Favorite Kids’ Books: Ecology & Conservation

On this page, you’ll find a growing list of children’s books that I’ve paired with some of my photos, videos, and blog posts. These are books I think will grab kids’ interest, maybe fill in some informational blanks, and—I hope—ignite a lifetime of curiosity about birds.

(If you wish to buy a book, consider Bookshop.org, where profit from online book purchases is distributed among independent bookstores.)

Linden, The Story of a Tree by Colleen Muske is a beautiful tribute to trees and how they enrich our lives. This picture book tells a lovely story about the love a community has for a tree. Linden, the (anthropomorphized) tree, wishes he could be something more, like becoming the wood that builds a lighthouse or a barn. But in contrast to Linden feeling that he’s ‘just a tree,’ his human community loves him and celebrates all that he brings into their lives. Through both its text and beautiful art, this story is a terrific conversation starter about the life cycle of trees and the role they play in our lives. I highly recommend this touching and informative book.

I wrote more about this fantastic book in a blog post about my own love of trees. Like Linden, a particular tree in my backyard brought me years of entertainment as creature after creature made it their home. Here’s just one of that tree’s tenants you’ll meet if you check out that blog post.

Hey Water! by Antoinette Portis is a beautifully written introduction to the water cycle. The language is simple and spare, with more detailed facts and explanations on the back pages. The book’s text and art (also by Portis) show water in forms and places that kids will identify with, like rain, swimming pools, faucets, snowflakes, and tears. The book also shows less familiar water forms like steam and fog. This is a great book for home reading with younger kids, ages three to six or so, and for older kids as part of classroom water cycle units.

Here’s a water-cycle sight that made me wonder why my houseplant insists on sending splatters to the floor. This beautiful, sunlit water droplet is caused by guttation, i.e., sweating. (I love learning new words!) Guttation is a sign the plant is healthy. I’ll try to remember that as I mop!

Written by Anita Fitch Pazner and illustrated by Carolina Farias, THE TOPSY-TURVY BUS is a fun story about kids who learn about the earth’s problems—pollution, plastics, and more—and some solutions, like organic farming methods, reusable bags, and recycling. They also get to ride on the Topsy Turvey Bus, which runs on biodiesel fuel made with used vegetable oil. The book explains our planet’s problems and a range of solutions in kid-friendly terms, with a glossary and instructions for making your own compost.

The book also includes information about the real Topsy Turvy Bus, which looks just like the one on the book cover. Created by Hazon, the Jewish Lab for Sustainability, there’s one bus in Connecticut and a second in Michigan. These buses were made to teach kids ‘how to recycle, rethink, reuse, and renew our world’s resources.’

I wrote about one of our planet’s problems—climate change—in a blog post about Red-Breasted Mergansers. Their animated courtship display is a joy to watch. Unfortunately, warming temperatures threaten to move the birds’ range well north of my home. This snapshot gives a hint of what Michiganders will no longer see unless we humans get global warming under control:

Two male Red-breasted mergansers perform courtship display in front of a female

The blog post includes a video of the boy birds bowing to their ladies, with a link to an earlier post that shows two merganser species’ beautiful courtship ballets.

WATER IS WATER by Miranda Paul is one of my favorite nonfiction picture books. Written for kids as young as three, everything about this book brings serious science to very young readers. The book is illustrated by Jason Chin.

Poetry and beautiful illustrations tap into what kids already understand about various forms of water—snow, ice, clouds, etc.—and bridge those experiences into a full recounting of the water cycle. The book’s repetitive theme is about how water changes form: Water is water… until it becomes something else. This accurate and creative telling of the water story adds a note of suspense to each page turn. With back matter that explains more about water science and provides fascinating water facts, the book is a shining example of narrative nonfiction picture books that are engaging, fun to read, and that tap into kids’ curiosity.

This stunning water droplet caught my eye after a spring rain. It’s what made me think of the equally beautiful picture book on my shelf.

Water is Water is perfect reading for a rainy day. Or one with clouds, fog, rain, puddles, ice, snow, or drinking apple cider (find out why in the book!). Also, do visit and explore Miranda Paul’s website, where you’ll find teacher resources (for parents, too), including a link to a fantastic music video based on the book.

In my blog post, A Surplus of Swans, I wrote about the Mute Swans and common carp we see on and in our lake, and the danger they pose to an aquatic ecosystem. While researching my post, I found this terrific related kids’ book: Lakes and Ponds! Its information and activities will give kids a taste of limnology—the study of inland waterways. Kids can find out why cold water sinks, make a water scope to observe a pond or lake’s underwater ecosystem, create a microclimate to observe the water cycle, and compare buoyancy provided by fresh and saltwater. I see lots of summer discoveries here! For ages 7-10. Written by Johannah Haney and illustrated by Tom Casteel.

Seeing this swan wearing uprooted weeds is what nudged me to learn about Mute Swans.

A Mute Swan wears a string of weeds like a necklace

Another blog post, Winter Goes with the Floe, had me smiling at ice floes on our lake—floating proof of winter’s imminent farewell. A related picture book explores the darker side of melting ice: polar ice melt.

The book is Winston of Churchill: One Bear’s Battle Against Global Warming. Written by Jean Davies Okimoto and illustrated by Jeremiah Trammell, the story’s protagonist is a polar bear. The bear organizes a protest, drawing attention to global warming and highlighting actions that humans, including kids, can take. Winston of Churchill is silly, with some laugh-out-loud humor aimed squarely at the adult reader. It’s also loaded with kid-friendly storytelling that pulls no punches in its message about global warming. For kids ages 5-7 or so.

Here’s one of the ice floes that prompted me to write that post. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but I estimate the ice is at least thirty feet wide.

ice flow on a lake

This book, The Elephant’s New Shoe, was written by Laurel Neme and illustrated by Ariel Landy. It’s the true story of wildlife conservationist Nick Marx, who rescued a baby elephant. A severe foot injury threatened the animal’s life, and Marx went to great lengths to fit the animal with a prosthetic foot—a strap-on shoe sturdy enough to bear an elephant’s weight. He also had to convince the elephant to wear it. This story about conservation, biology, and prosthetics design also has elephant-sized heart. I truly love this book. Also, if you’d like to inspire kids to think about conservation-related writing and careers, check out the author’s website. I had the pleasure of spending several days with Laurel at a workshop. She writes for National Geographic (among others) and I truly admire her work.

Here’s what I saw that made me think of Laurel’s book. The swan’s foot is luminous, don’t you think?

floating swan with one foot in the air

Can You Hear the Trees Talking?: Discovering the Hidden Life of the Forest, is by Peter Wohlleben. This wonderful book about how trees communicate and interact won many prizes for science writing. The author also wrote the best-selling book for grown-ups, The Hidden Life of Trees. The book is gorgeous, meaningful, and with its simple activities, fun for kids 8-10 years old (although I think both younger and older kids will enjoy it, too).

Here’s my (slightly embellished) photo that reminded me of Wohlleben’s books. This guy lives next to my house. You can see I highlighted the bark fissure that forms his quirky smile. What do you imagine he’s trying to tell the other trees?

Image Credits: Carol Doeringer, Publishers (for book covers).