The best nature books for children from this year

Reading nature books with children is a great way to encourage an interest in wildlife. Books can introduce new species, places, words and concepts, and it's a great way to spend time together as a family.

Mother and daughter reading. © Monkey Business Images/Getty

Red Alert! By Catherine Barr

Published by Otter-Barry Books, £12.99

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While many children’s non-fiction books prefer to sneak conservation messages in here and there, Red Alert! boldly chooses to put wildlife conservation front-and-centre.

Readers begin by choosing an animal on the IUCN Red List, whose fate they must uncover. Turning to the correct page, they are greeted with a scene in which their animal is posed, alongside a description of the conservation challengers it faces.

The 15 threatened animals featured are thankfully diverse. As well as familiar snow leopards are gharials and corals and a memorable peacock tarantula, a lonely victim of logging.

Vibrant, colourful spreads, which are as much abut the scientists working to limit extinctions are the animals themselves, remind readers that global conservation is a race and that there is an excitement in what scientists are working to achieve. Exposition is delivered here with refreshing humanity, inspiring readers to sit up, champion the challenges that animals face and take action.

Reviewed by Jules Howard, zoologist and wildlife writer

10 Reasons to Love a Penguin/Lion, by Catherine Barr and Hanako Clulow

Published by Lincoln Children’s Books, £9.99 each

Delightful illustrations in this pair of titles gently entice children into the world of their animal subjects. The concept of this established series is neat: each spread celebrates an enchanting dimension in the life of these charismatic creatures, pairing the artwork with a paragraph or two of succinct text.

Young readers learn, for instance, that penguins have salty sneezes and burrow into their own poo, and that lions ‘flip’ porcupines and are partial to catnaps. They’re then primed with relevant ways to ‘show their love’, from researching green energy to sponsoring a wildlife charity.

The text occasionally overgeneralises to the point of inaccuracy (South Africa is hardly ‘near’ Antarctica), and undue artistic licence is sometimes taken (Adélie penguins have black bills, not red), but these are minor quibbles

Reviewed by James Lowen, wildlife writer

Know Your Nature: British Wildlife, by Caz Buckingham and Andrea Pennington

Published by Fine Feather Press, £8.99

Nature must compete for children’s attention these days, so any book aimed at getting kids to turn off their devices and tune into wildlife should be applauded.

This accessible book is designed as a first step for youngsters keen to learn more. It’s not a field guide, but contains a small selection of Britain’s diverse flora and fauna. Each spread represents a category of our wildlife. The fun quiz at the back tests how much young minds have absorbed.

Reviewed by Mike Dilger, naturalist and broadcaster

The Little Book of the Dawn Chorus, by Caz Buckingham and Andrea Pinnington

Published by Fine Feather Press, £12.99

Nothing can beat experiencing the dawn chorus first hand, however, this enchanting book makes a fine hors d’oeuvre to prepare your family for the real deal. The Little Book of the Dawn Chorus is part of an ongoing series that aims to attune both young and adult ears to the sounds of Britain’s wildlife. The book’s unique selling point is its sound bar, which provides instant access to the vocalisations of ten commonly heard birds in spring.

To my five-year-old son, who was happy to test the title’s appeal, the experience of pressing bird-emblazoned buttons for instant aural gratification were a hit. Within five minutes his restless little fingers had played each of the different songs countless times.

The carefully crafted text accompanying each species makes this book both fun and education but my only criticism would be the choice of the birds. I think blackcap and dunnock would have been better than swallow and house sparrow.

Reviewed by Mike Dilger, naturalist and broadcaster

I Am the Seed that Grew the Tree

Published by Big Picture Press, £14.99

My daughters loved dipping into this beautiful book, an anthology of 365 poems about the natural world, taking turns to read out their favourites. Most are short, some just a few lines long, and there are also haikus, limericks and tongue-twisters. Famous names crop up – Ted Hughes, Emily Dickinson, Robert Louis Stevenson and Benjamin Zephaniah, for instance – though many of the poems are anonymous.

This is a satisfyingly hefty book to hold, and the poems are framed by gorgeously immersive and colourful illustrations that evoke the four seasons: spring flowers, swooping swallows, shimmering shoals of fish, autumn leaves and wintry snowscapes. While a few words and verse structures are tricky, most of the poems can easily be managed by seven- to ten-year-olds.

Reviewed by Ben Hoare, BBC Wildlife features editor

When the Whales Walked, by Dougal Dixon

Published by Words & Pictures, £12.99

Since evolution has become a popular primary school topic in the UK, a fleet of books on the subject has hit the shelves. Most opt for the all-too-familiar tale of the intrepid Darwin aboard the HMS Beagle and finches in the Galápagos, or the peppered moths that would follow.

Here, Dougal Dixon and illustrator Hannah Bailey opt for something else, offering 13 stories about the early experimentation of animal forms in a bid to help younger readers understand how we got here. Besides the eponymous whale, there are chapters on early dinosaur flight and warm-blooded crocodiles, alongside more familiar stories of snakes with legs and fish with feet.

Delivered with playfulness, colour and charm, Dixon’s aim is clearly to ‘show and don’t tell’, drawing readers in with wonder, rather than dry evolutionary exposition. The book achieves this with great success.

Reviewed by Jules Howard, zoologist and wildlife writer

So you think you know about Tyrannosaurus Rex/Triceratops/Diplodocus?, by Ben Garrod

Published by Zephyr, £6.99 each

How much do you think you know about dinosaurs? Prepare to have your dint-world turned upside down as you’re taken on an incredible illustrated journey through time.

Garrod writes flawlessly with his own unique blend of well-honed skill as a scientist as well as the contagious curiosity and endless exploratory mindset usually reserved for children. It feels like he’s sitting right there with you, helping you to ask and answer all the right questions, with a perfect combination of humour and expert knowledge.

He uses stories from his life, alongside interviews with a number of palaeontologists that can’t help but leave you feeling inspired. Included are practical guides to fossil hunting and quizzes to test your knowledge, together with the latest dinosaur research ensuring the everyone discovers something new.

These books will leave you thirsting to know even more about the incredible history of life on Earth and are a perfect primer for kids to learn more about the amazing ‘terrible lizards’.

Reviewed by Jon Tennant, palaeontologist 

Rainforests in 30 seconds, by Jen Green

Published by Ivy Press, £7.99

Agreed seven, my inaugural rainforest experience came courtesy of Sir David Attenborough, in Life On Earth. My daughter is now the same age: Sir David similarly introduced her to the world’s richest habitats through Planet Earth II. This piqued her interest about Daddy’s years working in jungles. Appetite whetted, she can depend her understanding through this charming book.

Prolific author Jen Green caters for short attention spans among readers aged 8-11, catering admirably through 30 topics encompassing the what, where and how of rainforests, plus their wildlife, human residents and – importantly – threats.

Subjects are granted a three-second summary, 30 seconds of fact-packed text (which actually takes nearer a minute to read) and a welcome three-minute ‘mission’ inviting kids to study camouflage or survey mini beasts.

The book isn’t perfect. Odd factual glitches include an assertion that sloths favour the rainforest understory (rather than the canopy). But such minor grumbles do not detract from a well-presented product.

Reviewed by James Lowen, wildlife writer

The Coral Kingdom, by Laura Knowles and Jennie Webber

Published by Words & Pictures, £12.99

This beautifully illustrated book will be pulled off the shelf time and time again, artfully combining rhythmic verse for younger listeners with interesting and accurate content to keep older children engaged. Flipping through the pages is rather like floating over a real reef, with colourful new vistas and different species at every turn.

The huge cast of both familiar and lesser-known reef characters is introduced on the inside covers, adding a puzzle dimension to the book as you search for the royal blue tang, star coral and cone snail.

Though it ends with a strong ecological message about coral bleaching, featuring key facts and the actions we can all take to safeguard the sea, it first and foremost immerses children in the colourful, diverse and fascinating world of the coral reef.

Reviewed by Sue Ranger, engagement and education manager, Marine Conservation Society

The Ways of the Wolf, by Smriti Prasadam-Hall and Jonathan Woodward

Published by Wren and Rook, £12.99

This is a beautiful book. Jonathan Woodward’s illustrations are moody, intense and mysteriously wolfy. I keep returning to the centrepiece – a depiction of shadowy wolves creeping across a midnight landscape.

The writing is succinct and lucid, communicating to children what they need to know about wolf biology, geographical range, place in the ecosystem and current threats. I do have a few tiny quibbles, however. It is perhaps not strictly true that wolves post little threat to humans: in India, they are blamed for numerous casualties. And their ‘shyness’ may not be a fixed characteristic. I suspect they were bolder in the past and, as we cease persecuting them, that they will become bold again.

It’s the pictures that carry the book. I would love to own the originals. In fact, I suggest you buy two copies: one for the bookshelf, and the other (dear oh dear) to dismember and paste lovingly across the children’s bedroom walls.

Reviewed by Stephen Mills, wildlife writer

True or Poo? By Dani Rabaiotti and Nick Caruso

Published by Quercus, £9.99

In the follow-up to their New York Times bestseller Does It Fart?, zoologist Dani Rabaiotti and ecologist Nick Caruso take on a new challenge with True or Poo?

This time they investigate a range of animal myths, some of which have perpetuated for centuries. For example, ‘scorpions can die of constipation if they shed their tails’ (true), ‘all moths eat clothes’ (poo) and ‘earwigs lay eggs in your ears’ (also poo). As usual, the fascinating scientific facts are accompanied with delightful illustrations by Ethan Kocak.

Reviewed by Megan Shersby, BBC Wildlife editorial assistant

A Book of Bears: At home with bears around the world, by Katie Viggers

Published by Laurence King, £11.99

Ursids are a cultural phenomenon, immortalised in many children’s characters, from Paddington and Winnie-the-Pooh to, er, Bungle. So, this fun-filled look at the world’s eight species is a must for any child under 10. The illustrations are cartoon-like but there are plenty of hard facts, too.

The dietary details can feel a trifle misleading (sun bears don’t only eat honey-related products, surely), but that’s a minor quibble.

Reviewed by James Fair, environmental journalist

Howl Like A Wolf, by Kathleen Vale

Published by Storey Publishing, £14.99

“Have you tried any of the activities in the book?” I asked my 10-year-old son in preparation for this review. “Well,” he replied sheepishly, “I did pee on a tree to mark my territory.” In fact, Howl Like a Wolf rather conservatively suggests “scratching the ground” or “putting up flags” to do this, even though wolves use “smelly pee and poop” in real life.

I then persuaded my seven-year-old to sneak up on his mum like a leopard while she was putting clothes away. The point is that children learn about the biology of animals by imitating them, and this engaging book offers ideas to emulate 15 species – whether wriggling through tight spaces like an octopus, dressing in stripy clothes like a skunk or flicking out your tongue to eat popcorn off a table, like a frog.

“Why don’t you try singing like a humpback in the bath?” I suggested later. “Just don’t practise any breaching.”

Reviewed by James Fair, environmental journalist

A World of Birds, by Vicky Woodgate

Published by Big Picture Press, £14.99

As children, many of us probably spent more than one wet day poring over Dorling Kindersley-style illustrated books, eagerly taking in the facts and figures.

Vicky Woodgate’s A World of Birds uses a similar fact-based approach to introduce a selection of 75 species from across the globe, from magnificent frigatebirds to kingfishers to eclectus parrots. Special adaptive features are picked out, along with various quirky snippets on behaviour and biology.

While my three-year-old enjoyed the colourful illustrations and pointing out the species he recognised, the book’s main appeal will be to slightly older children, who will no doubt delight in reciting their new-found knowledge: wild turkeys, for instance, can run at speeds of up to 40kmph; bee hummingbird eggs are the size of
peas; and kingfishers have a third, transparent eyelid. Kate Risely BTO

Reviewed by Kate Risely, British Trust for Ornithology

The Big Sticker Book of the Blue, by Yuval Zommer

Published by Thames & Hudson, £8.95

How do you make a book on marine wildlife even more fun? Add stickers! In this lively follow-up to Zommer’s previous Big Books of Beasts and Bugs, kids are encouraged to think about how sea creatures communicate, swim and eat by sketching, colouring and sticking.

They’ll learn how anglerfish use dangling lights to lure prey; how the flattened tails of sea snakes power them through the water; and how seahorses grip seaweed with their tails. Minor inaccuracies aside (‘humpbacks’ are clearly sperm whales), this is a colourful treat for youngsters.

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Reviewed by Paul Bloomfield, freelance writer