Top books to inspire children to love nature this summer

Carl's top three summer reads for children

Carl's top three summer reads for children - Credit: Carl East

Not so long ago, nature writer Robert Macfarlane and illustrator Jackie Morris caused a publishing sensation with Lost Words. 

It planted the idea, and then tried to remedy it, that words referring to wilderness were disappearing from children’s lives. They said that adder, bramble and conker were no longer in the vocabulary of the young.

That prize-winning bestseller of 2017 might have encouraged the notion that children are no longer interested in nature. It turns out that plenty of young people are still fascinated by the outdoors, and Lost Words inspired other writers and artists to put poetry and wonderful illustrations at the heart of children’s publishing.

As the school summer holidays begin, here are three of my recent favourite nature books for children.

Nature Trail by Benjamin Zephaniah

Dub poet and national treasure Benjamin Zephaniah may be better known to Sidmouth readers as a poet of activism and urban issues, but his new book Nature Trail shares a love of nature with young readers in verse.

With charming illustrations by Nila Aye, Nature Trail is a picture book for children under eight. Zephaniah - one of The Times' top 50 British post-war writers, and a favourite with schools - delivers a celebration of the wonderful world around us.

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Packed with animals and minibeasts galore, this imaginative rhyming text by the legendary poet-performer is perfect for reading aloud. It aims to inspire youngsters and their parents to explore the natural spaces around us, from parks to gardens and flowerpots to pavements.

Wild Child by Dara McAnulty

Dara McAnulty - 2020 Wainwright Prize winner for his book Diary of a Young Naturalist at only 16 years old – takes readers on a multi-sensory nature walk to experience the joy of connecting with the natural world. This beautiful gift book, illustrated in full colour by Barry Falls, is divided into five sections: looking out of the window, venturing out into the garden, walking in the woods, investigating heathland and wandering on the river bank. Dara pauses to tell you about each habitat and provides fantastic facts about the native birds, animals and plants you will find there.

Each section finishes with an activity to do when you get home: plant wildflowers, make a bird feeder, try pond dipping, make a journey stick and build a terrarium. Dara – who has Asperger’s and sees infinite detail wherever he looks – ends the book with sound advice for young conservationists.

By Ash, Oak and Thorn by Melissa Harrison

Finally, and my personal favourite, a middle grade chapter book from acclaimed nature writer and Costa Award-shortlisted novelist, Melissa Harrison, beloved of our customers and reading groups for All Among the Barley and At Hawthorn Time.

Three tiny, funny, ancient beings - Moss, Burnet and Cumulus, once revered as Guardians of the Wild World - wake from winter hibernation in their beloved ash tree home. When it is destroyed, they set off on a quest to find more of their kind. The journey takes them first into the deep countryside and then the heart of a city. Helped along the way by birds and animals, the trio of hidden folk search for a way to survive and thrive in a precious yet disappearing world.

This children's debut was inspired by 1942 classic and Carnegie Prize winner The Little Grey Men by Denys Watkins-Pitchford under the pen name BB. With shades of Mary Norton’s The Borrowers, this tale of disappearing wilderness couldn't be more relevant in today's environmental crisis. This perfect Summer read deserves to be a big hit with small people.

In the words of Melissa Harrison: “Indie bookshops are the beating heart of the industry – especially when it comes to the children's market. Matching curious young minds with books that will expand their imaginations and possibly change their lives is such an important task, and one no algorithm will ever master."

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