Books that feature diverse characters are critical for increasing representation in environmental education. As BJ Epstein, a senior lecturer in literature and public engagement at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom, explains: “We know that children's books can act like both mirrors and windows on the world Mirrors in that they can reflect on children's own lives, and windows in that they can give children a chance to learn about someone else's life. We also know that this type of self-reflection and opportunity to read or hear about different lives is essential for young people.”
To honor Black History Month and help teachers offer diverse representation for their students, we've collected a few children’s books that will complement Project WET lessons at the elementary and early childhood level:
"In this Caldecott Award-winning book, a small boy named Peter experiences the joy of a snowy day. First published in 1962, this now-classic book broke the color barrier in mainstream children’s publishing. The vivid and ageless illustrations and text, beloved by several generations of readers, have earned a place in the pantheon of great American children’s literature."
For early elementary students learning that everyone needs water to live, there’s The Water Princess by Susan Verde, based on the life of supermodel Georgie Badiel, who was born in Burkina Faso.
"Inspired by the childhood of African–born model Georgie Badiel, acclaimed author Susan Verde and award-winning author/illustrator Peter H. Reynolds have come together to tell this moving story. As a child in Burkina Faso, Georgie and the other girls in her village had to walk for miles each day to collect water. This vibrant, engaging picture book sheds light on this struggle that continues all over the world today, instilling hope for a future when all children will have access to clean drinking water."
Add elements of history and social studies to lessons about hydration and water infrastructure with White Water, by Michael S. Bandy and Eric Stein.
"Narrator Michael normally accepts the familiar trappings of the Jim Crow South—giving up a seat at the bus stop and on the bus and drinking from separate water fountains. When Michael drinks from his assigned fountain, he finds the water warm and nasty. Next to him, a white boy drinks for a long time, convincing Michael that the white water is superior to his. Michael cannot stop thinking about that delicious white water and comes up with a way to taste it for himself. When reality hits—the same pipe feeds water to both fountains—Michael begins to wonder what other lies he has believed."
When discussing water-related natural disasters and climate resilience with elementary students, consider A Place Where Hurricanes Happen by Renee Watson.
"New Orleans is known as a place where hurricanes happen . . . but that’s just one side of the story. Children of New Orleans tell about their experiences of Hurricane Katrina through poignant and straightforward free verse in this fictional account of the storm. As natural and man-made disasters become commonplace, we increasingly need books like this one to help children contextualize and discuss difficult and often tragic events."
Children learning about water and the world around them should see themselves reflected and recognize the experiences of others—during Black History Month and all year round. We hope this list is helpful, and we welcome your suggestions for additions on Twitter and Facebook, or via email.