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Find more Classroom Connections
This inclusive look at picture books celebrating nature reminds young readers of the many ways to find joy away from screens and outside of home.
Getting outside every day has kept many of us sane over the past year. It has been a recommended activity during the pandemic, and, open space permitting, it can sometimes be done without a mask. Through spending time in nature, we begin to notice things more closely: a family of raccoons living in an old tree, the location of the sweetest wild blackberries, and those otherworldly, waxy red toadstools that pop up after a summer rain. Soon we will return to pre-pandemic pursuits, but here’s hoping we will still make time to enjoy nature. Below are some recent picture-book titles that are guaranteed to spark interest in the out-of-doors.
And Then Comes Summer. By Tom Brenner. Illus. by Jaime Kim. 2017. 32p. Candlewick (9780763660710). K–Gr. 3.Brenner describes some signs of summer (flowers bloom, school ends, days lengthen, fireworks explode, families camp out) and advises kicking back to enjoy all that nature has to offer, while Kim’s exuberant acrylic and digital artwork depicts the camaraderie and sheer joy of outdoor pursuits.
Bringing the Outside In. By Mary McKenna Siddals. Illus. by Patrice Barton. 2016. 32p. Random (9780449814307). PreS–Gr. 2.Four siblings play outside throughout the year, enjoying simple activities and bringing home souvenirs of every season. Barton’s digitally colored pencil illustrations speak to the kids’ enthusiasm, whether they are stomping in puddles, searching for seashells, picking apples, or building a snowperson.
Go Home Bay. By Susan Vande Griek. Illus. by Pascal Milelli. 2016. 32p. Groundwood (9781554987016). Gr. 1–3.In the summer of 1914, white Canadian naturalist painter Tom Thomson spent time camping, canoeing, and painting on an island off the coast of Georgian Bay. Vande Griek imagines Thomson’s influence on 10-year-old Helen (whose family summers nearby) and the ways that nature can stimulate the artistic process. Milelli’s oil-on-canvas illustrations evoke Thomson’s iconic style.
I See. By Joe Cepeda. Illus. by the author. 2019. 32p. Holiday (9780823445042). PreS–Gr. 1.In this picture book using few words and cartoon-style digital art, a young white boy with a magnifying glass explores his yard, discovering ants, butterflies, snails, and birds and their eggs. Emergent readers will appreciate both the familiar backyard animals and the highly predictable text.
If You Were Night. By Muon Thi Văn. Illus. by Kelly Pousette. 2020. 32p. Kids Can (9781525300141). PreS–Gr. 1.This lyrical call-and-response ode to night invites readers to observe, listen, and participate in the activities of nocturnal animals. Pousette’s stunning three-dimensional cut-paper art highlights both this woodland area and the often-unnoticed nighttime goings-on.
Ivy Bird. By Tania McCartney. Illus. by Jess Racklyeft. 2020. 32p. Blue Dot (9781733121217). PreS–Gr. 2.Young Ivy spends her days outside, emulating her favorite creatures, birds. She warbles, forages, paddles, collects secret treasures, and finally settles into her “nest” at the end of the day. The mixed-media illustrations depict many avian details, and an appended spread identifies several real-life species.
My Bison. By Gaya Wisniewski. Illus. by the author. 2020. 36p. Princeton Architectural (9781616898861). PreS–Gr. 2.In this magically realistic tale, a young girl befriends a juvenile bison, and the two share many years of companionship, stories, and warm cups of cocoa. Charcoal-and-ink illustrations lend a dreamy feel to this contemplative look at the natural world and its cycles.
Once upon a Winter Day. By Liza Woodruff. Illus. by the author. 2020. 40p. Holiday/Margaret Ferguson (9780823440993). PreS–Gr. 2.During a walk in the snow, Milo, a white boy, notices several sets of animal footprints. Following the tracks, he imagines who made the prints and the story that could explain them. The digitally enhanced mixed-media artwork depicts both what Milo sees and what happened before.
Outside In. By Deborah Underwood. Illus. by Cindy Derby. 2020. 40p. HMH (9781328866820). K–Gr. 2.Spare, lyrical text reminds readers that Outside is always there, calling to us even when we are inside. Underwood cites the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile elements to be found, while Derby’s expressionistic washes, some richly hued, remind readers of the many valuable resources Outside provides.
Picture the Sky. By Barbara Reid. Illus. by the author. 2019. 32p. Albert Whitman (9780807595251). PreS–Gr. 1.Reid considers the many ways of seeing the sky: as a home, a highway, a parade of clouds, displayer of the constellations, a harbinger of weather, and a projector for the Northern Lights. Her signature modeling-clay-on-illustration-board artwork invites readers to imagine this ever-changing vista.
Sometimes Rain. By Meg Fleming. Illus. by Diana Sudyka. 2018. 40p. Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane (9781481459181). PreS–Gr. 2.Rhyming text and playful illustrations demonstrate that outdoor adventures can be fun no matter what the season. Whether it’s raining, snowing, muddy, or blowing, there is always much to experience in the natural world.
We All Play. By Julie Flett. Illus. by the author. May 2021. 40p. Greystone Kids (9781771646079). PreS–Gr. 2. 591.56.Just as animals hide, hop, sniff, sneak, peep, and peek, children play outside, too. Flett’s deceptively simple text (in English and Cree) and colorfully jubilant art celebrate the interconnectedness of nature and the joys of play.
The Weather Girls. By Aki. Illus. by the author. 2018. 32p. Holt/Godwin (9781627796200). PreS–Gr. 2.Sixteen weather girls wearing identical yellow rain slickers demonstrate their outdoor activities throughout the seasons. The rhyming text and colorfully upbeat digital art portray this diverse group of girls swimming, hiking, picking apples, bicycling, climbing mountains in the snow, and ballooning.
Where’s Rodney? By Carmen Bogan. Illus. by Floyd Cooper. 2017. 32p. Yosemite Conservancy (9781930238732). K–Gr. 3.Rodney—who always prefers being outside—isn’t looking forward to his school field trip, which he thinks is to a small neighborhood park. Instead, the trip is to a majestic wilderness, bringing great joy to this city child. Cooper’s signature artwork conveys African American Rodney’s frustration with sitting still and his delight at the natural wonders he sees.
Alphonse, There’s Mud on the Ceiling. By Daisy Hirst. Illus. by the author. 2020. 32p. Candlewick (9781536211177). PreS–Gr. 1.Siblings Alphonse and Natalie live in a seventh-floor apartment, making outside play sometimes a challenge. Still, they make do with a balcony campout complete with a tent and jungle. Joyful screen-print art depicts this duo in all their messy, exuberant glory.
Camp Tiger. By Susan Choi. Illus. by John Rocco. 2019. 40p. Putnam (9780399173295). PreS–Gr. 1.A white family’s annual camping trip to Mountain Pond takes a magical turn when a talking tiger joins them, sharing his knowledge of hiking trails, canoeing, and shooting stars. Rocco’s digitally enhanced watercolor illustrations highlight both the magnificent scenery and the larger-than-life tiger.
The Camping Trip. By Jennifer K. Mann. Illus. by the author. 2020. 56p. Candlewick (9781536207361). PreS–Gr. 2.African American Ernestine joins Aunt Jackie and Cousin Samantha on her first-ever camping trip and discovers that, while it’s not quite what she expected (the lake where they swim has fish in it!), camping (especially s’mores) is amazing. The mixed-media artwork portrays the natural wonders of this site and the girls’ enthusiasm for this adventure.
Cece Loves Science and Adventure. By Kimberly Derting and Shelli R. Johannes. Illus. by Vashti Harrison. 2019. 40p. Greenwillow (9780062499622). PreS–Gr. 2.Cece and her ethnically diverse Adventure Girls friends go on an adventure to earn their camping pins. But during their hike, a thunderstorm knocks out the GPS, and the girls must retrace their steps back to camp using STEM skills. Brightly hued, cartoon-style digital art depicts these resourceful and confident girls.
Charlie & Mouse Outdoors. By Laurel Snyder. Illus. by Emily Hughes. 2020. 48p. Chronicle (9781452170664). K–Gr. 2.In four brief chapters, two white brothers accompany their parents to a camping spot, hike in the woods, consider things that frighten them, and enjoy burnt marshmallows. Hughes’ pencil illustrations capture both camping details and the boys’ adventures.
Fatima’s Great Outdoors. By Ambreen Tariq. Illus. by Stevie Lewis. 2021. 40p. Penguin/Kokila (9781984816955). PreS–Gr. 3.Fatima Khazi is excited to be going on a weekend camping trip with her family—their first. Together they pitch a tent, enjoy food cooked on an open fire, and fall asleep under the stars. Lewis’ richly hued digital art depicts both the vivid forest landscapes and the cultural details of this Indian immigrant family.
Gone Camping. By Tamera Will Wissinger. Illus. by Matthew Cordell. 2017. 112p. HMH (9780544638730). Gr. 1–4.Sam and Lucy share the details of a camping trip with Grandpa in a series of poems that recount packing, pitching tents, hiking, making s’mores, fishing, and listening to Grandpa snore. Cordell’s pen-and-ink-with-watercolor illustrations bring out the poems’ humor. An appended guide to poetry techniques will be useful for classroom units, as well.
When You’re Scared. By Andrée Poulin. Illus. by Véronique Joffre. 2019. 48p. Owlkids (9781771473651). PreS–Gr. 1.In this nearly wordless picture book, a white boy and his mom go camping in the woods within close range of a mama bear and her cub. Their stories intersect when the cub becomes trapped in a refuse bin and the humans try to help the little creature. Joffre’s cut-paper-collage artwork features simple, modern lines that are both easily recognizable and emotionally satisfying.
Take a Hike
The Golden Glow. By Benjamin Flouw. Illus. by the author. 2018. 48p. Tundra (9780735264120). K–Gr. 3.Avid plant collector Fox learns of the rare golden glow and determines to find it. He assembles his gear and sets off up the mountain, encountering animal friends and beautiful flora on his ascent. The digital, hand-painted artwork both informs and pleases, as does the message of leaving rare species in the wild.
The Hike. By Alison Farrell. Illus. by the author. 2019. 56p. Chronicle (9781452174617). K–Gr. 3.Friends Wren, El, Hattie, and their dog, Bean, set off on a daylong excursion through the woods. They snack on thimbleberries, make leaf baskets, get lost, and finally reach the chilly summit before returning home. The gouache, watercolor, and pencil illustrations identify flora and fauna throughout, and four appended spreads further detail the girls’ woodland experiences.
Hike. By Pete Oswald. Illus. by the author. 2020. 40p. Candlewick (9781536201574). PreS–Gr. 2.In this nearly wordless story, a brown-skinned father and son don hiking clothes and equipment, drive to the mountains, and trek to the summit of a steep slope, observing animals, paw prints, and a waterfall along the trail. The digital artwork captures the natural beauty surrounding them, as well as the emotional journey of the two.
Hiking Day. By Anne Rockwell. Illus. by Lizzy Rockwell. 2018. 32p. Aladdin (9781481427371). PreS–Gr. 2.Donning sturdy sneakers, floppy hats, and well-stocked backpacks, a brown-skinned girl and her parents hike to the top of nearby Hickory Hill. Rockwell’s vivid watercolor art depicts the woodland flora and fauna, as well as the glorious view at the top.
In the Canyon. By Liz Garton Scanlon. Illus. by Ashley Wolff. 2015. 40p. Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane (9781481403481). PreS–Gr. 3.A young girl in hiking gear walks from the rim to the bottom of Arizona’s Grand Canyon, while Wolff’s glorious gouache-colored linoleum-block illustrations depict large vistas and intimate details. Back matter provides a glossary, additional information about some of the animals, and a brief history of this wild place.
My Mindful Walk with Grandma. By Sheri Mabry. Illus. by Wazza Pink. 2020. 32p. Albert Whitman (9780807570722). PreS–Gr. 2.A white girl on a hike with Grandma is excited to demonstrate that she has learned to imitate a loon’s call. But she fails to notice the sights and sounds all around her until Grandma helps her to be mindful of her surroundings. Nostalgic, green-hued illustrations depict this lush forest and appealing pair.
A Beach Tail. By Karen Lynn Williams. Illus. by Floyd Cooper. 2010. 32p. Boyds Mills & Kane (9781590787120). PreS–Gr. 2.After Gregory draws a lion in the sand, Dad cautions him not to stray from it or enter the water, so the boy draws an ever-lengthening tail that allows him to explore without breaking any rules. Cooper’s erasure-style illustrations convey both the close bond between this African American father and son and the shoreline wonders Gregory discovers.
Down under the Pier. By Nell Cross Beckerman. Illus. by Rachell Sumpter. 2020. 32p. Cameron Kids (9781944903862). K–Gr. 3.Roller coasters, Ferris wheels, and cotton candy are to be found atop the pier, but underneath, when the tide is low, the area teems with natural wonders, including mussels, barnacles, sea stars, kelp, and more. Lyrical text and shimmering art combine to detail four children exploring this underappreciated habitat and profile seven species found in this intertidal zone.
If You Want to Visit a Sea Garden. By Kay Weisman. Illus. by Roy Vickers. 2020. 32p. Groundwood (9781554989706). K–Gr. 2. 639.Accompany a young child and an adult as they journey to visit a sea garden—a stone reef, constructed by Indigenous peoples of the Northwest Coast, that creates a lush, intertidal habitat hosting many edible delicacies. Vickers’ stylized, digital illustrations depict vibrant land and seascapes, evoking many First Nations motifs.
One Summer Up North. By John Owens. Illus. by the author. 2020. 32p. Univ. of Minnesota (9781517909505). PreS–Gr. 3.In this wordless picture book, a family of three paddle and portage through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota. The richly textured illustrations capture both the big-picture grandeur of this wilderness and close-up details (blueberries, lily pads, moose) that highlight this mixed-race family’s journey.
Pond. By Jim LaMarche. Illus. by the author. 2016. 40p. Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman (9781481447355). K–Gr. 2.When Matt finds a trickle of water in a junk-filled pit at the edge of his neighborhood, he wonders if it was once a pond. With help from his sister Katie and best friend Pablo, he works to bring the pond back to life. Mixed-media illustrations detail the human progress throughout the seasons and the beauty of this restored ecosystem.
River. By Elisha Cooper. Illus. by the author. 2019. 48p. Scholastic/Orchard (9781338312263). Gr. 1–4.A young mother sets off on a solo adventure: canoeing the Hudson River from Henderson Lake (NY) to New York City Harbor. Along the way she encounters a moose, rapids, squalls, eagles, magnificent vistas, and—at the journey’s end—her family. Cooper’s pencil-and-watercolor illustrations bring these wonders to life for armchair paddlers.
Saving American Beach: The Biography of African American Environmentalist MaVynee Betsch. By Heidi Tyline King. Illus. by Ekua Holmes. 2021. 40p. Putnam (9781101996294). 333.72092.In the days of Jim Crow segregation, MaVynee Betch’s grandfather purchased a Florida beach so African American families could enjoy the sun and sand. Later, after a career as an opera singer, Betsch returns to American Beach to save it—first from disrepair and later from modern development. Holmes’ acrylic-and-collage illustrations depict this real site, both in its heyday and now as it is preserved.
Seaside Stroll. By Charles Trevino. Illus. by Maribel LeChuga. 2021. 32p. Charlesbridge (9781580899321). PreS–Gr. 1.A white child and adult take a winter stroll to the beach, where they discover sand, snow, seaweed, surf, seagulls, and tidepools filled with all manner of colorful sea creatures. After an inadvertent dip, they slosh home for a warm bath and a story before bed. Cozy digital art is enhanced with watercolor textures in this reminder that beaches can be enjoyed year round.
To Live on an Island. By Emma Bland Smith. Illus. by Elizabeth Person. 2019. 32p. Sasquatch/Little Bigfoot (9781632171818). K–Gr. 3.Living on an island means hiking through the woods to catch the school bus, using the beach as your classroom, checking the crab pots for dinner, having Grandma take a float plane to visit, and counting orcas instead of sheep. Richly hued watercolor illustrations depict the magnificent scenery and local details on this Pacific Northwest island.
We Are Brothers. By Yves Nadon. Illus. by Jean Claverie. 2018. 32p. Creative Editions (9781568462929). K–Gr. 2.On a visit to their family’s lake house, two brown-skinned brothers enjoy the swimming hole and, encouraged by the elder, the younger brother finds the courage to jump from a high rock into the pool. Claverie’s pencil-and-pastel illustrations depict both the natural beauty of this site and the joy that surrounds new-skill success.
Put Away That Screen
Babbit and Joan: A Rabbit and a Phone. By Denise Turu. Illus. by the author. 2020. 40p. Flyaway (9781947888203). PreS–Gr. 2.When Babbit (a rabbit) discovers his phone (Joan) is exhausted from photographing and texting, he puts her in bed for a nap and sets off on a walk. On it, he discovers a world of plants and animals he never noticed before and makes friends with two other creatures whose phones are also out of commission. Bright forest colors and a humorous tone make this an appealing choice.
The Couch Potato. By Jory John. Illus. by Pete Oswald. 2020. 40p. Harper (9780062954534). PreS–Gr. 2.Couch loves spending all his time on the sofa with his electronics close by. Then an unexpected power outage sends him outside, where he discovers unexpected pleasures. Oswald’s digitally enhanced watercolor illustrations bring out the humor in John’s text.
On a Magical Do-Nothing Day. By Beatrice Alemagna. Illus. by the author. Tr. by Jill Davis. 2017. 48p. Harper (9780062657602). K–Gr. 2.A weekend at a rainy cabin proves really boring until Mom confiscates the video games and sends her child outside to notice fresh air, the taste of rain, red-capped mushrooms, singing birds, and glass stones that allow the world to shine through. Mixed-media illustrations capture the child’s moods and changing perspectives of nature.
Tek: The Modern Cave Boy. By Patrick McDonnell. Illus. by the author. 2016. 40p. Little, Brown (9780316338059). PreS–Gr. 2.Cave boy Tek won’t put down his phone, tablet, or game box to go outside his house, much to the consternation of his friends and family. Then Big Poppa (the village volcano) explodes, sending Tek’s devices into the sky and the boy outside to find all he has been missing. McDonnell’s cartoon illustrations (rendered on a tablet-shaped volume) are sure to bring smiles to pint-sized techies and their caregivers.
A Note on Representation
According to Terrence Young (Heading Out: A History of American Camping, 2017), outdoor recreational pursuits in North America received a big boost during the 1918 influenza pandemic, although they were mostly viewed as “white” activities, an assumption that is reflected in books for children. University of Washington children’s literature scholar Michelle Martin has studied picture books on this topic, finding that very few depict Black children in wild spaces. Hopefully, that omission will soon be corrected; indeed, a few recent titles—as detailed in some of the annotations here—do feature BIPOC characters enjoying the great outdoors.
Kay Weisman reviews for Booklist magazine and is the author of If You Want to Visit a Sea Garden (2020).
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