“If you pitch your rubbish into a rosebush,
the roses will notice it.”
(Naomi Shihab Nye, Cast Away: Poems for Our Times)
Earth Day was first established in 1970 as a way to develop awareness and promote action to protect our environment. This Earth Day, April 22, enhance student investigations into environmental issues by combining poetry and art. The following resources, though not a comprehensive list, may inspire ideas to develop with your students.
Cast Away: Poems for Our Times by Naomi Shihab Nye
These poems can spark interesting class discussions about things (and people) that we thoughtlessly cast away.
Suggestion: In these poetic musings on discarded trash, how does trash suggest something about the person who threw it away? How do these poems suggest ways to change attitudes about what we cast away? Challenge students to collect several items of trash in a neighborhood walk and use these discarded items to create their own trash poems.
Call Us What We Carry by Amanda Gorman
Amanda Gorman uses a variety of poetic forms in this evocative collection of poems. Several of the poems are inspired by a scrap collection of news articles, diaries, and letters; she transforms these texts into found poetry.
Suggestion: Challenge students to use a scrap of written text from a newspaper article, diary, or letter to create their own black-out poem.
Poetry.org has assembled a list of Earth Day Poems.
Suggestion: In the poem by Gary Soto, “Earth Day on the Bay,” how does Soto use descriptive details to suggest the history of the shoe found on the beach? How does Soto suggest a more serious reflection on the cyclical nature of this problem of litter?
The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall
When a thoughtless act by a troubled 13-year-old boy earns him community service time with a “junk man,” the boy learns a valuable lesson that helps him to deal with the death of his father. Just like art that is made from discarded objects, the old junk collector shows the young boy that anything can be redeemed and made to shine.
Suggestion: The folk artist James Hampton is featured in this book. View a Smithsonian video about James Hampton and his art assemblage, “The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly.” Encourage students to create their own art piece from reclaimed materials and foil.
Washed Ashore: Making Art from Ocean Plastic by Kelly Crull
Artist Angela Haseltine Pozzi creates sculptures from plastic refuse found on beaches. Her marine sea creature sculptures highlighted in this book are a stunning wake-up call about the environmental problem for our oceans and marine life.
Suggestion: Challenge students to a scavenger hunt as they look closely at the marine sculptures to identify the reclaimed plastic items.
Rock by Rock: The Fantastical Garden of Nek Chand by Jennifer Bradbury
Folk artist Nek Chand used discarded glass, broken plates, and rocks to create a secret rock garden in a forest in India to ease his loss of homeland during the Partition of India into the Dominions of India and Pakistan.
Suggestion: Discuss with students how creating art can transform suffering (like displacement from your home) into an experience of beauty that can bring comfort to other people who view the artwork.
One Plastic Bag by Miranda Paul
This inspirational picture book describes the efforts of Isatou Ceesay to create something beautiful and useful from the discarded plastic bags in her village in Gambia. Isatou Ceesay and a group of women began a business by crocheting beautiful bags from the discarded plastic.
Suggestion: Challenge students to use a plastic bottle and transform it into a new object that could be useful.
Smithsonian Learning Lab
Aleah Myer’s Smithsonian Learning Lab Module, Environmental Advocacy through Art, curates environmental artwork and pairs it with Visible Thinking routines to examine the artwork. Also featured are several videos of art commentaries by museum curators. The following art curator discussions may be of particular interest:
In this Smithsonian video, Deborah Stokes, Curator of Education at the National Museum of African Art, discusses this environmental sculpture by artist El Anatsui.
Port Henry Iron Mine
Curator Eleanor Jones Harvey discusses artist Homer Dodge Martin’s landscape painting, Port Henry Iron Mine, an iron mine used during the Civil War. The curator interprets the artist’s intention to illustrate how the earth was “scarred” by the war and to create an emotionally-charged metaphor for how lives were impacted by the Civil War.
Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea
Landfill Harmonic: A Symphony of the Human Spirit
This documentary highlights the Recycled Orchestra of Cateura. These musicians make beautiful music from instruments constructed from discarded landfill refuse.
This documentary will appeal to high school students, though parts of the documentary could be shown to a middle school audience. Artist Vic Muniz returns to his Brazilian homeland to enlist the help of garbage pickers to create monumental art pieces that celebrate the lives of these individuals. The murals are assemblages from trash.