Nature-themed books (along with positive outdoor experiences) can initiate a child’s life-long appreciation of nature. Whether employing alluring illustrations or placing wildlife in humorous situations, books can take the outdoors from the mundane into the magical.
Here a few of the titles, some old, some new, that appealed to my three elementary-school aged sons and helped them gain a new consciousness of what lies outside.
I Am a Bunny
By Ole Rissom, illustrated by Richard Scarry
(Random House, 1963)
All three of my boys dearly loved this book when they were toddlers and still regard it with tenderness. The story follows a small brown rabbit in red overalls as he experiences a year in nature. He picks daffodils in spring, reclines in the summer sun to watch the birds, and curls up in his hole in the tree while snow cascades outside. The book sets a charming rhythm to the seasons and the illustrations by Richard Scarry make this book timeless. My sons always lingered on the back of the book, where the bunny is depicted laying in green grass and gazing at a cricket while a variety of other insects gaze down on the bunny.
Children of the Forest
By Elsa Beskow
(Floris Books, 2001)
Though first published in Sweden in 1910, Children of the Forest seems very contemporary (especially considering the popularity of fairy gardens). The sweetly illustrated forest floor hosts a tiny family who live under the curling roots of an old pine tree. The father sports a pinecone cap and mother and children wear white-speckled red caps (so they can pretend to be mushrooms if in danger). This story follows the family through the seasons, richly illustrated with flowers and mosses and ferns. Drama occurs as the children taunt ants (and get stung) and the father battles a snake – the boys loved that scene. But mostly the family as they interact peacefully with the squirrels, bats, frogs, and owls who share their world.
By Paige Braddock
(Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2015)
Cecil the toad spends his days with his amphibian friends (and a reincarnating fly) at the pond until he discovers a freeway construction project aimed right at their homes. The creatures band together to try and thwart the project and save their pond in hilariously doomed attempts. My kids laughed out loud when the toad released his stinky self-defense mechanism and when the hawk swooped and dropped pebbles on the bulldozer. All three boys were thoroughly entertained by this comic book-style comedy of endangered wildlife who ultimately win.
Flowers Are Calling
By Rita Gray, Illustrated by Kenard Pak
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015)
Gorgeous watercolors depict the symbiotic relationship between flower design and the insects, birds, and bats that collect pollen. It invites appreciation for how plants lure their pollinators with a gentle rhyming text that gave my boys the “Aha!” moment, opening their minds to understanding why flowers look the way they do to attract certain insects and birds. The blooms on the cardon cactus, which are pollinated by nectar bats, particularly intrigued my boys, as did the moonflowers that “called” to the sphinx moths at night.