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Dr. Seuss' truffula-tree-hugging Lorax is one of the most recognizable icons of children's literature, but he's become a member of a dying breed. According to a study released last week, environmental messages—or even depictions of nature at all—have largely gone missing from kids' books. Meanwhile, the much-beloved Lorax is the subject of a poorly reviewed movie out today, and environmentalists are furious that the character is being used to sell a Mazda SUV (complete with a "Certified Truffula Tree Friendly" seal of approval).
But it's not all bad news—there are still plenty of classic environmental kids' books out there that remain untainted by bad filmmaking and commercialization. Here are five of our favorites:
The Giving Tree
by Shel Silverstein
64 pages. Harper & Row. $10.90
A classic favorite for many, Shel Silverstein's classic poem about a tree who loved a little boy is saturated with themes of sacrifice, a mother's love, and growing up. The tree is willing to give the child anything and everything she can possibly—shade, apples, branches, and, finally, her trunk. The simple story sheds light on man's sometimes heartbreaking relationship with nature.
The Curious Garden
by Peter Brown
40 pages. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. $10.36
Peter Brown's tale is an inspiration to young green thumbs everywhere. Readers follow the adventures of a red-headed boy named Liam, who lives in a smog-drenched cement jungle. In this city, plants do not exist. But as the story's hopeful and curious hero traipses around his urban setting looking for adventure, he stumbles upon withering plants on a set of abandoned railroad tracks. As Liam nurses the plants back to health, the "curious garden" blooms and transforms the dreary, cement town—filling it with life.
The Tiny Seed
by Eric Carle
36 pages. Little Simon. $7.99
In typical Eric Carle style, The Tiny Seed is full of vivid collages that are used to teach readers about the natural process of how a seedling becomes a flower. The mini-picture book doesn't sugarcoat the difficult and often perilous life cycle of an annual, showing seeds falling into water, getting eaten by birds, and being trampled on by humans. The ones that succeed end up blooming into beautiful flowers. Carle's story not only illuminates the seed's fight for life, but also beautifully illustrates the role of seasons, elements, and plant development.
The Wump World
by Bill Peet
48 pages. Sandpiper. $8.95
Bill Peet welcomes readers into an imaginary, meadow-filled planet that belongs to the Wumps, a docile group of four-legged creatures that like to graze on grass. The Wumps' peace is interrupted when a new species of two-legged creatures (that look pretty human) called "the Pollutians" take over the Wump World, where they live up to their name by tearing apart every hint of green, destroying resources, and industrializing the nature-filled planet into a cement wasteland. Still, Peet's message remains hopeful: Nature can rise again, he concludes.
Winston of Churchill: One Bear's Battle Against Global Warming
by Jean Davies Okimoto
32 pages. Sasquatch Books. $13.77
Okimoto tackles issues of global warming and melting ice caps through a the lens of a great white polar bear named Winston, who lives in Churchill, Manitoba. As tourist season draws near, Winston notices his home is melting—and by channeling the spirit of Winston Churchill, he rallies his fellow bears to stage a protest to convince human tourists to save their home.