Good Night, 2015

Check out the year’s best new #greenreads (and some old classics) for small children.

Photo: Melanie Holtsman/Flickr

All sorts of screens occupy our children’s minds and tiny hands these days, but books (the paper-and-ink variety) still do a stellar job of capturing their attention and unleashing their imaginations. The authors and illustrators of picture books published in 2015 brought us all kinds of colorful and engaging stories, from how water morphs from one state to another to what animal families do in the bayou to hunker down before a hurricane.

With so many good children’s books out there, paring down the list to just a few wasn’t easy, but here are six that made us want to drop everything and snuggle in for a bedtime story. And because there’s no better way to bond with your little one than by sharing the same stories that made lasting impressions on your own young mind, we’ve mixed in a few of our all-time favorites, too.

Rhymes of the Time

A Boy and a Jaguar
By Alan Rabinowitz; illustrations by Catia Chien
HMH Books for Young Readers, 32 pages, $16.99, ages 4 to 7

A cat’s got a young boy’s tongue in this autobiographical tale. Alan Rabinowitz, the noted zoologist who cofounded the big cat conservation group Panthera, tells the story of how his struggle with stuttering led to his work protecting jaguars. The Association for Library Service to Children selected this story as one of the notable books of 2015.

The Little Gardener
By Emily Hughes; illustrations by the author
Flying Eye Books, 40 pages, $17.95, ages 4 to 7

Gardening is difficult for the boy in this story, mostly because he’s smaller than the plants he’s tending. Much of his garden withers, but one flower succeeds in catching the eye of a little girl who then fixes up the boy’s patch of soil while the little guy sleeps. This story of growth and renewal illustrates why it’s so important to take care of the world around us—and what a little help from our friends can accomplish.

Water Is Water: A Book About the Water Cycle
By Miranda Paul; illustrations by Jason Chin
Roaring Brook Press, 40 of pages, $17.99, ages 6 to 10

Ice, rain, snow, and steam—water comes in many forms, and it can change from one to the next right before our eyes. This book expertly presents the cycle in a rhythmic, surprising way, with illustrations beautifully depicting where we might see the many manifestations of H2O.

Tree of Wonder: The Many Marvelous Lives of a Rainforest Tree
By Kate Messner; illustrations by Simona Mulazzani
Chronicle Books, 36 pages, $16.99, ages 5 to 8

This almendro tree may stand alone in the Amazon, but it’s definitely got company. It’s home to birds, bats, snakes, insects, frogs, and monkeys. With lots of fun details on 10 of the 1,000-plus species living in or on the almendro, Tree of Wonder showcases the ecological diversity that can be found in just one tiny bit of rainforest.

Flowers Are Calling
By Rita Gray; illustrations by Kenard Pak
HMH Books for Young Readers, 32 pages, $16.99, ages 4 to 7

From the desert to the forest, flowers call out to animals, hoping they’ll drop by for a pollination visit. This rhyming book shows the little ones what species visit the blooms we see all around us and how every creature does its part to make the world beautiful.

Over in the Wetlands: A Hurricane-on-the-Bayou Story
By Caroline Starr Rose; illustrations by Rob Dunlavey
Schwartz & Wade, 40 pages, $17.99, ages 4 to 8

Marking the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, this book dives into how animal families get ready for a looming storm. When the wind and rain subside, they emerge and find out how their homes have changed.

Oldies but Goodies

Owl Moon
By Jane Yolen
Philomel Books, 32 pages, ages 3 to 7

A little girl, bundled in her warmest clothes, walks with her dad into the frigid, snowy night in silent anticipation. She’s on her first owling adventure, but the adventure is not about actually seeing an owl; it’s about the thrill of the hunt. This 1988 Caldecott Medal winner makes you want to head into the night yourself.
Recommended by Susan Cosier, onEarth columnist

The Little House
By Virginia Lee Burton; illustrated by the author
HMH Books for Young Readers, 44 pages, ages 3 to 8

This little house in the country watches as seasons turn, children grow, and urban development rises up all around. Being abandoned in the city makes the little house sad, but help is on the way. Winner of the Caldecott Medal in 1943, this story will resonate with young readers even today.
Recommended by Melissa Mahony, onEarth editor

Miss Rumphius 
By Barbara Cooney; illustrations by the author
Puffin Books, 32 pages, $7.99, ages 5 to 8

In her search for ways to make the world more beautiful, the well-traveled Miss Rumphius plants lupine, a colorful flower, in the wilds of Maine. This story won a 1983 National Book Award, and when you pick it up, the gorgeous illustrations will show you why.
Recommended by Jeff Turrentine, onEarth columnist

The Animal Book: A Collection of the Fastest, Fiercest, Toughest, Cleverest, Shyest—and Most Surprising—Animals on Earth
By Steve Jenkins; illustrations by the author
HMH Books for Young Readers, 208 pages, $21.99, ages 6 to 9

Who couldn’t love a book that helps illustrate, with Steve Jenkins’s distinctive collages, how wacky and weird and wonderful animals can be? The chapters include animal extremes, senses, and defenses. Oh, and a brief history of life. This compendium is chock-full of amazing facts that will keep curious minds churning as they drift into dreamland.
Recommended by Alisa Opar, onEarth columnist

Following Papa’s Song
By Gianna Marino; illustrations by the author
Viking Books for Young Readers, 40 pages, $16.99, ages 3 to 5

A little whale calf swims after his father as they migrate through the sea. The sweet story captures your attention with the little one’s questions and the father’s answers and helps young readers feel more connected to the oceans and the creatures that live below the surface.
Recommended by Scott Dodd, editorial director

Mama, Do You Love Me?
By Barbara Joosse; illustrations by Barbara Lavallee
Chronicle Books, 24 pages, $6.99, ages 6 to 12

This book is about searching for the limits of love between a mother and daughter who live in Alaska. The two point out animals in the landscape—ravens, musk oxen, and whales, to name a few—to help illustrate how strong and how deep their love is. Perfect for the winter season.
Recommended by Rocky Kistner, onEarth reporter

Octopus Alone
By Divya Srinivasan; illustrations by the author
Viking Books for Young Readers, 40 pages, $16.99, ages 3 to 5

As readers turn the pages, the shy, eight-armed title character shows off her special skills of squirting ink, swimming deep, and turning herself different colors in order to “disappear.” When the octopus realizes she’s far from home, she finds companionship in some of the sea’s other fascinating residents.
Recommended by Scott Dodd

The Giving Tree
By Shel Silverstein; illustrations by author
HarperCollins, 64 pages, $16.99, ages 1 to 8

A loving tree gives a boy her apples, leaves, branches, and trunk, and he keeps taking and taking until there’s nothing left.
Recommended by Jon Mark Ponder, onEarth editorial assistant

The Snail and the Whale
By Julia Donaldson; illustrations by Axel Scheffler
Puffin Books, 32 pages, $6.99, ages 3 to 7

An itsy-bitsy snail catches a ride on a humongous humpback whale and gets taken on a trip around the world. When the whale gets in trouble, it’s the snail that helps save the day, showing that every creature, big or small, has an important role to play.
Recommended by Jeff Turrentine

The Lorax
By Dr. Seuss; illustrations by the author
Random House Books for Young Readers, 72 pages, $14.95, ages 6 to 9

The earth’s resources are extremely valuable, but they are also limited. That’s what the Lorax explains in his tale of Bar-ba-loots and Truffula Trees. The story’s message is just as poignant as it was when it was first published four decades ago.
Recommended by Jeff Turrentine

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