by Jennifer Fontaine – It’s summertime. ‘Tis the season for exciting, less structured opportunities to engage children in exploring and discovering the world around them. Whether in a city or out in the countryside, scenery is constantly changing. The trees are getting greener, birds are carrying twigs for nest-building, bees are pollinating, and every puddle and pond is filled with the soft buzz of dragonflies.
Encouraging kids to begin looking more closely at their outdoor surroundings, to observe those small, yet monumental changes in the natural world, reinforces their love and curiosity of nature. And the long, meandering days of summer extend a child’s freedom to learn and love, away from the confines of their school’s four walls.
This list of nature books for kids (and adults) was carefully curated by our editorial team to inspire the next generation of naturalists to get out the front door and start exploring the world outside. It also serves as the foundation for families to discuss the adventurous ambitions of stewardship and preservation of mother nature.
1. A Bold Carnivore
Author and Illustrator Consie Powell
32 pages. Ages 3-10
Readers learn about a variety of predators in this beautiful and educational book. Each letter of the alphabet features a carnivorous animal, some of which — like Quail and Shrew — we don’t usually think of as predators. Other animals, like Murex and Uta, are seldom found in children’s books and will delight curious budding scientists.
Lifelike illustrations show the predators in their natural settings, and colorful border drawings depict the prey species. At the top of the list of nature books for kids, this brief text tells about the methods each predator uses to catch its prey. A glossary in the back lists the names of each prey species pictured.
2. Beaver, Bear, Snowshoe Hare
Author Cheryl Dannenbring and Illustrator Anna Hess
32 pages. Ages 3 and up.
From the shrew who dines at the Swamp Café to the mighty Kodiak bear who inspires awe and eats wherever he chooses, the mammals in this book delight, amuse, educate, and entertain readers of all ages. Poems are sometimes serious, sometimes fantastical, but always fun to read, especially aloud. Each mammal is also described with an interesting detail not widely known, making this book a must-have on your nature books for kids bookshelf, it’s fun and informative for both children and the adults who read to them. Sure to be a top pick at bedtime or anytime, this book will be a cheerful addition to any north woods cabin collection.
3. Frog in the House
Author David Mather and Illustrator Stephanie Mirocha
32 pages. Ages 3-9.
What child hasn’t longed to bring a wild creature into the family home and keep it as a pet? This book helps children understand why that’s not a good idea.
The story begins with a wild treefrog living happily in the plants on a family’s porch. Told from the frog’s perspective, the narrative portrays his discomfort when he is mistakenly brought inside in the fall. In the happy ending, the family returns the frog to the outdoors where he can hibernate, and the child in the family looks forward to listening for the frog’s song in the spring.
Rich watercolor illustrations contrast the frog’s natural habitat with his indoor plight. A full page of nature facts at the end of the book explains the life cycle of amphibians and contains little-known facts about treefrogs.
4. I Saw A Moose Today
Author Anne Stewart and Illustrator Brent Spink
32 pages. Ages 3-10.
The grown-ups are cleaning house and young Whims Wiggin is sent out in the yard to play. Imagine how delighted Whims is when animal playmates arrive, one after another. First a moose, then a loon, followed by a woodpecker, lynx, bear, caterpillar, bat, beaver and otters. Whims has an adventurous morning, and the reader just knows more animals will appear after lunch.
Everything a child loves in a book is here — spunky animals, a child to identify with, the rhythm and rhyme of poems, and pictures in which there is something new to discover with each reading. There are fun big words, like “cacophonous” and “hibernate”, with a glossary in the back for advanced readers or parents and teachers. What sets this title apart from other nature books for kids is its information page on each animal which gives facts even adults may not know, and raises questions that will create a “let’s find out” attitude in readers of all ages.
5. Kristin’s Wilderness: A Braided Trail
Author Garrett Conover and Watercolorists Tanya Thompson and Rod MacIver
128 pages. Ages 10 and up.
This artistically created book tells the story of a young girl growing up among wildlife researchers in the northwoods. She finds her way into womanhood through the important relationships in her life, including the old Finnish ladies who share the sauna, two wolverines escaped from their observation pen, and the northern native people with whom she spends a winter. Generously illustrated with delicate watercolors, the story is beautiful and gentle, yet it will move you to tears and make you grin. Suggested for ages 10 and up.
6. Leave Only Ripples
Author and Illustrator Consie Powell
32 pages. Ages 5-12 and Adult.
A family canoe trip into the Border Country lakes of northern Minnesota and western Ontario is vividly depicted with woodblocks, sketches, and prose. Each page presents a new aspect of the Canoe Country’s human and natural history, blended with a typical summer day of paddling, portaging and camping. Although the trip takes the reader into the wilderness of northern Minnesota, the camp activities, wildlife and scenery could be part of a wilderness trip in Maine, the Adirondacks, Algonquin Park, or many other places up north. A top-shelf nature book for kids and adults that teaches the guiding principles of the Leave No Trace pledge.
7. Loon and Moon and Other Animal Stories
Author Kevin Strauss and Illustrator Nancy Scheibe
48 pages. Ages 3-10.
These tales with tails are outstanding read-aloud stories for families, teachers, librarians, babysitters, camp counselors, and of course, children. Some stories are original, some are based on traditional tales from other cultures, and some are new twists on familiar stories, but all are laced with humor and northwoods lore. The bold-colored illustrations hold the attention of even the youngest child. A brief nature lesson is included at the end of each tale. Great read-aloud material.
8. Old Woman Winter
Author Mary Bevis and Illustrator Consie Powell
32 pages. Ages 3-8.
Winter is near, but as Old Woman Winter and her husband look out of their cabin in the clouds, the land is gloomy and gray. Time to whip up a recipe of gorgeous snowflakes and send a hearty serving of hoar frost to brighten up the landscape! After a day of sifting and stirring and chilling and shaping, Ms. Winter pours her batch of snowflakes onto the earth, then sweeps the clouds away so the moonlight reveals the magic of the first snow. Soon the children are reveling in their favorite winter fun. Delightful illustrations inspire a happy anticipation of winter weather, and the jolly old woman warms readers’ hearts. Clever recipe cards tell how different kinds of frozen precipitation are really made, and a list of winter outdoor activities will make children eager to get outside.
9. Piping Plover Summer
Author and Illustrator Janet Riegle
32 pages. Ages 5-10.
A pair of piping plovers returns to their nesting area to find new threats to their safety and a danger-filled environment to raise their chicks. The pair finds a better place, but is frightened by biologists who build an enclosure around their nest to keep out predators. Gradually they adjust to this strange, new structure and successfully raise four youngsters.
The story is told from the perspective of the bird pair, gently reminding readers that human behavior affects the lives of other creatures in ways we often don’t notice. But the book offers hope and encouragement that there are effective methods for helping endangered populations and that caring humans can make a big difference.
10. Someone Walks By
Author and Illustrator Polly Carlson-Voiles
32 pages. Ages 5-10.
Someone is walking through the north woods in winter. Readers can see the tracks in each detailed depiction of winter habitat, but they don’t discover the wolf joining her mate until the last pages. On the way, they see frozen wood frogs, a bear in her den with her newborn cubs, sleepy chipmunks, fish and otters swimming under the ice, owl hunting and hare hiding, and many other creatures surviving and even thriving in the cold, snowy winter environment.
The artwork in this book is created from intricately cut and torn colored paper with watercolor and ink detailing. It has been so carefully reproduced that the reader will feel like they are holding the original art in their hands. Children will enjoy finding the many animals on each page. A glossary defines different types of snow and other winter terminology.
11. At the Cabin
Author Cheryl W. Wilke and Illustrator Rebecca Stouffer
32 pages. Ages 4 and up.
A child is reluctant to leave the electronic entertainment of a city home for the family’s rustic cabin up north. But once there, the simple pleasures of campfires, hikes, and dips in the lake win the child over. When the time comes to return home, reluctance returns; the child doesn’t want to leave.
Spare, finely-crafted writing is complimented by richly detailed illustrations of a simple cabin and the natural world. The cabin setting could be any north woods location, and the child’s attitude is equally universal.
12. Alaska On the Go: Exploring the Alaska Marine Highway System with children
Author Erin Kirkland
300 pages. Adult.
A staple of coastal transportation since the 1950’s, the Alaska Marine Highway System is more than a tourist attraction; it’s a vital link to cities often inaccessible by road or air, and thus, a destination unto itself. Alaska On the Go: Exploring the Alaska Marine Highway System with children digs deep into Alaska’s small coastal towns and villages that make up the Marine Highway’s 3,000-mile route, and visits the larger centers of commerce and government within the panhandle section of Southeast.
Erin Kirkland’s second book in the Alaska On the Go series, Alaska On the Go: Exploring the Alaska Marine Highway System with children is a practical, portable guide for independent exploring families wanting to experience the Alaska most visitors want but few actually discover.
13. There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather
Author Linda Åkeson McGurk
304 pages. Adult.
Bringing Up Bébé meets Last Child in the Woods in this lively, insightful memoir about a mother who sets out to discover if the nature-centric parenting philosophy of her native Scandinavia holds the key to healthier, happier lives for her American children.
When Swedish-born Linda McGurk moved to small-town Indiana with her American husband to start a family, she quickly realized that her outdoorsy ways were not the norm. This 300+ page book is a fascinating personal narrative that highlights the importance of spending time outdoors, and illustrates how the Scandinavian culture could hold the key to raising healthier, resilient, and confident children in America.
Special thanks to publishers Raven, Touchstone, and University of Alaska Press who make it their mission to support nature books for kids and adults to encourage all of us to explore, enjoy, and protect the natural world.
Jennifer Fontaine is the founder of Outdoor Families Magazine, publisher of MommyHiker.com, a blog to encourage outdoor activities with children, and an activist filmmaker inspiring dynamic change in the world. She lives in Southern California with her family.