When Holiday House v-p and editor-in-chief Mary Cash asked her editorial staff a few years ago whether anyone wanted to collaborate on a line of environmental nonfiction, she thought one or two editors would volunteer. Instead, “I got a rewarding and enthusiastic response from seven or eight,” Cash said. The seed was planted for Holiday House’s Books for a Better Earth collection, focused on climate change solutions, scientific discovery, and youth in action. The first three titles are out now, with another due April 25 and an estimated nine titles annually. “We’re signing up books for 2025 and beyond,” Cash said. “We hope to keep this going as long as it’s needed.”
Editors began meeting every two weeks. “We talked about topics and kept a running list of things we would like to pursue,” Cash said. “We approached it almost like a magazine,” seeking good hooks for every story and creative approaches to subject matter. They saw Books for a Better Earth as a “collection,” not a series, allowing them to work across age bands, genres, and formats.
“There’s great freedom in the format,” said senior editor Sally Morgridge. “A spark of an idea comes out in conversation, we take months and months to find the right approach, and then we have to find the right person.” Associate editor Della Farrell, another participant, added, “We’re invested in science and scientific discovery, and news about climate change. Hearing how many schools incorporate climate change into their curricula, we thought, this is our time. We need to pursue this.” The collection includes everything from picture books to comics to photo-illustrated STEM titles for middle graders and older readers, emblazoned with the Books for a Better Earth logo and printed on Forest Stewardship Council-certified papers.
The team reached out to agents, tapped nonfiction authors, and looked at submissions in progress. “We were putting out calls, talking to authors, seeing what would work,” Farrell said. “I had the huge fortune of coming across a proposal from Dana Alison Levy” for a collection of profiles of diverse scientists, and a proposal about seaweed from Anita Sanchez. Both proposals had been “envisioned as standalone projects, but the connections were there, if the authors were open to it.” Farrell is also working with debut author Teddi Chichester on Corridors of Hope, a middle-grade nonfiction account of wildlife greenways that give animals and humans safe passage across roads and other built spaces.
Nonfiction author Sanchez had envisioned writing a broad appreciation of rockweed, kelp, and other varieties of seaweed around the world, but she willingly adapted it into The Forest in the Sea: Seaweed Solutions to Planetary Problems. “I’ve written books on environmentalism, including about climate change, which I found depressing,” Sanchez said. “I wanted my work to be solution-oriented.” She found a promising topic in the properties of seaweed, a humble algal organism (neither plant nor animal) “full of possibility—so many climate change solutions depend on it.” The Forest in the Sea explains the remarkable versatility of seaweed as a habitat, a nutrient-rich food source, a fertilizer, and a methane-reducer, among other things.
Levy, too, adjusted her approach to Breaking the Mold: Changing the Face of Climate Science, in which she profiles 16 diverse scientists. “When I first imagined this idea, I did not plan on only focusing on climate scientists,” Levy said. “But when I talked to Della about her vision, I understood how focusing it on climate could be powerful. I worked on this book for two years during Covid, talking to scientists in South Africa, Hawaii, Arizona, Georgia, and beyond, all from my house in New England as the fear of the future threatened to swamp us. And almost everyone told me that yes, there is a lot to worry about, but also there are reasons to be hopeful.”
Editors and Authors Join the Team
The group knew they were on to something when so many proposals aligned with the collection. Executive editor Grace Maccarone received former elementary teacher Dee Romito’s picture book The Last Plastic Straw as an agented submission that happened to fit the Books for a Better Earth theme, “so I joined the team!” she said. A former staffer at Scholastic and other kids’ magazines, Maccarone said journalism trained her to keep nonfiction accessible and lively, “with lots of visuals, and primary sources if possible.” Maccarone has four additional books signed up for the collection, including three picture books and one nonfiction comic.
In The Last Plastic Straw, illustrated by Ziyue Chen, readers learn about the history and science of drinking straws—originally made of plant stalks, later from paper, then plastic, and engineered to bend with a little help from a screw and a piece of dental floss. “There wasn’t a lot of information on straws readily available, although there is a whole collection on Joseph Friedman, the inventor of the bendy straw, at the Smithsonian,” Romito said. “On the flip side, there is a lot of information available on plastic pollution.” She visited the Library of Congress to research straw patents and advertisements, as well as to learn about microplastics, all the while thinking about how readers can change habits and spread the word.
Morgridge, who’d been on maternity leave when the collection got under way, returned in time to edit Jessica Stremer’s forthcoming picture book, Great Carrier Reef (July). Illustrated by Gordy Wright, the picture book details how a military aircraft carrier was stripped of toxins in preparation for becoming an artificial reef. “The fun part is figuring out how to sink something designed to be unsinkable,” Morgridge said. Great Carrier Reef will be a Junior Library Guild selection, with two more titles by Stremer in the works: a middle grade explainer called Fire Escape: How Animals and Plants Survive Wildfires, and a picture book slated for 2025.
Morgridge also teased her 2024 titles, one concerning ice cores as a data source and the other a primer on sustainable building by an as-yet-unnamed architect.
Appealing to STEM Audiences
Cash, who got the Books for a Better Earth collection rolling, did not sit idly by. A fan of the comics site The Nib, she reached out to artist Kate Wheeler after enjoying Wheeler’s comics about sustainability. Wheeler created Team Trash: A Time Traveler’s Guide to Sustainability with co-author Trent Huntington (June), a graphic novel whose tween protagonists stumble upon a time machine that teaches them the history of recycling just in time for a science fair.
Cash also spoke with Laurie Lawlor, author of several Holiday House titles including Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World, who wanted to write about a rural Wisconsin village that restored and reaped the benefits of a wild habitat, Eagle Nature Trail. “I spent a great deal of time interviewing early trail project organizers, teachers, volunteers, and local folks,” said Lawlor, who lives nearby. “I did detective work in local historical societies and university libraries, making use of maps, photographs, and research of Indigenous people who made this place their home.” The result is Restoring Prairie, Woods, and Pond (Apr.), a photo-illustrated documentary narrative about children and the whole community planting, watering, pulling invasive plants, and enjoying the seasons.
Associate editor Alexandra Aceves joined Holiday House in late 2021, when the project was well under way. She’d previously worked with Junior Literary Guild, curating its elementary science list. “I was not hired with the expectation I’d participate” in Books for a Better Earth, Aceves said, “but I had done a lot! I had read just about every elementary science book published at Junior Literary Guild” and had a basis for comparison.
Aceves, who was born in Mexico and is a native Spanish speaker, hopes to work on titles that consider climate change’s uneven impacts. “As someone from the Global South, I understand how the climate crisis disproportionately affects people,” she said. People in economically developing regions “experience more effects [of climate change] than they contribute, and the climate justice aspect is meaningful on a personal level for me.” Her initial books include a picture book by Christine Iverson and illustrator Marie Hermanson about the longleaf pine forest and red-cockaded woodpecker, and a middle grade book by Alison Pearce Stevens about sniffer dogs that locate invasive species. She is developing work on Indigenous agricultural practices in Mexico.
Cash is thrilled that so many editors and authors want to be a part of Books for a Better Earth, which are written to urge care for the planet from the macro to the micro level. “It’s impossible not to be thinking about climate change and how it affects kids’ mental health,” she said. “This problem is falling in their laps.” Cash acknowledges that much children’s nonfiction ends on critically endangered animals and other troubling futures, without much fresh advice or reason for hope. “We want to inspire them to feel positive and believe these are problems that can be solved” in partnership with their families, peers, and schools.