The climate crisis we’re facing may be one of the biggest threats we will see in our lifetimes, and in those of the generation after us.
Around the world, including in India, environmentally conscious children are standing up and demanding the right to a better world, and are asking tough questions to those in power. Such a passionate need to protect something can only come from an appreciation of it.
Here are some of my favourite books that have given me a sense of wonder and have made me sensitive to the consequences of human actions.
Alphabet of Animals and Birds by Prabha Mallya
This gem of a book can be enjoyed over and over again as you stare at the herds and swarms and paddlings of animals and insects and birds. Prabha Mallya’s illustrations make the creatures seem friendly and strange at the same time, showing us that all these groups are made of unique individuals.
Between finding out what a group of cuckoos is called and trying to guess which otter looks most like your best friend, you will find yourself recognising and getting curious about all the inhabitants of this book.
A Cloud Called Bhura by Bijal Vachharajani
Speaking Tiger Books
When a mysterious brown cloud begins to hover over Mumbai, four remarkably passionate children (well, three plus Andrew) stir into action. This book will kick you out of your apathy and make you want to save the world. Bijal’s books are full of heart, humour and, while telling us what a grim future we’re staring at, she somehow manages to be optimistic.
This entry is a bit sly (which should teach you not to trust people even if they make book recommendation lists) because, apart from this, Bijal has written non-fiction books (So You Want to Know About the Environment), picture books (What’s Neema Eating Today?) and non-fiction picture books (The Seed Savers), all of which will help you befriend the natural world. She also edits some excellent books about nature and the environment, and she champions green books. So look her up and you’ll get loads of recommendations.
Bird Business by Rohan Chakravarty
Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS)
The thing about nature is, it’s endlessly entertaining. You’re never bored if you’re paying attention. And Rohan Chakravarty is always paying attention.
If you like birds, this book will make you love them. And if you’re like me and like to keep a respectful distance from birds because you know their latent dinosaur-ish tendencies could surface at any time, this book will make you love birds anyway. With this book, you will laugh and wonder, and you’ll begin to pay attention to the avian world around you.
Year of the Weeds by Siddharth Sarma
Despite all the climate crisis activism and awareness, effective change can unfortunately only stem from sensible governance and policies. There aren’t enough narratives that give us a glimpse into that aspect, or explore how out of proportion the effects of these decisions are.
Based on the clash between an indigenous community and a mining project in the Niyamgiri hills of Orissa, this powerful, heartwarming book tells us what matters — the power of a collective, the responsibility of a country to protect the rights of indigenous communities and the fact that the voices we don’t get to hear from are often the voices that matter most.
Salim Mamoo and Me by Zai Whitaker and Prabha Mallya
There’s no better way to be introduced to the natural world than through the eyes of someone who loves it.
And with this lovely book, we get that twice over — once through little Zai’s journey to becoming a bird watcher in her own right and the second through the eyes of Zai’s bird-watching family which included the illustrious ornithologist Dr Salim Ali.
The Six Spellmakers of Dorabji Street by Shabnam Minwalla
Shabnam Minwalla’s exuberant writing can make you fall in love with a rubber duck. So when the kids of Cosy Castle decide to save their beloved Bimbli trees, you will find yourself wanting to be a part of that mission too.
What better way to make people care about the environment than by making it seem like the coolest, most fun thing to do. And once you care, like the kids in this book, you will be capable of doing magical things.
10 Indian Champions Who Are Fighting to Save the Planet by Bijal Vachharajani and Radha Rangarajan
Human beings have been stomping around the planet, laying waste to everything. So sometimes, we may need to be reminded that we can be a force of good. In these times, we must read a book like this. The book introduces us to people who are working, in different ways, to protect the planet. I love non-fiction and I love lists, so this book (and Ranjit Lal’s 10 Indian Animals You May Never Again See in the Wild, in the same series) was a complete treat.
In ten short chapters, you will fall in love with the world, get angry about the state it’s in and get inspired to do something about it.
The Mountain That Loved A Bird by Alice McLerran and Stephen Aitken
First published in 2006, I was only introduced to this book a few months ago when Sangeeta Bhansali (of the fabulous Bombay bookstore Kahani Tree) handed it to me, telling me that I must read it. The cover made me a bit skeptical, but by the end of the first page, I’d forgotten about that.
Through the story of the friendship between a bird and a mountain, and how that friendship changes both their lives, we get to see the awe-inspiring power of nature. The poetic descriptions and rich language read like an old fable, and I would be very surprised if it doesn’t move you.
An Indian Beach: by Day and Night by Joëlle Jolivet
Tara Books is known for its brilliant book design, and that is on full display here. This wordless book, that gives us a 24-hour glimpse of a beach, is almost an accordion book. You can open it up and sit in it to look at the sea and its denizens, or crawl around it to see the shore. Not only is this is a great way to introduce a beach to a child who can’t visit it, but somewhere along the way, while seeing cats dozing by a fish shop or fishermen taking their boat out to sea early in the morning, you will begin to realise how rich our ecosystems are and how enmeshed our lives are with the environment around us.
Also see: Waterlife and The Night Life of Trees
Jadav and the Tree-Place by Vinayak Varma
You may be thinking, “So human beings are destroying the planet and you’re making me see all its wonders? What’s the point? What can I do now?” Jadav Payeng did not think that. He went ahead and planted a whole forest by himself.
In Jadav and the Tree-Place, Vinayak Varma tells this story with a matter-of-fact earnestness and an unembellished honesty. If this were just a story, it would be admirable. But knowing that it is true, will make you want to get out and make every place a tree-place.