By Hailey Hirst, with recommendations from the She Explores team
I don’t know about you, but I have vivid memories of certain books from my own childhood. Little House in the Big Woods took me to a log cabin deep in winter’s snow, McElligot’s Pool tugged my imagination down a sinkhole to the depths of the ocean, and Stellaluna let me fly on a bat’s wings through the desert at night.
The stories that I remember most, and the ones collected here, can be the first adventures beyond a child’s bedroom. They help the world feel a bit bigger, but also better understood.
So in thinking about the young adventurers already in our lives (or those soon to be), we’ve gathered 15 books that are outdoor or nature related, that range in age-appropriateness from preschool to preteen.
Age range: 8 and up
With vivid illustrations, this book showcases 43 endangered species from various ecosystems across the globe with stories of each: how they live, why they’re endangered, and what’s being done about it.
Age Range: 6-9 years
Beautifully illustrated in watercolor by Michaela Goade, Carole Lindstrom’s book encourages children to take a stand in defending Earth’s most sacred resource. The story is inspired by the many Indigenous-led movements in North America, but relevant to children everywhere.
Age range: 8-12 years / grade 4-7
Author Ailsa Ross combined great research and care in curating brief biographies of 52 intrepid women. Their stories range across centuries and the globe, with women of widely varying interests, professions, and backgrounds that will speak to kids of all cultures and gender identities. Even older readers can enjoy this one, too!
Age range: 6-10 years
Adapting the true story for young readers, Jeanette Winter introduces Nobel Peace Prize-winning environmentalist, Wangari Maathai, in a gently-told and beautifully illustrated narrative of her life starting the Green Belt Movement and planting 30 million trees in Kenya.
Age range: 8-13 years / grade 3-7
Written by an expert environmental educator, Put On Your Owl Eyes helps children build their own relationship with nature. The book is also more interactive than a typical storybook, offering tips and tools for tracking, engaging their own senses, and recording a nature journal.
Age range: 6-8 years
A tiger roams through landscapes that introduce young readers to different geographic elements, from archipelagos to lagoons and gorges.
Age range: 9-12
With basic outdoor skills, camp recipes, outdoor projects, and inspiring stories, this guide improves the quality of girls’ outdoor time by helping them feel comfortable with skills and knowledge. (Ruby McConnell also wrote A Woman’s Guide to the Wild.)
Age range: 6-9, grades 1-4
This book is a 2019 Outstanding Science Trade Book for Students K-12. It’s packed with detailed illustrations, maps, and facts about each of the 21 parks portrayed.
Age range: 4 and up
An interactive field guide for a younger child, the Backpack Explorer includes seek-and-find lists, on-the-trail art projects, stickers, a real pull-out magnifying glass, and discovery games to jump start curiosity and hands-on learning in nature.
Age range: 8-12 years, grade 3-7
Newberry Medal Winner, and well-loved for 50 years, Island of the Blue Dolphins is a classic story of discovery and solitude. It’s a work of historical fiction based on the life of an American Indian woman who spent 18 years on the island now known as San Nicolas Island off the coast of Southern California in the mid 1800s.
Age range: elementary, 5-9
A geologically-correct illustrated children’s book to help answer some of those impossible questions about scientific processes. Cathy Morley combines her talents as a geologist and illustrator with detailed illustrations to depict rock layers and fossils with whimsical (but scientifically accurate) descriptions about planet Earth.
Age range: 6 and up
A book for all ages: children, parents, educators, and nature-lovers, The Lost Words depicts about half of the forty-some common words concerning nature that were dropped from the Oxford Junior Dictionary in 2007 in favor of technological terms. From acorn, dandelion, and newt, to blog, broadband, and voicemail… this book captures the wonder of the natural world in words, and asks us all to consider how nature is displaced by the “indoor and virtual” (by language and culture) for our children and ourselves.
Age range: preschool-grade 2
A Season of Flowers takes kids on a journey of the seasons through blossoming flowers, which can serve as an introduction to science and nature for younger readers curious about the vivid changes of the natural world throughout the year.
Age range: 2-10 years, kindergarten-grade 3
This bi-lingual children’s book captures the past and future of Mayan culture, and our entire planet in a changing climate. Through the lens of an indigenous Guatemalan family, it stresses the importance of caring for the land and respecting traditions, told with textural illustrations that include artwork by local children and whimsical drawings.
Age range: 4-6 years, preschool-grade 1
For the youngest readers, this interactive book featuring puzzle pieces is a fun introduction to keeping the Earth clean by reducing pollution, recycling, and more.
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