Favorite Kids’ Books: Nurturing Curiosity About the Natural World

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 our natural world.

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

The book is written in rhyme and is super fun to read aloud. It’s about what we observe in Nature during the winter. Not only do we see flakes flying, but also feather-fluffing and lots of other winter wonders. This is just one of a series of books Buffy Silverman has written about the seasons. It’s a picture book, but instead of illustration, the imagery is provided by spectacular photos. What a wonderful way to help kids understand and want to explore winter.

Here’s a photo from my blog post about a snowy mystery. Read the post to find out why I ruled this guy out as a suspect in a winter who-dunnit!

If you read this book to kids during a late winter warmup, they’ll want to run outside and search for the book’s drip-droppy, slip-sloppy, snow-melting signs of spring. The rhyming text is spare and fun to read, and it reminds us that it’s not just humans who experience Nature’s seasonal changes. I thoroughly enjoyed reading lines like ‘On a hawk-squawking, paw-sinking, woods-walking day,’ all beautifully illustrated with gorgeous photos. Highly recommend!

Here’s a snow-melty image from my post about a winter mystery. This sight had me laughing at myself and at the funny, premature conclusion I’d drawn about something that puzzled me.

This beautiful book by Carrie Clevidence Pearson tells the story of the world’s tallest tree. The simple but rich text follows the tree’s life from sprout to towering redwood. Susan Swan’s illustrations are simply gorgeous. Each page invites the reader—both child and adult—to explore and discover the many forms of life that live in and around the towering tree. The story will also help kids understand a tree’s life cycle and the many threats, both natural and human, that challenge a tree’s survival.

One tree in my backyard hosted the most amazing wildlife encounter I’ve had the privilege to witness: the complete nesting cycle of a Pileated Woodpecker pair. Here’s their story, distilled to just a few minutes. If you’d like to see more, I have eight videos that capture the experience in greater detail. Watch them here, on my YouTube channel.

This fantastic book by Melissa Stewart features tree-living creatures as diverse as owls, bears, bats, tree frogs, and more, with lots of facts about the animals’ lives both inside the tree and out. Amy Hevron’s illustrations are imaginative and informative, beautifully done with a woodsy feel to them. The book was written for kids ages 4 to 8, but I suspect grown-ups will also love the book. I sure do!

I’ve written many blog posts about creatures that live in tree holes, aka cavities. One of my favorites was about a bit of duck drama that took place in what we call our squirrel tree. Here’s one of the ducks in question:

A male wood duck stands on a branch in a tree's canopy.

Who knew mushrooms could be so mysterious and so beautiful? Your kids will, after reading this book. It explains how mushrooms—‘bizarre blooms with strange scent’—seem to just appear, without warning. In beautifully illustrated, lyrical text, MUSHROOM RAIN shows how mushrooms reproduce and grow. The book highlights the diversity and beauty of fungi as it explains the underlying science and the role these organisms play in our ecosystem. The book includes several pages of mushroom facts, including some surprises. Like, did you know that mushroom spores help seed clouds, attracting water and triggering rain? I highly recommend this picture book for kids about 5-8 years old.

Mushrooms fascinate me. In this photo, a mushroom tells the Pileated Woodpecker that the tree is soft inside—easy digging for a roost—and probably hosts lots of yummy bugs.

This is a book of poems by Pat Brisson, illustrated by Dan Tavis. Its featured creatures include lots of insects, spiders, birds, and familiar animals like skunks and squirrels. The book’s backmatter tells more about each critter. It also explains the poems’ various verse forms. I enjoyed the poems, although some of the rhyme is a little contrived. The illustrations are silly, fun, and engaging. In my experience, little kids love books about critters, especially when the books are written in rhyme. They will enjoy this collection of poems, which is perfect for taking short reading breaks. The publisher recommends this book for kids aged 6 to 8.

One reason I love this book is that it includes squirrels. These critters can be real comics, perfect characters for a fun poem. Here’s one squirrel I wrote about in a blog post.

Melanistic (black fur) eastern gray squirrel on a tree trunk, seemingly reaching for the sky

I often stop to photograph fungi in the forest. I’m fascinated by their many forms and colors. Which explains why I love a just-released kids’ book, Funky Fungi, 30 Activities for Exploring Molds, Mushrooms, Lichens, and More by Alisha Gabriel and Sue Heavenrich. It’s aimed at kids 7-9, but if you’re at all inquisitive about our natural world, you’ll enjoy this surprisingly deep dive into everything you never knew about fungi. The book has, as its title promises, thirty hands-on activities related to observing, growing, analyzing, and crafting with all kinds of fungi. It’s also filled with facts and stories about individual fungi and about mycology and scientific research that turned fungi into important medicines as well as forensic and conservation tools. The book’s language is lively and engaging and will pique the reader’s curiosity at every page turn. Even the taxonomy explanation is fun, telling how a recently discovered orange fungus earned its scientific name: Spongiforma squarepantsii. Can a book about fungi be loaded with kid appeal? I rest my case!

There’s so much to learn, do, and talk about in this book, it’s perfect for summer activities with the kids, or for a school activity.

Here’s one fungi-laden log that caught my eye.

The mushrooms are almost luminous, don’t you think? I don’t know what they are; an online identifier couldn’t narrow it down, although a possible candidate is the velvet foot mushroom, Flammulina velutipes. After reading Funky Fungi, I do have a good understanding of what was happening inside that log to produce the beautiful fruiting bodies that caught my eye.

Ribbit! The Truth About Frogs is by Annette Whipple, illustrated by Juanbjuan Oliver. I’ll start my review with a quiz: Do frogs quack? Most certainly not—or so I thought. Then I read Ribbit! The Truth About Frogs, by Annette Whipple. Like earlier books in her The Truth About series (spiders, dogs, and owls), Whipple delivers engaging facts using a Q&A format. With the help of eye-popping photos and fun illustrations by Juanbjuan Oliver, Ribbit! answers questions like, How do frogs eat? Why don’t frogs freeze to death? What sounds do frogs make? This brings me back to my quiz. It turns out that one frog—the wood frog—does indeed quack. Only Pacific chorus frogs deliver that familiar “ribbit.” The publisher’s official age range is 6-9 years, but I am positive younger and older kids will be captivated by this irresistible non-fiction book.

I bought a copy to have handy when visiting grandkids find frogs, which are abundant around my home. One time, a green frog found our pool skimmer (and eventually hopped into the nearby woods).

I use iNaturalist’s app to identify critters we find, but that and other internet research can’t compare to what Whipple’s book shares with inquisitive kids (and adults).

What’s in Your Pocket?: Collecting Nature’s Treasures, by Heather L. Montgomery, illustrated by Maribel Lechuga. The book is about scientists whose childhood nature-collecting sparked their interest in science. What a great way to help a child nurture curiosity about the natural world. I hope you’ll read it with the kids in your life–and then take them out to fill their pockets.

In 2021, I collected acorns as part of a University of Kentucky research project that needs help from citizen scientists. You can read about the project and my participation in this blog post, Pop! Goes the Weevil (Larva). I found lots of acorns with squirmy, wormlike creatures inside (I didn’t send those to Kentucky). Speaking of slithery critters, did you put worms under your pillow when you were a child? Me neither—but Jane Goodall did. Which I know after reading Heather Montgomery’s fantastic book! Here’s a photo of an acorn I opened. You can see a weevil larva burrowed inside its bed-and-breakfast.

Acorn opened to show a weevil larva burruowed into the nutmeat

Little Dandelion Seeds the World by Julia Richardson, illustrated by Kristen Howdeshell & Kevin Howdeshell. Using repeat refrains kids will love, this STEM picture book shows how dandelions have reached all seven continents, thanks to their swishing, swirling, hitchhiking seeds. It’s science, geography, and lyrical language all rolled in one! And the art is edge-to-edge beautiful on every page.

I love the geometry of the Autumn Hawkbit seed head, more angular than its dandelion cousin. I saw plenty of these plants during a fall visit to northern Michigan. You can see why they reminded me of Julia Richardson’s terrific book.

The Rescuer of Tiny Creatures by Curtis Manley, illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins. This book’s art is fantastic, and the story is perfect for helping a child see insects and spiders with wonder, not worry. I was a bug-squeamish kid who needed to read this book! I wish I had discovered the beauty of insects decades ago.

Take this yellowjacket, for example. Decades ago, I would have screamed and bolted. But when more recently, I saw this little face staring up from my plate, I took that look to mean he was thanking me for sharing my BLT. I let him enjoy the crumbs and drippings undisturbed. Would you?

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