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June 5, 2019

The Great Outdoors: Books about exploring the world

The great outdoors

Discover 20 great books about nature, traveling and being outside recommended by the Brighter Readers Book Crew!

Now that the days are longer, you have extra time for exploring beauty and nature with your little learner. With so many critters out and about, your child can also learn about butterflies, bugs, birds and other creatures. The outdoors is ripe with green plants to observe, tall trees to climb, flowers to collect and many kinds of blades of grass to examine.

And although our environment houses living beings of all kinds, why stop there? Books can take us to many places around the world! They let us discover areas where we’ve never been to and learn about people who we have not met yet.

We asked members of our Brighter Readers Book Crew to share their favorite children’s books about the great outdoors. Check our list out and share your favorite reads with us in the the comments!

Lisa Land is the mother of two awesome little boys! This is her pick:

Flat Stanley book cover
Flat Stanley
by Jeff Brown, author and illustrator
Best for: four-year-olds, five-year-olds, school age, read along with pre-school and pre-K
“Flat Stanley is a fun story of a boy (Stanley) who gets smashed by a bulletin board one night. (Don’t worry, he’s fine! Thin, but fine!), then goes on to have adventures at home and around the world, in his special “flat” style. My kindergartner read the story in school and after hearing all about it, the rest of us had to read it too. Since the original story came out in 1964, there have been other installments in Stanley’s life, but the first book is definitely the place to start. It’s a great bridge from picture books to chapter books and you’ll enjoy it as much as your kids!”

After you read: Draw flat versions of yourselves and cut them out. Now have your flat Oscar and flat Hilda fly around the house or outside.

Mynda Cruz is a youth librarian at Tippecanoe County Public Library. These are her picks:

Fiona Loves the Night book cover
Fiona Loves the Night
by Patricia MacLachlan, author and Emily MacLachlan Charest, illustrator
Best for: four-year-olds, five-year-olds, pre-school and pre-K learners

When nighttime comes, Fiona steps outside into her garden to view the natural beauty and wonderful creatures, including the Luna moth and bright fireflies, that can only be viewed and appreciated in the dark of night.

“This book shows the wonders of night from the sweet sounds of evening birds to the smells of flowers and even the shimmer of a spider’s web in the glow of the moon.”

After you read: Have a stargazing night. Find a good grassy spot to lay a blanket. Then, play “I spy” together, using the stars to form shapes. Look for five things that fly or three toys in the sky. Talk about your favorite thing about being outside at night.

Duck Tents book cover
Duck Tents
by Lynne Berry, author and Hiroe Nakata, illustrator
Best for: two-year-olds, three-year-olds

In a small backyard, by a squat stone fence, five little ducks pitch five duck tents.

The five little ducks are going camping! They can’t wait for a day of fun at the fishing hole. In the evening they sit around the campfire and toast marshmallows. But just as they’re about to snuggle up tight and drift off to sleep, they hear a scary noise. Whooo can it be?

“It has a great rhythm and rhyme that makes it fun for reading aloud.”

After you read: If you can’t go camping, play “going camping.” Make a fort and build a pretend campfire where you can toast cotton ball marshmallows. Don’t forget to snuggle up tight!

Kirsten Eamon-Shine has a six-year-old son and way too many children’s books at her house. She also directs Early Learning Indiana‘s communications. This is her pick:

On a Magical Do-Nothing Day book cover
On a Magical Do-Nothing Day
by Beatrice Alemagna, author and illustrator
Best for: four-year-olds, five-year-olds, pre-school and pre-K learners, school age kids

“Have a kid who loves to get screen time in — especially when you’re working from home or on a project? Me too. This book is the perfect way to talk about how getting away from screens and into nature can nurture our curiosity and imagination. This beautiful, expressive book shows how one little girl discovers that losing her electronic game on a rainy day may actually be the best possible situation. Once she’s free from her device, she notices the beautiful world around her and lets herself get delightfully lost in nature.”

After you read: Take your own nature walk together, especially in the rain! Visit a local park or even just your neighborhood sidewalks while talking about everything you see. When you get home, record your adventure in drawings inspired by Alegmagna’s illustrations.

Mandy Lotarski is a former teacher, and is now the assistant manager of the Children’s and Youth Department at Carmel Clay Public Library. This is her pick:

Nini Lost and Found
Nini Lost and Found
by Anita Lobel, author and illustrator
Best for: four-year-olds, five-year-olds, pre-school and pre-K learners, school age kids

“Anita Lobel is an award winning artist, and her renderings of both the natural world and the cozy indoors are beautiful and textured. Nini the house cat gets out of the house one day accidentally. She discovers that though she really does adore her lovely indoor home, outside has much to offer.”

After you read: Use this book as an opportunity to talk to your little one about safety when away from home. Ask, “Have you ever thought of running away?” or “Why do you think it’s important for kids to have a responsible grown up nearby?”

Brittany Fortman is a mom of two and the manager of communications and engagement at Early Learning Indiana. These are her picks:

A Camping Spree with Mr. Magee
A Camping Spree with Mr. Magee
by Chris Van Dusen, author and illustrator
Best for: three-year-olds, four-year-olds, five-year-olds

Mr. Magee and his trusty dog, Dee, are enjoying a peaceful camping trip when all of a sudden they find themselves plunging down a mountain and teetering on the edge of a huge waterfall! How will they find their way out of this slippery situation?

“The hilarious misadventures of Mr. Magee and his little dog Dee come to life with beautiful and detailed illustrations along with fun lyrical text.”

After you read: Go on your own adventure. Together, make an itinerary: First, we’re going to the grocery store to buy snacks. Next, we will visit the park and share some of our snacks with the ducks. When you get home, make a drawing about your adventure.

National Parks of the U.S.A
National Parks of the USA
by Kate Siber, author and Chris Turnham, illustrator
Best for: four-year-olds, five-year-olds, school age

Divided by region (East, Central, Rocky Mountains, West, Tropics, and Alaska), a pictographic map at the start of each section shows the locations of the parks to be covered. Each park is introduced by a stunning, poster-worthy illustration of one of its scenes and a summary of its makeup, followed by individual illustrations of the animals and plants that make their homes there.

“Heading to a national park this summer? This book’s for your family! Learn about the plants and animals you can find in each park. The retro illustrations will make this book a treasured piece of your collection.”

After you read: Indiana has two national parks and one national memorial. And it is also part of the Lewis and Clark trail! Visit George Rogers Clark National Historical Park in Vincennes, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in Porter or Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial in Lincoln city. If you live too far away, choose a state park and discover the flora and fauna of Indiana together.

Explorers of the Wild book cover
Explorers of the Wild
by Cale Atkinson, author and illustrator
Best for: three-year-olds, four-year-olds

When Bear and Boy meet in the woods, they’re scared at first. Really scared. But soon these kings of the wild realize that no mountain is too big to conquer if you have a friend to climb it by your side.

“Although this book is light on text, it’s heavy on the beautifully detailed illustrations. Explorers of the Wild tells the story of two unlikely friends who explore the wilderness together, overcoming their fears and working together to conquer their mountains.”

After you read: Crumple away your fears! Find paper and crayons and together with your little learner, draw things that make you feel scared. Are you afraid of rats? Draw some big ears and long tails. Are you afraid of heights? Draw a really tall ladder too impossible to climb. After you finish drawing your fears, crumple the papers and toss them away. BONUS: talk about things you can do to overcome your fears!

Hattie & Hudson book cover
Hattie and Hudson
by Chris Van Dusen, author and illustrator
Best for: three-year-olds, four-year-olds, pre-school and pre-K learners

Hattie McFadden is a born explorer. Every morning she grabs her life jacket and paddles out in her canoe to discover something new on the lake, singing a little song on her way. When her singing draws up from the depths a huge mysterious beast, everyone in town is terrified — except Hattie, who looks into the creature’s friendly, curious eyes and knows that this is no monster.

“I love that this book features a female leading character who is adventurous, brave, kind and who stands up for her friends.”

After you read: Have your little learner gather toys that would normally be assumed to be scary, like dinosaurs, gorillas or tigers, and come up with gentle personalities for them. Maybe Leo the Lion is the kindest most vegan lion this side of Indiana. Perhaps Terrance the T-rex is a fan of little hugs.

Shirley Mullin is a teacher and librarian. She owns and operates Kids Ink, Children’s Bookstore. These are her picks:

Plantzilla book cover

by Jerdine Nolan, author and David Catrow, illustrator
Best for: three-year-olds, four-year-olds, five-year-olds, school age, read along with pre-school and pre-K

Mortimer Henryson loves Plantzilla, the plant he’s been taking care of all year in his third-grade classroom. He loves him so much, he takes him home for summer vacation. What could go wrong with a . . . plant? But life in the Henryson household soon takes a strange turn. A pot roast disappears, then steaks from the grill — and where has Mrs. Henryson’s prize Chihuahua gone?

“When Mortimer brings Plantzilla home from school for the summer, little did the family know that Plantzilla would become a part of the family and inhabit their home and the world outside.”

After you read: Teach your little learner how to care for a plant. If you already have plants at home, give them fun names together and describe what you are doing whenever you water the plant, “Let’s water Mary together. A sprinkle here and a sprinkle there — never too much water!” If you don’t have plants, visit your local greenhouse or store that carries plants and ask about greenery that are easy to care for and pet-safe, if you have furry friends!

Anywhere Artist book cover
Anywhere Artist
by Nikki Slade, author and illustrator
Best for: three-year-olds, four-year-olds, five-year-olds

In spare, delightful text and illustrations, an exuberant artist makes art from found objects and the world around her. This sprightly picture book celebrates creativity and will inspire readers to find art all around them, unleash their imaginations and make their own artistic creations.

“This New Zealand author/illustrator shows how art can be created from almost anything you find especially out-of-doors. All you need is imagination.”

After you read: Head outdoors and make some art with nature. Find colorful leaves and sticks. Find short and long blades of grass. Now, find a nice spot for your temporary canvas and create away!

The Little Green Girl
by Lisa Anchin, author and illustrator
Best for: three-year-olds, four-year-olds, five-year-olds

The Little Green Girl is no ordinary topiary. She dreams of visiting far off places and exploring the world beyond her garden’s walls. But for her gardener, Mr. Aster, the prospect of deviating from his daily routine — let alone leaving his beloved home — is unimaginable. Try as she might, the Little Green Girl can’t uproot herself and set off on her own. To realize her dream, she’ll have to find a way to show Mr. Aster that it’s possible to carry a bit of home with you wherever you go.

“The little green girl is really a topiary, but she encourages the gardener to travel and see the world beyond the garden.”

After you read: We can’t always go everywhere we want, but sometimes we can travel through the experiences of others. Visit your local library and find picture books with images from other countries and cultures. Spend the morning or afternoon at the Great Pyramid of Giza. Then, make a pit stop at Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. Where will you go next?

The Little Guys book cover
The Little Guys
by Vera Brosgol, author and illustrator
Best for: two-year-olds, three-year-olds, four-year-olds, five-year-olds

We are the Little Guys.
Yes, we are small. But there are a lot of us.
Together we are strong, and we can get all we need.

The Little Guys might be small, but they aim to be mighty. As they head off to find breakfast, they can conquer anything through teamwork. Cross deep waters, dig through obstacles and climb the tallest trees. Nothing can stop them!

“The Little Guys is a silly, funny, read-aloud. Following the little guys through the forest you see what they can find. But, it is better when they come together and work as a community.”

After you read: Find an activity you can do together as a family. Make a birthday card for uncle Roy, work as a team to clear the weeds in the yard or throw a welcome party for the new pet hamster. Play a board game together. Many newer board games for young children focus on working together. Those are typically labelled “cooperative” on packaging. Click here for sibling team-building activity ideas.

Leaf Man book cover
Leaf Man
by Lois Ehlert, author and illustrator
Best for: one-year-olds, two-year-olds, three-year-olds, four-year-olds
Fall has come, the wind is gusting, and Leaf Man is on the move. Is he drifting east, over the marsh and ducks and geese? Or is he heading west, above the orchards, prairie meadows, and spotted cows? No one’s quite sure, but this much is certain: A Leaf Man’s got to go where the wind blows.

“Leaf Man is a visual treat of bright colors and a excellent book for fall. While the only ‘characters’ are leaves, the reader can follow them through their travels as they leave the trees.”

After you read: Make your own leaf man. If you can’t find leaves on the ground, find some fresh green ones. Without hurting the trees too much, pull out a few leaves and make a fresh leaf lady. Where does fresh leaf lady go?

Sea Glass Summer book cover
Sea Glass Summer
by Michelle Houts, author and Bagram Ibatouline, illustrator
Best for: four-year-olds, five-year-olds, pre-school and pre-K learners, school age kids

One summer, a boy named Thomas visits his grandmother at her seaside cottage. She gives him a magnifying glass that once belonged to his grandfather, and with it Thomas explores the beach. Turning grains of sand into rocks and dark clam shells into swirling mazes of black, gray and white. When his grandmother shows him a piece of sea glass, Thomas is transfixed. That night he dreams of an old shipyard and the breaking of a bottle. Could the very piece of sea glass on his nightstand have come from that bottle?

“This is a touching story of a young boy and his grandmother exploring the seaside looking at sea glass. The story is told through many other stories creating a perfect piece of treasure.”

After you read: Make a trip to a museum or a glass blowing studio. Howard County has something called The Glass Trail, featuring the Greentown Glass Museum and family-friendly attractions. The glass studio at the Indianapolis Art Center is also a fun place to watch real artists learning and making glass art.

Vicci Rydzinski is a wife and the mom of a spunky two-year-old boy! Vicci is also the manager of family child care support at Early Learning Indiana. These are her picks:

Landmarks book cover
by Kate Wilson, author and illustrator
Best for: one-year-olds, two-year-olds, three-year-olds

This innovative board book uses enhanced spot UV treatments to teach little ones about famous monuments from around the world, including the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty, and the Great Wall of China.

“This book is great to first introduce amazing landmarks from all over the world! Simple, yet educational!”

After you read: Go for a drive and visit your town or city’s landmarks. Is it Mrs. Smith’s big red barn? Or the big blue water tower? Or even Monument Circle in Indianapolis. Point them out and pick your favorites.

All Aboard book cover
All Aboard! National Parks: A Wildlife Primer
by Haily and Kevin Meyers, authors and illustrators
Best for: two-year-olds, three-year-olds, four-year-olds

“Since my son was born near one of the most amazing national parks (Glacier National Park) this book has been a sentimental addition to our shelf! I love how it maps out the parks and has TONS of various animals not typically seen in other books!”

After you read: Make a map of your street together. Add your child’s favorites. They may love a tree, a yard with the dog or a friend’s house, for example.

Dawn Boarman is a youth services librarian from the Carmel Clay Public Library. She is the mother of two children, two cats and one dog, all of whom like to be read to. These are her picks:

Monach Butterfly book cover
Monarch Butterfly
by Gail Gibbons, author and illustrator
Best for: four-year-olds, five-year-olds, school age

Follow the transformation from a tiny white egg laid on a leaf to a brilliantly colored butterfly in this kid-friendly introduction to metamorphosis. With detailed, bright watercolors, Gail Gibbons illustrates the life cycle of the monarch butterfly, stage by stage, as it grows, changes, and takes flight.

“This brightly colored picture book has both facts and illustrations about the life cycle and migration of the amazing monarch butterfly. Included at the end are instructions for raising your own monarchs and releasing them into the wild.”

After you read: Visit your local library and research more about monarch butterflies. Or look up videos together so you can watch them fly!

Plant a Pocket of Prairie book cover
Plant a Pocket of Praire
by Philis Root, author and Betsy Bowen, illustrator
Best for: four-year-olds, five-year-olds, school age

Once covering almost 40% of the United States, our native prairie is today one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world. Plant a Pocket of Prairie teaches children how changes in one part of the system affect every other part: when prairie plants are destroyed, the animals who eat those plants and live on or around them are harmed as well.

“This beautifully illustrated book shows the beauty and importance of native prairie flowers and encourages readers to plant them in their own backyard.”

After you read: Follow the instructions in the book and plant a pocket full of prairie. Don’t have a green space for planting? Visit a nature park or pull out some pencils and paper and draw your ideal garden space together.

Outdoor Science Lab book club
Outdoor Science Lab for Kids: 52 Family-Friendly Experiments for the Yard, Garden, Playground, and Park
by Liz Heinecke
Best for: school age kids

From playground physics to backyard bugs, this book makes it fun and easy to dig into the natural sciences and learn more about the world around you. Many of the simple and inexpensive experiments are safe enough for toddlers, yet exciting enough for older kids, so families can discover the joy of science and STEM education together.

“This book has 52 fun and interesting activities and experiments that help kids engage and explore the outdoors.”

After you read: Pick one of the activities and do it together!

Brighter Readers Book Crew is a group of early education professionals, child advocates, parents and book-loving experts that want to share their love of stories and books with families all across the state. Want to share the books you love and why you think they are great? Send a message to with the subject line Book Crew.

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