A Mighty Girl's top picks of books for children about trailblazing female environmentalists of the past and present.
With April's Earth Month comes a special opportunity to teach kids about the people all around the world doing important work to care for our environment and the life within it! In addition to the day-to-day activities that we can all do to reduce our impact on the planet, it's important to recognize the scientists and activists, both past and present, who have encouraged us to see our planet in a new way: not as a set of resources for us to extract when we please, but as a precious and delicate system that sustains all life that we must strive to protect.
In this blog post, we're sharing books for children and teens about twenty female environmentalists who changed the way that we think and act toward the Earth. These women made groundbreaking discoveries, fought for meaningful change to laws and policies, and shared their outlook — and their joy in nature — with the world. They're sure to inspire kids to look at the world outside their front door with newfound appreciation and think about ways they can help protect the planet!
For more Mighty Girl books about environmental issues, including many fictional stories, visit our special feature on the Top Children's Books on the Environment.
Books About Female Environmentalists
Jane Goodall started making discoveries as a child, thanks to her patience and dedication: she was a watcher. So when she was invited to study chimps in Tanzania by Louis Leakey, she devoted the same skills to watching them. And, she not only learned a lot about these primates, but she also learned a lot about how the destruction of their habitat was affecting them. Goodall became a crusader for conservation, sharing the chimps' remarkable stories — and their plight — with the world. This portrait by author/illustrator Jeanette Winter captures the significance of both Goodall's primatology work and her conservation efforts. For more inspiring picture books about Jane Goodall, check out Me...Jane for ages 3 to 8, I Am Jane Goodall for ages 4 to 8, and Jane Goodall (Little People, Big Dreams) for ages 5 to 8. For more books and resources about Goodall for all ages, visit our Jane Goodall Collection.
From the moment she saw a shark at the New York Aquarium, Eugenie Clark was fascinated, but the rest of the world thought that sharks were mindless eating machines — and that girls couldn't be scientists. Clark devoted her life to learning about sharks, and proved that sharks weren't as dangerous as people feared. She even proved they could learn! She also built public support for the protection of her beloved sharks and the ocean in which they lived. This picture book biography of the "Shark Lady" is a celebration of a daring woman who changed the way the world saw one of the ocean's most famous inhabitants.
Katherine Olivia Sessions grew up in Northern California, among tall pines and redwoods, and couldn't imagine living in a place without trees. But when she moved to the dry desert town of San Diego to work as a teacher, she discovered that there were almost no trees there. So she decided that her new city could use more than a hint of green and started a massive movement that transformed the town into the green, garden-filled oasis it is today. This beautiful story about a women who brought trees to a place where no one expected to find them is sure to inspire kids to make their own communities a little more green.
As a young girl swimming in the Gulf of Mexico, Sylvia Earle developed a passion for the sea and the life within it. As an adult, she dove even deeper into the subject — literally! From designing new submersibles to swimming with the whales to deep-water walks in special dive suits, Earle has explored one of the most mysterious places still left on Earth; our vast oceans. And as Time Magazine's first Hero for the Planet — who is affectionately referred to as the Sturgeon General by colleagues — she is one of the most passionate voices for protecting what she calls "the blue heart of the planet." This exquisite picture book biography will fascinate young readers and spark their interest in learning more about Earle and the deep blue sea she has worked so long to protect.
As a shy young woman, Rachel Carson found joy and purpose in studying the creatures all around her. Her articles and books about marine life made her a bestselling author, but it was her groundbreaking book Silent Spring, about the effects of the pesticide DDT on wild animals and birds, that turned her into a household name. Along the way, she would help found the modern environmental movement. Written for the fiftieth anniversary of Silent Spring's publication, this uplifting picture book shows how a quiet and dedicated scientist changed the way people thought of their impact on the Earth and all of the creatures they share it with. For another picture book about Carson, check out Spring After Spring: How Rachel Carson Inspired the Environmental Movement for ages 5 to 9. Middle grade readers interested in learning more can check out Who Was Rachel Carson? from the Who Was...? biography series for ages 8 to 12. For more books for all ages on this trailblazing scientist, visit our Rachel Carson Collection.
As a young girl growing up in Kenya, Wangari Maathai was unique for being allowed to earn an education; she also learned traditional Kikuyu reverence for nature. As a young adult, she had the opportunity to attend university in the US, but she always planned to return to her home. When she did, she combined her newfound scientific education with her appreciation for good husbandry of natural resources to found the Green Belt Movement, which not only provided sustainable work for women across Kenya, but also helped them replant millions of trees and restore the land's natural beauty. This vibrant picture book biography of the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize is a true showstopper. For more picture books about Maathai, check out Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya for ages 4 to 8; Planting the Trees of Kenya for ages 5 to 8; Wangari's Trees of Peace for ages 5 to 8; and Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees for ages 7 to 10.
In Gambia, when people used woven baskets, they would toss them out when the broke, and the baskets would break down. But when they did the same thing with plastic bags, the bags never went away and soon they littered the entire country. It was Isatou Ceesay's innovative idea to recycle the bags by crocheting them into purses. The women involved in her project were able to earn money selling their creations and the streets were soon clean again. This real-life story of a clever woman's solution to both an ecological challenge and a way to find employment for local women is sure to inspire young readers.
Young Anna Comstock adored being outside: she spent her days enjoying nature and observing everything she could, from ants on the move to the constellations in the sky. And even though many people thought science was only for men, she went to university and continued to study. She became famous as a nature expert and artist, creating many stunning books about nature. As a leader of the nature study movement, Comstock also believed it was important to foster children's appreciation for nature and created one of the earliest school curriculum focused on studying nature outdoors. This charming biography not only celebrates a pioneer for women in science, but also celebrates the joy of studying the great outdoors.
In her nearly 60 year career, Jane Goodall went from an oddity — a woman researching primates in the wild? — to one of the world's most recognizable scientists and conservationists. Along the way, she changed the way we think about what it means to be human and then changed the way we look at our planet and the importance of the creatures on it. This book from the accessible Who Was...? biography series introduces middle grade readers to Goodall's remarkable wok, both as a scientist and as an environmental activist. You can find more books and resources about Goodall in our Jane Goodall Collection.
Rachel Carson seemed like an unusual figure to change the world: a quiet woman working in the Bureau of Fisheries, she became a best-selling author for her books about nature. And then she dropped a bombshell: Silent Spring, a book about the effects of indiscriminate use of DDT and other pesticides. Carson would suffer vicious attacks from the chemical industry over her book, but she would also launch the modern environmental movement -- both in America and around the world. This book from the popular Who Was? biography series brings this dedicated woman to life for middle grade readers. For more books about Carson, visit our Rachel Carson Collection.
Jennifer Mather is fascinated by one of the strangest animals on Earth: the octopus. Octopi have seemingly incredible powers: they can shape-shift, squirt ink, camouflage, and climb into almost any crevice. But they're also astoundingly smart and sensitive — and their behavior and condition could tell us a lot about the health of the wider ocean around them. This book from the Scientists in the Field series follows Mather and her team as they study octopi on the island of Moorea, combining biology, oceanography, and psychology to better understand these mysterious and intelligent creatures.
Many kids will have read about Jane Goodall's experiences before, but this book provides the opportunity to hear about them in her own voice! In addition to talking about about her fascinating life story, Goodall also speaks about her work with the Jane Goodall Institute and "Roots and Shoots," programs that encourage both kids and adults around the world to protect the natural world. Young readers will love reading how a project studying chimpanzee behavior became the foundation for a lifetime passion for environmentalism. For more books about this inspiring scientist, visit our Jane Goodall Collection.
Kimberly Stewart is known as the Turtle Lady of St. Kitts for her devotion to preserving and studying the leatherback sea turtle. Although the 800-pound adult turtles don't look like they need protecting, only one in a thousand sea turtle eggs laid on the beach will reach adulthood. So Stewart is not only collecting data to understand the turtles better, but also sharing her knowledge with local residents so that they can find sources for food and income that don't risk the species' survival. This fascinating entry in the Scientists in the Field series uses dramatic photographs to show how Stewart is helping scientists and the local community to pair up to protect the species.
When Dian Fossey arrived in Rwanda to start studying the elusive mountain gorilla, she had no idea that she would dedicate her lives to them — both to understanding their behavior and to protecting them from the poachers who threatened to drive them into extinction. This photobiography is full of astounding photographs of Fossey and her beloved gorillas, but author Tom Mathews doesn't shy away from exploring the controversy surrounding some of Fossey's methods or her 1985 murder. He also incorporates excerpts from Fosseys' journal entries to create a truly fascinating portrait of a woman who literally laid down her life to protect the animals she loved.
When Caitlin O'Connell traveled to Namibia for the first time, local villagers hated elephants: the animals could easily break down fences and eat an entire year's worth of stored food in a single night. Scientists were desperate to help the elephants; the villagers were desperate to preserve their livelihood. O'Connell decided to study the behavior of the elephants to see if she could find a way to protect both; that desire led to surprising discoveries about how elephants communicate — discoveries that have been used successfully to keep elephants away from farmland. Full of exquisite photographs, this biography of the woman called "the mother of all elephants" is sure to delight animal lovers. Fans of this volume can check out the rest of the Scientists in the Field series.
The lowland tapir is mysterious, even to people who live near its habitat in Brazil. But scientist Patricia Medici was determined to conduct observations of tapirs, so she took a talented team into the field in the Pantanal wetlands to find them. Things didn't always go as planned, but with the help of radio collars, microchips, and hidden cameras, the team came away with a new look at the habits of this shy "gardener of the forest." This intriguing book from the Scientists in the Field series captures the dedication of wildlife biologists, as well as what we might just be missing if we destroy the habitats of these gentle animals.
Did you know that Hyenas are one of the only mammalian societies led by the females? Zoologist Kay Holecamp has spent her life studying these misunderstood and often hated animals, proving that they are intelligent, social, and playful — a far cry from the pop culture depiction. In this volume of the critically acclaimed Scientists in the Field series, complete with vibrant photographs, kids will learn more about these fascinating creatures and celebrate the groundbreaking work of a female scientist in a predominantly male field.
For these six women, curiosity and a passion for science drove them to overcome obstacles and prejudices in order to share their fascinating discoveries about the natural world! Jeannine Atkins discusses the childhoods and careers of six very different women — Maria Merian (b.1647), Anna Comstock (b.1854), Frances Hamerstrom (b.1907), Rachel Carson (b.1907), Miriam Rothschild (b.1908), and Jane Goodall (b.1934) — all of whom became renowned scientists, artists and writers. An excellent resource for students and a fascinating read for young science lovers, this book reminds readers that amazing discoveries can be found in surprising places.
When these three women scientists started working for Louis Leakey studying primates in the wild, they were groundbreaking in many ways: not only were women in science still oddities, but their methods and ways of thinking led them to remarkable new discoveries. In this triple biography of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birutė Galdikas — sometimes known as the Trimates — Jim Ottoviani tells their stories in compelling fashion, emphasizing their accomplishments but also presenting them as real people with flaws and quirks of their own. Inviting illustrations by Maris Wicks capture the excitement and drama of their discoveries and their lives. Accessible, entertaining, and informative, teens will devour this graphic biography.
Additional Recommended Resources
- For more Mighty Girl books about environmental issues, visit our Top Children's Books About The Environment.
- For films about environmental issues, check out our Top Environmental Movies Starring Mighty Girls.
- For stories of women who worked to protect our planet, check out our blog Guardians of the Planet: 10 Women Environmentalists You Should Know.