By Monterey Buchanan
In order to keep up-to-date on the impacts of climate change, there’s lots of reading involved: news, climate websites, IPCC reports and upcoming legislation. But for those of us who also love books and poetry, it can be difficult to fit these genres into our reading schedules. Whether it be non-fiction books and anthologies, fiction for many ages, or poetry, books are not an escapist luxury. They encourage us to understand and take action to address climate change in new and more creative ways—maybe even for the first time.
Check out the titles below to support Colorado-based authors and get into books about climate change.
The Dog Stars by Peter Heller (Adult Fiction)
What It’s About: Traumatized by a flu pandemic that wiped out most of humanity, Hig lives in an abandoned Colorado airport with his dog Jasper, and enigmatic neighbor, Bangley. Hig must survive on land that has been ravaged by climate change, and conserve the little remaining fuel for his Cessna airplane, only leaving the airport for essential supplies. Hig is focused on survival for himself, Jasper, and Bangley, but he is pushed out of this comfort zone when a mysterious transmission arrives from another pilot. Hig must risk everything and use the last of his fuel to find who the message came from. Note that this book has violence and sexual scenes.
Why You Should Read It: The Colorado connection is strong with this one. The primary setting is near the Rocky Mountains, and includes references to Grand Junction, Erie, Denver, and other Colorado towns, and the fates they met in this post-apocalyptic world. Hig must survive in a world that gives him little to live for, but we see that Hig has not lost his emotions or humanity in a desperate situation either. While there is no easy fix for the effects of climate change, disease, and distrust in this book’s world, it makes a strong case that humanity is still worth fighting for.
Where to Find Out More: In addition to The Dog Stars, Heller has written several other books about climate change, featured on his Goodreads author page.
All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions For the Climate Crisis edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine Keeble Wilkinson (Adult Multi-Genre Anthology)
What It’s About: The anthology features climate-change writing by women and across genres including essays, poetry, letters, personal statements, quotes and art. Though the pieces are realistic about the enormity of the climate crisis, they also emphasize that including women, especially women of color, indigenous women and youth as leaders in the climate crisis, will encourage climate justice more than if leaders continue to be mostly white men. The book also emphasizes hope and creativity as essential to solving climate change.
Why You Should Read It: If you’re tired of books that treat climate change as isolated from other social justice movements, and you value intersectional feminism, this is the climate book for you. It argues embracing diversity of gender, race, and other identities will spark the positive change needed to tackle the climate crisis. The collection includes perspectives from women in many professional fields including science, activism, the arts, psychology, farming and modeling among many others. This reminds readers they can contribute to the solution no matter their professional background. The audiobook takes this a step further with a diversity of narrators as well.
Though not strictly written by Colorado authors, this book includes the poem “Characteristics of Life” by Colorado poet Camille Dungy, and was picked by One Book One Boulder.
Where To Find More: The back of the book has more information about each of the contributors. You can also listen to a full interview with Dungy.
The Last Panther by Todd Mitchell (Middle-Grade Fiction)
What It’s About: This novel follows the story of Kiri, who discovers and connects with a mother panther and her babies—a species thought to be extinct on the island where Kiri lives. With her scientist father, and the native villagers both fighting over what to do with the animals, Kiri must bridge the gap between the two groups, and the two parts of herself, to do what is best for the panthers.
Why you should read it: This novel is great for introducing middle-grade readers to endangered species, and the importance of apex predators to a thriving ecosystem. The book does not shy away from Kiri’s multiple identities and is empathetic toward the many different perspectives about what to do with the panthers, while showing that everything is connected.
Where to Find More: Read more of Tod Mitchell’s books on animals and climate change at his website.
Out of My Shell by Jenny Goebel (Middle-Grade Fiction)
What It’s About: In the wake of her parents’ separation, Olivia is not looking forward to the family trip to Florida, since her father is staying behind in Colorado. While avoiding the family tension, Olivia discovers the beachfront bed and breakfast in the neighborhood is shining bright lights on the sea turtle nesting ground at night. Every obstacle and disbelieving adult she encounters makes Olivia more determined to help the turtles, and perhaps herself, in the process.
Why You Should Read It: This is another good one for the middle-grade readers in your life. As Olivia learns more about the turtles, she becomes more determined to help them, turning natural scientific curiosity and love of animals into a foundation for activism. This book teaches readers young people can make a difference. Another fun feature of this book: each chapter opens with a fact about sea turtles in place of a chapter title, so readers are learning about the turtles along with Olivia.
Where To Find More: You can find more books from Colorado-based author Jenny Goebel at her website.
If Polar Bears Disappeared by Lilly Williams (Non-Fiction Picture Book)
What It’s About: This book uses engaging illustrations to explore what might happen if Arctic ecosystems lost their apex predator, polar bears, to climate change. The chain reaction the book depicts proves how all life in the Artic is interconnected, and how the loss of one species could have a devastating impact on all life on Earth. Though the subject matter is serious, the book is always appropriate for small children, ending with robust “What You Can Do” and “Additional Resources” sections, to encourage young readers to learn more, and do their part.
Why You Should Read It: Climate change can be difficult to discuss with young children, and this picture book provides a visually stimulating, and ultimately hopeful way of starting the conversation. The theme of the interconnectedness of life is central throughout, and the illustrations often enhance the story by labeling different parts of the habitat as well, encouraging readers to learn new vocabulary as they look at the pictures. The specific focus on polar bears also appeals to animal lovers. This book is part of a series, including If Sharks Disappeared and If Bees Disappeared among others.
“a sea ice-free Arctic summer
a risk of irreversible loss
under a pink colorado sky”
—from STREJK Extinction Vortex by Kendra Richard
Poetry can also be fertile ground for exploring climate change, using innovative metaphor, word choice, line breaks, and other poetic elements to engage readers and listeners with climate change. In addition to Camille T. Dungy’s contribution to All We Can Save, the Colorado poets below have climate-focused poetry worth checking out:
Anne Waldman – Author of the poetry collection Manatee/Humanity; Find more at her website. Several recordings of Anne’s work are also available on YouTube. Check out Waldman reading from “Manatee Humanity”
Andrew Schelling – Author of: Wild Form, Savage Grammar: Poetry, Ecology, Asia a prose book about eco-poetry; Find more at Schelling’s Poets.org page
Caroline Bergvall – Visiting faculty at Naropa University, and author of Alisoun Sings, which explores the impacts of global warming, among other themes. Find more at Bergvall’s website.
Kendra Richard – MFA recipient and author of eco-poetry manuscript STREJK Extinction Vortex; Special thanks to Kendra for her input on this poetry section.
Hopefully the books and poetry listed here has whetted your appetite for more writing about climate change. May these works encourage you to be informed, engaged, and supported as you find your place in the climate movement. 350nColorado is interested in starting a climate change book club. If you are interested in helping start this club on a volunteer basis, please contact Deborah McNamara at: email@example.com. You can see 350 Colorado committees and upcoming actions at: 350colorado.org.
“I kept always two books in my pocket, one to read, one to write in.” – Robert Louis Stevenson (Scottish novelist, poet and travel writer)