Please welcome my guest author Maria Gianferrari. We met via social media and were conversing using the comments on my blog. I always find her comments to be thoughtful and helpful. She has a vast knowledge of children’s books and with the best recommendations so I asked her to please, please, please guest post on any children’s book topic!
Today, she is writing about nature — specifically best nonfiction picture books for kids — and it just so happens that she is a non-fiction children’s book author-to-be with two books to look forward to in 2015!
Summer’s around the corner, and it’s the perfect time to learn about nature. The good news—you don’t have to journey to one of our fine National Parks to do so (though I would highly recommend it!) The answers are right in your backyard. Literally. Whether you’re a city or suburban dweller, or even if you’re lucky enough to live in the countryside, there are so many ways to observe how birds, mammals, and other invertebrates have been able to adapt to urban and residential surroundings. Urban ecology is a fascinating field of study, and we can all be urban ecologists in our own neighborhoods!
City cemeteries are havens for many natural creatures. There are fields for hunting, digging, and grazing; wooded and man-made areas for cover, and if there’s a water source, all the better! Take a stroll with your family in your local cemetery and jot down a list of creatures you see. I live in Waltham, a suburb of Boston, and Mount Feake Cemetery, which borders the Charles River Basin, is an ecosystem whose shoreline boasts a multitude of waterfowl: Canada geese, mute swans, herons, mallards, mergansers, goldeneyes, wood, and other ducks. River otters swim with muskrats, eastern box turtles, and fish. Cottontails hop on the grass—watch out for the coyotes! There are raccoons, gophers, moles, and mice. And birds, too, of course! All of these creatures in one place! Take some photos of the creatures you recognize, and the ones you’d like to learn more about.
Don’t know that bird? Have a gander at Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s extensive birding website All About Birds. It’s chock-full of information on identifying birds, their habitats, dietary and nesting behaviors plus assorted cool facts. While you’re there, check out their webcams where you can watch the cycle of birdlife from nest building, to egg-laying, to hatchlings pipping through their shells. See them grow from bald and fuzzy hatchlings to feather-sprouted fledglings—it’s a mini-biology lesson playing out right before your eyes! Cornell’s site currently has webcams for viewing a red-tailed hawk pair, two species of ospreys, as well as great blue herons. There are also many other nesting webcams situated around the world where you can see a species as common as a cardinal or as elusive as a great horned owl at a site such as View Nesting Birds.
Your own backyard can become a bird-bee-butterfly-bat sanctuary. In addition to putting out bird and hummingbird feeders, hang bird and bat houses. Bats are even better than mosquito zappers, with some species eating up to 3,000 mosquitoes in one night! Sometimes house finches and robins even enjoy nesting in hanging plants. As a robin once did in our pansy plant:
In fact, the Cornell Lab is now sponsoring a contest about birds and their funky nest-building habits: Planting flowers such as butterfly bush, coneflower, black-eyed Susans, honeysuckle, columbine, and sunflowers attract finches, hummingbirds, and butterflies that you and your child can observe. Hang yarn, fabric scraps, your own hair, or even dog/cat fur, and birds will add these fuzzy items to their nests. Include a birdbath for bathing and drinking and you have a backyard habitat.
Best Non-Fiction Picture Books to Explore Nature
City and suburban parks, such as the Public Garden in Boston, or even Central Park in New York City, are home to many different creatures despite being smack dab in the center of a city. More than 274 species of birds have been sighted in Central Park! Famous red-tailed hawk pairs, such as Pale Male, and his mate, Lola, who nested on an apartment building in New York City, spawned these lovely nonfiction picture books:
Janet Schulman’s Pale Male: Citizen Hawk of New York City
Megan McCarthy’s City Hawk: The Story of Pale Male
Jeanette Winter, The Tale of Pale Male: A True Story
The Legend of Pale Male is also a fascinating documentary showing how this hawk enthralled so many residents of New York City.
Here are some red-tailed hawks near the junction of routes 95 and I-90 outside of Boston:
Would you ever have imagined exploring nature in the big apple?
Small city ponds, or water features, may contain fish, or frogs (in various stages of development), water insects, even turtles, and salamanders. There is a small body of water at the Newton Free Library which is home to fish, frogs, a mallard duck pair, and an occasional wild turkey. On a morning walk with my dog, Becca, I spotted a belted kingfisher perched in a willow above the tiny Yakus Pond on Brandeis University’s campus.
These are drinking and bathing sources for birds, waterfowl, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals. Sometimes all you need is a muddy puddle in a moderately wooded, somewhat shady area, and you’ll see frog eggs, or perhaps tadpoles, or even salamanders.
Stop and explore. Take a look at some books on these topics like Sarah Lamstein’s Big Night for Salamanders, or Melissa Stewart’s A Place for Turtles.
Nature is, actually, all around us. And for that, I am truly grateful!
I’m going to end with an extensive list of nature non-fiction books by some of my all-time favorite writers. The texts are lovely and lyrical, a blend of interesting facts told in narrative, often poetic form.
Is your child a birding buff?
Honk Honk Goose by April Pulley Sayre (Canada geese)
White Owl, Barn Owl by Nicola Davies
The Emperor Lays an Egg by Brenda Guiberson (emperor penguins)
Unbeatable Beaks by Stephen R. Swinburne (cool beaks!)
Even an Ostrich Needs a Nest: Where Birds Begin by Irene Kelly (nesting habits)
A Hummingbird’s Life by Irene Kelly
Batty over bats? I am, and I adore this book:
Bat Loves the Night by Nicola Davies about a pipistrelle bat
Wild about whales? Check out
April Pulley Sayre’s Here Come the Humpbacks
Nicola Davies’s Big Blue Whale
Delighted with dolphins? See the world through the eyes of a baby dolphin when you read
Davies’s Dolphin Baby!
She’s a zoologist by training, and also has a longer book called
Wild About Dolphins
(among many others on a multitude of science topics).
A sucker for sharks?
Surprising Sharks by Nicola Davies
is fun and informative, and will indeed surprise you!
Mad for mammals?
Meet the Howlers by April Pulley Sayre (howler monkeys)
Moon Bear by Brenda Guiberson
Ice Bear: In the Steps of the Polar Bear by Nicola Davies
Red Wolf Country and The Eyes of Gray Wolf by Jonathan London
Mustang Canyon by Jonathan London (wild horses)
Dianna Hutts Aston’s books explore a variety of life and geological cycles. The illustrations by Sylvia Long are a feast for the eyes:
An Egg is Quiet
A Seed is Sleepy
A Butterfly is Patient
A Rock is Lively
Your backyard is waiting… have fun!
Maria Gianferrari is a nature, creature and dog lover who grew up near a farm in New Hampshire climbing trees, smelling maple syrup clouds, and slapping cow patties for fun! She still loves bird-watching and tracking for scat and other signs of life with her daughter, Anya, in the suburbs of Massachusetts, where she also lives with her German-scientist husband, Niko, and their Dixie Chick rescue dog, Becca. She is the author of Coyote Moon, a forthcoming nonfiction picture book on suburban coyotes (Roaring Brook Press, 2015), as well as two forthcoming fiction picture books about a girl named Penny and her beloved dog, Jelly, (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015).
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p.s. Related posts:
All About Hummingbirds: A Unit for Kids
Birds of North Captiva, Florida, Saved From Extinction!
Great STEM Picture Books paired with Fun Activities
STEM Books on Scientific Minds, Methods, & Discovery
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BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.
21 thoughts on “Nature is All Around Us! Best Nonfiction Picture Books for Kids”
Ooo – I ‘know’ Maria from Tara Lazar’s blog!
My girl does love birds, but it was an author visit by Jacqueline Davies with her book THE BOY WHO DREW BIRDS that got her really interested in looking at them closely!
Wonderful post. Thanks Mia and Maria!
I’m so glad that you liked Maria G.’s post. I need non fiction ideas so I’m grateful to her too!
Love all these animal books. We really need to try leaving cool stuff out for the birds- I keep forgetting about this idea. I’ve got a pretty good yarn collection that will look fab wrapped up in some nests. 🙂
I was thinking the same thing!! We have dog fur too to help with birds’ nests!
Thanks, Cathy! I recognize your name from Tara’s blog too! And I LOVE The Boy Who Drew Birds–it’s such a lovely book! Jackie’s wonderful, and the collage illustrations by Melissa Sweet are amazing.
I hope you seen your yarn hanging in some nearby trees, Jeanette!
And thanks again Mia for inviting me to post on a topic that I’m so passionate about!
Thank you for your wonderful post full of so many great ideas!!
What a great theme for a post! My 7yo LOVES non-fiction, and we haven’t read any of these. Time to put in some library requests!
Glad it helps you with choosing books from the library! I find non fiction especially hard to navigate because it’s shelved by call number/topic and it makes browsing tougher. I’m grateful to Maria G. for her great list! We will be hitting the libary too!
Wonderful list. Looking for these at our library!
We read Rock is Lively and loved it. Even an Ostrich needs a nest is a fantastic book! We loved “a little book of Sloth” and reviewed it at Stacking Books. Do stop by and take a look, we really wanted to give it a shout out 🙂
Thanks so much for the heads up to find your post. Heading over there right now…
We love Just Ducks by Nicola Davies so it is great to have some more of her books recommended. I especially love the look of White Owl, Barn Owl.
Love your book suggestions! Thank you!
Thanks for the awesome suggestions. Definitely getting some of these at the library.
Thanks so much for sharing!
Summer is such a wonderful time to explore nature with children. Why not take a walk in the neighborhood to observe and let the child pick each subject. Then go to the library and investigate!
Yes, I love that idea Barbara! And summer is perfect because you have the time to observe and then find some books to read more!
Such a great list! I love the Emperor Lays an Egg. I think it is so important to get kids loving non-fiction books too. These look like some great reads, I can’t wait until my kids get a little older. I’ll be pinning this for the future, thanks for sharing. Visiting from Pin It Tuesday 🙂
Thanks so much Victoria! So glad you are looking ahead for non-fiction for your kids when they are a little older! It really works to keep them reading when you pair up their interests with a non fiction book I’ve found.
Great collection of books! I’m feeling inspired! 🙂
I shall pass that on to Maria G. I have to give her all the credit because non fiction is not my forte!
Congrats Maria on you upcoming books!
I used to live in Waltham too and I sometimes would see deer. I loved that. Thanks for the great book list, many we haven’t seen. Can’t wait to check out some of bird book picks especially.
I’ve been enjoying Ann’s blog at Doodles and Jots for her take on nature, parenting, and fun learning ideas for kids. She is especially talented at capturing nature through her camera and that includes the most marvelous shots of birds. I always wonder how she gets such close, clear shots.
I can see how she would love Maria’s nature books on birds. Ann also does illustration and we’ve been asking her to publish a series of board books — she has them as ebooks (free!) on her great blog!