Literacy and learning through a global book series on climate change

Integrating expository nonfiction books into literacy lessons provides opportunities to learn about climate change while supporting literacy development.

September 21, 2021 by Christabel Pinto, Room to Read
4 minutes read
Landscape of fields and homes. Indonesia.
Landscape of fields and homes. Indonesia.
Credit: Curt Carnemark/World Bank

The wildfire season is under way in California, USA. As a resident, I am prepared for hazy skies, raining ash, the smell of burning wood, poor air quality and restricted outdoor activities.

More than half of the land being burned in the western United States can be attributed to climate change as the increase in the number of hot, dry and windy days caused by global warming have fostered a more favorable fire environment.

The latest report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), that draws on more than 14,000 scientific studies, says that human activities are “unequivocally” to blame for climate change.

Young activists for a livable planet

Young people are not responsible for climate change, but they will experience the worst of its effects as extreme weather events, droughts, floods, heat waves and massive wildfires increase in both frequency and severity across the planet. This unfortunate fact is not lost on them as youth around the world have raised their formidable voices to ensure they will have a future on a livable planet.

Education is the foundation of advocacy related to climate change. Sustainable Development Goal 13 focuses on “urgent action to combat climate change” and specifies the need to “improve education [and] awareness-raising” on the issue.

Schools can ensure that students and their communities have the necessary knowledge about the climate crisis to demand that elected officials hold corporations accountable for prioritizing profits over the health of the planet.

Global book series on climate change

Room to Read is developing a global series of expository nonfiction books that support children’s literacy development with engaging informational text while also teaching them about climate change.

An author from each participating country highlights a local issue related to climate change, from the loss of biodiversity in Nepal, to the melting snowcap of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, to the drying up of the Mekong delta in Vietnam, and the effects of deforestation in Indonesia.

While each book is originally created in the language of the author, the full series will be versioned across all languages so that children in all countries of distribution will be able to read about the impact of climate change in different parts of the world.

English translations of the book cover pages from Nepal, Tanzania, Vietnam, and Indonesia
English translations of the book cover pages from Nepal, Tanzania, Vietnam, and Indonesia.

Expository nonfiction supports literacy development and knowledge building

Engaging nonfiction books remain a gap in book collections for children in the early grades around the world, even though children will increasingly need to learn from informational text to successfully progress through school.

Informational text is the type of writing that we encounter most in our daily lives, so it is critically important in literacy instruction.

In addition to the benefits for literacy development, nonfiction books about climate change connect schooling to children’s experiences of the real world and empower them to be informed citizens.

Expository writing explains, describes and informs, with the assumption that the reader does not have prior understanding of the topic being addressed.

These books organize information systematically and invitingly, using features like a contents page to divide the information into sections, labelled diagrams to illustrate concepts, a glossary with new vocabulary, and photographs of the real world.

“Contents” page and “Amazing trees” chapter from Lungs of the World by Nindia Maya
“Contents” page and “Amazing trees” chapter from Lungs of the World by Nindia Maya
“Where is the snow going?” chapter from The Vanishing White Summit of Kilimanjaro by Revocatus Kundy
“Where is the snow going?” chapter from The Vanishing White Summit of Kilimanjaro by Revocatus Kundy

Climate justice

Every book in the series ends with a chapter focused on actions children can take in response to climate change. Generating content for these chapters is challenging because the children and communities for whom these books have been developed have disproportionately low responsibility for the emissions that cause climate change.

While actions children can take are important, the climate crisis has been caused by corporations that are responsible for the majority of the greenhouse gas emissions, and governments that have not held them accountable.

“What can we do?” chapter from The Rivers are Thirsty by Phuong Huyen
“What can we do?” chapter from The Rivers are Thirsty by Phuong Huyen

For me, the annual wildfire season in California has meant cancelled camping trips, investing in an air purifier, and staying indoors when the air quality is hazardous. My experience of the effects of climate change has been mildly inconveniencing at worst.

This privileged position contrasts with the many people whose health, livelihoods, homes, and survival have been jeopardized by global warming. The impacts of climate change are neither equal nor distributed equally, with historically marginalized or underserved communities facing the worst of its effects. This fact needs to be at the core of educating about climate change.

Vision for global citizens

A globally developed book series on climate change teaches children that the effects of climate change are diverse and without borders. Human activities in one part of the world can contribute to catastrophic consequences somewhere else, so we share a collective responsibility for a planet that is our home.

This increased awareness of the wider world and one’s place in it is at the heart of global citizenship.

Integrating engaging nonfiction books in literacy instruction helps children to gain the knowledge they need to advocate for a more just and sustainable world as global citizens.


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Climate change, Literacy

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Wonderful initiative by Room to Read. This is what 'quality education' should really be about. Thanks for this, Christabel! (A bit late, i realise - but only just saw it!)

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