Finding Nature in Children’s Books

This post is updated from a previous time.  Please check it out and add your comments with book lists of your own!

I have been so absorbed in the novel I just finished that I have neglected to post for over a week! (Shantaram, Gregory David Roberts).  I love to read and as my children grow I am thus far happy to report that so do they!  I want them to enjoy and appreciate the experience of allowing a book to transport them to a different place or time.

We read a wide variety of books, including those about and set in nature. My daughter has recently been captivated by the How to Train Your Dragon series.  I am thrilled to see her get lost in the story.  Some nights she just can’t wait to get into bed for her Daddy to read the next chapter or two.  For our little guy, it is cars and anything by Mo Willems.  While I don’t always enjoy the topics they choose, we read those books as well.  Their choices are validated and they are allowed to enjoy exploring their own interests in this way.

Sociologist and researcher J. Allen Williams Jr. of the University of Nebraska – Lincoln recently analyzed 8000 images in 300 children’s books published between 1938-2008.  He noted whether they held pictures of natural settings, human made environments or something in between (like a playground).  He found a steady decline in natural images beginning in the 60’s.  By 2008 man-made environments appear twice as much as natural settings.

According to the authors “These findings suggest that today’s generation of children are not being socialized, at least through this source, toward an understanding and appreciation of the natural world and the place of humans within it.”

I think it is worth noting that the number of books examined in this study was less than 10% of the current annual number of children’s books published.  That means over 21,000 children’s books are currently published every year!  That is a lot of books!  In addition, only Caldecott Medal winners were examined by this study.  According to the Caldecott website (, the committee deciding which illustrator receives this award bases its judgment on terms defining what they deem to be “the most distinguished American picture book for children published by an American publisher in the United States in English during the preceding year”.

While books about farm animals or puppies in gardens and the like are easy to find, it does seem harder to find stories about actual children playing and exploring outside.  One critic of the study suggested that too many children’s books featuring nature preach an environmental message and that is why kids don’t like them.  I don’t think that is true; books depicting natural settings don’t always preach a specific environmental message and if they do most kids are eager to learn and latch on to a “cause”.  On the other hand, it is also true that just because a child reads a book with natural scenes or an environmental message doesn’t mean that he/she will appreciate nature, (although it can’t hurt, right?).

The books my own children choose do not always contain images of nature or children playing in natural settings.  Never mind what parents choose, or still yet what publishers choose.  Yet a sheer love of reading encourages the imagination and creativity in ways that are irreplaceable. We regularly experience, learn about and talk about nature first hand as a family.  I can see how it would be important to include nature books more frequently in the lives of urban children who infrequently experience nature first hand.

Here is a reading list I put together from some of our books at home and books from our local library.  Some of these depict children and families playing outside and others are simply about nature.

And for older readers – anything by Jean Craighead George and Scott O’Dell is good. Also check out The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place.

Many of the above authors offer many books in this same vein. Additional reading suggestions can be found at .

I know there are many others.  What are some of your favorite children’s books depicting nature or natural settings?


1 Comment

Filed under Family, Natasha, Nature

One response to “Finding Nature in Children’s Books

  1. We like “Little Fur Family” ’round here. I know, I know, the Little Fur Mama does all the cookin’ and care while Little Fur Papa’s off doin’ god-knows-what, but I just love that the Little Fur Child can run off into the woods and bump into his grandpa.

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