There are many reasons to read. We can read to learn or build connections or have fun. Reading can invite us to new thoughts or ideas, nourish our imagination, and refresh our spirits. Reading as a family helps us build a better connection with each other and stimulates our conversation. Kids love to play outside and enjoy nature. Reading picture books about nature can simply be a way to enjoy both of those things… And yet, reading picture books about nature can also be a way to enrich the readers’ inner world and create a deeper understanding of the world around them.
Last week, my son sat in speech therapy. To be honest, it wasn’t our best appointment. He has an amazing speech therapist but the work is hard. He was wiggling more and desired to be done when she pulled out a picture of a ladybug. She asked him to name it and say a sentence with its name in it. My four year old replied, “A ladybug. A ladybug has inside wings.” It was a victory moment! I could tell he was pleased with his answer. All the reading about bugs for our bug book made the picture more personal for him. We read together, he absorbed what was interesting to him and he utilized the information in a new way!
My neighbor Amanda reminded me of this quote from Readaloud Revival’s Sarah MacKenzie “A picture book is an art museum in your child’s lap.” Let’s take that a step further with this booklist before you and say a picture book is also a science museum in your child’s lap. Have you ever been to a kid’s science museum? We went to the Mobius Science Center recently and it was fun times twelve! Reading about nature makes otherwise difficult science subjects accessible and fun.
It was hard to keep this list to twelve (although I sometimes list more than one per author). I picked our top favorites but it still doesn’t nearly encompass the mass of good books about nature. It’s a great start though! I really wanted to curate a list of books that help build a fondness and love for nature. A list of books that encourage us (yes, all of us) to go outside and play, explore, imagine, etc.!
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A list of picture books about nature to get kids outside and connecting them with nature:
1. This series by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long is amazing! My kids always borrow these from the library. A lot of information packed into the illustrations makes each time reading it feel a little different. Beautiful, elegant illustrations and fluid, poetic words makes for a lifelong treasure! There is also A Beetle is Shy and A Nest is Noisy. I never found rocks very interesting until I read A Rock is Lively alongside Rocks in His Head by Carol Otis Hurst.
2. The Raft by Jim LaMarche is a story about a boy whose “disappointing, boring” summer turns into a wonderful time exploring the river and the animals who use the river. My very active, four-year-old son is mesmerized by this book! Inspired by the author’s childhood. Also by the author is a book with a similar theme called Pond.
3. Owl Moon by Jane Yolen – this peaceful book is a lovely winter read. The reader will feel bundled up right next to the girl in the story, feet crunching on the glistening snow. It will give you a deep desire in your heart to find an owl yourself late one wintry night! Based off the author’s husband who took all their children and grandchildren owling!
4. Anything by Jim Arnosky is a treasure! A naturalist himself, his illustrations are gorgeous. My children won’t sit for just any book but they love pouring over his pictures and experiencing the world with the animals featured. We love the large foldout pages of some of his books. And we’ve heard great things about his Crinkleroot series but never actually read them – they are on our wishlist!
5. Out of the Woods: A True Story of an Unforgettable event by Rebecca Bond. Based on a true story where a wildfire took over an area of land and people and wild animals came together. The illustrations did an amazing job evoking the emotions. It was a really cool story about a devastating experience and simultaneously, a cool connection created between the people and animals who both utilized the forest.
6. A Weed is a Flower: The Life of George Washington Carver by Aliki – George Washington Carver is largely responsible for helping farmers prevent soil depletion. He also made peanuts and sweet potatoes an important crop! I love biographies that introduce children to historical characters in a way that doesn’t make it feel like a history lesson! This book touches on important topics like slavery, prejudice, and stewardship without seeming preachy or overbearing. A great lead-in to conversation about those times! Pair this book with life science (plants) or food experiments! What can you make with peanuts? Or opt to make peanut butter cookies!
7. Another biography in picture book form, Spring After Spring by Stephanie Roth Sisson is an introduction to Rachel Carson. The pictures in this book are sweet and yet, the book can rouse conversation about environmental impact and smear campaigns, to be honest. I love that picture books make big subjects accessible to children! “Nothing in nature exists alone.”
8. Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney – A delightful story that inspires us all to leave the world a better, more beautiful place. Charming illustrations with a message that touches the heart. You’ll want to plant flowers after!
9. The Minpins by Roald Dahl is a treasure from my childhood. Something about miniature people living in the forest makes a young kid want to go explore and see if they can find their own minpins! A little bit longer text so either plan to break it into different reading times or read it with older children.
10. This lovely little book was originally written in 1895 but don’t let its age fool you. The Complete Book of the Flower Fairies is a classic with lovely, detailed illustrations of each flower and their fairy. Cecily Mary Barker’s watercolors and little poems are well-loved for poetry teatime in our home. Divided into sections by seasons and location. Plus, the flowers are botanically accurate. Any little girl would love to flip through here and see each flower and winsome fairy to match! My daughter loved finding the plants she spotted on our hikes in the “wayside” section – we spotted quite a few wild edibles. We even learned a few things about the flowers by reading the poems. Thankfully, there is an index if you need to look it up by flower!
11. The Complete Brambly Hedge by Jill Barkley has the most intricate, delicate illustrations! This book has a story for each season with natural landscapes to match like the Autumn Story that show the beautiful autumn colors, bright red rosehips and ripe blackberries. The tales are sweet and timeless. My kids particularly love to cuddle up and read “The High Hills” about Mr. Apple and Wilfred’s misadventure. We love that all the stories are in one book – makes it easier to keep track of in our library!
12. An Almanac type book –
Connect kids with nature and they will see the seasons cycle. It’s fun to have a book that goes along with this cycle letting kids experience which season/month they are in and anticipate the next one. It sets a foundation of rhythm and harmony with nature. It might even inspire them to keep their own almanac or nature journal!
The Berenstain Bears’ Big Book of Science and Nature has a full almanac including important dates, seasons, and months. It also contains a large scope of information that makes science accessible to young kids. Definitely one to pick up again and again.
The Year at Maple Hill Farm has a sweet little story about each month on the farm. The reader will see the cycle of changes and read little snippets about farm animals(mostly).
Linnea’s Almanac is delightful, more involved little almanac. Each month has an activity and different information. It reads more like a magazine for 7-12 year old girls.
A Time to Keep by Tasha Tudor is just so whimsical. It has an older story feel and shows each month celebrating a holiday with cute and hearty traditions. If only we lived back then!
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