There is not one teaching resource I treasure more than picture books. The good ones have such a masterful knack for laying out factual information in the midst of wonderful storylines. The illustrations, of course, help our children put pictures to names and places and ideas.
When my children were younger, one of the best things I did was use picture books for nature study. There are so many wonderful picture books that can inspire a deep interest or understanding of nature!
Sometimes, we would pack along a picture book and a blanket and actually read as part of the nature walk. This mid-walk reading might have the purpose of a cozy rest time or a specially planned inspiration to find more, learn more, or discuss more.
When I knew what the topic of the walk was ahead of time, I would often pre-read a picture book before setting off. Giving children pre-knowledge, or even just building excitement, can make nature walks more productive to be sure.
Oftentimes, we would find something interesting during our walk and and pertinent picture book would follow – again, to further explain or inspire even more discovery next time.
The times I would read before or after our nature walks didn’t necessarily happen immediately before or after. In fact, I would often have to wait for a few days after in order to find a good picture book at the library. Revisiting a few days later was always a good way to keep knowledge and excitement fresh.
These days, I’m only homeschooling a 6th grader. While there are still plenty of picture books appropriate for middle school, the days of grabbing picture books as a staple to almost every nature walk are fading away.
Yes, I dearly miss the days of setting off on nature walks with littler ones and their tender, joyful excitement, but there is so much wonderful depth to our studies as kids get older!
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Picture Books for Nature Study
Today, I’ve chosen just 24 of my favorite picture books for nature study to share with you. As with any booklist I’ve written, there are always more wonderful books I could add. But, these represent my cream of the crop picks.
You certainly don’t need to take a nature walk to get use from these books. In fact, many of them were read over and over in our home and I only “tied” them to our walks here and there.
The Raft by Jum LaMarche
It would be hard for me to pick a favorite of favorites, but if you twisted my arm, I would probably name this book. It’s so full of innocent discoveries by a little boy who grows to be madly in love with nature by the end of a simple summer. It’s the perfect picture of how I always wanted my children to gently learn about and love nature. Jim LaMarche has also written Pond, which is similarly wonderful, too.
Owl Moon by Jane Yolen
There are so many reasons I love this book. On a cold, wintery night with a full moon hanging in the sky, a daddy takes his little girl on a walk to find owls. The restraint it takes for the little girl to stay quiet on the walk and the utter fascination she has when they finally see an owl remind me of so many real life moments in our home. Welcome to the Green House is a poetic book about the rain forest by Jane Yolen that could easily be used to help your children notice new things on “regular” nature walks, too.
Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney
There is no sweeter tale about a lady and her love for flowers. Miss Rumphius plants lupines, and lots of them. Wherever she goes on her travels, she spends time planting flower seeds to beautify the surroundings and becomes known as “The Lupine Lady.” This book is based on a true story!
Miss Ladybird’s Wildflowers: How a First Lady Changed America by Kathi Appelt
This is another wonderful book about flowers that also happens to be a biography about First Lady Ladybird Johnson. It tells the story of her love for wildflowers and how she set about to beautify the U.S. through planting campaigns.
The Boy Who Drew Birds: A Story of John James Audubon by Jacqueline Davies
At 18 years old, John James Audubon has just arrived in America from France. With an avid interest in the birds of his new country, he sets out to determine if the birds he sees seasonally will return the following year. It’s a great book for nature journaling, birding, or discussing migration.
Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin
Jacqueline Briggs Martin is the author of another book that tops my list of favorites. Snowflake Bentley tells the biography of a man who saw the absolute beauty in snowflakes and figured out how to share their intricacies with the world through photography. The main storyline can easily be read with younger children, while the sidebars contain more detailed information that older children will enjoy.
Butterfly House by Eve Bunting
This is a sweet story of a little girl who finds a caterpillar and her grandpa who helps her build a “butterfly house” in which to raise the caterpillar. Once the life cycle is complete, the little girl has a difficult time letting the butterfly free – but a lifelong joy of butterflies is born. This is a great book to use whether studying butterflies or flowers.
Rocks in His Head by Carol Otis Hurst
“You’ve got rocks in your head.” That’s what a lot of people told the author’s dad who was a rock collector. More than a rock collector, really, considering he had an entire attic filled with labels specimens. What happens in the end makes his “crazy collecting” worthwhile.
The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
When you think of this classic tale, you often think of a naughty little rabbit who gives you a great opportunity to talk about character qualities with your children. However, it’s also a great way to “dig deeper” into gardening and small mammals. Of course, any of the series would be useful for nature study inspiration.
The Dandelion Seed by Joseph P. Anthony
Not only is this book a wonderful story of the life cycle of a dandelion through the seasons, but its illustrations are gorgeous, too. In a Nutshell, written by the same author, is similar in that it follows an acorn through its life cycle with beautiful illustrations. Both are written with simple text, but could serve older children well if they need to understand entire cycles of plant life.
A Drop Around the World by Barbara Shaw McKinney
This book is somewhat similar to the two books just mentioned above in that it follows a single drop of water through its cycle – the water cycle, that is. Since water, unlike plants, is reused over and over again, you will travel around the world with this little drop of water as it goes through various phases of the water cycle many times over. The rhyming text leaves a little to be desired, but the geography that’s included makes up for it as far as I’m concerned. Another book you’ll definitely enjoy by the same author is Pass the Energy, Please about food chains.
Raccoon on His Own by Jim Arnosky
Jim Arnosky is one of my favorite picture books for nature study authors. Raccoon on His Own is such a sweet, sweet little tale about a raccoon who ventures into an abandoned boat and gets swept down the creek. While he’s certainly afraid, he begins to notice all sorts of new things in nature he’s never seen before. Another living book by Jim Arnosky that you won’t want to miss is Rabbits and Raindrops. Be sure to enjoy his informational books, too – Wild Tracks, Creep and Flutter, Look At Me!, Slither and Crawl, Frozen Wild, Tooth and Claw, Shimmer and Splash, and Thunder Birds.
Wild Horses of Sweetbriar by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock
I’m just noticing this book may be out of print and that will be such a shame. It’s a gripping tale about the struggle for survival of a herd of wild horses one very cold winter in 1903 on the New England island of Sweetbriar. It would be perfect to read during any nature study of the seashore, winter, or horses. Other books by the same author that go well with nature study include When Spring Comes, The Bear That Heard Crying, and A Farm of Her Own.
Three Days on a River in a Red Canoe by Vera B. Williams
My children have always loved this book. It’s the wonderful adventure of a little girl, her mom, her aunt, and her cousin as they trek to a favorite spot on the creek and then spend three days boating and camping on the trip downstream. Any child who dreams of campouts and canoes will soak in every word.
Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey
Any nature walk where berries are involved is the perfect time to read Blueberries for Sal. As you pick your own berries, hopefully you’ll never come across any bears like the little girl in this book does, though! Make Way for Ducklings is another must-read picture book by Robert McCloskey.
Tops and Bottoms by Janet Stevens
Not only is this the perfect book to read when discussing plants, it’s a fabulous character-building book as well. Everyone in your home will chuckle as the wily hare takes advantage of the lazy bear during various times of the harvest season in a backyard garden.
The Reason for a Flower by Ruth Heller
This book actually has very little text, but the words it uses encourage strong botany vocabulary. The illustrations are as important as the text in teaching information about flowering plants. Plants That Never, Ever Bloom is another book in similar style that teaches children about plants without flowers. The author also has several other titles that fit well with nature study topics like Chickens Aren’t the Only Ones, Animals Born Alive and Well, and How to Hide a Butterfly and Other Insects.
A Seed is Sleepy by Dianna Hutts Aston
In similar style to The Reason for a Flower, the main text of this book has very little text, but uses words that will increase descriptive vocabulary. It also includes small chunks of informational text to explain each description of seeds. The illustrations also go a long way in helping children understand quite a lot about seeds by the end of the book.
A Log’s Life by Wendy Pfeffer
This simple little book with its incredible illustrations help children understand the life cycle of a tree and how it serves as a habitat for a wide variety of animals and insects over the years. The author is likely most known for her many Let’s Read and Find Out science books for early readers like Wiggling Worms at Work and Life in a Coral Reef. Two of her popular books are The Shortest Day of the Year and The Longest Day of the Year.
Fireflies by Julie Brinckloe
This sweet book about a little boy and his excitement for fireflies reminds me of just about every child I’ve ever seen when lightning bugs begin flickering in late spring.
The Mountain That Loved a Bird by Alice McLerran
This is such a charming book about a barren mountain who befriends a bird and that friendship changes everything for the lonely mountain over the years. It would be wonderful to use during any nature study about birds, mountains, erosion, or even seasons. Another book by Alice McLerran that encourages play in nature is Roxaboxen.
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
I’m not going to lie, there’s a bit of a heart tug in this book. It’s worth the read, though. As a tree and a boy grow old together, you get to see many ways a tree can be beneficial. The simple drawings could make good examples for sketching trees in your nature journal, too.
The Wartville Wizard by Don Madden
Not so much about nature study and it is about taking care of nature by not littering, this book has always been one of my children’s favorites. It’s hilarious and regretful when a wizard commands that all litter will stick to its litterer indefinitely. The community learns quite a lesson when they see all the trash they toss on a day to day basis. Other great living books that teach about the environmental impact on nature include The Wump World, The Lorax, Just a Dream, A River Ran Wild, and The Great Kapok Tree.
The Curious Garden by Peter Brown
I just love the innocent drive of the little boy in this story who transforms a dull town one plant at a time. A simple trek to an abandoned railway begins a gardening project that turns a concrete jungle of a city green over time. This book always reminds me to read another favorite book of mine, The Gardener.
I really could go on…any maybe I will in another post someday. For now, I know these books will make wonderful additions to your living books library.
Feel free to share some of your very favorite picture books for nature study in the comments!
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