If you’ve been following along for a while, then you know that when it comes to holiday/seasonal reads, I love finding good books that can be used to celebrate a specific holiday or season, but that are also impactful for year-round reading. I also believe one of the best ways to help our Earth is to help children learn about plants, animals, and the actual makeup of the earth around them– the more they understand about the environment around them, the more they will be inspired to take care of it. So, if you’re like us and spring seemed to come late to your area, or if you’re looking for wonderful books to teach children about our planet and how to care for it that you can read year-round, look no further than the list below!
All links below are Amazon Affiliate links. Ages listed are publishers’ recommendations unless I noted that my opinion differs. Always remember that you know your children best!
Books About Tending to Gardens and Plants
The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss, illustrated by Crocket Johnson — First published in 1945, this will still resonate with young readers… Especially those who believe in perseverance, persistance, overcoming odds, etc… All those qualities that adults so often forget! Ages 4-8, but can definitely be enjoyed younger.
Jack’s Garden by Henry Cole — Written in the “build on” style of “The House That Jack Built,” Jack’s Garden goes into great detail about gardens, from how to start them (and all the tools you’ll need) to various insects you might find on your flowers (beautifully detailed illustrations of 8 different butterflies, for example, accompanied by their common names). Cole also includes a page titled “To Start Your Own Garden.” Ages 4-8, but I’d say more like 3-6.
The Curious Garden by Peter Brown — Inspired by Manhattan’s Highline garden, The Curious Garden tells the story of a boy named Liam, who stumples on a surprising patch of nature when exploring his otherwise bleak, grey city. Liam learns to care for these plants, and before long, this tiny bit of nature is spreading around the city. Brown includes an Author’s Note in which he encourages readers to look closely to find nature “eagerly exploring the places we’ve forgotten” in cities around us. Be sure to note the changes in the endpapers! Ages 3-7.
And Then It’s Spring by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Erin E. Stead — Similar to The Carrot Seed, this is a story of belief and perseverance. Accompanied by Stead’s delightfully detailed illustrations (if you’ve never read A Sick Day for Amos McGee, check out my Instagram review here and then get your hands on that gem!), Fogliano tells a tender story of a boy waiting, waiting, and waiting some more for his seeds to sprout. Can it get any better than a sign saying, “please do not stomp here — there are seeds and they are trying”? Ages 4-7.
Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson, illustrated by Sydney Smith — Though we’ve had this book for a long time and loved it for it’s themes of selflessness and generosity, it finally dawned on me that it’s a perfect book for this list, too! A wordless wonder that follows a small child through a drab, mostly-grey town, we watch the red-clad girl collect sidewalk flowers along the way. What she does with her bouquet will touch your heart! This is an important entry on this list, as it embraces finding beautiful nature even in the most “city” of cities. Ages 4-7.
In a Garden by Tim McCanna, illustrated by Aimée Sicuro — McCanna makes an appearance twice on this list (see Watersong) below. His books are lyrically written, and Sicuro also beautifully illustrates this ode to spring, growth, change, and cycles of life and seasons. You’re going to want to start a neighborhood garden after you read this one! You can read my full review of this beauty here. Ages 4-8.
Florette by Anna Walker — You can read my full review here. Florette is similar in many ways to The Curious Garden; like Liam, Mae finds a way to create a flourishing garden in the midst of an otherwise drab city. And these illustrations are beautiful! Ages 4-8.
Kate, Who Tamed the Wind by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Lee White — At its surface, this is a sweet story of friendship and kind gestures, accompanied by soft watercolor and ink illustrations. On a deeper level, Scanlon tells a story of the importance of conserving trees because of their important effects on everything around them. Be sure to check out the “More About Marvelous Trees” page at the end! Ages 4-8.
Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney — Somehow I managed to snag a signed hardback copy of this one for $9.95… You can bet we’ll hold on to this book forever! As a young girl, Alice Rumphius’s grandfather charges her to make the world more beautiful. She travels, searches, looks, and reflects, eventually finding a wonderfully unique way to both make the world more beautiful and leave a legacy. Ages 5-8.
Rose’s Garden by Peter H. Reynolds — This one has long been a favorite in our house, and it one of my favorite Reynolds books… And he has many, many amazing books! It’s a story of adventure, of dreams, of transformation, of patience, of loss, of friendship, and so much more. Reynolds illustrations start in shades of grey and transform along with the main character and her space in the city! This book is both inspired by and dedicated to Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy and the Rose Kennedy Greenway Park in Boston. All ages.
Biographies about Environmentalists
Me… Jane by Patrick McDonnell — You can easily find many Jane Goodall biographies for children, but this one is by far my favorite. Rather than trying to tell her who life story in one short book, McDonnell focuses on Goodall’s love of nature as a child. McDonnell won a Caldecott Honor Medal for his illustrations here, and that was well deserved. He mixes drawings and notes from Goodall herself with his own pen-and-ink illustrations of Jane as a child, and includes 2 actual photographs of Goodall (bonus points to you if you read closely enough to find both of them!). McDonnell also includes an “About Jane Goodall” page, a message from Jane herself, and a brief “Art Notes” snippet at the end. Ages 4-8, but can be used with older children, too.
Spring After Spring: How Rachel Carson Inspired the Environmental Movement by Stephanie Roth Sisson — I have admittedly had The Sense of Wonder: A Celebration of Nature for Parents and Children by Carson in my Amazon cart for a very long time, just waiting till the right time to read it… In the meantime, I settled for sharing this picture book biography with my girls, and I’m so glad I did! Carson’s book Silent Spring led to an invitation for Carson to speak to Congress about her observations of our unintended effects on nature, the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the creation of Earth Day. Be sure to check out the “Author’s Note” and the gorgeous and inspiring endpages, too! Ages 4-8.
The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever by H. Joseph Hopkins, illustrated by Jill McElmurry — This is a fascinating true story about how one person can make a true and lasting difference to a city. Many of my books in the first section enbody the theme of changing your town or city by planting a garden, but Kate Sessions actually did this in San Diego, by transforming Balboa Park when, in 1892, she insisted city leaders plant more trees. Ages 5-10.
Books About Pollution, Deforestation, Etc.
Crab Cake by Andrea Tsurumi — I LOVE Tsurumi’s Accident. In fact, I love it so much that it was one of the first books I recommended when I started my Instagram page (you can read my Instagram review of Accident here). So, I grabbed Crab Cake as quickly as I could from the library when it released earlier this year, and it doesn’t disappoint! Crab Cake takes a much more serious tone than Accident, but Tsurumi’s illustrations still provide levity and humor. She also includes a list of helpful websites about ocean climate and pollution. Ages 4-8.
The Wump World by Bill Peet — This one is so clever, so applicable today (especially with realities of climate change, space exploration, and talk of trying to find ways to live on other planets), moving, and hopeful. The Wumps live a quiet, peaceful life on a planet called Wump World… Quiet and peaceful, that is, until the Pollutians from planet Pollutus arrive. First published in 1970, Peet was so far ahead of his time given how timely this one seems in 2019! Ages 5-8.
Farewell to Shady Glade by Bill Peet — Another old book (first published in 1966), another Bill Peet title. This particular one happened to be one of my favorite books as a child. I vividly remember reading this and worrying about the animals as they lost their home. Peet shows both deforestation and pollution, and while in this book, “everything is perfectly right” in the end, the environmental takeaways are powerful. Despite hte obvious message, this book never feels like a lecture or scolding. Definitely check this one out if you want a book with true staying power! Peet also dedicated this to Rachel Carson (see Spring After Spring above). Ages 4-8.
The Great Kapok Tree: A Tale of the Amazon Rain Forest by Lynne Cherry — Published almost 30 years ago, Cherry apparently initially had trouble finding a publisher because The Great Kapok Tree was too controversial… But this picture book about rainforest conservation has won numerous awards and is still published and relevant today. Ages 4-8.
The Mess That We Made by Michelle Lord, illustrated by Julia Blattman — Published in 2020 and written in the style of “the house that Jack built,” this is an inspiring story about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and what we might be able to do about it. While the story is well-suited for reading aloud, these illustrations are what really make it impactful for children. Be sure to spend some time with this one, and if your kids are like mine, they’ll want to come back again and again… and again! Ages 4-8.
Just a Dream by Chris Van Allsburg — Written in 1990, after his more well-known books The Polar Express and Jumanji, Publishers Weekly reviewed Just a Dream saying this text was Van Allsburg’s “best yet.” We meet neighbors Walter and Rose. Rose is planting a tree that she received for her birthday, and Walter… is littering. That night, in his dream, Walter learns a powerful lesson about the big impact that his small, mindless acts can have on Earth’s future. You can read my short Instagram review of Just a Dream here. All ages.
Informational Books About Our Earth
Over and Under the Pond and Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt, both by Kate Messner, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal — Both of these books are part of a larger series that also includes a 3rd title about snow. Over and Under the Pond explores life above and below a water ecosystem, and Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt is a wonderful celebration of life, both seen and unseen, as a young girl creates a garden with her grandmother. Ages 4-8.
Watersong by Tim McCanna, illustrated by Richard Smythe — This book received a starred review from Kirkus, and that star was very well-deserved! Written in almost all onomatopoeia, McCanna’s verse walks readers through a storm and all the noise that the water (both in rain form and on the ground) might make. Smythe’s digital watercolor illustrations provide young eyes with much to look at without being overwhelming, as well as telling a secondary story of a fox’s adventure through this storm. McCanna includes an informational page that introduces scientific concepts of ecosystems, the water cycle, habitats, and refraction. Ages 4-8.
All the Water in the World by George Ella Lyon and Katherine Tillotson — I first read this book during a Mock Caldecott unit back in 2012, and I fell in love with the illustrations. But, this book is muhc more than the illustrations! It’s a beautifully written environmental message without being preachy. In fact, Lyon doesn’t even talk about pollution till the last 2 pages. Instead, she chooses to educate children about water, beginning with “All the water in the world… is all the water in the world.” It’s this type of education, rather than preaching, that I believe will help children truly want to care for their world. Ages 4-8.
Water Land: Land and Water Forms Around the World by Christy Hale — And we discovered this one during our Mock Caldecott this past January! Hale very cleverly uses cutouts to teach children about various water and land forms that can be found around earth (for example, a cutout depicts a lake on one page, and when you turn the page that same cutout is used to show an island). The back includes a huge fold-out spread that has definitions of the included land and water forms, names of examples around the world, and a map showing locations of these forms. Once again, I love using something fun and light such as Water Land to teach children about the Earth… Care and respect stem from understanding! Ages 4-8.
Earth! My First 4.54 Billion Years by Stacy McAnulty, illustrated by David Litchfield — This is the perfect book for your kiddo who really wants to dive in and learn about our planet. McAnulty tells the story through an anthropomorphized Planet Earth, who greets us with a smile on the title page and then introduces herself on the second page. She teaches readers about rotations, revolutions, Pangea, asteroids, and yes, pollution. McAnulty includes more information about continents, the Earth’s location, extinction periods, and recommended sources for further learning. Ages 4-8, and older.
Curious Questions and Answers About… Our Planet by Miles Kelly — I picked this one up at a Scholastic Warehouse sale and am so glad that we own it! Not necessarily about spring, Earth Day, conservation, or pollution, it’s full of interesting facts and tidbits about why things are the way they are on Earth. You can learn about tectonic plates, rainbows, the water cycle, and more. Be sure to spend time on the “What Do We Get From the Earth?” and “Why Does the Earth Need Our Help?” pages towards the end. Ages 5 and up.
Beautiful Books About Nature
A Garden of Ordinary Miracles: An Alphabet Book by Robert R. Zakanitch — We received this as a baby gift before our older daughter was born in 2013, and since receiving it, A Garden of Ordinary Miracles has regularly been featured on our front-facing bookselves! Zakanitch has managed to make an alphabet of flora and fauna, accompanied by absolutely gorgeous painted renditions of the highlighted flower and pen-and-ink sketches of other plants and animals that start with that letter. Did you know there is a flower for every letter of the alphabet except for U? You’re also going to want to read his “To the Reader” and “To the Children” notes, as they’re incredibly inspiring! Ages 2 and up (this is definitely one children and adults alike enjoy!).
Outside Your Window: A First Book of Nature by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Mark Hearld — We received this anthology as a gift when our oldest was born, and I knew right away it was a baby gift we’d save and return to over the years. Davies is actually an author and a zoologist, so these poems are both well-written and scientifically pretty spot-on! And Hearld’s mixed-media illustrations are breathtaking. Sprinkled throughout the book, you can also find recipes (such as a delicious-looking berry crumble) and advice (like how to save seeds to plant in the spring). Ages 3-12.
Nature Anatomy: The Curious Parts and Pieces of the Natural World by Julia Rothman, with help from John Niekrasz — Admittedly, we’ve had this one for a few years but have only just started to get some use out of it over the past few weeks, during our COVID quarantine. The girls love finding flowers and critters on our neighborhood walks and then trying to find the corresponding illustrations in this book. If you’ve got a question about nature, there’s a decent chance that Rothman has answered it somewhere in this 224-page beauty!