The best books to get kids outside and exploring nature

Cindy Jenson-Elliott Author Of Weeds Find a Way
By Cindy Jenson-Elliott

Who am I?

I’ve been getting kids out into nature as an environmental education professional for over 30 years, in the garden, in the mountains, at the seashore, and in nearby nature. My life’s work, whether I am writing or teaching, is to help people experience the wonder of the natural world. I believe that children and adults need access to nature to grow and thrive, to find peace in a busy world, and to connect with each other. I know that, just like weeds, we can find a way to navigate the challenges in our lives when we connect with nature’s sustaining goodness wherever we find it.


I wrote...

Weeds Find a Way

By Cindy Jenson-Elliott, Carolyn Fisher (illustrator),

Book cover of Weeds Find a Way

What is my book about?

Getting kids outside into nature doesn’t require living next to a national park. It means exploring outdoors, wherever we happen to be. While many kids don’t have access to yards or school gardens, all children can connect with a special kind of plant, free of charge, every day: weeds.

Weeds are plants no one planted, growing in places no one intended them to be. Often reviled, weeds can be wonderful: adaptable, resilient, strong, and beautiful. Weeds Find a Way is a lyrical exploration of weeds’ adaptations to grow, reproduce, survive, and thrive, filling our world with fragrant beauty. And by looking at ordinary weeds’ extraordinary qualities, we discover our own ability to adapt and grow, survive and thrive, wherever we are planted.

The books I picked & why

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If I Were a Tree

By Andrea Zimmerman, Jing Jing Tsong (illustrator),

Book cover of If I Were a Tree

Why this book?

Behind weeds, trees are perhaps the most common plant many kids will encounter in their day to day lives, and another way children can access nature near home and school. And while trees are complex living things at the apex of the plant kingdom, they often are unnoticed and underappreciated. This beautiful lyrical picture book gives children a context to explore what a tree can do through kid-sized comparisons to what children can also do. Use it to help children explore one of the most common features of both urban and rural landscapes: trees.


Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt

By Kate Messner, Christopher Silas Neal (illustrator),

Book cover of Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt

Why this book?

What happens on the surface of the world is often a small part of what nature is doing, compared with what is going on beneath the surface. This narrative picture book follows the yearly lifecycle of a garden by exploring what happens on the surface and what’s going on underground. Use it to help kids dig into nature, exploring seasonal changes, seen and unseen.


Winged Wonders: Solving the Monarch Migration Mystery

By Meeg Pincus, Yas Imamura (illustrator),

Book cover of Winged Wonders: Solving the Monarch Migration Mystery

Why this book?

Monarch butterflies make a migration of thousands of miles every year, visiting milkweed plants throughout the USA and Canada before migrating south to overwinter in Central Mexico. This lyrical and narrative nonfiction science mystery tells the story of how scientists and ordinary people – citizen scientists – discovered the paths monarchs take in their annual journey. Use this to begin an exploration of how regular folks can help preserve nature by participating in citizen science projects, and to emphasize that there is often more to nature’s mysteries than meets the eye.


A Rock Is Lively

By Dianna Hutts Aston, Sylvia Long (illustrator),

Book cover of A Rock Is Lively

Why this book?

What child has not picked up a rock to collect, examine, or play with? Rocks are abiotic --  nonliving –elements of nature that are essential parts of any ecosystem. Without rocks and soil, living things could not grow. This book uses lyrical language and expository text to explore the wonder of one of childhood’s most common nature playthings. Use this book to explore the abiotic aspects of nearby nature.


Seashells: More Than a Home

By Melissa Stewart, Sarah S. Brannen (illustrator),

Book cover of Seashells: More Than a Home

Why this book?

The seashore is a place to explore nature close to home for many children on coasts around the world, and seashells are a place to start that exploration, even for children who are land bound. This book uses lyrical and expository language to explore the ways creatures create and use shells, as well as the structure and function of shells. Use this book to begin an exploration of the ocean and seashore ecosystems.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in trees, gardens, and Monarch butterflies?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about trees, gardens, and Monarch butterflies.

Trees Explore 31 books about trees
Gardens Explore 27 books about gardens
Monarch Butterflies Explore 7 books about Monarch butterflies

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like And Then It's Spring, The Sound of the Sea: Seashells and the Fate of the Oceans, and The Beautiful Edible Garden: Design a Stylish Outdoor Space Using Vegetables, Fruits, and Herbs if you like this list.