by Anuradha Rao
In One Earth, author and biologist Anuradha Rao takes a trip around the world to interview and research individuals of all different ethnicities. Rao highlights the profiles of People of Color activists to demonstrate the significance of the intersection between culture and the environment.
Kirkus Reviews calls One Earth a “thought-provoking reading for young people figuring out their own contributions. This valuable compilation shows that Earth’s salvation lies in the diversity of its people.” Rao takes readers on a life-affirming journey and introduces us to an array of wildly creative people of all ages. The stories are accompanied by photographs, illustrations, and fun facts. One Earth is a testament to the innovation and power of people to effect transformative change.
The Last Wild, by Piers Torday
The Last Wild is the first in The Last Wild trilogy about 12-year-old Kester Jaynes who exists in a world where all animals are slowly becoming extinct. Kester, who barely speaks, is trapped in a home for troubled children when a flock of pigeons and a cockroach bust him out one night. It is then that he discovers that he can talk to animals. Kester and his human friend Polly embark on an adventure with their funny animal guides to try to save the different species.
Publishers Weekly writes: “Torday’s story is alternately somber, thrilling, and silly, filled with eccentric human and animal characters with distinctive voices.”
Young Adult: Ages 12 – 18
Exodus, by Julie Bertagna
Julie Bertagna’s dystopian novel, Exodus, takes place in the year 2099, when global warming has caused ocean levels to rise and submerge island after island. 15-year-old Mara and her community must flee their sinking island by boat, undertaking a harrowing journey towards metropolitan cities built on top of sunken islands. Of course, simply starting a new life isn’t easy, and Mara and her family need to be resourceful and clever about finding their way onto the island to start a new life. Exodus is an exciting tale packed with adventure and information, and a must-read for the young environmentalist looking to be inspired.
Love in the Time of Global Warming, by Francesca Lia Block
Love in the Time of Global Warming tells the story of 17-year-old Penelope (Pen), who has lost her family and her home to an earthquake, and her journey across a dark, mysterious landscape to find the reason for her world’s destruction.
Publishers Weekly states about Francesca Lia Block’s writing: “Literary-minded readers will enjoy teasing out the allusions to Homer—and possibly even The Wizard of Oz—but knowledge of the classics is not a requirement to be swept up in the tatterdemalion beauty of the story’s lavish, looping language.” Pen finds romance, danger, and her own power as she tries to salvage what she can of the world.
It’s Getting Hot in Here by Bridget Heos is a fun, informative guide for teenage readers on the different facets of global warming and how it manifests in the natural world and for us as human beings.
Kirkus Reviews calls the book a “comprehensive introduction to the scientific history and current understandings about climate change.” Heos manages to convey important environmental information to a young adult reader without condescension, and the book features helpful graphics and beautiful photography.
Where Have All the Bees Gone? Pollinators in Crisis, by Rebecca Hirsch
Where Have All the Bees Gone? by Rebecca Hirsch is a concise and helpful answer to questions we all have about why bees are so important to the earth’s and our health, and what we can do to help. J.B. Petty at Booklist comments about Where Have All the Bees Gone: “Color photographs and specialized text inserts enhance the narrative. Detailed source notes, a selected bibliography, and further readings give additional valuable information. An important resource for all libraries.” Hirsch’s writing is informative but ultimately hopeful and is a great read for kids and adults alike.