The books recommended below were reviewed by The Horn Book Magazine. Grade levels are only suggestions; the individual child is the real criterion.
Suggested grade level listed with each entry
The Promise written by Nicola Davies, illus. by Laura Carlin (Candlewick)
A girl, “mean and hard” as the city she lives in, survives by stealing. When one of her targets says she may keep the bag she’s taken if she promises to plant what’s in it, the girl commits herself to a lifetime of planting to transform bleak city landscapes. Grade level: 1–3. 48 pages.
Two Little Birds by Mary Newell DePalma (Eerdmans)
Two adorable bird siblings (based on the orchard oriole of North and Central America) hatch and begin their first year of life. Simple sentences explain the birds’ actions and underscore the instincts that drive each behavior. Grade level: PS. 40 pages.
Sophie Scott Goes South by Alison Lester (Houghton)
On an Antarctic adventure with her boat captain father, Sophie spots penguins, seals, and whales; one night she’s dazzled by the southern lights. Sophie’s scrapbook-style journal is written in a conversational style with appealing childlike art. Grade level: K–3. 40 pages.
Picture a Tree by Barbara Reid (Whitman)
“There is more than one way to picture a tree.” A series of vibrant Plasticine compositions focus readers’ attention on the shapes, colors, and textures of trees; parallel to these tree portraits are interlinked human stories. Grade level: K–3. 32 pages.
Subway Story by Julia Sarcone-Roach (Knopf)
Retired subway car Jessie is dismantled and dumped into the ocean, where she happily resides as an artificial reef, home to myriad sea animals. The theme of reuse and recycling emerges naturally from a fine tale. Grade level: K–3. 40 pages.
Suggested grade level for each entry: 1–3
Emmaline and the Bunny by Katherine Hannigan (Greenwillow)
The mayor of Neatasapin bullies everyone into inordinate tidiness and forbids all things wild. After lonely Emmaline befriends a wild bunny, she enlists her parents to invite wildlife back into the community. 101 pages.
Just Grace Goes Green by Charise Mericle Harper (Houghton)
In Grace’s fourth book, the third grader and her classmates are passionate about going green. While sneaking in information about recycling and reusing, Harper knows how to keep the story moving: amusing lists and sketches will keep her fans entertained. 178 pages.
Suggested grade level for each entry: 4–6
The One and Only Ivan written by Katherine Applegate; illus. by Patricia Castelao (HarperCollins/Harper)
In this 2013 Newbery Award winner, Ivan is a gorilla who lives in a circus mall. When a new baby elephant arrives, Ivan taps into his creative side to help them both escape their restrictive environment. 307 pages.
Crunch by Leslie Connor (HarperCollins/Tegen)
When a severe fuel shortage strands their parents, the five Marriss children hold down the fort — and the family’s bike business. With fewer cars on the highway, the now-growing shop is about to overrun the kids’ abilities. Connor’s narrative ambles pleasantly along. 330 pages.
Chomp by Carl Hiaasen (Knopf)
Wahoo Cray’s pop, a well-known South Florida animal wrangler, can’t work after an injury, so a lucrative offer seems like a godsend. Expedition Survival!, a TV program featuring a bumbling, egomaniacal star, wants to use their backyard zoo and faux Everglades pond. 290 pages.
Toby Alone written by Timothée de Fombelle; illus. by François Place (Candlewick)
The world of the Tree, a society of miniature people, is threatened when a gangland boss/evil property developer grabs power. It’s up to thirteen-year-old Toby to save his parents, the Tree, and the day. 384 pages.
Operation Redwood by S. Terrell French (Abrams/Amulet)
Julian caught up in the conflict between his uncle and Robin, who is trying to protect a redwood forest from Uncle Sibley’s voracious investment company. French works in many facts about redwoods without losing the story’s focus on its characters. 355 pages.
Suggested grade level for each entry: 7 and up
Breathe by Sarah Crossan (Greenwillow)
In an environmentally ravaged world with four percent oxygen in the air, people live inside glass domes (and pay for air) or struggle to survive outside. Privileged Quinn, his poorer friend Bea, and rebel Alina travel outside of the dome and are stranded there. 373 pages.
Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne (Feiwel)
Environmental disasters including a devastating hailstorm, an earthquake, and a chemical spill lead to a school bus of kids (teens and younger) seeking refuge in a superstore — with abundant resources and no adult supervision. Sequel: Monument 14: Sky on Fire. 296 pages.
The Carbon Diaries 2015 by Saci Lloyd (Holiday)
London teen Laura chronicles in biting journal entries the first year of Britain’s new, stringent carbon rationing points system. She balances big-picture fears (blackouts, riots) with everyday issues of crushes and friends, and her punk band. Sequel: The Carbon Diaries 2017. 330 pages.
My Chemical Mountain by Corina Vacco (Delacorte)
Jason and his friends roam the industrial zone near their neighborhood, swim in the toxic creek, and ride their dirt bikes around a landfill they call Chemical Mountain. This thought-provoking modern-day dystopian novel is plausible and action-packed. 186 pages.
Suggested grade level listed with each entry
It’s Our Garden: From Seeds to Harvest in a School Garden written by George Ancona; photos by the author (Candlewick)
Full-color photographs and no-nonsense prose (perfect for new readers) chronicle a year in the life of an elementary school garden; students compost soil, water plants, raise butterflies, and sample edible delights. Grade level: K–3. 48 pages.
Citizen Scientists: Be a Part of Scientific Discovery from Your Own Backyard written by Loree Griffin Burns; photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz (Holt)
Detailed accounts and handsome color photography introduce four scientific projects — studying monarch butterflies, birds, ladybugs, and frogs — which enlist regular people in data collection. Grade level: 4–6. 80 pages.
Look Up! Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate (Candlewick)
In this introduction to birdwatching, the author/illustrator and birds (portrayed in cartoons with speech balloons) poke fun at themselves and one another while teaching basic bird identification: color, shapes, behaviors, songs, habitat, range, and migration. Grade level: 4–6. 64 pages.
The Bat Scientists [Scientists in the Field series] written by Mary Kay Carson; photographs by Tom Uhlman (Houghton)
With deft description and careful explanation, Carson profiles Bat Conservation International (BCI) as it researches the misunderstood title creatures. Clear text debunks “Batty Myths” while highlighting BCI’s conservation efforts. Grade level: 4–6. 80 pages.
Island: A Story of the Galápagos by Jason Chin (Roaring Brook/Porter)
Witness the six-million-year evolution of the Galápagos, from “birth” through “childhood” to “old age” and beyond. Gorgeous illustrations include sweeping double-page spreads and panels arranged to show dynamic changes. Grade level: K–3. 32 pages.
Redwoods by Jason Chin (Roaring Brook/Flash Point/Porter)
In a fantastical visual narrative paired with a straightforward nonfiction text, a young boy waiting for the subway finds an abandoned book about redwood trees. He finds himself in a redwood forest, learning all manner of things about them. Grade level: K–3. 40 pages.
The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge [Magic School Bus series] written by Joanna Cole; illus. by Bruce Degen (Scholastic)
Ms. Frizzle’s class gathers information for a play about climate change. Cole and Degen are straightforward about the seriousness of global warming but focusing on day-to-day changes individuals can make. Throughout, humor keeps readers engaged. Grade level K–3. 40 pages.
Earth in the Hot Seat: Bulletins from a Warming World by Marfé Ferguson Delano (National Geographic)
Beginning with examples of changes seen by scientists, this well-written narrative then moves to thorough explanations of the underlying science and explores the ecological consequences of climate change. Grade level: 4–6. 64 pages.
Wild Horse Scientists [Scientists in the Field series] by Kay Frydenborg (Houghton)
Researchers are attempting to control the horse population on Assateague Island by developing a contraceptive vaccine that limits mares to a single foal per lifetime. Relevant and clear color photographs show both horses and scientists in situ. Grade level: 4–6. 80 pages.
The Buffalo Are Back by Jean Craighead George; illus. by Wendell Minor (Dutton)
This compact ecodrama documents the buffalo’s slaughter to decimate the Native Americans and open the prairie to settlers, then turns to the reversal: the discovery, instigated by President Theodore Roosevelt, of three hundred remaining wild buffalo. Grade level K–3. 32 pages.
Galápagos George by Jean Craighead George; illus. by Wendell Minor (HarperCollins/Harper)
The life cycle of a single female Galápagos tortoise, Giantess George, is extrapolated to the development of the entire species. She and other tortoises are transported to different islands in a storm; over thousands of years, they evolve into different subspecies. Grade level K–3. 40 pages.
Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95 by Phillip Hoose (Farrar)
One rufa red knot known as “Moonbird” has flown some 325,000 miles in his lifetime. Lucid, graceful prose (with glorious photographs) details the birds’ characteristics, profiles scientists and activist kids, and explores long-term prospects for survival. Grade level: 4–6. 148 pages.
The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever written by H. Joseph Hopkins; illus. by Jill McElmurry (Simon/Beach Lane)
Kate Sessions, the first woman to graduate from Berkeley with a science degree, was responsible for populating San Diego’s Balboa Park with lush, green trees, just in time for the Panama-California Exposition in 1915. Grade level K–3. 32 pages.
Can We Save the Tiger? written by Martin Jenkins; illus. by Vicky White (Candlewick)
This volume provides a gracefully organized overview of several endangered species. Jenkins’s narrative voice is engagingly informal. White’s pencil and oil paint illustrations fill the large pages. A stunningly beautiful book as well as an eloquent appeal. Grade level K–3. 56 pages.
The Animal Book: A Collection of the Fastest, Fiercest, Toughest, Cleverest, Shyest — and Most Surprising — Animals on Earth by Steve Jenkins (Houghton)
This thoughtful book begins with a survey of the animal kingdom, then covers “Family,” “Senses,” “Predators,” and “Defenses.” The paper-collage art is taken from Jenkins’s previous work, each image recontextualized to serve the book’s purpose. Grade level: 4–6. 208 pages.
Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World written by Laurie Lawlor; illus. by Laura Beingessner (Holiday)
From the naturalist’s early fascination with wildlife to her determination to finish her landmark work, Silent Spring, before her death, this accessible account folds a commendable amount of significant information into picture book format. Grade level: K–3. 32 pages.
Puffling Patrol by Ted and Betsy Lewin (Lee & Low)
On Iceland’s Heimaey island, children take part in a generations-old fledgling puffin search-and-rescue tradition. As they tour the island with researchers, the Lewins capture the beauty of the landscape and the awkwardly amusing appeal of the birds. Grade level: K–3. 56 pages.
The Manatee Scientists: Saving Vulnerable Species [Scientists in the Field series] by Peter Lourie (Houghton)
Scientists Fernando Rosas (Brazil), John Reynolds (Florida), and Lucy Keith (West Africa) investigate manatees in the wild and in captivity. The text and photographs capture the science and politics of animal conservation and the scientists’ dedication. Grade level: 4–6. 80 pages.
The Polar Bear Scientists [Scientists in the Field series] by Peter Lourie (Houghton)
Lourie takes us to Alaska to observe biologists researching a subpopulation of polar bears, then to the lab where the data is processed and stored. Crisp photographs capture the animals and the equipment needed to do research in such extreme conditions. Grade level: 4–6. 80 pages.
Chasing Cheetahs: The Race to Save Africa’s Fastest Cats [Scientists in the Field] by Sy Montgomery; photos by Nic Bishop (Houghton)
Journal-style text and striking photographs introduce Laurie Marker and her team of conservationists at the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia. Of special interest is Tiger Lily, a cheetah who has spent her life at the CCF as an “ambassador.” Grade level: 4–6. 79 pages.
Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot [Scientists in the Field] by Sy Montgomery; photos by Nic Bishop (Houghton)
Montgomery and Bishop trek to Codfish Island off New Zealand’s coast to bring us a marvelous account of the efforts of naturalists to save the kakapo. In-depth descriptions and glorious photographs cover all aspects of the conservation effort. Grade level: 4–6. 74 pages.
The Tapir Scientist: Saving South America’s Largest Mammal [Scientists in the Field] by Sy Montgomery; photos by Nic Bishop (Houghton)
In the Pantanal wetlands of Brazil, scientist Patricia Medici and her team study the lowland tapir. Montgomery’s dramatic account of tracking the elusive animals is interspersed with scientific information about tapir species. Grade level: 4–6. 74 pages.
Leopard & Silkie: One Boy’s Quest to Save the Seal Pups written by Brenda Peterson; photographs by Robin Lindsey (Holt/Ottaviano)
The Seal Sitters is a Pacific Northwest watch group that educates human beachgoers and protects harbor seals when they come ashore to give birth to and care for their young. Newborn seal Leopard is fortunate to have “kid volunteer” Miles on the case. Grade level: K–3. 32 pages.
Celebritrees: Historic and Famous Trees of the World written by Margi Preus; illus. by Rebecca Gibbon (Holt/Ottaviano)
This gallery of impressive trees offers substantive information on what makes each specimen unique. Friendly folk art–style paintings bustle with life, including birds and squirrels in the branches and people in the shade. Conservation tips are appended. Grade level: K–3. 40 pages.
Plant a Pocket of Prairie written by Phyllis Root; illus. by Betsy Bowen (University of Minnesota)
There’s not a lot of prairie left in the U.S.; this book encourages readers to reverse this trend by planting native plants in their own backyards and watching what animals are attracted by each plant species. Grade level: K–3. 40 pages.
Parrots over Puerto Rico written by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore; illus. by Susan L. Roth (Lee & Low)
This gorgeously illustrated history of the endangered Puerto Rican parrot underscores the consequences of human populations on animal species. With stunning paper-and-fabric artwork, the book is laid out vertically to give a sense of height. Grade level: K–3. 48 pages.
Turtle, Turtle, Watch Out! written by April Pulley Sayre; illus. by Annie Patterson (Charlesbridge)
Very few sea turtles survive to adulthood. This turtle is one of the fortunate ones, thanks to the volunteers who protect turtle nests and hatchlings. Readers will be drawn in by Turtle’s newborn awkwardness, captured by softly colored realistic illustrations. Grade level: K–3. 32 pages.
Lifetime: The Amazing Numbers in Animal Lives by Lola M. Schaefer; illus. by Christopher Silas Neal (Chronicle)
The concept of quantity is examined in the context of animal lives. Schaefer presents the number of times an animal “performs one behavior” in its lifetime, from the single egg sac spun by a spider, up to the thousand babies carried by a male seahorse. Grade level: PS, K–3. 40 pages.
Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature written by Joyce Sidman; illus. by Beth Krommes (Houghton)
Scratchboard illustrations, vividly depicting spirals in nature, suffuse every page with color, shape, and movement. Each spread offers a treasure trove of details that will captivate the youngest readers. The simple text is powerful and poetic. Grade level: PS. 40 pages.
Dolphins by Seymour Simon (HarperCollins/Collins)
Simon draws readers beyond initial captivation with dolphins’ appearance and intelligence into deeper discussions of species, life cycles, and social organization. Vivid full-page photographs are well-matched to the text. A note on conservation is appended. Grade level: K–3. 32 pages.
Global Warming by Seymour Simon (HarperCollins/Collins)
With straightforward prose, Simon leads novices through such tricky concepts as greenhouse gases and the differences between daily weather and long-term climate change. The book ends with the reassurance that we can help reverse the rate of change. Grade level: K–3. 32 pages.
No Monkeys, No Chocolate by Melissa Stewart and Allen Young; illus. by Nicole Wong (Charlesbridge)
Stewart and Young explain where chocolate comes from: working backward from cocoa beans (dried and processed by humans) to cocoa pods (from cocoa flowers pollinated by midges) to monkeys dropping cocoa seeds on the rainforest floor. Full-bleed ink and watercolor illustrations show each step along the way. Grade level: K–3. 32 pages.
The Sea Turtle Scientist [Scientists in the Field] by Stephen R. Swinburne (Houghton)
The Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network (WIDECAST) studies the sea turtles in the Caribbean and works for their preservation. This series entry follows Dr. Kimberly Stewart, a.k.a. the “turtle lady,” who lives and works with WIDECAST on the island of St. Kitts. Grade level: 4–6. 65 pages.
Project Seahorse [Scientists in the Field series] written by Pamela S. Turner,; photographs by Scott Tuason
Readers follow conservation group Project Seahorse in its efforts to preserve seahorses, coastal reefs, and the fishing-based livelihood of Handumon, in the Philippines. Interspersed are details about seahorses, portrayed beautifully in underwater photography. Grade level: 4–6. 57 pages.
Meadowlands: A Wetlands Survival Story by Thomas F. Yezerski (Farrar)
This ecological history of Meadowlands of New Jersey captures the complex relationship between humans and the environment. Each double-page-spread illustration is bordered by tiny images with a wealth of taxonomical information (and sly humor). Grade level: K–3. 40 pages.
Secrets of the Garden: Food Chains and the Food Web in Our Backyard written by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld; illus. by Priscilla Lamont (Knopf)
Alice and her family have a plot of land upon which they grow edible plants, raise chickens, and enjoy their interactions with the variety of living things in their backyard ecosystem. Grade level: K–3. 40 pages.
UnBEElievables: Honeybee Poems and Paintings by Douglas Florian (Simon/Beach Lane)
Florian evokes the world of bees with repetitive patterning that cleverly references honeycombs, flowers, and the bees themselves. His humorous rhythmic verse, too, echoes bee behavior. A paragraph of more straightforward facts elucidates each spread. Grade level: K–3. 32 pages.
All the Water in the World written by George Ella Lyon; illus. by Katherine Tillotson (Atheneum/Jackson)
Lyon celebrates the essence of life itself in a lyrical poem about the water cycle. In sweeping, digitally rendered art resembling watercolor and collage, Tillotson creates luxuriant ocean swirls and pelting streaks of rain. Grade level: K–3. 40 pages.