Listed below in alphabetical order by title are ten of my favorite Naturalistic Pagan-friendly picture books. In addition to all of the well-known benefits of reading aloud with the children in your life, the stories and artwork in these books foster wonder, creativity, deep reverence for nature, appreciation of ecological and cultural diversity, and commitment to justice. If, like me, you enjoy giving books to the children on your winter holiday list, any of the books below would be a great choice. Or if, like me, you grew up watching Reading Rainbow, and you find picture books too delightful to give up, this list is for you.
1. The Everything Seed: A Story of Beginnings by Carole Martignacco and Joy Troyer
Martignacco and Troyer’s “everything seed” is the singularity that existed before the Big Bang. “Instead of an explosion in the militaristic language of the ‘big bang,’ this story of creation uses images of growth that are life-affirming, more expressive of a developing universe,” Martignacco writes in the author’s note. Her free verse and Troyer’s spiraling batik illustrations together tell how the universe unfurled from a single, small point that was at once material and magical.
2. Hi, Koo!: A Year of Seasons by Jon J. Muth
Muth tells the story of panda bear Koo playing outside through the changing seasons in haiku form. His sensory images and illustrations feel joyfully simple and organic, and they remind us that the wheel of seasons turns within each one of us as well as without. If you like Hi, Koo!, Muth’s Stone Soup and Zen Shorts are well worth checking out, too.
3. Magic Trash: A Story of Tyree Guyton and His Art by J.H. Shapiro and Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Magic Trash is a picture book biography of Tyree Guyton, the artist and founder of the Heidelberg Project. Poverty, racism, and drug abuse ravaged Guyton’s childhood neighborhood in East Detroit. When he returned as an adult, instead of despairing or resorting to violence, Guyton took his grandfather’s advice to pick up a paintbrush and revitalize his community with art. He and his grandfather collected trash from vacant lots and used it to make environmental art installations out of the sidewalks, streets, and abandoned houses. Guyton’s work, now in its thirty-first year, continues; from the Heidelberg Project website: “We provide modest jobs and an outdoor space in which members of the community can come together to reflect, play, create and interact with people from around the world. This practice builds a sense of self-worth and pride.”
4. Mrs. Biddlebox by Linda Smith and Marla Frazee
With a cauldron, a broom, and the sheer force of her own will, Mrs. Biddlebox turns a bad day into something sweet. We all have days like Mrs. Biddlebox’s, when our toast is hard, and our tea is bitter. Mrs. Biddlebox is an extremely witchy book about how we can transform our experience, when we approach our routine troubles with resolve and a sense of agency.
5. Older Than the Stars by Karen C. Fox and Nancy Davis
Fox and Davis tell the story of the big bang through the evolution of life on Earth clearly and simply, yet accurately, using rhyme and colorful imagery. I especially like the image of protons, neutrons, and electrons, things we can’t actually see, buzzing chaotically “back and forth, around and around like a bunch of bees.” The book includes a one-page timeline of the universe and a glossary of scientific terms.
6. One Well: The Story of Water on Earth by Rochelle Strauss and Rosemary Woods
One Well shows how all water on Earth is connected, explains the water cycle, and considers the impacts that human use or abuse of the well has on other people, plants, and animals. Readers are encouraged to conserve and protect water individually and collectively, by using less water, driving less, participating in shore cleanups, planting trees to slow erosion, and supporting organizations that advocate for communities with limited water supplies. The soft edges and saturated blues of Woods’s dynamic paintings allow each view of the world well to flow smoothly into the next.
7. Our Family Tree: An Evolution Story by Lisa Westberg Peters and Lauren Stringer
Peters’s free verse and Stringer’s richly textured paintings connect the reader with their most distant relatives: single, round cells swimming in a shadowy sea. I appreciate this book primarily for its illustrations, in which Stringer plays with light, scale, and perspective. The round forms and darkened edges of her paintings create a telescoping effect, reinforcing the sense that the pages offer a view into the reader’s own remote past. The text is fairly plain and leaves a lot to the imagination; a more detailed narrative of the evolution of life, “The Roots of Our Family Tree,” is presented at the end of the book. The authors include a timeline as well, although as they note, it is not drawn to scale.
8. Owl Moon by Jane Yolen and John Schoenherr
A little girl and her father walk into dark winter woods to search for an owl. Yolen’s lean, lyrical poetry leads the reader into the New England woods with them to witness a gentle, enchanting rite of passage. Owl Moon is about what happens within, when we call to nature and commit ourselves to listen; it’s a testimony to the power of practicing silence, hope, and wonder.
9. A Seed is Sleepy by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long
Aston and Long present a vibrant catalog of more than thirty different kinds of seeds and associated plant facts. They celebrate the unique personalities of seeds: patient, fruitful, diverse, and inventive. The book includes a gorgeous two-page spread on Texas mountain laurel, one of our first, most aromatic heralds of spring in the Texas Hill Country. Mountain laurel makes pods of bright red seeds that may take up to ten years to sprout.
10. Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees by Franck Prévot and Aurélia Fronty
This picture book biography recounts how Wangari Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement, an organization that continues to plant and defend forests in Kenya. Maathai, who became the first East African woman to earn a PhD in 1971 and the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, was a strong advocate for women’s rights, the environment, and democracy in her country. As a result of her efforts, more than 51 million tree have been planted in Kenya.
There are quite a few classic picture books that would fit in nicely with the titles on this list, such as Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax, Ezra Jack Keats’s The Snowy Day, and Tomie dePaola’s Strega Nona series. If you’re looking for a collection of beautifully illustrated ancient myths, it’s hard to beat Ingri d’Aulaire and Edgar Parin D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths or Book of Norse Myths. Or for books specifically about the Winter Solstice, check out Meg Yardley’s list of Winter Solstice picture books on the Pagan Families archive.