Our beautiful home has dealt with more than its fair share of abuse and that’s why I love so many of the books on the list of the best middle grade books about the environment. In these picks, you’ll find kids (and sometimes animals) trying to do their fair share to love the earth, appreciate it, and advocate for it — all the while dealing with their own changing friends, families, and inner worlds. If you’re looking for books that tackle issues like climate change, animal extinction, and damage to marine life, amongst other environmental issues, then this is the list for you. Just a heads up that several of these books are forthcoming, but at least half of more are currently available to purchase right now 🙂
Best Middle Grade Books About the Environment & Environmental Activism
Here are 23 of the best middle grade books about the environment and environmental activism:
The Friendship Lie
Cora Davis’s life is garbage. Literally. Her professor parents study what happens to trash after it gets thrown away, and Cora knows exactly how it feels–to be thrown away. Between her mom and dad separating and a fallout with her best friend, fifth grade for Cora has been a year of feeling like being tossed into the dumpster. But Cora has learned a couple of things from her parents’ trash-tracking studies: Things don’t always go where they’re supposed to, and sometimes the things you thought you got rid of come back. And occasionally, one person’s trash is another’s treasure, which Cora and Sybella learn when they come across a diary detailing best-friendship problems.
Told in two intertwining points of view, comes a warm, wry story of friendship, growing up, and being true to yourself. Written by Rebecca Donnelly, author of How to Stage a Catastrophe (an Indies Introduce and Indie Next List honoree), The Friendship Lie will speak to any reader who has struggled with what to hold on to and what to throw away.
Hello from Renn Lake
Annalise Oliver’s family has owned and run lakeside cabins in Renn Lake, Wisconsin, for generations. This summer, she gets to help out while her younger sister focuses on being an actress and her best friend is babysitting rambunctious twin boys. It’s the perfect opportunity for Annalise to work and spend more time by her beloved lake.
When she was three years old, Annalise discovered that she could sense what Renn Lake was thinking and feeling. Now, at twelve, she still turns to Renn for comfort. But when a small patch of algae quickly becomes a harmful bloom, Annalise can no longer hear Renn, and the lake is closed. She and her friends must find a way to save the lake.
The Adventure Is Now
Sometimes it’s hard to be Milton P. Greene. He says all the wrong things, his family is falling apart, and everyone at school avoids him because of the very embarrassing Bird Brain Incident. But when Milton plays his video game Isle of Wild, he becomes someone else―Sea Hawk, the brave and brilliant naturalist explorer who conquers danger at every turn.
Then Milton’s parents ship him off to the remote Lone Island for the summer, where his uncle Evan is an environmentalist researcher. The island is chock-full of spectaculous species, and Milton realizes this is his chance to become the brave and brilliant naturalist he’s always wanted to be―and even meet some fellow explorers!
But as it turns out, the future of the Lone Island is in some pretty serious peril, and the only thing that can save it is a field guide full of cryptic clues. If Milton and his unexpected new friends are going to protect the island, they’ll have to trust each other, discover new truths, and embark on a wild and wondrous adventure all their own.
The Line Tender
Wherever the sharks led, Lucy Everhart’s marine-biologist mother was sure to follow. In fact, she was on a boat far off the coast of Massachusetts, collecting shark data when she died suddenly. Lucy was seven. Since then Lucy and her father have kept their heads above water–thanks in large part to a few close friends and neighbors. But June of her twelfth summer brings more than the end of school and a heat wave to sleepy Rockport. On one steamy day, the tide brings a great white–and then another tragedy, cutting short a friendship everyone insists was “meaningful” but no one can tell Lucy what it all meant. To survive the fresh wave of grief, Lucy must grab the line that connects her depressed father, a stubborn fisherman, and a curious old widower to her mother’s unfinished research on the Great White’s return to Cape Cod. If Lucy can find a way to help this unlikely quartet follow the sharks her mother loved, she’ll finally be able to look beyond what she’s lost and toward what’s left to be discovered.
One Small Hop
Perfect for fans of Carl Hiaasen’s classic Hoot, this humorous adventure story set in a not-so-distant future celebrates the important differences we can make with small, brave acts.When Ahab and his friends find a bullfrog in their town — a real, live bullfrog, possibly the last bullfrog in North America — they have several options:A. Report it to the Environmental Police Force. Too bad everyone knows the agency is a joke.B. Leave it be. They’re just a bunch of kids — what if they hurt it by moving it?C. Find another real, live bullfrog on the black market. Convince their parents to let them bike to Canada. Introduce the two frogs. Save all of frogkind.Ahab convinces the rest of the group that C is their only real option. Because if they don’t save this frog, who will? Their quest, which will involve fake ice cream, real frog spawn, and some very close calls, teaches Ahab that hope is always the logical choice and that science is always better with friends.With humor and empathy, acclaimed author Madelyn Rosenberg builds an all-too-imaginable future ravaged by climate change, where one kid can still lean on his friends and dream up a better tomorrow.
When twelve-year-old Maddie’s older brother vanishes from his college campus, her carefully ordered world falls apart. Nothing will fill the void of her beloved oldest sibling. Meanwhile Maddie’s older sister reacts by staying out late, and her parents are always distracted by the search for Strum. Drowning in grief and confusion, the family’s musical household falls silent.
Though Maddie is the youngest, she knows Strum better than anyone. He used to confide in her, sharing his fears about the climate crisis and their planet’s future. So, Maddie starts looking for clues: Was Strum unhappy? Were the arguments with their dad getting worse? Or could his disappearance have something to do with those endangered butterflies he loved . . .
Scared and on her own, Maddie picks up the pieces of her family’s fractured lives. Maybe her parents aren’t who she thought they were. Maybe her nervous thoughts and compulsive counting mean she needs help. And maybe finding Strum won’t solve everything–but she knows he’s out there, and she has to try.
This powerful debut novel in verse addresses the climate crisis, intergenerational discourse, and mental illness in an accessible, hopeful way. With a gorgeous narrative voice, Everywhere Blue is perfect for fans of Eventown and OCDaniel.
The Last Wild
In a world where animals no longer exist, twelve-year-old Kester Jaynes sometimes feels like he hardly exists either. Locked away in a home for troubled children, he’s told there’s something wrong with him. So when he meets a flock of talking pigeons and a bossy cockroach, Kester thinks he’s finally gone crazy. But the animals have something to say. And they need him. The pigeons fly Kester to a wild place where the last creatures in the land have survived. A wise stag needs Kester’s help, and together they must embark on a great journey, joined along the way by an overenthusiastic wolf cub, a military-trained cockroach, a mouse with a ritual for everything, and a stubborn girl named Polly. The animals saved Kester Jaynes. But can Kester save the animals?
Stingers (Sharks Incorporated Book 2)
Marine biologist Doc Ford invites Maribel, Luke, and Sabina to a remote island in the Bahamas where lionfish, a beautiful and venomous inhabitant of the South Pacific that has invaded Florida and the Caribbean, are not just upsetting the balance of nature by damaging the coral reefs—their sting has put several people in the hospital.
What Doc and Captain Hannah Smith don’t mention is that the island is riddled with limestone caves, once home to a band of pirates, and stories of Spanish gold have lured outlaw treasure hunters to the area.
When the trio finds precious artifacts, they agree to guard the secret until they’ve thoroughly explored the spot. Soon, outlaws search for the trio, hoping they will lead them to riches.
The Ice House
Spring has arrived, and yet an unyielding winter freeze has left Louisa snowed into her apartment building for months with parents coping with extreme stress, a little brother struggling with cabin fever, and—awkwardly—her neighbor and former close friend, Luke. The new realities of this climate disaster have not only affected Louisa’s family, but when Luke’s dad has an ice-related accident and it’s unclear if he’ll recover, both families’ lives are turned upside down.
Desperate to find an escape from the grief plaguing their homes, Louisa and Luke build a massive snow fort in their yard. But their creation opens up an otherworldly window to what could lie ahead, and sets them on a mission: to restore the universe to its rightful order, so the ice will melt and life will return to “normal”.
With a deft combination of heartfelt prose and a touch of magic, Monica Sherwood’s affecting debut novel is a relatable story of families grappling with—and emerging from—a different kind of quarantine.
The Last Bear
In this instant literary classic about friendship, forging your own path, and doing what’s right, debut author Hannah Gold inspires fans of Pax and A Wolf Called Wander to make a difference in any way they can.
There are no polar bears left on Bear Island. At least, that’s what April’s father tells her when his scientific research takes them to a faraway Arctic outpost.
But one night, April catches a glimpse of something distinctly bear shaped loping across the horizon. A polar bear who shouldn’t be there—who is hungry, lonely and a long way from home.
Fusing environmental awareness with a touching story of kindness, The Last Bear will include full-page black-and-white illustrations as well as a note from the author with facts about the real Bear Island and the plight of the polar bears.
Everybody loves Mother Paula’s pancakes. Everybody, that is, except the colony of cute but endangered owls that live on the building site of the new restaurant. Can the awkward new kid and his feral friend prank the pancake people out of town? Or is the owls’ fate cemented in pancake batter?
Manatee’s Best Friend
Becca Wong Walker may be so shy that most people at school think she doesn’t speak at all, but why should she care? She has more important things to worry about. Missy, the manatee who visits the dock in Becca’s backyard, and Becca’s only friend, hasn’t been seen for a long time. When Missy finally does return, she has a new baby with her! Becca wants to be excited, but more than ever inconsiderate boaters are speeding through the river, putting the lives of Missy and her baby in terrible danger.
One day, Becca spots a dolphin in the river too! By bonding over the dolphin and manatees, Becca finally starts to make friends at school. But when Becca takes a video that goes viral, it seems like it will be harder than ever to save the manatees… and trying might just tear Becca’s new friendships apart.
A Whale of the Wild
In the stand-alone companion to the New York Times–bestselling A Wolf Called Wander, a young orca whale must lead her brother on a tumultuous journey to be reunited with their pod. This gorgeously illustrated animal adventure novel explores family bonds, survival, global warming, and a changing seascape. Includes information about orcas and their habitats.
For Vega and her family, salmon is life. And Vega is learning to be a salmon finder, preparing for the day when she will be her family’s matriarch. But then she and her brother Deneb are separated from their pod when a devastating earthquake and tsunami render the seascape unrecognizable. Vega must use every skill she has to lead her brother back to their family. The young orcas face a shark attack, hunger, the deep ocean, and polluted waters on their journey. Will Vega become the leader she’s destined to be?
A Whale of the Wild weaves a heart-stopping tale of survival with impeccable research on a delicate ecosystem and threats to marine life.
Strange Birds: A Field Guide to Ruffling Feathers
When three very different girls find a mysterious invitation to a lavish mansion, the promise of adventure and mischief is too intriguing to pass up. Ofelia Castillo (a budding journalist), Aster Douglas (a bookish foodie), and Cat Garcia (a rule-abiding birdwatcher) meet the kid behind the invite, Lane DiSanti, and it isn’t love at first sight. But they soon bond over a shared mission to get the Floras, their local Scouts, to ditch an outdated tradition. In their quest for justice, independence, and an unforgettable summer, the girls form their own troop and find something they didn’t know they needed: sisterhood.
Be careful. Your next step may be your last.
Fifth grader Tamaya Dhilwaddi and seventh grader Marshall Walsh have been walking to and from Woodridge Academy together since elementary school. But their routine is disrupted when bully Chad Hilligas challenges Marshall to a fight. To avoid the conflict, Marshall takes a shortcut home through the off-limits woods. Tamaya, unaware of the reason for the detour, reluctantly follows. They soon get lost. And then they find trouble. Bigger trouble than anyone could ever have imagined.
In the days and weeks that follow, the authorities and the U.S. Senate become involved, and what they uncover might affect the future of the world.
Music for Tigers
Shipped halfway around the world to spend the summer with her mom’s eccentric Australian relatives, middle schooler and passionate violinist Louisa is prepared to be resentful. But life at the family’s remote camp in the Tasmanian rainforest is intriguing, to say the least. There are pig-footed bandicoots, scary spiders, weird noises and odors in the night, and a quirky boy named Colin who cooks the most amazing meals. Not the least strange is her Uncle Ruff, with his unusual pet and veiled hints about something named Convict Rock.
Finally, Louisa learns the truth: Convict Rock is a sanctuary established by her great-grandmother Eleanor—a sanctuary for Tasmanian tigers, Australia’s huge marsupials that were famously hunted into extinction almost a hundred years ago. Or so the world believes. Hidden in the rainforest at Convict Rock, one tiger remains. But now the sanctuary is threatened by a mining operation, and the last Tasmanian tiger must be lured deeper into the forest. The problem is, not since her great-grandmother has a member of the family been able to earn the shy tigers’ trust.
As the summer progresses, Louisa forges unexpected connections with Colin, with the forest, and—through Eleanor’s journal—with her great-grandmother. She begins to suspect the key to saving the tiger is her very own music. But will her plan work? Or will the enigmatic Tasmanian tiger disappear once again, this time forever?
A moving coming-of-age story wrapped up in the moss, leaves, and blue gums of the Tasmanian rainforest where, hidden under giant ferns, crouches its most beloved, and lost, creature.
Stella Diaz #2: Stella Díaz Never Gives Up
Stella gets a big surprise when her mom plans a trip to visit their family in Mexico! Stella loves marine animals, and she can’t wait to see the ocean for the first time . . . until she arrives and learns that the sea and its life forms are in danger due to pollution.
Stella wants to save the ocean, but she knows she can’t do it alone. It’s going to take a lot of work and help from old and new friends to make a difference, but Stella Díaz never gives up!
Sammy Keyes and the Wild Things
This is not the summer camping trip of Sammy’s dreams. Instead of shady glades and meandering streams, she gets scrubby shrubs, blazing sun, and rattlesnakes. Her fellow campers are desperate to catch a rare glimpse of an endangered condor. To Sammy, the trip feels like the painful in pursuit of the unspeakably ugly.
But when she and two other girls find an injured condor, Sammy’s intrigued at last. As they track down a clue, they stumble onto two classmates and promptly get lost. Which leaves three girls and two boys in a canyon with one tent a sick condor and six billion biting flies. Oh–and an armed and dangerous highstakes poacher.
Some facts about Billy Dickens:
* He once saw a biker swerve across the road in order to run over a snake.
* Later, that motorcycle somehow ended up at the bottom of a canal.
* Billy isn’t the type to let things go.
Some facts about Billy’s family:
* They’ve lived in six different Florida towns because Billy’s mom insists on getting a house near a bald eagle nest.
* Billy’s dad left when he was four and is a total mystery.
* Billy has just found his dad’s address–in Montana.
This summer, Billy will fly across the country, hike a mountain, float a river, dodge a grizzly bear, shoot down a spy drone, save a neighbor’s cat, save an endangered panther, and then try to save his own father.
Lea Leads The Way
Lea Clark is all set for an animal-discovery adventure! She’s never been to a rainforest before, and her mind is filled with exciting thoughts about the animals she’ll get to see and the pictures she’ll get to take deep in the jungle. During a hike with her brother through the Amazon rainforest, they discover a baby sloth that is badly injured. Lea quickly decides she must do all she can to help the little sloth survive. But as she learns more, she wonders? Is that the right thing to do?
A Dolphin Named Star
Seaside Sanctuary is supposed to be a safe place for marine animals, but suddenly dolphins are getting sick-and no one can explain why. Since Elsa Roth spends all of her time at the sanctuary, a perk of her parents’ jobs there, she’s well acquainted with all the animals. Elsa is especially worried about Star, a young dolphin she bonded with after seeing him in his wild pen. When the crisis intensifies, it’s up to Elsa to get to solve the mystery before it’s too late for Star and the rest of the dolphins.
Elanora and the Salt Marsh Mystery
After a series of terrifying events, Elanora is transported to a strange neighborhood where the only way to get about is by water and the only food to eat is the grasses of the marsh. Her newfound guardians do their best to help her adapt, but the food is odd and unappetizing, and she feels isolated and alone. The colony of muskrats who live in the marsh refuse to accept the young chipmunk and ignore her each time they gather to eat at night. In her former home, Elanora spent most days exploring, but her guardians insist she sleep like the rest of the colony. After she learns about an enormous gray creature that swims in the deeper part of the marsh, Elanora sets off one day to find him. When the sea cow tells her about the marsh’s troubles, Elanora begins her investigation into the mysterious lowering of water levels and the suffering of the swimming creatures. Despite relentless attempts of intimidation from some younger members of the colony, Elanora, along with an elder, piece together clues that lead to a terrifying conclusion. Elanora and the Salt Marsh Mystery sheds light on two important topics: the impact of bullying and the consequences of the destruction of ecosystems. It’s a tale that explores the importance of diversity and celebrates one youngster’s fight to be heard.
The Queen Bee and Me
Meg has always found comfort in her best friend Beatrix’s shadow. Self-assured Beatrix is the one who makes decisions, and the girls have been a pair since kindergarten. But middle school has brought some changes in Beatrix, especially when Meg tries to step outside her role as sidekick.
A special science elective is Meg’s first step away, but when she’s paired with quirky new girl Hazel, Beatrix steps in to stake her claim on Meg. Meg is taken aback at how mean Beatrix can be–and how difficult it is to stand up to her friend. But as Meg gets to know Hazel while working on their backyard beehive project, she starts to wonder: Is being Beatrix’s friend worth turning down the possibility of finding her own voice?
Along the Arctic Circle lies a small island called Neversink, home to a colony of odd-looking seabirds called auks, including one Lockley J. Puffin. With their oceanfront views and plentiful supply of fish, the auks have few concerns—few, save for Lockley’s two best friends, Egbert and Ruby, a know-it-all walrus and a sharp-tongued hummingbird.
But all of this is about to change. Rozbell, the newly crowned king of the Owl Parliament, has long had his scheming eyes on the small colony to the north. Now Neversink’s independence hangs in the balance. An insurgence of owls will inevitably destroy life as the auks know it—unless Lockley can do something about it.
Bunny Starch, the most feared biology teacher ever, is missing. She disappeared after a school field trip to Black Vine Swamp. And, to be honest, the kids in her class are relieved.
But when the principal tries to tell the students that Mrs. Starch has been called away on a “family emergency,” Nick and Marta just don’t buy it. No, they figure the class delinquent, Smoke, has something to do with her disappearance.
And he does! But not in the way they think. There’s a lot more going on in Black Vine Swamp than any one player in this twisted tale can see. It’s all about to hit the fan, and when it does, the bad guys better scat.
Rescue at Lake Wild
Everyone knows that twelve-year-old Madison “Madi” Lewis is not allowed to bring home any more animals. After she’s saved hairless mice, two birds, a rabbit, and a stray tom cat that ended up destroying the front porch, Madi’s parents decide that if they find one more stray animal in the house, she won’t be allowed to meet Jane Goodall at an upcoming gala event.
But when Madi and her two best friends, Aaron and Jack, rescue beaver kits whose mother was killed, they find themselves at the center of a local conspiracy that’s putting the beavers and their habitats in danger. As Madi and her friends race to uncover the threat targeting the beavers, Madi must put her animal whisperer skills to the test in both raising the orphaned beaver kits and staying out of trouble long enough.
How to Speak Dolphin
Lily loves her halfbrother, Adam, but his autism has taken over her life. Lily can’t make friends or go out after school — caring for Adam has forced Lily to become as much mother as sister. All Lily wants is for her stepfather, Don, to acknowledge that Adam has a real issue, and to find some kind of program that can help him. Then maybe she can have a life of her own. Adam’s always loved dolphins, so when Don, an oncologist, hears about a young dolphin with cancer, he offers to help. He brings Lily and Adam along, and Adam and the dolphin — Nori — bond instantly. Don is sure this is the answer to their problems.Though Lily sees how much Adam loves Nori, she also knows deep down that the dolphin shouldn’t spend the rest of her life in captivity, away from her own family. Can Adam find real help somewhere else? And can Lily help Nori regain her freedom without betraying her family?This is a deeply moving story about love, freedom, and letting go.
There they are: 27 of the best middle grade books about the environment or environmental activism! I’d love to hear your recommendations and which of these books you’ve enjoyed! If you’d like a printable of this list, just pop your email address in the box below! If you’re subscribed to my newsletter, you’ll get the printable along with your newsletter this Friday anyway.