Educator Resources: Eco-Theme # 7: Public Spaces (with non-fiction PB titles)

Photo by Victor Malyushev on Unsplash

Time for my seventh and final blog post in a series focusing on eco-themes for teachers/educators. In this post, I will pair the eco-theme of PUBLIC SPACES with some of the non-fiction picture books I recommend to help highlight the material for students.


The eco-themes are based on the wonderful Sustainable Intelligence curriculum offered by EcoRise, an organization with a school based program aiming to empower youth to tackle real-world challenges in their schools and communities by teaching environmental literacy, social innovation, and hands-on design skills. EcoRise offers engaging, ready-to-use, K-12 curriculum that guides students in building sustainability knowledge.




You can read my original post HERE, where I talk about my experience as a Teacher Ambassador for EcoRise.

The 7 eco-themes in EcoRise’s Sustainable Intelligence curriculum are water, energy, waste, food, air, transportation, and public spaces. All of these are centered around the important concept of sustainability.

EcoRise has been incredibly supportive during the switch to remote teaching/learning and their curricular resources have been easily adaptable. 

Note: If you’re a teacher and would like information about sampling the EcoRise curriculum (or possibly gaining access through a grant in your state), send me a message and I’ll be happy to help you connect 🙂 

This post will focus on Eco-theme # 7: PUBLIC SPACES

My second grade science students have been studying the beach and the ocean in recent weeks. We discussed the negative impact of plastic pollution in the sea and on the beaches. This led to discussions about “Who’s fault is it?” “Who should clean it up?” “Who owns the beach?” “How can we clean the ocean?” and, of course, “How can we reduce plastic waste?” These conversations led nicely into the concept of public spaces and we will be ending the school year with the eco-theme of public spaces.

The EcoRise Sustainable Intelligence (SI) curriculum has wonderful lessons on public spaces. Using the SI lessons as a guide, my class will explore some of the following essential questions during these last weeks of school here in NJ:

  • Essential Questions (sample questions from the EcoRise SI curriculum):
    • Who owns a public space?
    • What is a privately owned place?
    • How can I care for public spaces?
    • What are some qualities of a great public space?
    • How can I help make a not-so-great public space better?
    • Why should we show respect for public spaces?


Photo by Will Paterson on Unsplash


Here are some of the non-fiction books that may help spark questions & curiosity about the theme of public spaces:

Walking in the City with Jane: A Story of Jane Jacobs

Written by Susan Hughes and Illustrated by Valérie Boivin

Publisher’s Synopsis:From the time she was a young girl, Jane Jacobs’ curious mind made her a keen observer of everything around her. When she grew up, she moved to New York City, a place full of new wonders for her to explore. It was there she realized that, just like in nature, a city is an ecosystem. “It is made of different parts — sidewalks, parks, stores, neighborhoods, City Hall . . . and people, of course. When they all work together, the city is healthy.” So, when city planner Robert Moses proposed creating highways through the city that would destroy neighborhoods and much of what made New York great, Jane decided she couldn’t let it happen. She stood up to the officials and rallied her neighbors to stop the plans —and even got arrested! Jane’s bravery and ideas had a huge influence on urban planning that is still being felt today. In this lively and engaging informational picture book, award-winning author Susan Hughes provides a fictionalized story of the life of Jane Jacobs, one of the world’s greatest urban thinkers and activists. This book makes a terrific resource for studying civic engagement, urban life, the history of New York and Toronto (where Jane moved later in life), and the role of city planning. Jane’s inspirational story is also an excellent example for character education lessons on perseverance, citizenship and initiative. Stylized illustrations by Valérie Boivin perfectly evoke the story’s time and place. End matter includes a brief biography of Jane Jacobs.

Ages 5-8 | Publisher: Kids Can Press |  April 3, 2018|ISBN-13: 978-1771386531

When Jackie Saved Grand Central: The True Story of Jacqueline Kennedy’s Fight for an American Icon

Written by Natasha Wing and Illustrated by Alexandra Boiger 

Publisher’s Synopsis: Before she was an iconic First Lady of the United States, Jackie Kennedy was a born-and-raised New Yorker. She loved everything about her city, from the natural beauty of the parks to the architectural history of the buildings. So when the owners of Grand Central wanted to build a skyscraper on top of the famous train station, Jackie knew they had to be stopped. She helped inspire thousands of people to come together and fight to protect the historic landmark. From letter-writing campaigns all the way to the Supreme Court, this little-known story celebrates winning in the face of immeasurable odds and how one person can make a big difference.

Ages 6-9 | Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers | March 7, 2017 |ISBN-13: 978-0547449210

National Parks of the U.S.A.  

Written by Kate Siber and Illustrated by Chris Turnham 

Publisher’s Synopsis: A 2019 Outstanding Science Trade Book for Students: K–12 (National Science Teachers Association and the Children’s Book Council).

Take a tour of America’s great outdoors and discover the beauty and diversity of its most iconic and majestic national parks. Packed with maps and fascinating facts about the flora and fauna unique to each of the 21 parks portrayed, this lushly illustrated coast-to-coast journey documents in large format the nation’s most magnificent and sacred places—and shows why they should be preserved for future generations to enjoy.

Explore Florida’s river-laced Everglades, travel down the white water rapids of the Grand Canyon, trek across the deserts of Death Valley, and scale the soaring summits of the Rocky Mountains with this book that brings you up close to nature’s greatest adventures.

Divided by region (East, Central, Rocky Mountains, West, Tropics, and Alaska), a pictographic map at the start of each section shows the locations of the parks to be covered. Each park is introduced by a stunning, poster-worthy illustration of one of its scenes and a summary of its makeup, followed by individual illustrations of the animals and plants that make their homes there.

Captions provide captivating information about the wildlife. Did you know that Everglades National Park is home to marsh rabbits who paddle through its swamps searching for herbs, flowers, and other plants to nibble on? Or that the pronghorn antelope of Badlands National Park are the continent’s fastest land animals, sprinting up to 60 miles per hour to escape predators like bobcats and coyotes?

A “Can you spot this…?” page at the back challenges you to find a pictured critter or plant for every letter of the alphabet.

The parks include: Acadia, Badlands, Big Bend, Biscayne, Bryce Canyon, Channel Islands, Death Valley, Denali, Everglades, Glacier, Glacier Bay, Grand Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains, Hawaii volcanoes, Isle Royale, Mesa Verde, Olympic, Sequoia and Kings Canyon, Virgin Islands, Yellowstone, and Yosemite.

A book to be treasured by children and adults alike, National Parks of the USA serves to inspire the adventuring naturalist in all of us.

Brimming with facts, activities, and beautiful illustrations, the National Parks of the USA series of books immerses young people in the wonders of America’s outdoors. Learn about the wonderful wildlife, stunning scenery, and rare plants that inhabit these precious outdoor spaces. Celebrate these beautiful and rare locations, and be awed by the diversity and grandeur of the national parks’ living landscapes.

Ages 8-12 | Publisher: Wide Eyed Editions | 1st edition (July 3, 2018) |ISBN-13: 978-1847809766



I love the following book, because it teaches us about perspective and perception. Public spaces are different things to different organisms. For example, a simple stone can be a home for a small creature. Sharing public spaces goes beyond humans.

A Stone Sat Still 

Written and Illustrated by  Brendan Wenzel 

Publisher’s Synopsis: The brilliant follow-up to the Caldecott Honor-winning and New York Times bestselling picture book They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel!

A Stone Sat Still tells the story of a seemingly ordinary rock but to the animals that use it, it is a resting place, a kitchen, a safe haven…even an entire world.

This is a gorgeous exploration of perspective, perception, and the passage of time, with an underlying environmental message that is timely and poignant.

Filled with stunning illustrations in cut paper, pencil, collage, and paint. Soothing rhythms invite reading aloud and bedtime snuggles

Introduces concepts like color, size, function, and time in a way that is easily understandable and teachable for children.

With a rhythmic, calming narrative about the stone and its place in the world and the changing environment A Stone Sat Still proves Brendan Wenzel’s mastery of the picture book form.

This modern children’s classic will enchant readers in preschool and kindergarten, as well as the adults that read with them.

A wonderful gift for teachers, librarians, and educators who are looking to teach difficult concepts like perspective and perception. Perfect for parents and caregivers wanting to educate their kids about the environment, nature, and animals. Great for fans of I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen, The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, and The Lorax by Dr. Seuss, as well as Wenzel’s previous books They All Saw a Cat and Hello Hello

Ages 3 and up | Publisher: Chronicle Books  | August 27, 2019 |ISBN-13: 978-1452173184


There are so many other topics to explore regarding public spaces. If you have any other recommendations, feel free to leave a comment below 🙂Thank you!

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