The best books to inspire young readers to engage with the natural world

Why am I passionate about this?

I fell in love with reading as a child and have carried that sense of magic and possibility with me ever since. As an adult and a writer, I believe passionately in the power of story to foster empathy, understanding, and greater human connection – and I still turn to children’s literature whenever I need reminding of all that we are capable of becoming and doing as human beings. This list has a strong environmental bent to it – partly because Wildoak is a book about caring for the natural world, and partly because I believe that stories shape our sense of purpose. 

I wrote...

Book cover of Wildoak

What is my book about?

Wildoak is set in England in 1963, when it was still legal to buy leopard and lion cubs from Harrods, the posh department store in London. It’s the story of a 12-year-old girl who speaks freely to animals but not to humans; an abandoned snow leopard struggling to survive and Wildoak Forest itself, the ancient woodland in which they meet. 

It’s a book about finding ways of better understanding and caring for one another – human beings, plants, and animals alike, and the beautiful but fragile interconnectedness of all sentient beings. And it’s a book about the power each and every one of us has to make a difference when it comes to caring for our shared planet… no matter how small.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants

C.C. Harrington Why did I love this book?

I originally read the adult version of this book and quite honestly, it’s a book I’ll never forget. It changed the way I think about the relationship between human beings and the earth. I absolutely loved it. And I was so excited when this young adult version came out, because it’s now so accessible to younger readers and I could share it with my teenage daughter. I love to read books alongside my kids and find ways to broaden and deepen our conversations about the natural world… and this one is top of my list for doing just that.

By Robin Wall Kimmerer, Monique Gray Smith, Nicole Neidhardt (illustrator)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 13, 14, 15, and 16.

What is this book about?

Drawing from her experiences as an Indigenous scientist, botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer demonstrated how all living things—from strawberries and witch hazel to water lilies and lichen—provide us with gifts and lessons every day in her best-selling book Braiding Sweetgrass. Adapted for young adults by Monique Gray Smith, this new edition reinforces how wider ecological understanding stems from listening to the earth’s oldest teachers: the plants around us. With informative sidebars, reflection questions, and art from illustrator Nicole Neidhardt, Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults brings Indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge, and the lessons of plant life to a new generation.

Book cover of The Lost Whale

C.C. Harrington Why did I love this book?

I’m recommending this as another fiction book for middle grade readers / 9-12-year-olds that is beautifully written and has absolutely gorgeous illustrations. It touches on similar themes as in my book, but it’s set in California and mainly features whales. The illustrations and the way it’s written make it accessible to a wide range of readers too. I have been lucky enough to go whale watching and felt it took me right back to that life-changing experience. I loved this book and it makes for a great read aloud.

By Hannah Gold,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Lost Whale as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

The Lost Whale is the enchanting second novel from the author of The Last Bear: the bestselling debut hardback of 2021 and The Times Children's Book of the Week, winner of the Waterstones Children's Book Prize and the Blue Peter Award and shortlisted for the British Book Awards and the Indie Book Awards 2022

'Unforgettable highly accomplished animal adventure about the connection between a boy and a whale, with strong ecological themes' The Bookseller, Editor's Choice

What if you could communicate with a whale?

Rio has been sent to live with a grandmother he barely knows in California, while his…

Book cover of Can You Hear the Trees Talking? Discovering the Hidden Life of the Forest

C.C. Harrington Why did I love this book?

This is a young readers’ version of Peter Wollebhen’s book The Hidden Life of Trees and it’s packed full of pictures and short blocks of text that are quick and easy to read. It’s non-fiction and yes… there is still much about trees and how they interrelate with one another that we don’t yet fully understand and not everyone agrees on the science, but fostering curiosity to learn more is just what we need to do. Also, The Hidden Life of Trees was a source of deep inspiration for me when writing my book and I absolutely loved it. This is a great one for adults or teachers to share with younger readers too and inspire conversation as well as shared activities.

By Peter Wohlleben,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Can You Hear the Trees Talking? Discovering the Hidden Life of the Forest as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, and 10.

What is this book about?



This interactive book for kids aged 8-10 introduces the wonderful science of the forest through outdoor activities, quizzes, fun facts, photographs, and more!

Discover the secret life of trees with this nature and science book for kids: Can You Hear the Trees Talking? shares the mysteries and magic of the forest with young readers, revealing what trees feel, how they communicate, and the ways trees take care of their families. The author of The Hidden Life of Trees,…

Book cover of The Lost Words

C.C. Harrington Why did I love this book?

This book is by one of my favourite nature writers of all time, Robert Macfarlane. It’s a picture book that is for humans of all ages, truly. His poetry makes for a beautiful read aloud, the illustrations by Jackie Morris are stunning and the size of it makes for an immersive experience. I absolutely loved reading it with my kids when they were a little younger and we all piled into my bed. I also believe that it works… the poems are ‘spells’ designed to bring certain words back into use since they were cut from the Junior Oxford English Dictionary. Words like acornkingfisher, and otter…. Please read and share this book!

By Robert Macfarlane, Jackie Morris (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Lost Words as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 5, 6, 7, and 8.

What is this book about?

Penguin presents the CD edition of The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane, read by Edith Bowman, Guy Garvey, Cerys Matthews and Benjamin Zephaniah.

All over the country, there are words disappearing from children's lives. Words like Dandelion, Otter, Bramble, Acorn and Lark represent the natural world of childhood, a rich landscape of discovery and imagination that is fading from children's minds.

The Lost Words stands against the disappearance of wild childhood. It is a joyful celebration of the poetry of nature words and the living glory of our distinctive, British countryside. With acrostic spell-poems by peerless wordsmith Robert Macfarlane this…

Book cover of Be a Tree!

C.C. Harrington Why did I love this book?

This is a gorgeous picture book! It’s poetic and lyrical and bridges the distance between science and story. I especially love the center spread – it brought me right back to that feeling of climbing a strong, solid tree as a child, of being held by a tree. It’s the kind of book that I would want to share with little ones because it’s inspiring and hopeful. I’m a big fan of Dr. Jane Goodall and believe in her mission of inspiring hope when it comes to caring for the environment. 

By Maria Gianferrari, Felicita Sala (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Be a Tree! as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 4, 5, 6, and 7.

What is this book about?

A lyrical, gorgeously illustrated look at the majesty of trees-and what humans can learn from them

Stand tall.
Stretch your branches to the sun.
Be a tree!
We are all like trees: our spines, trunks; our skin, bark; our hearts giving us strength and support, like heartwood. We are fueled by air and sun.
And, like humans, trees are social. They "talk" to spread information; they share food and resources. They shelter and take care of one another. They are stronger together.
In this gorgeous and poetic celebration of one of nature's greatest creations, acclaimed author Maria Gianferrari and illustrator…

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By Carla Kessler, Richard Kessler (illustrator),

Book cover of Terracolina: A Place to Belong

Carla Kessler Author Of Terracolina: A Place to Belong

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Why am I passionate about this?

As a child, one of my favorite places was in the top branches of a tree. From up there I could watch the world pass by, remaining invisible. I could make up stories about the world below and no one would challenge me. The second best place for me was inside the story of a book, the kind that took you to magical places where children always found a way to win the day. I knew when I “grew up” I would write one of those empowering books. I became a middle school teacher and have since read many wonderful books for this age. Enjoy my list of favorites.  

Carla's book list on where kids who believe in nature make a difference

What is my book about?

Where do you turn when the only adult who gets you, your grandpa, is gone, and the world seems to be in self-destruct mode?

On his 12th birthday, Thomas runs away to the forest he used to visit with Grandpa. It is dying. Will saving it from a deadly parasite bring him closer to Grandpa or make his world safer? Before he can find out, he is enticed into a magical world under an attack of a different kind.

Welcomed by a garden of talking plants, mind-reading creatures, tree-climbing, nature-loving beings, Thomas conquers the stinging, prickly hedge that guards the portal to this alternate world. At last, a place where he fits in. A place that needs him. But what about his and Grandpa’s forest?

“…a magical book...” John Perkins, New York Times best-selling author

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Interested in trees, worry, and nature?

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