Welcome to Top Grade: CanLit for the Classroom, a blog and preview video series that features new releases from Canadian book publishers ideal for use in K-12 classrooms and school library collections. Throughout the year, we dive into new titles, highlighting relevant curriculum links and themes.
Written by secondary school teacher Spencer Miller
Author’s note: I owe a big thank you to Bhan Gatkuoth, friend and climate advocate, for her input and guidance on this blog post.
On April 5, 2023, an ice storm devastated parts of Quebec and Ontario. I woke up to 37mm of freezing rain in Montreal that shut down schools and left more than a million people without power. Some of my students would spend the entire weekend with no electricity and no heat. When we returned to school the next week, I could feel a nervous energy in the air.
“With catastrophic weather events rapidly becoming the norm each year in Canada and around the world, young people are increasingly worried about their future,” says Brishti Basu. A little ecological worrying can lead to a productive response, like preparing for an emergency or participating in climate action events. But too much worrying without productive ways to respond can lead to climate anxiety, a paralyzing despair.
Climate anxiety worsens when young people feel abandoned by the decision-making adults in society. Many of our students are feeling that their futures have been dictated by adults that have decided present day desires matter more than a healthy, livable, and equitable planet for the future.
In this context, it’s easy to understand why our students feel skeptical and annoyed at the institutions that exist all around us (including schools). Who can blame them?
There are students in every classroom who are experiencing ecological worry and maybe even climate anxiety. Teachers can play a supportive role by showing students productive ways of responding to their worries. Here are four things teachers can do:
(1) Be someone your students trust with their anxieties. This means examining your own complacencies and biases. Think about your role as a teacher. Have you ever been a barrier to your students’ self-expression? How are you supporting your students’ desires for justice and action?
(2) Listen to and validate your students’ feelings about climate change. Encourage them to be honest about their feelings. Having a teacher who cares and understands can do a lot to relieve a student’s worries.
(3) Build class activities where students can freely imagine what a clean, livable, future will look like. Let them be imaginative and think about what society would look like if we prioritized the environment.
(4) Advocate for your students who wish to participate in climate demonstrations. One of the only tools young people can use to express their discontent and concern over the climate crisis is through protests and demonstrations. They shouldn’t be punished for that.
Canadian authors and illustrators are writing and telling stories with special care for young readers dealing with ecological worries. To support the work you are doing in your classroom, check out these brand-new books addressing climate change and climate anxiety:
When the Ocean Came to Town (ages 4-7) is a picture book with a strong message of community-building and climate activism. A young girl named Gretchen loves spending time on the beach by the ocean. When a great storm comes rolls in, Gretchen witnesses the ocean’s power firsthand. After the storm, neighbours must unite and work together as a community to rebuild.
In Class: This activity booklet from FloodSmart Canada engages students in flood awareness with fun activities such as a word search, a maze, and designing your own comic strip.
What to Bring (ages 4-7) depicts living through a natural disaster through the eyes of a child. As huge white-and-gray clouds fill the sky, Malia and her family can smell smoke. Soon, they receive instructions to evacuate their home. Malia is asked to make a tough choice about what to bring with her.
In Class: Use this book to introduce the idea of emergency preparedness. Create an emergency preparedness plan with your students that includes a list of what to bring in case of an evacuation.
Butterfly Wings (ages 8-14) is a story about climate anxiety for kids and adults to read together. After overhearing his mothers discussing pollution, global warming, sea levels, and wildfires, ten-year-old Florent is troubled by nightmares and decides to stop talking. When his mothers realize what has happened, they offer him loving reassurance.
In Class: Reading this story together will provide a safe space for students to share their worries about the climate. Follow the direction of the mothers in the story by providing loving reassurance.
We The Sea Turtles (ages 8-12) is a collection of short stories that share a moment in the life of nine children on islands around the world. In each story, a sea turtle makes an appearance during a moment of need. Stories in the collection deal directly with climate anxiety and natural disasters.
In Class: Split your class into groups and assign each group a different story to read from the collection. Have each group work together to identify the theme or message in their story and share it with the class.
Good Food, Bad Waste: Let’s Eat for the Planet (ages 9-12) is an illustrated guide to the problem of food waste around the world. The book dives into the consequences of food waste for the environment and the practical things young readers can do to curb food waste.
In Class: The book has lots of insightful activity suggestions like using an online carbon footprint calculator to calculate the carbon footprints of your favourite foods.
Badass(ish) (ages 12-18) is a contemporary YA story set in Alberta that follows three teens determined to stop a pipeline. Family pressures, secrets, lies, and an obnoxious ex-boyfriend threaten to disrupt the teens' anti-pipeline efforts and jeopardize their friendship. Davis, Renzi, and Jae must find their own ways to fight for what they believe in.
In Class: Teen readers interested in climate activism can pair their reading with Urgent Message from a Hot Planet, a nonfiction title that outlines the science behind global heating and provides ways to take action.
Spencer Miller is a teacher, writer, reader, and fan of the Toronto Raptors. He is currently pursuing graduate studies at the University of Calgary (Treaty 7). You can follow more of Spencer’s passion for books on Instagram @YACanadaBooks.