Children's Literature in Place-based education, environmental education,ecology education and science teaching and learning

Teaching and Learning

Science, Ecology, Natural History and Place-based Education

Through Children's Literature


Thousands of children's literature books are published each year. These books have the power to help our students construct understanding in language and literacy as well as science concepts. These children's literature books have the potential to also lead students to construct naive science understandings. Carefully selecting and using children's literature books provides teachers and other educators with the opportunity to use their valuable time wisely to further literacy and science education goals.

Searching for Children's Literature - Web sites

There are many web sites that can be used to search and make choices about which children's literature books to use. Some web sites list children's literature that have already been reviewed by panels of experts. These web sites provide the information you need to choose high quality children's literature. Other web sites are just lists of books for purchase. Here are my favorites so far.

National Science Teachers Association - NSTA brings together a panel of teachers and university experts to review the children's literature books published each year. The books that are reviewed positively are posted on a web site by year with a search engine. This is an excellent source for locating high quality children's literature books on science topics.

American Library Association Book Awards- The ALA sponsors numerous awards that recognize excellence in children's literature such as the Newbery, Caldecott, Sibert, Wilder, Carnegie, Batchelder, Belpre and Seuss Medals. In addition, this web site publishes lists of all previous award winners and a Notable Children's Book List of exemplary children's literature.

National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE) Orbis Pictus Nonfiction Award - This web site provides searchable list of children's literature books that receive the award or an honorable mention.

The University of Wisconsin School of Education Cooperative Children's Book Center (CCBC)- This web site contains excellent lists of children's literature organized by a variety of topics. It is very usable and has multiple categories in science, ecology and place-based education topics.

Book Links from the American Library Association - This attractive bimonthly magazine for teachers, librarians, and parents of preschoolers and elementary and middle school children, pulls together books around themes such as forests, endangered animals, or the Civil War. Many articles contain teaching strategies and discussion questions, making Book Links ideal for householders. Interviews with authors and illustrators of children's books add another dimension. Each issue of Book Links explores a curricular theme. Topics include multicultural literature, social studies, language arts, history, geography, science, math, and the arts. While not every piece published in Book Links is theme-related, the bulk of articles do have relevance to one of the above topics.

The Center for Children's Environmental Literature (CCEL) - Children's Books and Environmental Themes, 2000-2004. Noted children's book author and illustrator Lynne Cherry founded this project. Its quarterly publication, Nature's Course, offers creative ideas for using children's books to teach about different environmental themes. Back issues of Nature's Course are available in the ANEI office. Antioch New England Institute, 40 Avon Street, Keene, NH 03431-3552, Phone: (603) 357-3122, ext. 344, Fax: (603) 357-0718, Email:

Children's Literature Web Guide - "The Children's Literature Web Guide is an attempt to gather together and categorize the growing number of Internet resources related to books for Children and Young Adults. Much of the information that you can find through these pages is provided by others: fans, schools, libraries, and commercial enterprises involved in the book world. The guide is created by David K. Brown, Director, Doucette Library of Teaching Resources at the University of Calgary in Canada.   The site features numerous very helpful links to book award categories, teacher and parent resources, discussion boards, etc." (from web site, 5/16/06).

The Australia Wilderness Society, Environment Award for Children's Literature - "The annual Environment Award, inaugurated in 1994, is open to fiction and non-fiction children's books published in Australia. Award trophies and certificates are presented to authors and illustrators of those books that best encourage an attitude of caring, wonder and understanding of the natural world, or those that promote an awareness of environmental issues" (from web site, 5/15/06).

"The Children ’s Environmental Literature Bibliography is available for download courtesy of Wisconsin's Project WILD, Project Learning Tree and Project WET programs. This popular resource was initially developed in 1997 and has been revised as a reading list for early childhood providers and to help teacher's meet the requirements of the No Child Left Behind legislation (NCLB). The bibliography contains more than 400 books, over 300 of them new additions. For easy teacher reference, the books are grouped according to topic area and age group" (from web site, 5/16/06).

Searching for Children's Literature - Books

These are a few of the books I'm aware of that review different children's literature and make suggestions for their use in classrooms and other education uses such as museums, resident outdoor education, environmental education, nature centers, science schools, home school etc.

Butzow, C. M., & Butzow, J. W. (1999). Exploring the environment through children's literature . Englewood, CO: Teacher Ideas Press.

Butzow, C. M., & Butzow, J. W. (1989). Science through children's literature: An integrated approach (through children's literature) . Englewood, CO: Teacher Ideas Press.

Freedman, R. L. H. (1999). Science and Writing Connections . White Plains, NY: Dale Seymour Publications.

Kriesberg, D. A. (1999). A sense of place: Teaching children about the environment with picture books . Englewood, CO: Teacher Ideas Press.

Sources for Purchasing Children's Literature Books

Acorn Naturalists

Dawn Publications

National Museum of the American Indian


Criteria for Selecting Children's Literature Books for Teaching Science

Not every trade book published is ideal for helping children learn science.   How does one determine if a trade book is desirable?   The criteria described on the next page were adapted from several national organizations and leaders in the field of children's literature in science teaching.    If a book meets many of the criteria then it would be acceptable.   If there are some weaknesses with the book then you might consider searching for something else or putting in place teaching strategies that address the weaknesses of the book.




Accurate Content

Content is clear, accurate and up-to-date.

Does the book describe the science concepts accurately?  Does the book contain the most recent information?  The copyright date is a clue but not all recent books contain the most recent scientific information.

Observable facts are clearly distinguished from Inferences.


Are there statements in the text that clearly indicate differences between observed facts and inferences or hypothesis? Does the text use ideal phrases such as: "scientists believe," "so far as we know" or "at this point in time the evidence seems to indicate"


Fantasy and Reality are clearly distinguished.
Sections of the book that are fiction or fantasy are clearly identified in the text and separated from sections that describe factual science information.


Phrases such as the following are used.  “While  rabbits don’t talk in real life in our story we’ll pretend we can hear them.”  Or “little girls don’t really fly but she closed her eyes and dreamed she was in the clouds looking down on her home.”

Generalizations are supported by evidence.
Generalizations made in the book are supported with clear accurate evidence.


Does the text contain statements that avoid sweeping generalizations? 

Avoids over-simplification.
Science ideas are not over-simplified to the point where the information is misleading.


Does the text use age appropriate language to convey the complexities of the science concept rather than mislead through omission or simplification?

Includes relevant information.
Significant facts are not omitted

Is the information presented appropriately for the intended age group without omitting topics such as: animal or human reproduction, disabilities, death, etc?  By sanitizing reality through omitting certain aspects  of the world live (such as pretending that  death does not occur) we are in effect teaching inaccurate science.  A book that omits significant facts tells only part of the truth.

Realistic Passage of Time.
The passage of time is portrayed in a realistic way in presenting the science concept.


Unreal passages of time are described clearly and separated from the rest of the text.

Avoids stereotypes and is free of gender, ethnic, and socioeconomic bias. 

Provides a variety of positive role models for children to emulate.


A book that presents stereotypes pretends wrongly to have told the whole truth.  One subtle type of stereotyping is by omission.  i.e. Are scientists or doctors portrayed as middle-aged Caucasian males?  Are farmers portrayed as dumb hicks? etc.

Avoids anthropomorphic statements that mislead students, the imposition of human values on wildlife, and the portrayal of animals not as they are but as readers like to think that they are.

Anthropomorphism is the assignment of human emotions and actions to animals, plants, and objects.  While it is a common literary device it can teach children inaccurate science concepts and opinions about the world we live in.  One example comes from phrases like, “the big bad wolf” who eats grandmothers. Other examples are when animals act as if they are a human family or a bat cries because it is alone.


Emphasizes science process skills.
Emphasizes people (especially children) involved in the process skills of science rather than telling facts.


Do the illustrations and text show students engaged actively in doing science?

Encourages Student Decision-making.
Suggests opportunities for students to observe, explore, and explain their own interests and conduct science investigations of their own choosing.


Do the text or illustrations suggest to the reader ways they can explore on their own?  Are they invited to investigate their questions and explore their own curiosity?

General Literature Quality

Logical and clear presentation of material
Appropriate content level for intended audience
Compatible text and illustrations
Illustrations that are accurate representations in size, color and scale.
Appropriate size and format for intended age group.
Well-organized layout that advances the text.
Quality of binding, paper, reproduction, and appropriate of typeface.



Synthesized and adapted by J. William Hug from the following references:

Donovan, C. A. & Smolkin, L. B. (2002). Considering genre, content, and visual features in the selection of trade books for science instruction. The Reading Teacher 55 (6). p.   502-520.

Eggerton, S. (1996). Balancing science and sentiment: The portrayal of nature and the environment in children's literature. Science & Children 33 (6). p. 20-23.

Martin, D. J. (2003). Elementary Science Methods: A Constructivist Approach, 3rd Ed. Wadsworth Publishing

National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). (2003). Outstanding science trade books for students K-12. Science &Children 40 (6), p. 33-38.

Rice, D. C. (2002). Using trade books in teaching elementary science: Facts and fallacies. The Reading Teacher 55 (6). p.   552-565.

Recommended Children's Literature Books

The participants in a workshop hosted by the Teton Science Schools created a list of recommended children's literature books.

Book Links Magazine from the American Library Association featured an article by Daniel Kriesberg, A Sense of Place, that describes books about people's relationships with natural places.


Last Updated: July 18, 2015


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