Secret Gardens to Truffula Trees: Nature in Children’s Literature

Today, I’m going to try something a little different. The sky looks grouchy, and the forecast tells me that it’s a nice day to snuggle up with a good book. If you know me well, you might know that I am an avid reader, collector and aspiring author of children’s literature.

A study in the journal Sociological Inquiry showed that the use of nature in children’s books is decreasing.  “There have been significant declines in depictions of natural environments and animals while built environments have become much more common.” (Williams et al. 2012) How sad!!

My childhood was filled with talking animals “messing  about in boats,” rabbits making off with lettuce, and a little girl with red hair revelling in an apple-blossomed “White Way of Delight.” So, while it may become a little more difficult to use this medium to help children connect with nature through the written word, there is still a wealth of material out there.  

Here is a list (in no particular order except I saved the best two for last) of classic (and what I think should be classic) books, both old and new, that feature nature in different ways. While some authors specifically address environmental issues, most simply celebrate the beauty of the natural world through their writing. (As usual, I apologize for the photo quality, I did this quickly.)

10. First Snow in the Woods – Carl ImageR. Sams II & Jean Stoick

This book combines stunning photography with a simple, but beautifully written story of a fawn learning about the winter. As the fawn communicates with a variety of animals, he gradually learns that “All creatures must prepare and be ready to follow their heartsong.”


9.  The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame (Illustrated by Robert Ingpen)

This classic book brings a cast of Imagesmall unique characters to life, as they share adventures by the riverside. There are a variety of beautifully illustrated editions.

“There is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”



 8.  Fairy Houses – Tracy Kane

This series of books talks about and gives instructions for building fairy houses. This entails taking natural fallen materials and constructing small buildings. This is such a fun activity for kids to try, and the books really bring the idea to life.

 7.  On the Day You Were Born – Debra Frasier

 If you find this book in board-book format, it makes a beautiful gift for a new baby. It introduces the concept of the beautiful network of life on earth, and welcomes a baby to join it.

“The Earth and her creatures,

With the sun and the moon

All moved in their places

Each ready to greet you”

 6.  Peter Rabbit – Beatrix Potter


 I’m sure you all remember naughty Peter, who lived with his brothers and sisters and his “mother in a sand-bank underneath the root of a very big fir-tree.” Do you remember him squeezing under the gate, and munching Mr. McGregor’s carrots, beans and radishes? Sometimes when I look at our vegetable garden, I can’t help but imagine a little blue coat snagged on the fence (however, rabbit stew is not in our cooking repertoire!). I love the classic illustrations!


5.  Our Family Tree – Lisa Westberg Peters, (Illustrated by Lauren Stringer)

This book is a more recent find. With its colourful paintings and simple flowing story, it is a perfect first introduction to Evolution. It is a fantastic way to help children understand where we came from, and how we are all connected to the earth.

 “Slowly…slowly…one step at a time, some cells joined together, and became plants. Our cells joined together and we became animals.


4. The Secret Garden – Francis Hodgson Burnett

A lonely little girl finds a beautiful but overgrown hidden garden, and finds happiness and friendship while restoring and caring for this magical space. This book beautifully illustrates the healing power of nature.

“I’ve stolen a garden” she said very fast. “It isn’t mine. It isn’t anybody’s.”     


3. The Umbrella – Jan Brett

 ImageI have to admit, this is a book I absolutely judge by its cover. The illustrations pop with colour and detail.  A host of Costa Rican animals jump one-by-one into a leaf-umbrella. The book celebrates the diversity of the rainforest, playfully introducing a number of species.

 “A little puddle appears in the green umbrella. Froggy slides down the handle and slips into the water.”

2.  Anne of Green Gables – Lucy Maud Montgomery

Lucy Maud Montgomery is one of my all-time favourite authors. Her books have enticed travellers from all over the world to come and discover the simple but beautiful natural landscape of Prince Edward Island. I have read her books over and over, and have a well-worn complete collection of her works on my shelf. The illustrated edition is actually a new addition.

 “Overhead was one long canopy of snowy fragrant bloom. Below the boughs the air was full of a purple twilight and far ahead a glimpse of painted sunset sky shone like a great rose window at the end of a cathedral aisle.”

 1.  The Lorax – Dr. Seuss

ImageAnother favourite author of mine is Dr. Seuss. I believe he was one of the most brilliant writers of children’s literature. With its perfect rhyme, playful illustrations, and important message, the Lorax has stood the test of time, and remains one of the best examples of environmental literature for children.

 “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not. “

 The recent movie edition of this story took quite a bit of creative license, but I loved it just the same. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.

Those are just ten of my favourite examples of children’s books that celebrate nature.

What are yours?

Please share!!!



Williams, J. A., Podeschi, C., Palmer, N., Schwadel, P. and Meyler, D. (2012), The Human-Environment Dialog in Award-winning Children’s Picture Books. Sociological Inquiry, 82: 145–159.


Sams II, Carl R.and Stoick (2007). First Snow in the Woods.Friesens of Altona, Manitoba

Grahame, K. (2007 edition). The Wind in the Willows. Blue Heron Books, Vancouver, B.C.

Kane, T. (2001). Fairy Houses.Light Beams publishing, Lee, NH.
Frasier, D. (1991). On the Day You Were Born. Harcourt Brace, Orlando, FL.
Potter, B. (2006 edition). Beatrix Potter: The Complete Tales. Frederick Warne & Co. London, England.
Westberg Peters, L. (2003). Our Family Tree: An Evolution Story. Harcourt Books, New York, NY.
Burnett, F.H. (). The Secret Garden. Candlewick Press. Somerville, MA.

Brett, J. (2004). The Umbrella. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, NY.

Montgomery, L.M. (2000 edition). Anne of Green Gables. Tundra Books, Toronto, ON.

Dr. Seuss (1971). The Lorax. Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto, ON.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Secret Gardens to Truffula Trees: Nature in Children’s Literature

  1. M E McMahon says:

    As a child who depended on books to carry her away from the harsh reality of a lousy homelife, I would hate to see today’s children robbed of the same form of escape. Also, imagination in a child needs a place to grow, and books are a wonderful home for those small and curious minds. My first gift to my granddaughter was a book..she couldn’t read yet, but Winnie The Pooh was waiting for her when she could!

  2. I have a few (?) favorites! All on a Sleepy Night by Shutta Crum, Stellaluna by Jannel Cannon, Pobble’s Way by Simon Van Booy, City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems, A Whiff of Pine, a Hint of Skunk: a Forest of Poems by Deborah Ruddell, Birds in the Bushes: a Story about Margaret Morse Nice by Julie Dunlap, The Year of the Panda by Miriam Schlein, The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White, How to Scratch a Wombat by Jackie French, and Drizzle by Kathleen Van Cleve. That comes out to ten. Thank you for liking my blog.

  3. Hi Cathy,
    I often use nature themed books to inspire the art that we do in my toddler and preschooler art classes. One of my favorite of these authors is Lois Ehlert (e.g. Waiting for Wings, Growing Vegetable Soup, Planting a Rainbow, Leaf Man, Red Leaf Yellow Leaf, Snowballs, and more…). For older preschoolers and school aged kids, I also LOVE a book called “The Forest” by Claire Nivola, and two non-fictions “An Egg is Quiet” and “A Seed is Sleepy” by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long.

  4. beverlydyer says:

    Thanks for coming by the Art Prescription. I have written and illustrated a couple of children’s books, sure would love to get published! A good friend of mine who currently lives in Australia, just had her book review by NY Times: One Very Tired Wombat. So proud for her! Cheers, Bev

    • I have written a few myself… I hear it is very competitive…so I will just keep submitting over and over. One thing I keep hearing is that very few publishers accept text and illustrations together….so I haven’t tried to illustrate my own although I’d love to. Thanks for visiting too!

  5. I love this! My daughter and I are reading The Secret Garden together and it’s so much fun seeing her excitement with it and reliving my own experience with it from when I read it as a child. Can’t wait to check out more of these. Great blog!

  6. Pingback: 100th Postiversary! | Unlocking the Gate

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s