14 Books to Inspire Creative Recycling


By Mindy Baker

When my children were little, I kept a crate of materials that we could use for creating and “making stuff.” It was a perfect way for me and my children to spend some fun, quality time together being creative. Not only that, but it was a great way to show them the importance of taking care of our planet and the value of repurposing materials instead of throwing everything away. Books are a wonderful way to add to that discussion! Here is a collection of some of my favorite books about creative, often surprising ways people have given new life to "junk." I hope this list will inspire your kids to get creative, either with you by their side or on their own.

Ideas for things to DISCUSS:
  • What does it mean to recycle?
  • What does it mean to reuse?
  • What does it mean to repurpose?
  • How much garbage do you think our family creates in a day? A week? A year?
  • What are some items that we don’t use that we could give to someone else so that they could use them (instead of throwing them away)?
  • How long does a plastic straw last in the ground before it decomposes? (talk about other materials as well)

Ideas for things to DO:
  • Volunteer to pick up trash at a park, trail, or beach.
  • Find 10 things around your house that you can give away to someone else who needs them more than you do.
  • Begin to recycle and use cloth bags at the grocery store.
  • Start a box of materials that you can repurpose for projects. Items can include scraps of paper, cardboard, old CDs, bottle caps, plastic "bread clips," and more! 
  • Make a fantastic project together made only from your “materials” box.

And now for the book list!

Rainbow Weaver by Linda Elovitz Marshall, illustrated by Elisa Chavarri. This is an inspiring story about a Mayan girl named Ixchel who wants to be a weaver like her mother and grandmother, but lacks money for the materials. She creatively reuses all the plastic bags that are littering her neighborhood, weaving them into a rainbow of beauty.

One Plastic Bag by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon. This is the amazing story of Isatou Casey, a woman from Gambia who began a movement to solve the plastic bag issue that was wreaking havoc on her community.

Ada’s Violin by Susan Hood, illustrated by Sally Wern Comport. This is a story from Paraguay. It is about a music teacher named Favio Chávez who began making instruments from trash so that kids could have the opportunity to play music. Now the “Recycled Orchestra” performs concerts all around the world. You will be inspired by this story!

Jaden’s Impossible Garden by Mélina Mangal and Illustrated by Ken Daley. This is about a boy named Jaden who creates a magical secret fort garden in the middle of the city. The back matter includes two how-to projects using recycled materials.

The Cardboard Box Book: Make Robots, Princess Castles, Cities, and More! by Roger Priddy and Sarah Powell, and illustrated by Barbi Sido. This book offers many different ideas of how a cardboard box can be make into robots, castles, and more! Don’t throw those boxes away!

The Last Straw: Kids vs. Plastics by Susan Hood and illustrated by Christiane Engle. This book is a collection of poetry, fun facts, sidebar true stories of kids making a difference. For example, it has a great section about kids in Guatemala making ecobricks out of discarded plastic to make walls for their schools. There is also a section about a child who collected 1,600 pounds of bottle caps to melt them down to make buddy benches for her school. And there is even a part about a girl named Xochitl who invented a solar heater with recycled plastic bottles, hose, cable ties, nylon, and glass to provide hot water for bathing. All this and more!

Rock by Rock: The Fantastical Garden of Nek Chand by Jennifer Bradbury Illustrated by Sam Boughton. This is the true story of a man from Chandigarh, India who created a hidden art garden from the bits and bangles he collected on the city streets. Although Nek is no longer alive, his beautiful creation exists today and has become one of India’s treasures.

What to Do with a Box (Board book) by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Chris Sheban. This is a rhyming book that celebrates imagination and all the possibilities that could happen if you give a child a box. Will it become a library, a boat, or something equally as fantastic? Try it!

Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beatty and illustrated by David Roberts. Rosie is a shy collector who creates amazing things alone at night like hot dog dispensers, helium pants, and other gizmos. Will she gain the confidence to share her ideas with the world?

One Little Bag: An Amazing Journey illustrated by Henry Cole. This is wordless book that portrays the idea of reusing and repurposing materials in a thought-provoking manner. First a tree falls and is made into a paper bag. When a little boy receives the bag at the store, you will be amazed at the journey that ensues.

The Thingity Jig by Kathleen Doherty and illustrated by Kristyna Litten. This book is a sure hit with your little engineer builders. When a little bear can’t sleep, under the silvery moon he finds a Thingity-Jig. To move it, he uses a Rolly-Rumpity, Lifty-Uppity, and a Push-Poppity. The story is a great springboard for building a contraption that will help you complete a task!

Gifts of the Magpie written and illustrated by Sam Hurdley This is the story of a magpie who tries to give gifts to his friends, but instead gives them a homonym of what they want. For example, when they want spring, he give them a spring coil. The author uses dug relics to create the images in the illustrations, and the back matter explains his fascinating process.

The Collectors written and illustrated by Alice Feagan. Two girls have a fantastic collection in their treehouse, but it lacks one special item. Everything they find is not quite right! This is a great book to springboard into going on a walk with your child, slowing down to collect a few treasures, and then taking it to the next level by using what you collect to create something fantastic!

Bottle Tops: The Art of El Anatsuiwritten by Alison Goldberg and illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon. This book is the inspiring story of Ghananian sculptor El Anatsui. He told his people’s stories through his bottle cap art. What could you are your child make from bottlecaps or a similar material?

I hope that this list of books will inspire families to spend time with one another creating something new from something old, relishing the gift of imagination, and becoming caretakers of our planet!

Have you created something interesting from recycled materials? All of us at Read, Discuss, Do! would love to hear about it or see some pictures of your masterpiece! 


Mindy's daughter with the robot
they made together.



Rebecca's son and daughter with the castle
they made from a box.

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