10 Books for Your Budding Environmentalists (and everyone else)

First published in Sanctuary Asia, Vol. 41 No. 4, April 2021

By Bijal Vachharajani

When I first joined Sanctuary Asia years ago to run the Kids for Tigers programme, editor Bittu Sahgal did two things. He dispatched me to Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve to visit one of the homes of the programme’s flagship species, and asked me to read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Wildlife and books, I never wanted to leave! (I did, and since, I have written books of my own.)

Books have always been a gateway to nature for me. I grew up reading about bears and tigers dancing together, children who found magical lands atop trees, and toadstools that were home to elves and fairies (can you guess the books? – Winnie-the-Pooh series by A.A. Milne, The Magical Faraway Tree and many books by Enid Blyton).

There are a slew of books that introduce children to the wonderful wild world out there, and beckon them to explore and discover. I’m listing some of my favourites for all of you to enjoy!

10 Indian Animals You May Never Again See in the Wild
Ranjit Lal
Ages 10+

Yes, that’s a sad title. But it’s written by Ranjit Lal, who tosses together the sad reality of endangered animals with his dry wit. Trivia, natural history, mythology and real-life incidents come together in this non-fiction book in tales about the Asiatic lion, the Great Indian Bustard, the blackbuck, the vulture, the rhino, the hoolock gibbon, the Forest Owlet, the gharial, the liontailed macaque, and the river dolphins. P.S. Don’t miss the chapter ‘Susu in the Water'.


Travelling Seeds
Lavanya Karthik (Kalpavriksh)

Ages 7+

‘Flyer, floater, trickster, hitchhikers’ are the many seeds tucked inside this picture book. Part rhyme, part information, writer-illustrator Lavanya Karthik’s book is about seed dispersal and how these seeds use all the tricks up their nonexistent sleeves to travel and take roots in different places. If like me, you are obsessed with seeds and seed pods, this book is for you. Pore over the details tucked across the pages, alongside some beautiful art, and learn how to identify seeds when you go on a walk next time.


Wild Cities
Ben Lerwill and Harriet Hobday
Ages 8+

Cities are wild spaces, teeming with urban wildlife, and Wild Cities transports us to 14 different cities, introducing the many species who call it their home. Written by Ben Lerwill and illustrated by Harriet Hobday, the book is a wonderful guide. It reminds us that we share our crowded spaces with animals, birds and reptiles, and is a glorious lesson in coexistence. Visit these wild cities – London, Berlin, Paris, Warsaw, Calgary, New York City, Chicago, Sydney, Beijing, Tokyo, Mumbai, Singapore, Cape Town and Seoul – and take a moment to look around your wild city. Listen for bird songs, say hello to a signature spider or a mantis, and share their stories, and yours.


Eating the Sun: Small Musings on a Vast Universe
Ella Frances Sanders
Ages 12+

Don’t get fooled by the size of this book. It might be small, but it packs many stories. The book is a celebration of science and nature – a lyrical exploration of the mysteries of the universe, the dance of the planets, and our place in this cosmos. “Humans have a tendency to think that we’re all that, when in fact, we’re not much of anything at all,” writes the author-illustrator, a reminder of the fact that we coexist in a wondrous universe. To quote from the Introduction, “A sense of wonder can find you in many forms, sometimes loudly, sometimes as a whispering, sometimes even hiding inside other feelings – being in love, or unbalanced, or blue.” Or in books like these.


Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species
Sabina Radeva (Penguin)
Ages 7+

Alright, you may be too young to read the original, but get your hands on this truly gorgeous picture book by writer-illustrator Sabina Radeva. It’s a wonderful way to understand Charles Darwin’s work and the theory of evolution. Beautifully illustrated, and packed with information about different species and the naturalist, this one’s a keeper for your natural history library.


The Blue Horse and Other Amazing Animals From Indian History
Nandini Sengupta
Ages 10+

Why, ask the narrators of this book, should only humans make history? After all, animals have very much been a part of this country’s story. And so Nandini Sengupta puts together stories, in the first person, of Chetak and the battle of Haldighati, Akbar’s cheetah, Samand Manik; and Chhatrapati Shivaji’s dog, Waghya. An important book, given most historical stories about animals, centre around extinction or hunting. It’s time to turn back time and give these animals their due.


Greta Thunberg: No One is Too Small to Make a Difference
Greta Thunberg

Ages 12+

A pocket-sized book with a huge message – one of inspiration, and of change. This compilation of teen activist Greta Thunberg’s speeches, tells her inspiring story while offering an insight into the global climate crisis. “We children shouldn’t have to do this. But since almost no one is doing anything, and our very future is at risk, we feel like we have to continue,” writes Greta. Cannot help but agree.


Birds in my Garden and Beyond
Bulbul Sharma
Ages 8+

Author Bulbul Sharma has a patch of green outside her house in Delhi. In this garden lives a jamun tree (and a fat cat), but it is also home to all sorts of birds – from Golden Orioles to sunbirds and parakeets to hoopoes. Sharma draws these enigmatic visitors, and writes about them with her characteristic gentleness and sharp observational skills. By the end of this book, I am pretty sure you will be listening for bird calls and hitting pause on your homework every five minutes to look outside the window.


The Line Tender
Kate Allen

Ages 13+

Loss and love for nature are entwined in this Young Adult book by Kate Allen. Lucy is grappling with the loss of her mother – a marine biologist who studied sharks. And just then, she’s struck by another searing tragedy, the loss of her best friend in the world. As she struggles to cope, alongside her father, Lucy finds herself drawn towards her mother’s research which lies unfinished, the sharks that visit their coast line, and the marine journal that she’s yet to complete. A compelling story about grief, the wild, and the healing power of nature, the book is punctuated with beautiful marine illustrations by Xingye Jin.


When she is not reading a children’s book, Bijal Vachharajani is writing or editing one. Her books include A Cloud Called Bhura and So You Want to Know About the Environment, among others. She is now a certified climate worrier.


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