United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 15: LIFE ON LAND

Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss

[Katy Vance, Yokohama International School, Japan]

Life on Land is a sweeping goal with over twelve different targets as wide ranging as combating poaching and trafficking, the preservation of freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems, ending deforestation and desertification, and restoring degraded lands and forests. The targets also incorporate government planning and financial investment. According to the UN

“Human life depends on the earth as much as the ocean for our sustenance and livelihoods. Plant life provides 80 percent of the human diet, and we rely on agriculture as an important economic resource. Forests cover 30 percent of the Earth’s surface, provide vital habitats for millions of species, and important sources for clean air and water, as well as being crucial for combating climate change.”

In addition to, or perhaps because of, its sweeping nature, Life on Land’s targets overlap with many of the SDGs. For example, sustainable agriculture will help achieve a world with Zero Hunger and contribute to opportunities for decent work and economic growth. Maintaining clean freshwater is a core element for good health and well-being. “Nature-based climate solutions can contribute about a third of CO2 reductions by 2030”, making it central to climate action. From picture books that sneakily develop a reader’s understanding of the water cycle while following the adventures of a lost toy to young reader’s editions of science nonfiction on the hidden lives of trees, there are a wealth of texts available for librarians to support readers in exploring, understanding and taking action to achieve this essential goal by 2030. I hope you will find some texts below to add to your collection. 


All Along the River by Magnus Weightman, translated from Dutch by the author (2019) / Belgium

When Bunny’s toy duck falls into the river, Bunny and her brothers hop on their boat to fetch the beloved toy. This seek-and-find picture book adventure takes place entirely on a river, starting from glacial meltwater and progressing all the way to the sea through forests, farms, waterfalls, and harbors. While this picture book has many benefits, it’s a wonderful way to expose our youngest readers to the wonders of the water cycle and the centrality of rivers to our lives.

Rivers: A Visual History from river to sea by Peter Goes, translated from the Dutch by Bill Nagelkerke (2018) / Belgium

Water has always been at the center of all cultures, and exploring the world’s waterways is an exciting lens for studying history and our lives today. This lively text takes you on a journey around the most important rivers of the world. Each map includes fun facts about nature as well as the culture and history of the river. A busy book chock full of small illustrations and quirky icons to represent cultures, countries and historical figures, it will be best used as a way to spark inquiry or browse away an afternoon. 

Thirsty for more about water and wetlands? Drink up these texts:

Song of the River by Joy Crowley, illustrated by Kimberly Andrews (2019) / New Zealand

Water Wow! An infographic exploration by Paula Ayer & Antonia Banyard, illustrated by Belle Wuthritch (2016) / Canada / Lesson plan

Eco-Diary of Kiran Singer by Sue Ann Anderson (2007) / Canada


Can You Hear the Trees Talking?: Discovering the Hidden Life of the Forest by Peter Wohlleben, translated from German by Shelley Tanaka (2019)

This is a young reader’s edition of the popular The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate- Discoveries from a Secret World (2015) by Peter Wohlleben, who has been leading educational tours in Germany’s Eifel Mountains for over twenty years.

Targeted for upper elementary and middle school students, this 84 page text is packed with quizzes, photographs, and hands-on activities that will keep even your most reluctant reader engaged in what trees feel, how they communicate, and the ways trees take care of their families.  In a #worldkidlitWednesday post, Nanette McGuiness described this as “a magical science field trip to the forest from your armchair”. 

The Forest by Riccardo Bozzi, illustrated by Violeta Lópiz and Valerio Vidali, translated from Italian by Debbie Bibo (2017) / Italy

Frankly, having read the great Maria Popova’s review of this book, I’m tempted to just direct you to her post. But here’s my effort: Using die-cuts, embossing, cutouts, and a gatefold, this lusciously created book shows the story of a forest over time, starting when it is young as a small grove of trees and progressing each page into something wilde, thicker and more complex. As the forest grows, so do the explorers, with diverse characters aging from infancy to the elderly alongside the forest.  This gorgeous work of art will provide readers with hours of exploration as well as a deeper appreciation of vibrant, undamaged wilderness. 

Fancy more on forests? Check out these titles:

Fire! The Renewal of a Forest by Celia Godkin (2008) / Canada
The Boreal Forest: A Year in the World’s Largest Land Biome by L.E. Carmichael, illustrated by Josée Bisaillon (2020) / Canada
City of Trees: Essays on Life, Death and the Need for a Forest by Sophie Cunningham (2019) / Australia

When Spring Comes to the DMZ by Uk-Bae Lee, translated from Korean by Chungyon Won and Aileen Won (2019) / South Korea

In this picture book, the reader follows a grandfather as he travels to the South Korean fence at the DMZ to gaze at his former home in North Korea. In soft illustrations, it shows the stark contrast between the natural beauty of the thriving nature of the DMZ with the harsh realities of the soldiers, razor wire and detritus of war.

It is, of course, an opportunity to discuss the current conflict between North and South Korea as well as the ideas of peace and acceptance. But for the purposes of this blog, it is a close look at the accidental nature preserve of the DMZ, where salmon, spotted seals, and mountain goats freely follow the seasons and raise their families in this 2.5-mile-wide, 150-mile-long corridor where no human may tread, offering readers the opportunity to look at human impact on land and wonder what would it would mean to re-wild our world.

You can watch a trailer for this book on Plough Publishing’s YouTube channel. 

Another fascinating book about rewilding is Rewilding: Giving Nature a Second Chance by Jane Drake and Ann Love (2017) / Canada.  Note: this book is available via Epic Books online – click here to view.


Drops of Life by Esko-Pekka Tiitinen, illustrated by Nikolai Tiitinen (2010) / Finland / Translated by Fleur Jeremiah (2011)

The Drops of Life is a Finnish picture book adapted from the original play for children, which has been performed in over 100 countries around the globe. The play was sponsored by ENO, Environment Online, a global network of schools and communities focused on sustainable development, especially tree re-planting.

This fable focuses on the importance of teamwork and solidarity in the face of threats to our natural world. While there are many environmental issues and themes brought up in this story, it’s direct connection to Life on Land occurs when an owl and a whale help a dove make its way back to its forest home in Africa, only to find the previously lush forest has been taken over by desert. With the help of other animals, a human, and elements of the natural world, they are able to sow the seeds of forest life again.

This picture book is a starting point to inquire into the realities of desertification as well as real world efforts to restore degraded land and soil, a key global target for SDG 15

NB: The book was also highlighted in the blog post on SDG 13.

Secondary schools might be interested in this online resource: World Atlas of Desertification (2018), created by the European Commission, Joint Research Centre. You can read the atlas or explore the world using their interactive maps.


The Sockeye Mother by Hetxw’ms Gyetxw (Brett D. Huson), illustrated by Natasha Donovan (2018) / Gitxsan Nation of the Northwest Interior of British Columbia, Canada

This story about Miso’o, the sockeye salmon, is written by Hetxw’ms Gyetxw (Brett D. Huson), a member of the Gitxsan Nation of the Northwest Interior of British Columbia, Canada. The Sockeye Mother is one book in a series called Mothers of Xsan, which is part of the author’s vision for sharing the worlds of the Gitxsan Nation. This stunningly illustrated story shows how the Sockeye Salmon is so much more than a source of food, as over the course of its life it nourishes the lands and forests of the Xsan, (also known by the colonial name Skeena River), demonstrating how animals, water, soil, and seasons are all intertwined.  

The author has published a pronunciation guide for Gitsxan words appearing in “The Sockeye Mother”, and  you can learn more about the conservation efforts for the Sockeye Salmon on the NOAA fisheries species directory

See these lesson plans for the book by the University of Calgary, Werklund School of Education.

Where has the Tiger Gone? by Dhavat Singh Uikey, designed with Ragini Siruguri (2018) / India

Many children today live in spaces bereft of wildlife. Some children will only experience undomesticated animals in the context of zoos or televised nature specials. Other children know wildlife up close and personal because as human communities encroach on their natural habitats, wild animals prey on domesticated pets, threaten humans or raid human trash to forage for food.

In this picture book, Dhavat Singh Uikey, an artist from the Gond tribe in central India, reminds us of “a time when tigers and human beings lived close to each other…[when] Gond villages were often located close to the forest, where tigers roamed freely” (from the Tara Books summary). This collection of traditional Gond tales will remind readers of the majesty of this great beast, as well of a time and relationship that is no longer.

The Boy and the Poacher’s Moon by Pamela Newham (2020) / South Africa

This middle grade novel focuses on the complicated issue of rhino poaching in South Africa. Billy, the protaganist, is one of four finalists to win the Wild2Save competition. He will now spend a weekend in Kruger National Park alongside the Krieks, who conduct conservation work in the park. The final prize in the competition is a bursary to study conservation at university. The idyllic weekend of exploring the bush and seeing wildlife quickly turns dangerous as the students come face to face with poachers. This tense mystery thriller looks at the many layers of wildlife poaching in South Africa and the difficult work to be done to protect rhinos. 

Wild for books about wildlife conservation? Check these out these titles:

Small and Tall Tales of Extinct Animals by Hélène Rajcak and Damien Laverdunt, translated from French by Jen Craddock (2012) / France

Waluk & Waluk: The Great Journey by Emilio Ruiz, illustrated by Anna Miralles,  translated and adapted from Spanish by Dan Oliverio (2013) / Spain

Giant: The Panda of the Enchanted Forest by Xuan Lic Xuan (2018) / Vietnamese author/illustrator / Set in China

Katy Jean Vance is the head librarian at Yokohama International School in Yokohama, Japan. Over the last eighteen years, she has lived and worked as an educator in the United States, Brazil, Angola and Japan. Katy is passionate about libraries as inclusive safe spaces for tweens and teens, particularly for commonly non-dominant populations such as LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC students, emergent language learners. and students with diverse learning needs. Connect with her on Twitter @katyvance

Note: all the books highlighted during this month of SDGs can be found on this GLLI Goodreads shelf.

What are your favorite books for SDG Goal 15: Life on Land? Please share them in the comments. Let’s make this a conversation and work on the goal together.

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