Because Earth Day should be every day, we asked four creators of environmental-themed children’s books to discuss how they inspire young people to care about the planet. Each shared the changes they hope to see in the world this April 22 and all year round, with thoughts about hands-on projects that unite communities, ideas for managing plastic pollution, and the interdependence of land, air, water, and life on Earth.

Allan Drummond

How and when did you first become interested in the zero-waste program in Kamikatsu, Japan?

A reader from California, Mary Lentz, who I have only met on Zoom, emailed me in 2020, introduced herself, and suggested Kamikatsu as a subject. I had already planned a book called “Waste Matters,” and the Kamikatsu project immediately fascinated me.

What specific elements of Kamikatsu’s zero-waste effort inspired you to write about it for children?

Asking children of any age the simple question, “Can we recycle everything?” is a brilliant way to introduce the subject of waste and sustainability. The little town of Kamikatsu asked that question of itself and aimed for a simple yet very difficult goal. The Kamikatsu story begins with the burning and dumping of trash and ends with a highly sophisticated system of recycling and reuse. Through the book we see the global picture more clearly. That’s what I aim for in all of my books: a global view realized through a local story.

How did you approach writing about Kamikatsu’s local project to encourage change and to give young readers ideas for improving their own communities?

In most Western advanced economies, our waste gets picked up and dealt with and we aren’t personally involved. But in most of the rest of the world, people burn their trash or dump it near their homes. They can’t do otherwise. Poorer, less-developed countries just can’t deal with trash the way we can. So all of us need to know about the bigger global picture. True sustainability has to be inclusive, just, and equitable the world over. That’s where the global challenge lies.

Can we get to zero waste? What truly meaningful action do you hope might be taken as a result of children (and folks of all ages) reading about this astonishing goal?

Everything to do with sustainability is difficult. Struggles and setbacks will always be encountered. But struggle makes for the best stories. True “zero waste” is impossible. Kamikatsu gets to 80%, which is incredible, and it is enough to make a huge difference. It is a goal we should all be aiming for.

Zero Waste: How One Community Is Leading a World Recycling Revolution by Allan Drummond. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $19.99 Mar. ISBN 978-0-374-38840-9

K.L. Going

How and when did you first become interested in the interconnectedness of life on our planet, the subject of This Is the Planet Where I Live?

My father is a biologist, so I grew up with a love of nature. I could name all the local plants, trees, and birds at a young age. My very first poem—written in first grade and proudly displayed on my dad’s bulletin board at work—was about an owl. Growing up in a rural area, the interconnectedness of life is all around, and I knew that this was a tremendous gift, not to be taken for granted.

You modeled This Is the Planet Where I Live after “This Is the House That Jack Built.” What specific details of our planetary network inspired you to write your book in this style?

This book was inspired by a line from Joseph Campbell’s writing, where he talked about shifting our way of thinking away from identifying with nations and towards identifying with the planet as a whole. The style of “This Is the House That Jack Built” fit perfectly with this message because of the repetition of the line, “This is the planet where I live,” followed by “Here are the people who share the planet where I live,” and so on. Debra Frasier's incredible illustrations offer detailed variety and provide a sense of everything being part of one whole.

How did you approach the concept of our mutual interdependence to encourage change and give young readers ideas for improving their own communities?

There are many lines from the book that highlight interdependence, but I think the ending lines are the most impactful where this is concerned: “Animals, fields, shelter for friends, every creature alive, on each other depends—all on the planet where we live." When writing for the picture book audience, my goal was to help them see that they are part of a community and that community is our whole planet.

What truly meaningful action do you hope might be taken as a result of children (and folks of all ages) reading your book?

I’m ambitious! I hope for hundreds of meaningful actions—small shifts that will reflect readers being more kind to each other, to animals, and to our planet. Children are often the driving force behind the adults in their lives making meaningful changes. My son recently decided to cut back on the amount of meat that he eats, eliminating red meat entirely. He was inspired by researching an essay for a school assignment, and his inspiration has led to a concrete change for our entire family. My hope would be that as teachers, parents, and children read this book and talk about what it means to share this planet, a new awareness will blossom and grow with time.

This Is the Planet Where I Live by K.L. Going, illus. by Debra Frasier. S&S/Beach Lane, $18.99 Mar. ISBN 978-1-4814-6563-2

Jennie Romer

You’re a lawyer and sustainability expert who works for the Environmental Protection Agency. How and when did you first become interested in recycling and single-use plastics?

I grew up in California, where recycling and environmentalism were part of my routine from an early age. I loved going to the recycling center in El Cerrito to explore the magazine bin! One of my undergraduate degrees is in environmental studies, and I was taking a lot of oceanography classes at the time, but single-use plastics weren’t on my radar. There was very little mention of plastic pollution, and it was right around the time of the discovery of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It wasn’t until law school that I delved into how recycling works and became an expert on plastic-bag laws. I worked at the Surfrider Foundation for a few years, overseeing their Plastic Pollution Initiative. Currently I serve as the deputy assistant administrator for pollution prevention at the EPA.

You created the first edition of Can I Recycle This? for an all-ages audience, and it’s been available since April 2021. What specific details of reducing, reusing, and recycling inspired you to write about these systems for children?

Touring recycling facilities and getting to see all the machinery is a great way to get a sense of how our recyclables are sorted. I like to take readers on a journey with me through those systems to see that small items like bottle caps fall through the cracks of the disc screens and how plastic bags and garden hoses become “tanglers” in the machinery. After learning about how recycling works, readers start to get an understanding of the limits of recycling, especially for single-use plastics. Then I talk about the importance of reduction and reuse.

How did you approach the topic of recycling—especially single-use plastics—to encourage change and to give young readers ideas for improving their own communities?

I encourage their curiosity on the subject by suggesting additional resources and activities. Recycling is the starting point because people of all ages like to get involved with it, but the overall book is really focused on moving towards reduction and reuse–and engaging in their community. I’ve read the book at a few public library storytimes, and talking with kids about reduction and reuse ideas has been very fun!

What truly meaningful action do you hope might be taken as a result of children (and folks of all ages) reading your book?

One big take-home is that many single-use plastic items—including forks, straws, and bags—are not recyclable, so the best option is to reduce them whenever you can. I like to say, “Bring your own everything!,” pay more attention to packaging, and get involved locally if you have time. You’ll learn to be a great recycling monitor!

Can I Recycle This?: A Kid’s Guide to Better Recycling and How to Reduce Single-Use Plastics by Jennie Romer, illus. by Christie Young. Viking, $22 Mar. ISBN 978-0-1431-3567-8

Dee Romito

How did you first become interested in the history of drinking straws and the problem with plastic ones?

I came across an article about plastic straws on National Drinking Straw Day (January 3!) that had a little bit about their history. It was enough to get me interested, and the more I researched, the more I saw how big the plastic problem has become and how single-use items like plastic straws and plastic bags are contributing to this crisis. I wanted to do something to make a difference and to share what I’d learned.

What specific details of this history inspired you to write about drinking straws for children?

The detail that hooked me and made me realize there was a story to tell was when I learned about Joseph Friedman. He invented the bendy straw one day at a soda shop because his daughter couldn’t reach the top of her milkshake! The idea of a simple problem leading to a clever solution gave me a way to make it accessible for kids.

How did you approach the issue of plastic pollution, and straws in particular, to encourage change and to give young readers ideas for improving their own communities?

Since straws are not the only problem when it comes to plastic pollution, I widened the scope to single-use plastics. One of the most important aspects of inspiring change is increasing awareness, and when kids become aware of what’s happening to their oceans and their earth, they want to do something about it. While it will take a large effort on the part of consumers, businesses, and governments to make things better, all of that starts with the things each of us can do. It was important to me and my editor [Grace Maccarone] to include actionable steps that kids could take to lead the way toward a planet with less plastic.

Will there ever be a last plastic straw? What truly meaningful action do you hope might be taken as a result of children (and folks of all ages) reading your book?

We can drastically reduce the use of straws until consumers and companies start using alternatives instead. Activism and consumer demand play such important roles in paving the way for change, and we’ve seen that happen as major hotels, airlines, aquariums, theme parks, and governments are committing to using alternatives to plastic. I hope The Last Plastic Straw will inspire readers of all ages to learn more about protecting the environment and share that knowledge with others. Individually, the mindset of “the last plastic straw you’ll use” makes each of us more environmentally conscious of our choices. That is where change begins.

The Last Plastic Straw: A Plastic Problem and Finding Ways to Fix It by Dee Romito, illus. by Ziyue Chen. Holiday House, $18.99 Feb. ISBN 978-0-8234-4949-1