Children are born with an innate curiosity about nature. Few can resist the siren song of a puddle waiting to be splashed in, or a hill waiting to be rolled down. Playing outdoors offers children an endless opportunity for learning and discovery as they find new bugs crawling under rocks or hear a bird’s song as it flies from tree to tree.
More and more, however, our kids are growing up in a world that is disconnected from nature. Researchers have found that British children were better able to identify Pokémon characters than real life plants and animals. A little extra encouragement from parents, however, can help kids to pursue their natural interest in the world around them.
Here are seven books that can help the adventure continue, even when it is time to go inside.
by Geraldo Valerio
A perfect read for any budding bird watcher, this book features cut paper illustrations of common North American birds. The simplified, artistic depictions help illustrate the most important identifying features of local birds, enabling even young children to recognize the differences between species. Valerio provides interesting facts about each bird in his descriptions, helping to encourage a curiosity about creatures we may otherwise never have noticed, like Steller’s Jays, or don’t often get to see, such as the Tufted Puffin.
by Rita Gray (author), Kenard Pak (illustrator)
With beautiful illustrations and lyrical text that will capture a young listener’s attention, this book covers the lives of pollinators, their sources of food, and other inhabitants of the forest and desert. Gray easily and simply depicts the relationship between plants and animals with text that reads more like a story than a field guide. Pak’s illustrations of moonflowers, cacti, and hummingbirds will expose young readers to a variety of local plants and animals that they can then keep an eye out for themselves.
Miranda Paul (author), Jason Chin (illustrator)
The water cycle is not simply a lesson reserved for fourth grade science class. It’s a story that we live every day, as we watch rain fall from the sky and evaporate from puddles. Paul tells this story through the eyes of children, following them through a year of rain, puddles, snow, ice, fog, and lakes. This poetic and unique approach will help show children that nature is not separate from us, it is something we experience. As a bonus, the family featured in the story is multi-ethnic, something that is not often depicted in children’s literature.
by Nikki McClure
In this story, a young boy describes the coastal ecosystem, from barnacles to herons, as he spends the day at the beach with his family. His parents build a raft, and he painstakingly waits for the tide to come in so they can spend the rest of the day swimming and jumping off their creation. While children who don’t live in the Pacific Northwest might not be familiar with the plants and animals in this book, they will be able to relate to the difficulty of waiting, and the excitement of exploring.
by Kate Messner (author), Christopher Silas Neal (illustrator)
Every child dreams of a secret kingdom that they can only see in their imagination, and this book takes them there, down to the subnivean layer – the world of animals that exists under the snow. As a young girl skis through the forest with her father, the world of red squirrels, shrews, and beavers is exposed. Children and adults will both learn something new by reading this cozy book.
While the animals in this book – frogs, ravens, butterflies – are familiar to most readers, the illustrations might not be. Featuring art by Native artists from the Pacific Northwest, young readers can gain a different perspective on familiar animals. The bright colors and simple text make will help even the littlest readers gain an interest in learning about the great outdoors.
Gary Robson (author), Elijah Brady Clark (illustrator)
What kid can resist talking about poop? This book takes a unique approach to animal identification, by teaching kids about scat (poop) and tracks (footprints). As a family goes on a vacation to Yellowstone National Park, they are disappointed that they don’t come across any animals, but are excited to find plenty of evidence that they are around. This book is part of a series that features different national parks, so you can learn about faraway lands, or get more familiar with animals close to home.
by Rachel Garahan
“If you can’t name things, how can you know them?” asks the back of this ABC book that will engage children just learning their ABCs, and older ones who are interested in learning more about the world they inhabit. With stunning photographs, children will learn to recognize a myriad of natural objects, ranging from plants to space matter (such as meteorites). This book features items that kids will come across in their everyday life, such as berries, as well as some more exotic ones like pomegranates. With enticing pictures of vegetables, this book might even encourage your child to try a bite of chard.