Seven books to help celebrate Earth Day

Selections for the passionate, the curious and the beginners alike

By Laura MarranKENOSHA.COM

After two decades in journalism, Marran earned her Master’s degree in Exceptional Education from UW-Milwaukee and has served as a special education teacher with Kenosha Unified School District since 2006. A Marquette University School of Journalism alum, Marran has lived in Kenosha since 1987.

Theoretically, every day is Earth Day. Certainly there are enough worthwhile books on Planet Earth-related topics to keep readers busy for another trip around the sun. This week’s Bookmark looks at selections for the passionate, the curious and the beginners alike.

First up, two new releases take contrasting approaches to their shared theme of respecting the earth.

Brand-new from author Harriet Dyer is “Every Day is Earth Day: Simple Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint.” Chock-full of graphics and illustrations, the book has common-sense, specific advice for creating an eco-friendly home.

The book includes surprisingly easy tips for reducing waste during the holidays and eye-opening information on the environmental impact of the way clothing is discarded.

In contrast, “Lab Girl” by Hope Jahren is a complex look through the eyes of a botanical researcher. The book was this year’s National Endowment for the Arts Big Read, introducing a new audience to the passion of scientists who devote their careers to learning more about parts of our earth that were here long before we were.

 Plants have much to teach us about survival and resilience. Jahren’s story proves that pursuing that knowledge can be a never-ending, consuming career.

It’s easy to tell someone how to be a better citizen of the planet. Actually doing it is another thing. These selections take a critical look at two things we may take for granted such as grocery shopping habits and lawn care and their impact on the Earth.

“Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life” by best-selling author Barbara Kingsolver proves that humor and environmentalism do mix! Kingsolver, best-known for her fiction, employs her trademark wit in this account of one family deciding to eat only locally produced food … or not eat at all.

The book is a combination of memoir, journalistic investigation and humorous prose, and the result is a page-turner that will have readers wondering if they could do the same. Spoiler alert: You are what you eat.

Do lawns really wreck the earth, or is that just a great excuse not to cut the grass? While there is no shortage of how-to books for creating that perfect lawn, in honor this month’s celebration of all things Earth, “American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn” by Ted Steinberg asks readers to think twice before revving up the gas-powered leaf blower.

An environmental historian, Steinberg looks at both the physical effect and psychological reasoning behind the uniquely American pursuit of a carpet-like green lawn at high cost to the earth and homeowners’ pocketbooks. His witty prose traces the history of the lawn from the postwar, suburban roots of the manicured lawn to the present extremes like turf colorants and leaf blowers.

Non-fiction shelves aren’t the only place to find environmentally themed books.

“Queen Sugar,” a novel by Natalie Baszile, is a perfect read about the power of living things and how and where they grow. Made famous when it was named as an Oprah’s Book Club pick, “Queen Sugar” is the story of a Black woman who suddenly finds herself an heiress. She has no idea where to begin with the hundreds of acres of sugarcane farm she now owns in Louisiana.

This is a compelling story of how a determined woman educates herself about the synergy between people and land, but also learns that farming is a white man’s business that doesn’t welcome newcomers. This is a story of working with the earth and knowing our place on it and also of triumph over out of balance-systems, both environmental and social.

The bulk of environment-friendly books aimed at celebrating Earth Day and our planet in general are aimed at the younger generation. That makes sense, since kids eventually will be in charge of Earth’s future.

For beginners: Todd Parr is an award-winning children’s author who has been honored by multiple literary and parenting organizations, and he’s even won a Daytime Emmy. His efforts to teach kids about our environment, “The Earth Book,” was recognized with the Green Earth Book Award and Parents’ Choice Award.

With Parr’s distinctive playful and sensitive style, “The Earth Book” is simple, beautiful, and bright. The book includes lots of do-able ideas from planting trees to using both sides of the paper. It’s no surprise that the book is printed entirely using recycled material and non-toxic soy inks.

Next level: For potential botanists and budding environmental activists, check out books that give kids projects to take on beyond cleaning up the neighborhood.

“Compost Stew: An A to Z Recipe for the Earth” by Mary McKenna Siddals teaches kids to compost and help them develop lifelong habits to protect the Earth. The book’s ideas really do span the alphabet, including adding everything from apple cores to zinnia heads to a beneficial compost pile.

While “Compost Stew” is a picture book written for the younger crowd, adults certainly can follow the advice for stirring up an effective, earth-friendly compost. Your garden, and the earth will thank you.