Children's book characters have always been a natural fit in the wild world (think: The Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, The Secret Garden, Where the Wild Things Are), but 2020 has brought with it a storm of gentle, thoughtful, sharp, and fantastical picture books that focus on nature.
The year came into being in the midst of bushfires, drought, flooding, and days in New York City where people found themselves walking around in tank tops despite it being January. For the many parents who experience climate angst, or climate grief, books are a useful tool for teaching their kids about the importance of nature — those who want to preserve "untrammeled" wilderness know the paradox that people have to visit wilderness to connect with and appreciate it. And a piece of artwork — a picture book, say — is a nice analog for the natural splendor we can't always experience firsthand. No wonder kids love them.
Whether you're a hiker, gardener, bird-noticer, or resolute car-camper, these books offer a gorgeous way for young readers to connect with the world they live in. Some are upcoming titles to add to your buy list, and some are already quietly awaiting you on the shelves at your local bookstore. Open each one, and you'll recall John Muir's observation that "going out, I found, was really going in."
'The Keeper Of Wild Words' by Brooke Smith, Illustrated by Madeline Kloepper
When Brooke visits her grandmother's house "at the end of a long cinder lane, surrounded by meadows and pine trees and sky," her grandmother asks her to take on a very important job: She is to remember the wild words that are disappearing from our language. So they tour the outside world, searching for words ("dandelion" is "fairy dust sitting on a stem"). The words become something Brooke can carry with her after she leaves her grandmother's house, and forever after that.
Forthcoming, March 10, 2020
'The Camping Trip' by Jennifer K. Mann
'Hike' by Pete Oswald
A father and child head out early one morning on a big adventure that is wordless and expansive. There are hard climbs to beautiful vistas, tiny details to notice along the way, pit stops to enjoy some trail mix, and the suggestion that this single-day hike is part of a much bigger journey. More than just enjoy nature, the pair do their little part to protect it.
Forthcoming, March 17, 2020
'Goodnight, Veggies' by Diana Murray and Zachariah OHora
'The Hike' by Alison Farrell
'Outside In' by Deborah Underwood, Illustrated by Cindy Derby
'A Last Goodbye' by Elin Kelsey, Illustrated by Soyeon Kim
'If You Take Away The Otter' by Susannah Buhrman-Deever, Illustrated by Matthew Trueman
Explore the food chain and all the dynamics between plants and animals and their ecosystems. Readers can see how taking away one species can have a big impact on the surrounding world.
Forthcoming, May 26, 2020
'We Are Water Protectors' by Carole Lindstrom, Illustrated by Michaela Goade
'My Friend Earth' by Patricia MacLachlan, Illustrated by Francesca Sanna
Celebrate all the things Earth does for us inhabitants and take a look at how we can take care of Earth in return. This book has cut-outs that create a sense of wonder about the world your reader is entering.
Forthcoming, Feb. 25, 2020
'In The Garden' by Emma Giuliani
This large-format book about a sister and brother, Plum and Robin, exploring their garden, opens up page after page of wonders for young readers peeking underneath the flaps and taking in the paper flowers Giuliani, a graphic designer, has built into the book.
Peek inside the garden shed to see tools hanging up, watch bulbs sprouting into bloom, and open up a flower to see the stamen, pistil, and ovule inside.
Forthcoming, April 7, 2020
'Oliver The Curious Owl' by Chad Otis
'In A Jar' by Deborah Marcero
Not strictly a book about nature, this is a story about two little friends who manage to bottle the beautiful days they spend outside watching the stars, or a meadow in bloom, or fall leaves, prolonging the magic. When Evelyn moves away, Llewellyn is lonely until he tries to send his friend a jar of the sky, proving the two are part of the same thing.
A sweet story about loss and friendship, In a Jar also rich with a sense of how nature connects us over great distances.
'On Wings Of Words: The Extraordinary Life Of Emily Dickinson' by Jennifer Berne, Illustrated by Becca Stadtlander
On Wings of Words: The Extraordinary Life of Emily Dickinson by Jennifer Berne and illustrated by Becca Stadtlander ($18.99 from Amazon)
This look at the life of poet Emily Dickinson goes inside her imagination, and is full of the flowers and bugs and scenes that inspired her poetry. With Dickinson's poetry throughout, this is a gentle look at our place on Earth as stewards and witnesses to beauty.
'A Stone Sat Still' by Brendan Wenzel
7. 'Some Snow Is...' by Ellen Yeomans, Illustrated by Andrea Offermann
Neighbors come together to marvel at the first few flakes of a snowfall and soon have adventures in the deepening snow. This book explores all the different kinds of snow and winter weather, and finds the good in it all.