Good Outdoor Books for Children
Outdoor kids books can be doubly rewarding: You share time reading, learn about the natural world, and help inspire kids to get outdoors and connect with nature.
In honor of Read Across America Day on March 2, here are some of my favorite outdoorsy children's books. Share your own below.
We'll start with a few personal favorites:
- Owl Moon by Jane Yolen and illustrated by John Schoenherr. In this Caldecott Medal winner, a young girl goes owling with her pa on a moonlit winter night. It's simple and beautiful in pictures and words, and is a contender for my favorite picture book ever.
- Henry Hikes to Fitchburg and Henry Climbs a Mountain by D.B. Johnson are inspired by Henry David Thoreau, in bear form. Henry Hikes to Fitchburg is based on a Walden passage in which Thoreau advocates for foot travel over buying a train ticket. Henry Climbs a Mountain tackles civil disobedience and human rights.
- How can you not like a book where one of the main characters is described as a friend who "loved hiking and adventuring and strange places. He loved maps and gear and exciting weather. He was brave and daring and jolly." Toot and Puddle by Holly Hobbie is a charming series of stories about BFF pigs who have adventures near (Puddle) and far (Toot).
A few more with kids, and a silly adult, enjoying the outdoors:
- The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, another Caldecott Medal winner, is a classic. It captures the simple fun and wonder of deep, deep snow through the eyes of an inner city boy. Who says outdoor adventure is found only in the wilderness? "He pretended he was a mountain-climber. He climbed up a great big tall heaping mountain of snow — and slid all the way down."
- Stella and Roy Go Camping by Ashley Wolff gets a nod for showing two siblings backpacking with their mom in Yosemite in a realistic manner. You'll recognize some of the gear, including the essential bear canister, and learn some animal tracks with the kids.
- I hesitate to mention anything with "princess" in the title, but Do Princesses Wear Hiking Boots? and Do Princesses Really Kiss Frogs? by Carmela LaVigna Coyle are nice — and needed — alternatives to the overabundance of pink, glittery princess culture out there. This little girl hikes, bikes, and climbs trees and boulders with her mom and dad.
- One-Dog Canoe by Mary Casanova and A Camping Spree with Mr. Magee and Learning to Ski with Mr. Magee both by Chris Van Dusen are plain fun. And Van Dusen's Mr. Magee illustrations are vivid and wonderful.
Curious kids will appreciate kid-friendly guidebooks on science and nature. There are many. Look in any park gift shop, book store, or library.
- Pick a Pocket Guide or Golden Guide, or let your kid choose one, that matches his or her interest: birds, geysers, volcanoes, bears, stars, weather.
- Going on a trip? Let the kids select a book that covers the local flora, fauna, geology, or history of your destination.
- Who Pooped in the Park? by Gary D. Robson and illustrated by Elijah Brady Clark is a series featuring the scat and tracks found in different national parks.
- Guide books needn't be kiddie versions either. Pocket guides from reputable sources like the National Audubon Society are handy for any age.
Others worth mentioning:
- Greg Mortenson tells young kids his story of getting lost climbing off K2 and being led to build schools for Pakistani children in Listen to the Wind. There's also a young readers' version of Three Cups of Tea for older kids.
- Teens will enjoy the novel Peak by Roland Smith. So will adults. Trust me.
- Steve Jenkins uses his trademark paper collages to share facts and info in The Top of the World: Climbing Mount Everest.
- Cat in the Clouds by Eric Pinder is based on the true story of a cat that lived at the Mount Washington observatory.
- A Pika's Tail by Sally Plumb and Birdsong by Audrey Wood and illustrated by Robert Florczak introduce children to animals in their natural habitats.
- Animal Baby, Your Big Backyard, and Ranger Rick magazines are offered by the National Wildlife Federation. Your library may already subscribe.
- Good photography books are always captivating. One of my preschooler's favorite books is Polar Obsession by National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen. The large format is inviting and she loves to look at the pictures of polar bears, narwhal whales, penguins, reindeer, and other polar animals.
Finally, if you can't decide which outdoor children's book to check out first, or even if you don't have a kid to read to, there's always the classic The Lorax by Dr. Seuss. First published in 1971, the 40-year-old environmental warning still rings true today. "Plant a new Truffula. Treat it with care. Give it clean water. And feed it fresh air..."
Read Across America Day falls on Theodor Seuss Geisel's birthday, March 2. Celebrate with a worthy outdoor book.