Book Recommendations: Nonfiction about Nature

Hardly a day goes by when I don’t find myself suggesting books on social media. Evidently I’m getting a name for it. Today when a woman in a group asked for a suggestion and I leaped in she said she was hoping I might have some suggestions. It has been suggested to me that I could share some of my suggestions with a wider audience, so I’m going to try to make an effort to repost at least some of my book suggestions over here too.

This list was inspired when an acquaintance asked for books that get deeply into some aspect of nature, flora or fauna, either in the fiction or memoir genre. This is a list for adults, though my teens have enjoyed them as well and many of them have been family read alouds.

The requester mentioned H is for Hawk by Helen McDonald, which I read a few years ago. (I wrote more about H Is for Hawk here.) None of these suggestions are exactly in that same vein, but I think they fit into the rough category of very readable memoir that focuses on nature in some form.

It takes me quite a bit of time to write up these book lists with links and descriptions and mini-reviews. If you find them helpful, please consider buying a book by clicking through the link and buying via my Amazon affiliate page. That way we get a bit of money that will go to buying our family more books which I can then tell you about. And thus we all win.

1. A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm by Edwin Way Teale

Teale and his wife buy a farm in Connecticut and settle in, not to farm but to learn about the wild animals and plants that inhabit their property.

I haven’t finished it yet, but it’s one of Isabella and Sophia’s favorite books.

2. North with the Spring by Edwin Way Teale

Teale is a naturalist with wanderlust. This volume is the story of a road trip Teale and his wife take whose intent is to follow the spring as it moved northward. They begin in Florida and end at the border of Canada and zig zag back and forth, venturing as far west as New Orleans. The stories Teale tells are amazing, there’s a lot of really deep nature information but also an adeventure. He gets into astronomy, geology, botany, zoology. There’s a lot about various ecosystems. They meet a lot of different naturalists along the way and he tells a lot of history as well. I Read this out loud with the kids over the course of many months. The descriptive language is really beautiful too, almost poetry at times.

This one is out of print and rather pricey on Amazon, but look around at other used book venues like AbeBooks. This one is worth tracking down.

There are three other volumes I haven’t yet read, Winter, Summer, and Autumn.

Here’s what I wrote about this book in February of 2018:

I don’t remember how I stumbled across this book on Amazon, but I was enchanted by the description of the author and his wife setting out to follow the spring as it spread across the eastern seaboard of North America. Beginning in Florida well before the equinox, they crisscross the country across to Louisiana and then back through Georgia to Florida again and back and forth until they end in Canada at the summer solstice. Teale’s language is lyrical and his knowledge of natural history is encyclopedic. He discourses on bald eagles, floating islands, rattlesnakes, birds of every kind, flowers, trees, plants, rivers, marshes, swamps… And the people. He and his wife meet experts in many fields, guides who take them far off the beaten path by boat and plane and truck and car. This is not a children’s book, but the children have been spellbound, though there are also stretches that don’t hold their attention as well. I picked this one especially for Bella, my budding naturalist, and have enjoyed sharing it with her very much.

3. A Year in the Maine Woods by Bernd Heinrich

Our current nature-study family read aloud. It’s a fun story about Heinrich going to live in a cabin in the woods for a year. He’s a naturalist and gets into a lot of the flora and fauna and the ecosystem. He begins the story driving up to the cabin with a baby raven which he later releases. There’s also a lot of local history flavor too. He does a lot of building projects, hangs out with various people. It’s laid back but interesting. And my kids have been enjoying it.

4. Wilding by Isabella Tree

Their farm was failing and they took a gamble. They gave up farming and decided to reintroduce nature to their farm: wild boar, wild horses, etc to try to replicate the ancient movement of megafauna and to see what happens if they let the cultivated land go deliberately wild. I read an excerpt that was printed as a stand alone article and it was so interesting, I bought the book. Haven’t finished it yet, but my 14 year old has and loved it.

5. My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell

Childhood memoir of a British boy in the 1930s. Young Gerry and his family (mom, sister, and two brothers) move to the Greek island of Corfu. Great adventures with his madcap family, all with very strong personalities. And hordes of animals. Gerry is a budding naturalist and collects quite the menagerie. This, read aloud, was a favorite of the kids. It’s hilarious and beautiful by turn and we learned a lot about various animals.

Do you have a favorite book in this vein? Please do let me know.

5 Responses to Book Recommendations: Nonfiction about Nature

  1. Stephanie June 3, 2020 at 6:59 am #

    The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd- a lifetime of encounters in the Cairngorm mountains in Scotland
    Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson -a trilogy of memoirs of pre-industrial life in a tiny Oxfordshire hamlet
    The Morville Hours by Katherine Swift- the making of a garden in Shropshire structured in the form of The Book of Hours.
    To School Through the Fields by Alice Taylor- growing up in rural Ireland
    Plant Dreaming Deep by May Sarton- moving to the New England countryside to make a garden and home
    Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver- a year of living off the land in rural Virginia, also her several books of essays eg High Tide in Tucson
    Early Days by Miss Read- growing up in a tiny Kent village in the early twentieth century
    Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee- a Cotswold childhood remembered
    All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot- memoirs of a Yorkshire country vet in the 1930s

    • Melanie Bettinelli June 3, 2020 at 11:30 am #

      Oooh good list!

      I’ve read Lark Rise to Candleford– a good one.

      I had thought of the James Herriot books, Bella has been reading and loving them, but personally I haven’t read them since I was a kid.

      The others I haven’t heard of, so I’m adding them to my own list, thank you.

      • Stephanie Sheehan June 3, 2020 at 10:09 pm #

        Thanks for your list too. E B White has wonderful nature essays and accounts of his childhood trips to Maine. I can’t remember the source- maybe collections of his New Yorker articles.
        Michael Pollan writes about food and its provenance, eg The Omnivore’s Dilemma.
        Beatrix Potter: a Life in Nature by Linda Lear
        The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape by James Rebanks

        • Melanie Bettinelli June 6, 2020 at 1:18 pm #

          I read E.B. White’s essay Once More to the Lake when I was in school and rather loved it. At one point I bought a collection of his essays, but there are so many books to read, somehow I’ve never got around to actually sitting down to read them.

        • Melanie Bettinelli June 6, 2020 at 1:19 pm #

          I’ve read the Michael Pollan, some years ago. His writing is quite good.

          I need to look up the one about Beatrix Potter and the Shepherd’s life looks quite good too.

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