Humans are Nature, Too: Nurturing the Connections Between Our Bodies and the Natural World
Updated: May 26
What do you think of when you picture "nature"? If you're in a city like we are, maybe your best connection is a gorgeous neighborhood park. While we talk a lot on this blog about how to get children their vital dose of nature, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it harder than usual for urbanites (and suburbanites) to get our literal time in the sun, which for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, usually starts right around now.
If you're looking for ways to stay connected to the natural world while biding your time inside (and spending, perhaps, more time with your children than you otherwise would at this point in the spring), these picture books can be a great jumping-off point to give your neighborhood walks some focus, to nurture an indoor garden, and discover new ways to stay connected to the natural world.
The Hike written and illustrated by Alison Farrell
"We're going on a hike. It's our favorite thing to do."
Three young girls pack up their notebooks and head into the woods behind their home in this verdant book, which both mimics and includes pages from the young explorer's notebooks. The sound of their backpacks ("shook shook shook shook") mixes with calls from wildlife around them.
Each living thing in the forest, which appears to be in the Pacific Northwest, is labeled in clear handwriting, giving the book the feel of a record kept by an especially attentive student of nature. Rather than third-party narration, the children drive the story: Wren takes careful notes about what they find and experience (giving the reader glimpses at her work throughout the story). El immortalizes their hike with poetry ("Wren, what's another word for blue?" "Azure? Cerulean? Cobalt?" offers Wren). Hattie, the littlest, collects feathers and "always finds the route."
Above all, the characters show a deep love and appreciation for the nature that surrounds them, and a sustaining wonder that the reader can't help but catch.
Up In The Garden, Down In The Dirt written by Kate Messner and illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal
The perfect book to kick off warmer days, Messner's follow-up to her award-winning Under the Snow isn't just a springtime book! Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt shows the year-round work of maintaining a garden, not only for the humans who place seeds and remove weeds but for the many, many animals who do their work in and around the soil. What does a garden do in the winter? How can we take care of our precious plot of land to make sure it stays healthy – and keeps us healthy, too?
Messner's clear, informative language and Neal's brilliant illustration make this an excellent addition to any nature-lover's bookshelf.
My Friend Earth written by Patricia MacLachlan and illustrated by Francesca Sanna
A veritable love letter to our planet! Fans of Sanna's illustrations (Me and my Fear, The Journey) or MacLachlan's tender language (Sarah, Plain and Tall and so many others) will come for one and stay for the other.
Our friend Earth is personified as a young woman with brown skin and bright eyes, buoyant and alert, perhaps a bit mischievous but full of wonder and care. Bringing human form to the great nurturer of our planet makes it easy to understand that she has needs, too – and as she cares for us, it's our job as stewards of this planet to keep her thriving.
Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes written by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Emily Sutton
What the heck is a microbe? By the end of this picture book, children will have heard all about the incredible tiny creatures sharing our planet – and our bodies! – with us, and their many shapes, sizes, and jobs.
While most of the book is a great general primer on what microbes are and do (everything from making yogurt to moving mountains!), it's also an invaluable tool for talking to children about COVID-19.
"It only takes a few of the wrong kind of microbes – the kind we call germs – to get into your body and make you sick," says the book. Davies outlines in neutral, informative (but never dry) language the way germs spread and how we keep ourselves safe. "Luckily, only a few kinds of microbes can make humans sick. Most microbes are busy doing other things."
Children frequently express and process their thoughts and worries through play, and they may be asking more questions than usual about getting sick. If you notice your children directly or indirectly talking more about illness, this book is a great place to start to help them understand the science behind the pandemic.
Green on Green written by Dianne White and illustrated by Felicita Sala
White's bouncing rhyme and Sala's intoxicating imagery are the perfect pair in this picture book about a child watching the seasons roll by, beginning with Spring, while awaiting the arrival of his new sibling.
and blue on green."
While the seasons change, the child's mother grows more visibly pregnant until the arrival of a baby in the final season – Spring again – and the cycle is complete. White and Sala effortlessly draw the parallel between the rhythms of our bodies and that of our environment. Looking for further connections? White shared an activity kit spun from the book on her personal website.
The Camping Trip written and illustrated by Jennifer K. Mann
It's finally time for Ernestine's very first camping trip! She's excited, but also a little nervous: Is she ready to set up her tent and sleep outside? What about bugs, or swimming in the lake –with fish?
While the trip isn't perfect, Ernestine's cousin and aunt show her what an adventure camping can be, as long as you're prepared.
Resource for Adults: Richard Louv
“Passion is lifted from the earth itself by the muddy hands of the young; it travels along grass-stained sleeves to the heart. If we are going to save environmentalism and the environment, we must also save an endangered indicator species: the child in nature.”
Connecting children with their environment can be a challenge, especially if you're living in a city or suburb. Access to the great outdoors is a privilege not everyone can afford, and while we find ourselves facing what may be an especially indoor, isolated summer, it's all the more vital to find and appreciate evidence of the natural world wherever you find yourself.
An excellent resource for adults who want to learn more about the impact of greenery on our lives is the bibliography of Richard Louv. Louv is a journalist and co-founder and Chairman Emeritus of the Children & Nature Network, an international movement to connect children, families and communities to nature. From his website: "[Louv] speaks internationally on nature-deficit disorder, a concept he first introduced in Last Child in the Woods; on the importance of children’s and adults’ exposure to nature for their health, and on the need for environmental protection and preservation for greater access to nature and the health of the Earth." Louv is the author of ten books. For parents who want to know more about how to nurture a love of the natural world in their child, we recommend starting with:
Last Child in the Woods – Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder
Vitamin N – The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life: 500 Ways to Enrich Your Family’s Health & Happiness