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On parchment, paper, or pixels, reading is essential to geo-literacy and good citizenship.

Illustration by Mary Crooks

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Earth Day is celebrated around the world on April 22. The relationship between people and the natural environment is a rich geographic topic, one addressed by authors of fiction, nonfiction, and memoir

Here are some books about conservation and the relationship between people and the natural environment, recommended by National Geographic staff.

Young Readers

The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss. “This book for all ages uses the geographic perspective to talk about global systems, interconnectedness, economy, and the environment.”
—Mary Crooks, illustrator

Make Way for Ducklings, by Robert McCloskey. “One of the most beautiful picture books ever published tells the story of how nature finds its way—with a little help from friendly policemen—even in the big, busy city of Boston.”
—Caryl-Sue, senior writer/editor

Young Adult

My Side of the Mountain, by Jean Craighead George. “This coming-of-age story uses a boy's daily journal to show his experiences living alone in the wilderness. His survival adventures and descriptions of the natural world are an inspiring display of youth, competence, and independence.”
—Julie Brown, ocean education specialist

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, by William Kamkwamba. “Growing up amid famine and poverty in rural Malawi, 14-year old William Kamkwamba realizes that there is one resource that is constantly available—wind. The book chronicles William's self-taught attempts to make a windmill from salvage-yard finds. The book also shows William working to improve life for his family and village, surviving starvation, and enduring attacks from enemies and the teasing of his peers for his strange ideas. An inspiring look at the human spirit and a fascinating account of overcoming a difficult life in a famine-stricken nation.”
—Kim Hulse, director (geography education programs)

A Sand County Almanac, by Aldo Leopold. “A short, nonfiction book of essays and field notes about Leopold's natural observations around his homeland in Sauk County, Wisconsin. Leopold is an advocate for ‘land ethics’ and building strong and responsible relationships between people and their natural environment. Leopold’s idea is that land is not a commodity to be possessed; rather, humans must have mutual respect for Earth in order to not destroy it."
—Heather Hoelting, intern, education programs

Indian Creek Chronicles: A Winter Alone in the Wilderness, by Pete Fromm. "Thrust forward in life helter-skelter, Fromm recounts how he left college in his junior year at the University of Montana to work for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. Fromm leaves on a romantic whim, perusing the mountain man lifestyles of Jedediah Smith and Jim Bridger for the seven months that he watched over a remote salmon hatchery in the Idaho wilderness. His official duties taking just minutes a day to complete, Fromm delves into hunting, trapping, and embracing the isolation and stark beauty of his time in the Idaho winter."
—Zach Michel, contractor (oceans)


Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver. "This book chronicles the year that Barbara Kingsolver, along with her husband and two daughters, made a commitment to become locavores—those who eat only locally grown foods. A lighthearted read written by three of the four family members who are passionate about their mission but don't take themselves too seriously, this is a great book for anybody who is interested in how their personal choices affect the world around them, budding environmentalists—or just anybody who likes to eat, because the recipes are also fantastic."
—Justine Kendall, partnerships and communications coordinator

Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism, the Belief System That Enables Us to Eat Some Animals and Not Others, by Melanie Joy. “Remember the moment in the movie Babe, where the cat purrs malevolently at our porcine hero, ‘Sometimes animals that seem to have no purpose really do have a purpose’? This book puts a name to The Way Things Are and what you can do to reject the status quo. With the book not much longer than the title, it's all the more reason to pick it up. Thoughtful, informative, life-changing.”
—Mary Schons, reporter

Students

The Pie Man, by Gerry FitzGerald. “Charlie, a successful engineer at one of the largest firms in New York, finds himself in the rugged and rural landscape of McDowell County, West Virginia. As he tries to seal the deal on a multi-million dollar coal-fired power plant, Charlie realizes that the community and culture of Red Bone, West Virginia, will be changed forever if the deal goes through.”
—Nina Page, web specialist

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon, by David Grann. “This is a nonfiction account of British explorer Percy Harrison Fawcett, who disappeared in 1925 on one of his many quests to find an ancient civilization deep in the Amazon jungle. For nearly two decades, Fawcett, unlike many of his peers, ventured into the wilderness with only the bare minimum he would need to survive. He had great respect for the Amazon and the ideals of exploration, and by the end of the book, I did, too.”
—Jeannie Evers, copy editor

Environmental Justice and Environmentalism: The Social Justice Challenge to the Environmental Movement, edited by Ronald Sandler and Phaedra C. Pezzullo. “This collection of essays gives a great introduction to the concept and history of environmental justice and how it differs from mainstream environmentalism. A must-read for anyone interested in social issues pertaining to the environment!”
—Samantha Zuhlke, contractor (oceans)


Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey. “In this 1968 literary non-fiction work, Abbey details his work as a park ranger in Utah’s Arches National Park. Abbey clearly holds the natural world in high esteem, even though he rails against humanity’s relationship with the environment. At one point, he calls wilderness ‘not a luxury, but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread.’”
—Stuart Thornton, reporter

The Geography of Childhood: Why Children Need Wild Places, by Gary Paul Nabhan and Stephen Trimble. “These two authors share their own stories, as well as observations of their children, about how and why nature becomes important during the growing years. I found myself reliving some of my own old styles of play and connection to wild places while reading. I highly recommend it.”
—Anna Switzer, program manager (outdoor and experiential education)

The Monkey Wrench Gang, by Edward Abbey. “Published in 1975, this book is basically a how-to for those who want to be, and became, eco-saboteurs. Excellent writing with thought-provoking, emotional, and often gut-wrenching views of the changes made to the environment in the name of progress and need.”
—Valerie Ostenak, artist

The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific, by J. Maarten Troost. “Nothing in the book actually relates to the title! It's a really funny take on Troost’s two-year stay on the island of Tarawa. It made me think a lot about how influenced we are by the places that are (and aren't) around us.”
—Tricia B. Kane, director (business practices)

Vocabulary

Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry

conservation

Noun

management of a natural resource to prevent exploitation, destruction, or neglect.

Encyclopedic Entry: conservation

Earth Day

Noun

April 22, an international holiday to honor the need to protect the environment.

Encyclopedic Entry: Earth Day

ecology

Noun

branch of biology that studies the relationship between living organisms and their environment.

Encyclopedic Entry: ecology

environment

Noun

conditions that surround and influence an organism or community.

fiction

Noun

media, such as books or films, that are imaginative and not true stories.

memoir

Noun

autobiography, or an account of a person's life written by that person.

nonfiction

noun, adjective

books, films, or other media that use facts and true stories.

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Producer

Caryl-Sue, National Geographic Society

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