Young Adult Novels with Environmental Themes

Eva Lewandowski

When most people think of environmental literature, they think of nonfiction works like Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac or Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma.  I read a great deal of nonfiction, but I have always preferred fiction.  Happily, there are a number of wonderful novels with environmental themes.  This includes some great young adult books, many of which had a huge impact on me as a child.  If you are looking for a young adult novel with an environmental theme, here are some suggestions:

  • The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett- This is a classic book that every child should read at some point.  In addition to dealing with family, friendship, and grieving, The Secret Garden describes the joy that comes from having a connection to nature and the earth.  There are few moments in young adult fiction more beautiful than when the orphaned Mary is offered toys but asks instead “Might I have a bit of earth?” in order to “plant seeds in- to make things grow- to see them come alive.”
  • My Side of the Mountain by Jean George- This is only one in a long line of young adult books that deals with children living alone in the wilderness.  This has always been my favorite.  In the book, young Sam spends over a year living in a hollowed out tree in the Catskills.  He learns to hunt, gather, and store his own food, lives a life of true simplicity, and becomes attuned to the natural world around him.
  • Dragonhaven by Robin Mckinley- This is a modern fantasy, taking places in a world identical to ours in every way, except for one thing- dragons are real.  They are dangerous, mysterious, endangered, and protected by federal law.  Dragonhaven tells the story of a boy named Jake who finds a dragon that has been mortally wounded by poachers.  He can’t save her, but he is able to rescue her newly born baby.  As he hides from the authorities to raise the baby dragon, he begins to suspect that there is much more to dragon intelligence than most people believe.  The book touches upon wildlife protection, animal rights, and mankind’s role in the ecosystem.

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