Here in the North, we are in the very middle of summer; in the Southern states, students and teachers are looking at returning to school in just a few weeks. But even for those kids, there is still time to squeeze in a bit more time outdoors. This year we saw an abundance of great books about kids and the outdoors, so there’s something for just about everyone, from the avid explorer to those who may need an extra nudge.
Topping the list of titles for kids eager to get out and get doing is a trio of books from the new series Outdoor School. Designed with flexible bindings, water-resistant covers, and corners cunningly reinforced with metal, they are meant to stand up to the wear and tear of day hikes and camping trips. All sharing the same confident subtitle, “The Definitive Interactive Nature Guide,” Animal Watching, by Mary K. Carson and illustrated by Emily Dahl, Rock, Fossil, and Shell Hunting, by Jennifer Swanson and illustrated by John D. Dawson, and Hiking and Camping, by Jennifer Pharr Davis and Haley Blevins, illustrated by Aliki Karkoulia (all Odd Dot, April 27), offer clear explanations, photos and illustrations designed for maximum clarity, and lots of places for readers to record their discoveries and notes.
Distinctly less portable but alluringly eye-catching, The Fungarium, by Ester Gaya and illustrated by Katie Scott (Candlewick, April 6), the latest in the Welcome to the Museum series, gives mushroom and other fungi the coffee-table–book treatment. The fascinating facts offered vie with the luscious illustrations for readers’ attention; the combination may send a new generation of mycologists into the woods. (Don’t worry; the lethal nature of many mushrooms is directly addressed.)
Three titles aimed at somewhat younger kids concentrate on encouraging them to pay attention to the world around them. Outside, You Notice, by Erin Aladdin and illustrated by Andrea Blinick (Pajama Press, April 13), opens up nature to readers, offering different scenes (parks, backyards, forests, etc.) and describing the sensory experiences children will find in them. Listen, by Gabi Snyder and illustrated by Stephanie Graegin (Paula Wiseman/Simon and Schuster, July 13), focuses on what children might hear in different settings. In contrast to Outside, You Notice, it stays within a city environment, giving urban readers with less access to nature the same kind of mindfulness experience. And in Percy’s Museum, by Sara O’Leary and illustrated by Carmen Mok (Groundwood, April 6), a young brown-skinned boy copes with his move from the bustling city to the country by exploring his backyard and the nature beyond it, recording his observations and assembling them to create the titular exhibit.
Two other picture books take children deep into nature. In On the Trapline, by David A. Robertson and illustrated by Julie Flett (Tundra Books, May 4), a young Swampy Cree child travels with his grandfather to the family’s homelands, starting “where we lived after we left the trapline” and journeying past the school where Moshom and his friends were forced to speak English to the island where the family lived off the land and flourished. Text and art, by creators who share the characters’ Cree heritage, are spare and beautiful. And in If I Were a Tree, by Andrea Zimmerman and illustrated by Jing Jing Tsong (Lee and Low Books, April 6), a family of color goes camping. Repeating the titular phrase, the children imagine their lives as trees with rich, sensory language. Perspectives zoom in and out, giving readers breathtaking views of the forest they’re wandering through.
Summertime is for reading and going outdoors; these books encourage both.
Vicky Smith is a young readers’ editor.