With the news this week of Prince Charles' Terra Carta charter to encourage businesses to be more sustainable so we can act now to protect our planet, it's no better time than to share books and stories with our children on the beauty of our wonderful world. It's hard to overstate the importance of nature in our children’s lives. Time and again, studies show that nature has immense cognitive, physical and emotional benefits for kids. And not just for them, for adults too. Research as far back as 2009 implies that lack of access to green spaces has a detrimental effect on wellbeing. Just last year, a Public Health England study confirmed once again that:
"Greener environments are (also) associated with better mental health and wellbeing outcomes including reduced levels of depression, anxiety, and fatigue, and enhanced quality of life for both children and adults".
The beauty is that nature comes in all shapes and sizes, in all places – be it a muddy wade through rural fields or a trot around a local park or city square. Nature doesn’t need to be something you save for day trips, you can find it on your balcony, in your garden or by the side of the road. Hello, guerrilla gardening!
The key is to show and guide your children, to help them revel in the glory of the great outdoors and to discover what an exciting playground nature truly is. We’ve selected five wonderful books for children of all ages, that help them to find wonder in trees, animals, streams and above all, the joy that each unique season brings. These tales and poems will encourage you and your children to look at nature in a different way next time you step outside your front door.
1. I Am the Seed That Grew the Tree: A Nature Poem For Every Day Of The Year
by Fiona Waters (Illustrator), Frann Preston-Gannon (Illustrator)
Age suitability: All ages
A book as mesmerising for adults as it is for children of all ages, it contains 366 poems – one for each day of the year, including leap years. The poems run chronologically from January to December and are beautifully illustrated according to the theme of each poem or the collection on the page. The poems run from a few lines to a whole page in length. It’s perfect for either dipping into or reading from each day. It’s surprisingly mesmerising, with some familiar favourites that range from Emily Bronte and Thomas Hardy to Carol Ann Duffy and John Updike. Cherry-picking from this engaging selection is a wonderful starting point for your child’s journey into Nature.
In a similar vein, check out The Lost Spells and also The Lost Words by Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris. Each spell and word, along with beautiful illustrations, inspires children to lead a wild childhood.
2. Peter and the Tree Children
by Peter Wohlleben and Cale Atkinson Age suitability: 4 – 8 years
Co-written by the author of the bestselling The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate (bookshop.org), Wohlleben and Atkinson have recreated the story of how trees live, feel and grow in a children’s book format. The protagonist is a squirrel called Piet, who’s feeling lonely in the big forest. Peter the Forester takes Piet on a journey to meet the Tree Children and Piet soon discovers that he isn’t lonely after all, that his tree friends are all around. He even realises that his nut piles help the Tree Children to grow. Just like the adult version, the book describes how trees talk to each other and help one another out; it teaches children how important it is that we preserve and care for forests everywhere, and what a joy they are to play in. Buy it now
3. Winter Sleep: A hibernation story
by Sean Taylor, Alex Morss and Cinyee Chiu Age suitability: 5 – 7 years
Co-written by an ecologist and an author, this book tells the story of a little boy’s visit to his
grandmother’s garden and beyond to the nearby pond, hills and woods. His first visit drinks in the scenes of summer but upon his return, it’s winter and everything is different, as though the world is dead. So his grandmother explains to him that creatures hibernate and trees sleep in winter. She shows him a whole new side of nature and helps him to see the joy in this quiet, sleeping world. The wonderful illustrations are as calming and peaceful as the sleep winter is itself. And at the end of the book you can find annotated illustrations of each animal, helping you to familiarise yourself with each one and its habits. Plus, there’s a page of information about what you can do to help them. This cosy, quiet book is ideal bedtime reading and will expand everyone’s knowledge of the natural world. Buy it now
My Friend Earth
by Patricia MacLachlan (Author), Francesca Sanna (Illustrator) Age suitability: 3 – 5 years
Both a wonderful tale and a chance for children to learn life science ideas and fascinating facts about the environment, My Friend Earth tells the story of Earth (personified as a young, brown girl) and the myriad of wonderful things that she does: from tending the seeds and looking after the animals, to making sure it rains and that the leaves fall in autumn. Perfect for both toddlers and early readers, it reminds us that while Mother Nature cares for us, we need to acknowledge and protect her in return; helping children to understand that we have our own part to play. A call to action for our times and also a beautiful, poetic story book full of learning, this is the ideal place to start introducing young children to climate action. Buy it now
The Snail And The Whale by Julia Donaldson (Author), Axel Scheffler (Illustrator) Age suitability: 3 – 8 years
It’s unlikely that you haven’t read at least one Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler book with your little one, but it’s surprising how many people haven’t come across The Snail And The Whale. An ode to the most unlikely of friendships, it also has an environmental slant and reminds us of our shared duty to care for and protect all things wild. It tells the tale of a tiny snail and a huge Humpback whale. The snail has an itchy foot and longs to see the world; the whale kindly obliges her with a ride on his tale. Together they have many adventures until one day the whale runs into man-made danger. It’s a class of school children who come to his rescue and teach us about the importance of all pulling together in difficult times. This book is as fun and exciting for children, as it is nostalgic for adults. Buy it now