Glowing screens might captivate young minds, but nature is the ultimate entertainer. Take birding, for instance. Science communicator Rosemary Mosco has cheekily called the sport her favorite “video game.” It’s a multiplayer activity, there’s plenty of content, and you won’t risk sore thumbs (warbler neck is another matter).
The seven books described here—including one by Mosco—offer unique perspectives on real-life drama that unfolds in nature every day, sometimes right outside your window. Perusing their pages, kids will learn that not all bird feet look the same; that IDs should be fun, not daunting; that even animals have frenemies; and that the beach is a thriving world of its own.
Curiositree: Natural World
By Amanda Wood and Mike Jolley/illustrated by Owen Davey
(Wide-Eyed Editions, 2016; 112 pages; ages 8–11)
Natural World is reminiscent of The Way Things Work, David Macaulay’s classic visual guide to machines and technology. Through Owen Davey’s elegant, stylized illustrations, the authors examine the intricacies of a myriad of organisms and their habitats. Each page unfolds to a thematic pictorial chart that appeals as both wall art and a teaching aid. Birds appear aplenty as supporting characters, as well as protagonists. One chart called “All Kinds of Nests” gives avian architects their due, but also nods to other resourceful creatures such as spiders and dormice. Even humans make an appearance, prompting readers to question their role in nature’s vast network.
Buy it at Wide-Eyed Editions.
Paddle Perch Climb: Bird Feet Are Neat
Written and illustrated by Laurie Ellen Angus
(Dawn Publications, 2017; 32 pages; ages 3–8)
After watching a Red-bellied Woodpecker’s failed attempts to balance on a feeder, Laurie Ellen Angus got to thinking about bird feet—and eventually crafted an entire book around them. Through vibrant cut-paper collage and instructive vocabulary, Angus examines the adaptations that various species have evolved to help them grasp, scratch, and wade through their environment. For example, a Greater Roadrunner’s strong feet and legs enable it to speed through the desert after small prey (while dodging coyotes). And that Red-belly? Its toes are better suited for scaling tree bark. An appendix with extra foot facts, activities, and resources will surely keep little readers curious.
Buy it at Dawn Publications.
Peterson Guide to Bird Identification—in 12 Steps
By Steve N.G. Howell and Brian Sullivan
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018; 160 pages; all ages)
This compact guide deftly builds a framework for bird identification that’s handy for beginners and seasoned birders alike. Long-time guide Steve N.G. Howell and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Brian Sullivan first emphasize awareness of “the big three”—location, habitat, and season—then elaborate on other important factors to consider such as plumage, song, and lighting. The latter can noticeably affect appearance, the authors write. “Indeed, we know some larophiles (birders obsessed with gulls) who don’t even leave the house if it’s sunny—they prefer to wait for a slightly cloudy day, when they can more readily appreciate veritable shades of gray.”
Buy it at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Natural Attraction: A Field Guide to Friends, Frenemies, and Other Symbiotic Animal Relationships
Written and illustrated by Iris Gottlieb
(Sasquatch Books, 2017; 144 pages; all ages)
Wasps make great neighbors—at least, if you’re a Yellow-rumped Cacique. This neotropical songbird often builds its nests near wasp colonies, which ward off would-be predators and parasitic botflies. This unlikely pairing is an example of a symbiotic relationship called commensalism, where one organism benefits from another with no harm done. It’s just one of many interspecies bonds that Natural Attraction covers in clever detail. “No man—or animal, or plant, or fungus—is an island,” author-illustrator Iris Gottlieb writes. “These strange and astounding natural relationships serve as a reminder, if ever there was one, that all life is intertwined.”
Buy it from Sasquatch Books.
Birding Is My Favorite Video Game: Cartoons About the Natural World from Bird and Moon
By Rosemary Mosco
(Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2018; 112 pages; all ages)
Birding Is My Favorite Video Game draws from Rosemary Mosco’s series of science and nature cartoons, titled Bird and Moon. Her illustrations are adorable, at times deceptively so. Many vignettes are humorous riffs on animals—imagine an owl stepping in salamander slime and losing its appetite, or two ants terrifying a giraffe. But others tackle sobering, educational subjects like climate change and ocean acidification. There’s also a whole section devoted to birds, including a flow chart on what to do if you find a baby bird (or a dromaeosaur, for that matter) and a mnemonic guide to avian sounds (Mountain Chickadees call for cheeseburgers).
Buy it at Andrews McMeel Publishing.
Bird Buddies: A Curious Tale of Feathered Friends
Written and illustrated by Kenton R. Hill
(Luminare Press, 2018; 58 pages; ages 5–9)
Retired educator Kenton R. Hill’s book is really a story within a story. When Rosa and her pal Boone encounter a hummingbird in her backyard, they’re excited to share their observations—which they’ve dutifully recorded—with Rosa’s Aunt Olivia, an ornithologist. At her lab, the kids meet a different type of bird: an African Gray Parrot that talks up a storm. Inspired by the visit, Rosa writes a sweet fictional tale about the hummingbird and the chatty parrot, interweaving avian facts for added realism. Indeed, science and storytelling are not mutually exclusive.
Buy it at Ken’s Kids Books.
A Walk on the Beach: A Hands-On Introduction to Cool, Common Critters, Shells, Plants, and More
By Laurie Goldman
(Downtown Bookworks, 2013; 112 pages; ages 5 and up)
Packing for a trip to the shore with the kids? Slip Laurie Goldman’s field guide into a side pocket. The book is a trove of information on various marine creatures and objects that might turn up during a seaside stroll or a boating excursion. It’s broken into three broad sections that cover rocks, sand, and driftwood; plants and algae; and animals. Plus it’s packed with photographs to assist with identification. Goldman devotes ample space to waterbirds, even noting that milliners once sought and killed Snowy Egrets for their plumes. “Luckily,” she writes, “people realized that the birds were much more important than the hats”—a fact young Audubon fans might relate to.
Buy it at Downtown Bookworks.