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Books 16 nature-themed books to help kids while away their summer vacation

Nothing’s better in the summer than spending a lazy day with a book whether you’re hanging out in the city or spending time in the great outdoors. Here are some fantastic summertime books to get young readers started.

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The Canadian Kids’ Guide to Outdoor Fun by Helaine Becker, illustrated by Claudia Dávila (Scholastic Canada, $19.99, 6-12) is packed with inventive outdoor activities from learning to tell what different cloud formations mean, telling spooky stories and creating green art projects to new and wacky takes on traditional games including Crabby Soccer and Pool Noodle Golf. Becker provides easy-to-follow instructions in this very useful compendium of engaging games and activities.

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Storytelling is at the heart of Dancing with Daisy by Jan L. Coates, illustrated by Josée Bisallon (Running the Goat Books and Broadsides, $14.95 4-9). Liam’s grandpa is a great storyteller who is delighted to share stories about his rollicking encounter with Hurricane Daisy, off the coast of Newfoundland in the fall of ’62. As he recounts all the different ways that Hurricane Daisy tried to get him to “dance” with her, the story gets wilder and wilder. Bisallon’s pictures perfectly match the exuberance and high spirits of Coates’s story, which is sure to inspire young readers to tell tall tales of their own summer adventures.

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When You’re Scared by Andrée Poulin, illustrated by Véronique Joffre (Owlkids, $19.95, 3-7) uses a very simple refrain to tell two stories: that of a little boy camping for the first time with his mother and that of a little bear cub and his own mother, who are checking out the campers’ site for good things to eat. What happens when all four meet is dramatically captured by Joffre’s vibrant collages in this picture book, which makes the great outdoors a little less scary.

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In The No-So-Great Outdoors written and illustrated by Madeline Kloepper (Tundra Books, $21.99, 3-7) young readers are introduced to a rather reluctant camper, who slowly begins to come around to the wonders of nature. There’s no busy street life or playgrounds, no fountains, sculptures or city lights. Gradually, however, the peppery narrator of this engaging picture book begins to change her tune and, eventually, gets caught up in the new world that has opened up around her. Kloepper’s delightfully sly and witty text is beautifully enhanced by her illustrations, filled with wonderful details that help the story really come alive.

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The Biggest Puddle in the World by Mark Lee, illustrated by Nathalie Dion (Groundwood Books, $18.95, 3-7) offers young readers an inventive adventure as Sarah and her younger brother Charlie go in search of the biggest puddle in the world after a series of too many rainy days. As they go trekking into nature, they discover little puddles and big ones, streams and ponds. They make maps and find tadpoles and wild flowers until, with their grandfather’s help, they find that elusive “puddle,” right on the sea shore. Lee’s thoughtful introduction to the water cycle is beautifully complemented by Dion’s exquisite watercolour illustrations.

The importance of water is also the theme of Sunshine Tenasco’s powerful picture book, Nibi’s Water Song, illustrated by Chief Lady Bird (North Winds Press/Scholastic Canada, $19.99, 4-8). The water at home on Nibi’s reserve is brown and dirty so she goes in search of clean water. But what she finds isn’t enough because Nibi is very, very thirsty. It takes all of her friends and neighbours, in fact, to help Nibi quench her thirst. Chief Lady Bird’s vibrant illustrations underline this book’s important message.

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Not everyone has a chance to leave the city in the summer but that doesn’t mean that young readers can’t make connections to the natural world in urban spaces. My Forest is Green by Darren Lebeuf, illustrated by Ashley Barron (Kids Can Press, $18.99, 3-7) wonderfully captures how a curious young artist uses all sorts of different art techniques and mediums to bring the natural world into his city space. Lebeuf’s playful text is as bright and colourful as Barron’s collage, watercolour and pencil illustrations are.

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Me, Toma and the Concrete Garden by Andrew Larsen, illustrated by Anne Villeneuve (Kids Can Press, $18.99, 3-7) offers another way of interacting with nature: Vincent is spending the summer with his Aunt Mimi in her apartment in the city and there’s absolutely no green space anywhere in this concrete jungle except maybe on the balcony of his aunt’s neighbour, Mr. Grumpypants. But Aunt Mimi has a mysterious box of dirt balls on her own balcony, which she wants Vincent get rid of and, with the help of his new friend Toma, the boys toss the dirt balls into an empty lot and inadvertently turn it into a community garden. Villeneuve’s ink and watercolour illustrations neatly mirror the magical transformation.

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And you don’t even have to leave home to become a gardener as readers will discover in Annika Dunklee’s very perky picture book, Sprout, Seed, Sprout!, whimsically illustrated by Carey Sookocheff (Owlkids, $19.95, 3-7). Dunklee tells her story about a young boy growing an avocado tree with wonderfully simple but engaging text that manages to convey his struggle to be patient as the seed slowly sprouts. Sookocheff’s pictures nicely capture both his delight and frustrations in this story, which sweetly ends with success.

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Imagination is the name of the game in three light-hearted picture books that are sure to bring a grin to the faces of young readers. In The Dog Who Wanted to Fly by Kathy Stinson, illustrated by Brandon James Scott (Annick Press, $21.95, 3-6), we meet the very determined Zora, who wants to learn how to fly and isn’t going give up no matter what her feline friend Tully says. She tries taking off from a teeter-totter, using a big picnic umbrella and pretending she’s an airplane, all to no avail. But perhaps, as Stinson’s hilarious story suggests, there might be ways for a dog to take flight? Scott’s fun-filled illustrations nicely complement Stinson’s delightful tall tale.

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The world is full of wonder for some newly hatched triceratops babies in Karen Patkau’s Triceratops Stomp (Pajama Press, $19.95, 2-5) as they explore with their mama, who makes sure to keep them from harm but also wants them to experience life outside of their nest. Young readers will find themselves stomping and romping and thudding about just like the baby dinosaurs in Patkau’s lively onomatopoeic text.

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Yo ho ho and a year full of fun is the theme of Pirate Year Round, written and illustrated by Marla Lesage (Acorn Press, $14.95, 3-8). In this rollicking, rhyming picture book, young readers will delight in Pirate’s imaginative way of dealing with the world, whether it’s confronting her fear of water or what she might do if she were to enter the Spring Royal Talent Show. Pirate is a wonderfully high-spirited adventurer and will be sure to delight young readers.

Nothing’s better on a hot summer day than losing yourself in a book. For middle grade readers, there are some great new ones to dip into. Kallie, the heroine of Marina Cohen’s chilling A Box of Bones (Roaring Brook Press, $22.50, 8-12), doesn’t like stories – stories, as her father has told her since she was very young, are nothing but lies. But when Kallie becomes entangled in the story of a mysterious puzzle box that she’s given at her town’s Festival of Fools, she’s forced to confront a dark secret in her own past. With the help of her friends Anna and Pole and her beloved grandfather, Kallie finds herself searching for the clues that will help her solve the puzzle of the box of bones and learn to see herself in an entirely new light.

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Elements of Genius, Book 1: Nikki Tesla and the Ferret-Proof Death Ray (Scholastic Press, $22.99, 8-12) is the first book in a new series by author and illustrator Jess Keating. No sooner have Nikki, her mother and Nikki’s precious pet ferret settled into a new home than this high-spirited young heroine has almost destroyed her bedroom with the death ray that she’s invented. As a result, she finds herself forced to attend Genius Academy, a very exclusive school for young masterminds. But Genius Academy isn’t just any school, and soon, Nikki and her fellow students are sent on a mission to save the world from Nikki’s death ray. On the edge of your pants adventure and hilarious high jinks will keep readers waiting for more Genius Academy adventures.

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Camp Average by Craig Battle (Owlkids, $18.95, 8-12) is a perfect summer read. Eleven-year-old Mack is looking forward to another lazy summer at Camp Avalon (a.k.a. Camp Average) where he and his buddies will swim, canoe and just have a good time. They’ll play baseball and soccer and never be anything but second-best and that suits Mack just fine. But, to his horror, there’s a new junior camp director and Winston has plans to turn Camp Avalon into a first-rate sports camp and there doesn’t seem to be anything that Mack and his friends can do. Or is there? Battle has written a wild and wacky novel that has an exciting surprise ending that will delight young readers who want to relive their own camp experiences or summer camp wannabes.

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July, 2019, marks the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 and Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s moonwalk, and what better way to get an understanding of that momentous time than Moon Mission: The Epic 400-year Journey to Apollo 11 by Sigmund Brouwer (Kids Can Press, $18.99, 10-14). It’s a well-researched and absolutely compelling account of the Apollo 11 mission to land the first men on the moon and, as well, the equally gripping story of the more than 400 years of scientific discoveries that led up to this momentous event in human history. Brouwer’s narrative is spellbinding as he imagines his readers as actual participants in this historic mission into outer space. He offers them a detailed look at the intricacies of the Apollo space program, period photographs and insights into the lives of the men and women involved and the countless near disasters that faced the Apollo project as they raced to get these men on the moon.

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