Friday, December 18, 2015

Big Books of Nature

My boys in particular are big non-fiction lovers, and as I've written about before, I love stocking our own non-fiction library here at home.  I plan to revisit this topic here and there: for example, we've found all sorts of wonderful benefits to having a good non-fiction selection on hand, and I also want to introduce to you some favorites from our shelves.

Today, I'll do a bit of the latter, focusing on some of my kids' favorite Big Books of Nature.  Oversized and heavily-illustrated are always a bit hit here, with all ages and genders!  And for my budding amateur naturalists, these books are just the thing to cozy up with on a rainy winter afternoon.  (That's Xavier above, totally unposed, from a few weeks ago.  These are some of the first he pulls from the shelves when he's going to page through a book snuggled next to Mommy.)

On to just a few of our BIG favorites...

The Random House Book of Birds
This book has gotten a crazy amount of use in our bird-loving home.  I bought it for a dollar when my oldest was small and it gets pulled for perusing regularly.  The drawings are detailed enough for identification of common species, and the text is broken up by bird family rather than individual species, which is helpful.

Reader's Digest of North American Wildlife (or older edition in used hardback)
This is our favorite overall field guide.  It's just fantastic.  I bought it new in softcover for my oldest son's birthday years back, and then shortly after that, came across the vintage hardcover at a library sale and picked that up as well.  So we have two copies and they're both in high demand!  I love that it includes careful illustrations, which I prefer over photographs.  This thing has it all!

Introduction to Nature
This is one of those vintage compendia that has retained its usefulness and its charm over the years.  It's not my favorite resource for identification nor for drawing from, but I have found that the selection of species is surprisingly helpful for a non-comprehensive volume and I like the write-ups a lot, which can't be said for all field guides.

National Audubon Society Field Guide to California
This book doesn't technically count as a "big book" because it's really rather small--it's a field guide, after all.  BUT I add it here because it's on the larger side of our field guide collection and it's my favorite all-encompassing identification tool to bring along.  None of the other genuinely big books mentioned here come along in our day pack, but this one can--and so it always does.  And because of that, my baby girls call it "the big one" when they're hunting through the backpack for it.  Makes sense to me!  It has photos rather than drawings, but it's still my go-to resource.

This is a new addition to our collection, a gift for Vincent from the grandparents for his last birthday.  It reminds me of a trip to our favorite natural history museum.  Not at all comprehensive, nor is it useful for identification--think of this, rather, as a carefully curated collection of animal life, arranged and illustrated beautifully.

National Geographic's Complete Birds of North America
A book of eye-candy.  Photos and drawings, plenty of text.  This one isn't local so it's not as good for identifying, but it's a great one to page through or draw from.

 The Usborne Illustrated Encyclopedia :: The Natural World
This one is less a cozy-up book and more a I-need-to-know-everything book.  I'm not usually a fan of Usborne books, but this one is pretty neat.  My nine-year-old son loves it for the explanations and variety.

National Geographic Encyclopedia of Animals
Xavier got this one for his birthday last year and it's one of his very favorite books--and one of mine too.  (It's the one he's paging through in the photo above.)  It is heavy on illustrations and light on text, and the illustrations are truly wonderful.  It is arranged by species, covering insects, mammals, birds, and sea life throughout the whole world.  Beautiful glossy pages and a durable cover.  I recommend it very highly!

Backyard Birdsong
If you don't already have a book from this series yet, be sure to grab one!  This gets so much play in our house, from the Big Kids down to the toddlers.  It's pretty much the only battery-operated "toy" we have, and it's just wonderful.  The accompanying pictures are pleasing, but the audio player is the real prize here.  Delightful and useful too.  It looks like the Western guide isn't available new, but you can buy them used (or there are versions for the Eastern states, the country, and the world).


Any Big Books of Nature you'd like to share?

I have a few already on my must-get-sometime list:
Farm Anatomy and Nature Anatomy (I've only heard rave reviews)
Smithsonian's Natural History (we keep getting this out from the library)
Smithsonian's Animal: The Definitive Visual Guide to the World's Wildlife (on my wishlist for a while)
National Geographic's Illustrated Guide to Wildlife (reminds me of their Complete Birds book)
The Wonder Garden (something different and a little more exotic)
And I noticed that Jim Arnosky, a favorite nature writer for children, has some larger volumes now that I'm looking forward to previewing--Wild World looks pretty great.

Nature books are a great supplement to decreased outside time during the winter months.  (Not a substitute, mind you, but a supplement! ;))  Any others I should put on my to-read list?


  1. What a wonderful list! Thank you for sharing!

  2. Wow! Great list! Thank you for sharing!

  3. You have some great looking books on that list! I'm adding the Animalium to our wish list for future thrift store hauntings!

    I would add to your list two that my own kids have enjoyed: The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady is a beautifully illustrated diary and my daughter in particular loved to look through it. The other is a more recent book, Woods Walk by Henry W. Art/Michael W. Robbins, which has some great kid-level info and photos.

    1. Oh yes, that reminds me that I should get out The Country Diary--it has been sitting on my shelf after I thoroughly enjoyed reading through it a few years ago, but now I think my two big kids are old enough to appreciate it too. I'm sure they would love paging through. Or maybe I'll add it to the Morning Basket for Term 3. That might be fun. :)

      Woods Walk sounds great. Off to check it out!

  4. Just in time Jasper's birthday ;-) I already ordered a book for him from your last list, and now I am ordering two more. What a lucky guy! Thanks for the inspiration, as always. (Now I just need to get him reading so I'm not stuck reading field guides and encyclopedias all day long. As a literature lover, I can only take so much creepy-crawly nonfiction). Costco almost always has a Smithsonian nature encyclopedia which his grandmother gets for him when she sees it. They get used so much, we've already had one rebound twice. We replaced it with a newer version, but he refuses to part with it and often carts around the older one dropping pages behind him.

    1. Oh, that Jasper. He's my kind of kid. :)

    2. Got Animalium and Wild world...arrived in the mail today. Gorgeous books. Jasper is going to be overjoyed with Wild world. And it will be so much more pleasant to read than a field guide or encyclopedia. Both books are very drool-worthy. Can't wait to give them to him!

    3. Xavier got Wild World for Christmas from grandma and is loving it. Those fold-out pages are just great!

  5. We love that Reader's Digest field guide, too - I stumbled on it at a library sale. The dust jacket was really ripped up, and I was so happy to see that sweet little chipmunk printed on the hard cover - I love it when the hard cover is prettier than the paper jacket :o) I'm looking forward to looking for the Backyard Birds - your lists always increase my library requests!

    1. I get most of my own library requests from other bloggers too...I think we all just feed each others' habit! :)

  6. Oh yes Farm and Nature Anatomy are wonderful! We used them as jumping off books for a whole year of nature study!

  7. Oh yes Farm and Nature Anatomy are wonderful! We used them as jumping off books for a whole year of nature study!

  8. My son loves most nature books, especially animals and nature. One of our favorites is Unusual Creatures by Michael Hearst.