Exploring the natural world: Australian picture books and children’s nonfiction with an environmental theme

19 October, 2021

The cover of The Australian Climate Change Book by Polly Marsden and Chris Nixon, featuring a collection of iillustrations of flora, fauna and manmade machinery.Australian artist and mother of three Kat Macleod was inspired by the challenge of entertaining small children during lockdown to create her first picture book for Thames & Hudson Australia. The Tiny Explorers takes readers on a treasure hunt through the garden, exploring the natural world—including grass, leaves, bugs and flowers—up close through what the publisher describes as the artist’s ‘luscious mixed media artwork’. ‘After such a strange 2020, with so many months spent in lockdown and our children limited to playing in our small backyard, it shows that if you use your imagination, you can still have big fun in a tiny space,’ says Macleod.


The Tiny Explorers is one of several new Australian picture books that inspire closer attention to the natural world.


Alison Binks’s picture book 9 things to remember (and one to forget) (Berbay) explores some of the small natural wonders of the world, from the moon’s control of the tides to the joy of waking up to birdsong, with beautiful watercolour illustrations. It’s clearly a theme close to the heart of the author, whose previous picture book, Night Walk, tells the story of a little boy’s night out under the stars while camping.


When You’re Older by Sofie Laguna, illustrated by Judy Watson (Allen & Unwin, March 2022) celebrates the joys of childhood play, as two brothers seek adventure in the natural world. (‘When you’re older we’ll ride together on our bikes through the jungle. We’ll see snakes on branches of trees.’) ‘This beautiful book gives us the life we’d all love our children to have, out in the natural world, revelling in its beauty and truly being part of it,’ says Australian children’s author Alison Lester.


Internationally published children’s book author and street artist Kyle Hughes-Odgers offers a quirky take on the theme. His forthcoming picture book Everything You Want to See (Fremantle Press, April 2022) presents ‘an eclectic range of items that kids will find fascinating—like a tiger in a car, a bin that stinks and a giant cake’. 


A number of new nonfiction books also help to feed young readers’ curiosity about the world around them.


This year, Hardie Grant Egmont has been pitching Explore Your World: Weirdest creatures in time by Tim and Emma Flannery (illus by Maude Guesne), the third book in a children’s nonfiction series about nature and the environment (the first two books were Weird, Wild, Amazing and Deep Dive into Deep Sea). The series offers a ‘deep-dive into the natural world’ peppered with ‘bizarre facts and vibrant illustrations’.


No Way! by Dan Marshall (Pantera Press, October), aimed at readers aged eight and up, promises plenty of ‘mind-blowing facts’ about the world around us (topics include earth, science, humans, space, animals and maths), with a trusty robot sidekick leading kids through the text with ‘challenges and questions’. It’s ‘beautifully designed, and with appeal to kids around the world,’ says the publisher.


Australia’s Astronomer-at-Large Fred Watson takes young readers on a tour of the universe in his first book for kids, Spacewarp: Colliding comets and other cosmic catastrophes (November), answering such questions as ‘Why do stars twinkle?’, ‘Is there life beyond Earth?’ and ‘What’s the chance of a catastrophic collision with a killer asteroid?’ Watson’s previous books have sold in numerous countries and NewSouth believes this one will have worldwide appeal.


Finally, a nonfiction book for emerging environmentalists: The Australian Climate Change Book by Polly Marsden and Chris Nixon (Hachette Australia, October) ‘aims to demystify climate change for very young readers, with accessible and reassuring illustrations and facts’, as well as ideas for how they can help make a difference.