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Growing Reader

10 Picture Books to Inspire Children to Get Outside and Explore

by Jennifer Garry

Photo credit: Cavan Images, Cavan Collection/Getty Images

With screens as ubiquitous as they are and the constant pressure to sign our kids up for all of the organized activities, modern childhood is much less wild and free than what we experienced as kids. Gone are the days of opening up the back door and ushering kids outside with nothing more than the request to be home by lunch. As a result, our kids are missing out on exploring and the wild bursts of creativity and imagination that come with being bored.

Books are a great way to bridge that gap. Brimming with adventure and the beauty of the natural world, these stories are sure to encourage your little readers to get outside and explore.

  • This Moose Belongs to Me

    by Oliver Jeffers

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    Wilfred has a lot of rules. Luckily, his pet moose, Marcel, usually obeys them. But there is one rule that Marcel has difficulty following: going whichever way Wilfred wants to go. One day on a particularly long walk in the woods, Wilfred discovered that someone else thought she owned Marcel — and Marcel didn’t really seem to think he belonged to anyone. Fortunately, the two manage to work out a compromise. Filled with beautiful illustrations of nature, this book will have your kids wanting to go out and see what kinds of animals can be spotted when you’re on the lookout for them.

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  • Run Wild

    by David Covell

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    This book starts out gray and dreary, with a boy hunched over a screen. But a girl runs by his window and shouts, “Hey, you! Sky’s blue!” and changes everything. The boy runs out after her, leaving his shoes (and screen) behind, and into a world of sunshine and adventure. They chase rabbits, stomp in mud puddles, float in water, and run with the wind. It’s a wonderful reminder that there are so many adventures to be found when you put down the screen.

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  • The Not-So Great Outdoors

    by Madeline Kloepper

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    Madeline Kloepper’s protagonist is a city kid who’s downright horrified by her family’s plans for a summer camping trip. There’s nothing great about the outdoors as far as she’s concerned, and she trails her family as begrudgingly as can be. But the longer they spend outside exploring forests, lakes, and mountains — and having a few miraculous encounters with wildlife — she begins to realize that the outdoors might be pretty great after all.

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  • Daniel Finds a Poem

    by Micha Archer

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    A little boy observes what’s around him in a park and, with the help of some animal friends, begins to see the natural beauty in things he’d never really noticed before (the crunch of leaves, a cool pond, warm sand, bright stars). With bright, eye-catching collage illustrations, this sweet picture book offers a simple introduction to the concept of poetry, all while encouraging kids to keep their eyes and ears open to the sights and sounds of nature.

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  • Please Take Me for a Walk

    by Susan Gal

    Sometimes a stroll through the neighborhood can be as refreshing as a long camping trip. Luckily for the reader, there’s one eager pup at the helm of this book, begging for a walk outside. Do you know how much there is to see just on the other side of the door? The neighbors, the other dogs at the park, a bustling downtown, and a downright abundance of squirrels. Gather up your canine family members — or borrow this pup — for a romping day in the sun.

  • Go, Bikes, Go!

    by Addie Boswell, illustrated by Alexander Mostov

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    Get little ones excited to go outside and explore the world by bicycle in this creative and colorful celebration of biking culture, inspired by the passionate bike-riding community of the Pacific Northwest. Featuring big bikes, small bikes, and unbelievably tall bikes — and a few imaginary kinds, too — your little ones will be rearing to strap on their helmets and hit the training wheels (with the whole family, of course!).

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  • How to Code a Sandcastle

    by Josh Funk, illustrated by Sara Palacios

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    Maybe it’s not always an either/or situation: inside with tech, outside without. Combine your child’s knack for technology with a day at the beach through this clever story from the computer science nonprofit Girls Who Code. Pearl is determined to build a flawless sandcastle, but obstacles keep intervening. She and her robot friend decide to use basic computer coding concepts to accomplish their goal, and they just do that — with a lot of fun along the way.

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  • You’re Missing It!

    by Brady Smith and Tiffany Thiessen

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    Sometimes it’s the parents who need a reminder to turn off their phones and enjoy the sights and sounds around them. So it goes at the neighborhood park as children exclaim over the wonders all around while the silly grownups stare at their screens. A much-needed reminder to unplug and appreciate the everyday delights with our children, this one’s a great read to get the whole family talking about enjoying the present moment.

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  • Backyard Fairies

    by Phoebe Wahl

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    For those children enthralled by mythological tales and otherworldly games, why not tempt them to spend some time in their own backyards with Phoebe Wahl’s enchantingly whimsical Backyard Fairies? Each lively, multi-layered spread features magical creatures hiding among the flora as one girl tries desperately to find them. Readers might even be inspired to create their own fairy door to invite the magic in.

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  • Finding Wild

    by Megan Wagner Lloyd, illustrated by Abigail Halpin

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    This book starts out with two kids stepping away from their urban home in search of something wild. They very quickly become enveloped in the beauty of nature — from the itty bitty to the in your face. As they make their way through the woods and back to the paved and noisy streets, they discover that wild exists in their own backyard. With breathtaking illustrations and enchanting language, this book takes readers on a sensory journey through nature that will leave you craving more.

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