I love books that help kids learn about the beauty and science of the world around them. Here are some of our favorite “backyard nature” books–plants, animals, and minerals you might find in your backyard or on a neighborhood walk.
Am I missing any of your favorites? Let me know in the comments.
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Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt by Kate Messner, with art by Christopher Silas Neal. I love Kate Messner’s charming nature books, which also include Over and Under the Pond and Over and Under the Snow. Here, she explains what happens in a garden throughout the year–both above ground where a girl and her Nana work in the beds and down below, where roots grow and a variety of animals (mostly insects) lead busy lives.
Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Beth Krommes. The beautiful spirals found throughout nature–from snails and curled up snakes to flowers and ocean waves–are celebrated in this lovely book from Newbery Honor-winning poet Joyce Sidman. Beth Krommes’ scratchboard illustrations will be very familiar to fans of her Caldecott Medal-winning work in The House in the Night.
A Butterfly Is Patient by Dianna Hutts Aston, illustrated by Sylvia Long. I’m a huge fan of Dianna Hutts Aston’s nature books, in which each page combines beautiful, detailed illustrations with a simple text (“a butterfly is patient”) and supplemental information. Some readers might just read the main sentences and explore the pictures while others will love soaking up all the extra details. For another insect book by Aston, try A Beetle Is Shy.
The Beetle Book by Steve Jenkins. You may not like seeing beetles up close in real life (is that just me?), but they’re fascinating to look at here. The Beetle Book offers detailed illustrations and information about beetles, from their life cycle and basic characteristics to the many adaptations they’ve made to survive and–eek!–thrive. Steve Jenkins has written and illustrated many popular animal books for kids (including Mama Built a Little Nest, found below).
Bees: A Honeyed History by Piotr Socha. If there’s ever something you want to know about bees, you will probably find it in this comprehensive and fabulously illustrated book, which covers everything from the history of bees and beekeeping to bees’ biggest enemies and favorite flowers. For a simpler book about bees, try Bee: A Peek-Through Picture Book by Britta Teckentrup.
Bugs by the Numbers by Sharon Werner and Sarah Forss. My older kids and I were captivated (and a little horrified) by this book, which shares amazing numerical-based facts about bugs. For instance, did you know it would take 1.2 million mosquito bites to drain the blood of a human? Or that cockroaches can survive for 168 hours without a head? Bug-lovers, trivia-lovers, reluctant readers, and more will have a blast exploring its pages.
The Big Book of Bugs by Yuval Zommer. This beautifully illustrated book introduces readers to a wide variety of bugs, from butterflies and bees to spiders and centipedes. There’s a great “family tree” that explains the different kinds of bugs as well as a “Bugs at Work” page that discusses how bugs benefit humans. Readers can also search for a blue fly that appears on different pages.
A Nest Is Noisy by Dianna Hutts Aston, illustrated by Sylvia Long. While birds are certainly known for their nests, they’re not the only animals who live in them. In A Nest Is Noisy, readers learn about the many kinds of nests made by creatures ranging from hummingbirds and honeybees to alligators and birds of prey. For a similar book by Dianna Hutts Aston, try An Egg Is Quiet.
Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen. Birds definitely need feathers to fly, but their feathers also help them with other important jobs, from keeping them warm and dry to protecting them from the sun and predators. Some feathers can even dig holes! Life-size watercolor illustrations add to the appeal of this well-researched book.
Mama Built a Little Nest by Jennifer Ward, illustrated by Steve Jenkins. “Mama built a little nest / by digging out a burrow. / It was a hoot, our little home, / a safe and feathery furrow.” Rhyming verses delightfully describe the many kinds of nests mama and daddy birds build (and steal!) for their babies. Readers who want to know more will enjoy the extra information on each page.
My Book of Birds by Geraldo Valério. Author Geraldo Valério shares his love for birds in this creatively illustrated book (he makes collages from old magazine paper). Each page reveals one or more of Valério’s favorite birds along with brief but engaging and informative descriptions. For another well illustrated book about birds, try Jean Roussen’s Beautiful Birds.
A Seed Is Sleepy by Dianna Hutts Aston, illustrated by Sylvia Long. A seed starts out sleepy–“tucked inside its flower, on its cone, or beneath the soil. Snug. Still.” But before long, the seed (which is also adventurous, inventive, generous, thirsty, clever, and more) wakes up to become a plant. As with all Aston’s nature books, I love the gorgeous illustrations and versatile, informative text.
Plants Can’t Sit Still by Rebecca E. Hirsch, illustrations by Mia Posada. Plants might not be members of the animal kingdom, but they can still move in many ways, from leaves that reach for warmth and light to climbing vines, folding flowers, rolling tumbleweeds, and more. An appendix shares more information about the plants mentioned in this brightly illustrated, perspective-changing book.
Tree: A Peek-Through Picture Book by Britta Teckentrup. In this engaging book, rhyming couplets explain how the changing seasons affect a tree and the many animals who live and play nearby. Adding to the fun are Teckentrup’s colorful illustrations and cut outs that allow readers to “peek through” to see pictures on future pages.
A Rock Is Lively by Dianna Hutts Aston, illustrated by Sylvia Long. You’ve probably never thought of a rock as lively, but in this excellent book (yet another by Aston), you are not only introduced to the incredible array of rocks, but you also learn how rocks change over time. Some have hidden surprises inside (geodes) and others have even traveled through space (meteorites).
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