A Mighty Girl's top picks of books for children about trailblazing female environmentalists of the past and present.
With Earth Day 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 pioneering 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
Join Jane Goodall as she learns about the lives of chimpanzees in this board book version of the New York Times bestselling I Am Jane Goodall! In simple rhyming text, Brad Meltzer adapts his book from the Ordinary People Change the World biography series for toddlers and preschoolers, encouraging them to observe the details in Goodall's wilderness environment. Informative sidebars provide fun facts about this dedicated scientist and conservationist, who proved that anyone can care about the world enough to make a difference! For another board book adaptation from this series, check out I Am Unstoppable: A Little Book About Amelia Earhart.
When Jane Goodall arrived in Gombe, nobody had ever studied chimpanzees in the wild up close. In order to learn about them, she had to earn their trust — and when she did, she discovered amazing things, from the way they interacted in their group to their creation and use of tools. Her discoveries would change the way people looked at chimpanzees — and humans. This book from the I Can Read series, which is geared for newly independent readers who need simple text and sentences, includes a timeline and historical photos that are sure to inspire primate-loving kids!
Introduce young readers to Greta Thunberg's inspiring work on behalf of the environment with this allegorical picture book! Greta lives in a beautiful forest that's threatened by Giants, who chop down trees to make bigger and bigger cities. She wants to help the animals of the forest — and make the Giants see what they're destroying — but she's not sure how to do it. Kids will enjoy this fairy tale-like story and be intrigued to read the section in the back about Greta's ongoing fight and how they can help. For more books about Greta's global movement, we recommend Greta Thunberg (Little People, Big Dreams) for ages 5 to 8, Our House Is On Fire: Greta Thunberg's Call to Save the Planet for ages 5 to 9, and We Are All Greta: Be Inspired to Save the World for ages 10 and up.
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. For another book about Clark, check out Swimming With Sharks: The Daring Discoveries of Eugenie Clark for ages 5 to 8.
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.
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 would design new submersibles, swim with the whales, and do deep-water walks in special dive suits. Throughout, 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 ocean she strives to protect.
When Greta Thunberg learned about how human activity was affecting our environment, she was so shocked she couldn't speak. Why weren't people pushing for change? Then she realized that if other people weren't, she could... and she started protesting outside the Swedish Parliament. Today, her "School Strike for Climate" protest includes millions of people around the world, including many children and teens — a reminder that "No one is too small to make a difference." This exciting book from the Little People, BIG DREAMS series introduces kids to a young woman who is changing the world — right now — helping them see how they too could become trailblazers and history makers.
Meg Lowman was a shy child who rarely spoke in school — but she adored the natural world, and particularly the trees and the many organisms that lived in their branches and leaves. So she decided she wanted to become a scientist and study the canopies in the rain forest. There were many obstacles in her way, from the inaccessibility of the treetops to the sexism she faced in the scientific community to the logging and clearing that threatened this precious ecosystem. But Lowman persevered, and "Canopy Meg" not only created her own future, but helped ensure the rainforests had a future too. With vibrant illustrations (that conceal fascinating facts about rainforests in their leafy designs) and text drafted with the help of Lowman herself, this picture book is a detailed and exciting portrait of a pioneering scientist and the incredible world she loves.
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 best-selling 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 — and helped found the modern environmental movement. Written for the fiftieth anniversary of Silent Spring's publication, this thoughtful picture book shows how a quiet and dedicated scientist changed the way people thought of their effects on the Earth. 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.
As a young girl growing up in Kenya, Wangari Maathai's family defied tradition so she could get an education; she also learned traditional Kikuyu reverence for nature. As a young adult, she had the opportunity to attend university – if she went to the US. But she swore she would return, and when she did, she combined her 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. This vibrant picture book biography of the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize pays tribute to how Maathai literally changed Kenya's landscape forever. 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.
As a child, MaVynee Betsch loved American Beach, a private beach her grandfather had bought so African Americans like her could visit when Jim Crow laws kept them off most public beaches. There, she met artists like Ella Fitzgerald and Zora Neale Hurston who inspired her love of singing. MaVynee became an opera singer and traveled around the world, but when she finally came home, she discovered that American Beach had been neglected, and developers wanted to buy it. She refused to let the beach go, though, and devoted herself to preserving both its natural beauty and its historic importance. This stunning picture book, illustrated by Caldecott Honoree Ekua Holmes, is a tribute to a pioneering singer and conservationist, and the special place that her beloved beach had in the lives of so many people.
When Evelyn Cheesman grew up at the end of the 1800s, a proper English girl stayed neat and tidy; instead, she dug through grubby fields and forests, tracking down her beloved bugs. At a time when girls were expected to marry and raise children, she decided to pursue a career in science. She was hired to care for the insect house at the London Zoo and revitalized the exhibits, filling them with live specimens for visitors to admire! In the early 1920s, when women were expected to stay home, she went on multiple solo expeditions to distant islands, collecting over 70,000 specimens and discovering new species. This exuberant biography of a bug-loving pioneering scientist celebrates those who follow their passions and blaze their own trails.
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.
Before she was First Lady Lady Bird Johnson, Claudia Alta Taylor was a lonely, shy girl. But she loved nature, leading to her nickname, Lady Bird. She overcame her shyness to run a company — at a time when few women did — and she took charge of her family's finances, too. And when her husband, Lyndon Baines Johnson, became president, she decided to use her new position as First Lady for something special: preserving America's natural beauty. She encouraged policies that kept roadways and waterways beautiful — and in the process, made people proud of where they lived. This vibrant picture book biography of Johnson will inspire young environmentalists to find their own ways to care for their world!
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. Then, Comstock fostered generations of kids' interest in nature — by creating one of the earliest school curricula focused on studying outdoors. This charming biography celebrates a little-known pioneer for women in science whose influence still touches children today, and the joy of being in the great outdoors.
Unlike many Kenyan girls, Wangari Maathai had the chance to go to school — and she even won a spot in an American university. But when she came home, she was shocked to see how many trees had been cut down. So the innovative woman founded the Green Belt Movement, an organization dedicated to teaching girls and women ways to protect the environment while also earning their own money to support their families. For her work, she would receive a Nobel Peace Prize, making her the first African woman to win the prestigious award! This book inspired by the best-selling series She Persisted is an empowering introduction to a woman who found a way to combine her passion for women's rights and environmental protection.
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 work, both as a scientist and as an environmental activist.
Dian Fossey fulfilled a dream in 1963, scraping together her savings and a loan and traveling to Africa. She soon fell in love with mountain gorillas, and became determined to study them in the wild — and with the help of paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey, she finally had the chance. Fossey's 18 years of research into the gorillas changed the way people thought of these previously little-understood creatures, but her aggressive anti-poaching measures made enemies of many, and she was murdered in her camp in 1985. However, her legacy lives on: today, twice as many mountain gorillas live in the wild as when she began her studies. Concluding Silvey's trilogy of biographies on Leakey's "Trimates," which includes Untamed: The Wild Life of Jane Goodall and Undaunted: The Wild Life of Biruté Mary Galdikas, this nuanced and stunning book will inspire young animal-lovers.
It was one of the hottest summers on record in Stockholm, Sweden, when a 15-year-old named Greta Thunberg skipped school and sat down in front of the parliament building with a handmade sign. Her mission: draw attention to the need for action on environmental issues, particularly climate change. In this biography for middle grade readers, author Valentina Camerini explores lesser-known aspects of Greta's life — from her parents' supporting roles in her work to her Asperger's diagnosis and her advocacy for mental health — capturing her fierce determination as just part of a full portrait of this daring Mighty Girl activist.
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.
Around the world, bold and daring women are doing their part to save our planet and protect the environment! In this book from the Fantastically Great Women series, best-selling author Kate Pankhurst — descendant of suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst — introduces young readers to environmental activists like Edith Farkas, the Antarctic researcher who helped identify the hole in the Ozone Layer; Isatou Ceesay, who is educating and empowering women in the Gambia as they take wasteful plastic bags and turn them into upcycled products; and Anite Roddick, whose store The Body Shop was on the forefront of ethical consumerism. This lighthearted and appealing book is a tribute to thirteen women leading the charge in environmental activism.
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.
American biologist Rachel Carson helped spark the modern environmental movement with her compelling writing about ecological damage — particularly her famous book Silent Spring. Now, budding ecologists can learn about Carson and her work in this biography from the For Kids series! Kids will read about Carson's life, then explore 21 hands-on activities, from collecting a seed bank to modeling bioaccumulation to building a worm farm. This inspiring book is sure to give kids new appreciation for the delicate balance of our planet's ecosystems.
Since 1995, Tasmanian devils have been plagued by a terrible disease — one that moves so fast that scientists are afraid it will wipe out the species forever. Researchers have no idea where the illness, named Devil Facial Tumor Disease, came from; what causes it; or how to stop it. But Australian geneticist Jenny Graves is part of an effort that includes wildlife biologists, ecologists, and many other scientists, all working to find a solution before the Tasmanian devil is wiped out. This volume in the acclaimed Scientists in the Field series takes readers into the quest to find a cure — a project that may also teach scientists how to detect, prevent, and even eradicate genetic diseases in humans.
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.
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 set up camp in the Virunga mountains, she had no formal scientific training. However, the passionate and determined woman was sure she would succeed at observing gorillas up close — and she was more successful than anyone could have imagined. And when stunning photographs of her and the animals she loved were published in National Geographic, it focused the world's attention on the need to protect these gentle creatures from poaching. Exquisite photography accompanies this detailed telling of Fossey's life, activism, and death, capturing young readers' attention as they learn more about the gorillas Fossey fought so hard to save.
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.
You don't have to be larger than life to protect the environment: these activists show that you can take bold steps before you turn 25! Inside this book, you'll find the stories of 25 activists who have participated in climate strikes, given speeches, sued their governments, and founded organizations pushing for change. You'll meet girls from all over the world, from a girl with cerebral palsy from Harlem who tackles how climate change and disability rights interact, to a girl from Brazil whose love of surfing prompted her to work to protect our planet's oceans. With each story including a color photograph, social media handles, responses to interview questions, and more, this is a hopeful picture of the future of environmentalism that invites young readers to see that they can be activists too.
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 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 Biruté 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.