Lives Inspired by Nature

Picture Book Biographies: Naturalists

naturalist picture books

We read a great book last night.  My kids love sea animals and I love biographies so when I saw “Life in the Ocean” on display at the library I grabbed it.  As is often the case with books I pick, my kids has no interest especially after seeing the high word count and as is ALWAYS the case I hooked them on the first page.  I’m the best!  

This book does have a higher word count for a picture book but it is so well written and flows so naturally it didn’t seem long at all.  It is about Sylvia Earle who became especially inspired by the sea when she moved to Florida as a child.  She went on to become a deep sea explorer.  During one expedition she spent so many hours in the deep sea that she developed a genuine understanding of what it was like to live there.  I especially enjoyed her descriptions of the sea life she came to know, like how individual fish have unique personalities and how the whales were just as curious about her!

There is also lots to discover in the vast undersea watercolor illustrations which have an innocence and purity that complements this story so beautifully!

Definitely check it out…

Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle by Claire A. Nivola

We loved this one a lot and it reminded us of some other great biographical picture books that we have enjoyed.  Here are six more great picture books with their Amazon descriptions about notable observers and documentors of our amazing natural world…

Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Julie Paschkis

In the Middle Ages, people believed that insects were evil, born from mud in a process called spontaneous generation. Maria Merian was only a child, but she disagreed. She watched carefully as caterpillars spun themselves cocoons, which opened to reveal summer birds, or butterflies and moths. Maria studied the whole life cycle of the summer birds, and documented what she learned in vibrant paintings.

This is the story of one young girl who took the time to observe and learn, and in so doing disproved a theory that went all the way back to ancient Greece.

The Tree of Life: Charles Darwin (New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books (Awards)) by Peter Sis

Amazon description: Charles Darwin was, above all else, an independent thinker who continues even now to influence the way we look at the natural world. His endless curiosity and passion for detail resulted in a wealth of notebooks, diaries, correspondence, and published writings that Peter Sís transforms into a visual treasure trove. A multilayered journey through Darwin’s world, The Tree of Life begins with his childhood and traces the arc of his life through university and career, following him around the globe on the voyage of the Beagle, and home to a quiet but momentous life devoted to science and family. Sís uses his own singular vision to create a gloriously detailed panorama of a genius’s trajectory through investigating and understanding the mysteries of nature. In pictures executed in fine pen and ink and lush watercolors – cameo portraits, illustrated pages of diary, cutaway views of the Beagle, as well as charts, maps, and a gatefold spread – Peter Sís has shaped a wondrous introduction to Charles Darwin.

The Boy Who Drew Birds: A Story of John James Audubon (Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12) by Jacqueline Davies and illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Amazon description: John James Audubon was a boy who loved the out-of-doors more than the in. He was a boy who believed in studying birds in nature, not just from books. And, in the fall of 1804, he was a boy determined to learn if the small birds nesting near his Pennsylvania home really would return the following spring.
This book reveals how the youthful Audubon pioneered a technique essential to our understanding of birds. Capturing the early passion of America’s greatest painter of birds, this story will leave young readers listening intently for the call of birds large and small near their own homes.

In the Belly of an Ox: The Unexpected Photographic Adventures of Richard and Cherry Kearton by Rebecca Bond

Amazon description: Raised in the moorlands of Yorkshire, Richard and Cherry Kearton developed a boyhood fascination with nature that fostered their great desire to photograph it.  Together the brothers invented ingenious camouflage “hides” (including one inside the belly of an ox) in order to get closer to their subjects of birds. After three years, the brothers published the first natural history book entirely illustrated with photographs; it changed the way people view birds and their nests, inspiring them to protect them rather than plunder them.

The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau by Dan Yaccarino

Amazon description: From the first moment he got a glimpse of what lived under the ocean’s waves, Cousteau was hooked. And so he set sail aboard the Calypso to see the sea. He and his team of scientists invented diving equipment and waterproof cameras. They made films and televisions shows and wrote books so they could share what they learned. The oceans were a vast unexplored world, and Cousteau became our guide. And when he saw that pollution was taking its toll on the seas, Cousteau became our guide in how to protect the oceans as well.

The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps by Jeanette Winter

Amazon description: Follow Jane from her childhood in London watching a robin on her windowsill, to her years in the African forests of Gombe, Tanzania, invited by brilliant scientist Louis Leakey to observe chimps, to her worldwide crusade to save these primates who are now in danger of extinction, and their habitat. Young animal lovers and Winter’s many fans will welcome this fascinating and moving portrait of an extraordinary person and the animals to whom she has dedicated her life.

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Did I miss any?  Please share!

Also, it is definitely still winter here but we are beginning to see signs of spring!  I hope this list not only inspire a trip to the library but also inspires you to get out and make some natural discoveries of your own!



I'm a practical mom inspired by nature & I enjoy sharing ideas that encourage kids' innate curiosity & creativity. Interested in subscribing? Check out the blue box at the top of my sidebar. I'm also a wannabe author/illustrator & product designer by day. Let's connect! If you purchase through my Amazon links I get a small commission at no additional cost to you (thanks for supporting Doodles and Jots)! And remember to always credit your source here & elsewhere on the internet.


    • You are going to love it! I request so much from the library. Sometimes I apologize but they always tell me they are glad because it is good for their numbers or something – maybe for when when they advocate for more funds?

  1. Oh, I just LOVE this list. In particular, The Boy Who Drew Birds: A Story of John James Audubon ~ I must get that one! My parents were obsessive bird watchers and I was able to identify birds just from their song when I was little. I think my Mom is still a member of the Audubon society. Thanks for linking into the Kid Lit Blog Hop! :-)
    Renee C. recently posted..Featured Guest Reviewer: Jay Faulkner, WriterMy Profile

    • That is a wonderful one – I am kind of into birds myself! I really enjoy nonfiction picture books!

  2. What a fantastic list! You already have a Cousteau book, but we just checked out Manfish from the library and loved it! Also, another one on my list is called Girls Who Looked Under Rocks–not a picture book, but the stories of 6 women who became naturalists, scientists, and artists. Looks like a good one for kids who are reading on their own. Just found you blog while searching for books about naturalists–I write about kids books too over at Would love for you to stop by! :)

    • Thanks! Oh Girls Who Look Under Rocks sounds really good! Thanks for stopping by. Looking forward to checking out Silly Eagle Books!

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