Although I probably don’t get outside and into nature as much as I should, I do love it and read a lot about it. On my bedside table are advance copies of Mary Roach’s Fuzz and Windswept by Annabel Abbs, and I am dutifully filling out the coloring sheets tracking how much time my son and I have spent outside this year as part of 1000 Hours Outside. With my favorite season coming up and lots of opportunities for apple and pumpkin picking, I’m excited to be outside more as the weather begins to (maybe?) cool off a little, and nature books for kids is the way to encourage even more of that.
It’s said that the average American child only spends 4–7 minutes a day in unstructured play outside. This is not a debate about screens (which are often short-sighted and ableist), but more of a call to also get outside and play, walk, draw, read — even if it’s walking around the block with the kids every night while catching up on the day, or having them take their homework outside to do in the backyard. Free play is ideal because it promotes creativity, gets kids moving, and allows for problem solving, but even simply being outside can be calming or refreshing. I find that I often don’t realize how much I need nature and the outdoors until I actually get outside for a bit. I’m trying to be more mindful of that, but it can be hard.
Along with spending time outside, reading books is a great way to cultivate interest in the outdoors and show kids that no matter where they live, they can still have a relationship with nature. Here are some nature books for kids to start off your nature reading.
We are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom and Michaela Goede
Inspired by the Indigenous-led movements in North America, this gorgeously illustrated book introduces children to the need to protect Earth’s water sources. Even if your child doesn’t fully understand the concepts behind the story about corruption and greed, the prose still gets the point across, and the illustrations draw readers in and complement the writing. It’s a great starting point to discuss the importance of water to living things and the earth.
National Parks of the USA by Kate Siber and Chris Turnham
As someone who loves the National Parks, I love this and think this book is great for children. Filled with information about more than 20 parks, along with facts about animals and plants found in each park, this is a fun book to read with kids. Different environments of the parks, different kinds of plants, and an alphabet challenge in the back of the book will provide lots of opportunities to discuss all sorts of nature topics. If you want even more, there’s also a corresponding activity book.
Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn by Kenard Pak
Perfect for the upcoming fall, this picture book follows a young girl walking through the forest, noticing all of the things that accompany seasonal changes. The simple prose describing the animals she sees and the nature she encounters is a perfect opening to further discussions about nature and seasons. It’s a delightful, gentle book with illustrations that really give the book a seasonal feel.
Nature Anatomy: The Curious Parts & Pieces of the Natural World by Julia Rothman
Rothman’s books are all amazing, and this one is no different. Full of beautiful and informative images, kids can explore jellyfish, volcanoes, different kinds of trees and leaves, bugs, birds, and much more. The best part? This book can be used in a lot of different ways over the years. Young kids will enjoy the pictures and basic explanations, whereas older kids will be able to read more in depth about the explanations and learn more about each topic.
The Big Book of Bugs by Yuval Zommer
I love all of the Big Books by Zommer, as well as the Big Sticker Books that go along with them, but this one is especially great. This is another book that can be used at different ages in different ways, and it’s full of facts and colorful illustrations of bees, nighttime bugs, dragonflies, pond bugs, bugs that love houses, and much more.
Trees, Leaves, Flowers, and Seeds: A Visual Encyclopedia of the Plant Kingdom by Sarah Jose and Chris Clennett
If you’re familiar with these DK/Smithsonian books, you know you’re in for a treat. These large nature books for kids are filled with full-color pictures and lots of information, and this one is no different. Covering the plant world and all different kinds of plants, seeds, the life cycle of a plant, and plants and flowers in all different biomes, this is a must for a nature-loving kiddo (and adults will love it, too!).
Wild and Free: Nature by Ainsley Arment
Arment is the founder of Wild+Free, a homeschool community. She has several books out, and this book has a variety of hands-on activities to do with kids outside. Whether it’s nature journaling, creating a mud kitchen, making edible flower and herb cookies, nature walks, or even a nature study in the city, there is an activity for everyone in this book.
Jayden’s Impossible Garden by Mélina Mangal and Ken Daley
Jayden lives in the city and sees nature wherever he goes: the squirrels scavenging for their food, the birds overhead, the weeds growing up through the cracks — but his mother doesn’t think there’s nature in the city. Jayden and his friend Mr. Curtis decide to create a community garden in the city with his neighbors to show his mom that nature can be found everywhere.
Zonia’s Rain Forest by Juana Martinez-Neal
Zonia lives in the Amazon rain forest, and every day, the forest speaks to her. She visits animals, observes the trees and plants, and loves her surroundings. But one day she finds an area of deforestation. What will she do? This is a beautifully drawn book about a young Asháninka girl’s bond to nature and her home, and there are resources and more information in the back of the book about the Asháninka community and the rain forest. It’s an accessible book that is a good starting point for conversations about the rain forest, even for young kids.
Twinkle Twinkle Little Kid by Drew Daywalt and Molly Idle
If your child likes to wish upon the stars, or they just learned about the stars or constellations, they’ll love this sweet picture book. Kids wish on stars, but stars also wish on kids! After Clyde wishes on a star, the star shows up in his room and tells him she made a wish, too. With luminous illustrations and a heartfelt story, this is a perfect bedtime book to read aloud.
Fatima’s Great Outdoors by Ambreen Tariq and Stevie Lewis
Written by the founder of @BrownPeopleCamping, this is a great book that reminds us that the outdoors is for everyone. Things aren’t always easy for Fatima at school. Between kids being mean and a bad grade on a test, she’s ready for her family’s first weekend camping trip. Between eating samosas on the way there, setting up the tent, building a fire, and managing bugs, the trip is a success and she’s sad to leave the forest. This picture book is beautifully written and illustrated, and a good reminder of what the outdoors can do for us and what it holds.
If I Were a Park Ranger by Catherine Stier and Patrick Corrigan
If you or your kiddo likes the National Parks, this is an adorable book about a group of children who talk about all the things they could do if they were a park ranger at different parks. Stier blends the story with interesting facts about the parks, and it’s a great supplement to any National Parks unit study or lesson.
A Drop Around the World: The Science of Water Cycles for Kids by Barbara Shaw McKinney and Michael S. Maydak
This beautifully illustrated book brings the reader on a trip to follow a drop of water around the world in different forms. The science is integrated into the larger story and it’s a fun way to teach about the water cycle while keeping their interest and making it fun. Younger kids will find the drop of water’s trip amusing, while older kids will appreciate the science aspect of it.
The Ocean Calls: A Haenyo Mermaid Story by Tina Cho, Jess X. Snow
Dayeon’s grandmother is a haenyo, or free diver. Korean women have been haenyos for generations, diving to get treasures from the sea like sea cucumbers and abalone. She wants to be just like them, so she practices holding her breath and gets her wetsuit, but when the time comes, she gets a little nervous. Her grandmother shows her how to sit with her feelings and shares her love of the water with her.
The Thing About Bees: A Love Letter by Shabazz Larkin
This is a delightful book about a Sunday in the park, a father and his sons, and how important bees are. He tells his children why bees are so important, what they do, and how they help to create all of their favorite fruits. It’s a fun, fact-filled book that also helps children learn about bees so they won’t be afraid of them anymore.
This is just a small sampling of the nature books available for kids, but they’re a fun introduction. Who knows, maybe we’ll all be inspired by them to get out more and take a closer look at the natural world around us! Which book are you going to read first?