First, let’s start with the difference between a habitat and an ecosystem. An ecosystem includes the plants and animals as well as weather and landscapes. In other words, the entire population of living things in the region like a city. The habitat refers to the animal’s or organism’s home environment.
Ecosystems include aquatic–marine and freshwater and terrestrial –forest, desert, grassland, and mountain. National Geographic explains a bit more about ecosystems in this article.
The five major land habitats include deciduous forest, coniferous forest, savanna, tropical rain forest, desert, and tundra. And there are water habitats as well.
Use these books to talk about the differences between habitats and ecosystems, who lives where, and so forth.
(Note: I will keep adding to this list as I become aware of more wonderful picture books.)
Picture Books About Habitats and Ecosystems
Over and Under the Pond by Kate Messner, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal
Extra tall blue and earth-tone illustrations show a boy and his mother above the pond in a small rowboat. As they travel home, we see what else is on the top of the pond as well as the detailed ecosystem below. Not only will you enjoy the surprises of pond life, but you’ll also be learning as well. It’s a stunning perspective of our interaction with the natural world.
On Duck Pond by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Bob Marstall
Welcome to the Neighborhood by Shawn Sheehy
Meet the animals who build their homes in the forest. In this book, they will pop-up in true-to-life, earthy colors. Learn more about the Garden Spider, the Hummingbird, the Stickleback, and other neighboring animals.
Squeak! by Laura McGee Kvasnosky, illustrated by Kate Harvey McGee
Not only is this book rich with onomatopoeia but it’s also rich with a sense of place, in this case, an ecosystem of the woods. It’s a delightful story of one morning in the life of the animals. Early, a little mouse wakes up and squeaks. His squeak sets off a chain reaction of animals waking up –like the chipmunk chittering, a trout splashing, a mouse waking, an eagle launching, a mama bear growling, a wolf pup howling, and all the noises the animals make. In a circular, very sweet ending, we return to the mouse who can’t figure out why everyone is awake and snuggles back to sleep.
The Home Builders by Varsha Bajaj, illustrated by Simona Mulazzani
Minimal text and detailed illustrations show children the variety of animal who build nests and dams and shelter. “Lodges on ponds, Shelter from storms.” The book doesn’t say which animals are in the pictures but I like this because it will promote beneficial conversations. Then it’s time for new birth — and the structures will be home to baby animals. “Mole pups slumber, Bees swarm the air, Timid fawns bond, Wee eaglets stare.”
One Small Square: Woods by Donald M. Silver, illustrated by Patricia Wynne
One small area at a time, observe the woodland creatures and their habitats. It’s text heavy but dense with information. You’ll also find experiments, activities, a field guide, and glossary.
Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt by Kate Messner, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal
See what’s happening both above and below ground as a little girl and her grandmother work in the garden from the beginning of the spring planting season until autumn gives way to cold snow. It’s an over-sized book with marvelous illustrations and juicy descriptions. “Down in the dirt, water soaks deep. Roots drink it in, and a long-legged spider stilt-walks over the streams.” Beautiful!
Tree of Wonder: The Many Marvelous Lives of a Rainforest Treeby Kate Messner, illustrated by Simona Mulazzani
Warm illustrations meet beautiful writing in this new picture book about the warm, wet rainforest. Count along as you learn about rainforest animals and plants. Can you find 6 roaring howler monkeys, 62 agoutis, and 512 Rusty Wandering Spiders? It’s a beautiful book with just the perfect amount of text to picture ratio.
Wild Zoo Train by Carmela Lavigna Coyle, illustrated by Steve Gray
Walk This Wild World: Lift the Flap by Sam Brewster
Starting with the Arctic, visit different ecosystems on each two-page spread. A simple paragraph of text introduces the ecosystem. Lift the flaps to discover animal life information pertinent to each area. For example, in the Sonoran Desert, you’ll read about Pepsis wasps who sting tarantulas. In the Congo, lift the flap to see a bongo antelope and read, “Bongo antelopes tend to stay out of sight among trees.” I particularly like the Hebrides off the coast of Scotland where puffins live (I want to see one in real life so badly!). I can read how puffins make their nests in steep cliffs using seaweed, feathers, and grass. You’ll journey around the world, learning as you read the eighty flaps and information from 11 ecosystems. Track your progress using the large world map at the back. Interactive and informative making this appealing to kids and parents.
Nature’s Patchwork Quilt: Understanding Habitats by Mary Miche illustrations by Consie Powell
Designed to mimic a patchwork quilt, this beautiful picture book offers habitat information for kids, surrounded by squares and rectangles of animals and plants. You’ll linger on each page, pouring over the detailed pictures, imagining you’re in the habitat yourself. I’m happy to see an age-appropriate non-fiction picture book with limited text. Well done!
On Kiki’s Reef by Carol L. Malnor, illustrated by Trina L. Hunner
Follow Kiki as she hatches, swims out to sea, lives her life on a reef, and eventually lays her own eggs. A colorful underwater picture book adventure with plenty of facts mixed with adventure.
The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding the World’s Coral Reefby Kate Messner, illustrated by Matthew Forsythe
AQUATIC – CORAL REEF
Ken loves the coral reefs. One summer, he noticed the corals were losing color and the fish weren’t as abundant so he and his daughter tried to grow more coral colonies. They started a group called The Coral Restoration Foundation. “They hang bits of coral on special underwater trees and lines where the corals can grow.” Guess what!? It worked! Gorgeous illustrations paired with an inspirational true story make this a must-read choice to introduce children to the plight of coral reefs and how one person can make a difference.
The Night Flower by Lara Hawthorne
Learn about the desert flora and fauna. During the day, notice the saguaro cactus, woodpeckers, brightly colored flowers, deer, squirrels, snakes, and lizards… Then as the darkness sets in, a beautiful white flower blooms on the cactus. As this happens, animals like bats, bobcats, ringtail, and rats emerge from their daytime slumber. In the back of the book, you’ll find a list of animals and descriptions to go back and spot– if you didn’t already see them. You’ll also find more information about the Saguaro. Excellent, informative writing makes this a great choice for classrooms.
One Small Square: Cactus Desert by Donald M. Silver, illustrated by Patricia Wynne
Detailed, gorgeous illustrations draw your eye immediately. Look closely to find tortoises, toads, and lizards. What plants live in this ecosystem? Read about each habitat and do experiments and activities. This is another informative book in the One Small Square series that you can use to teach about ecosystems and habitats.
Listen to Our World by Bill Martin Jr. & Michel Sampson, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Listen to the world around you . . . the squawk of the parrots in the kapok tree in the rain forest, the weee-aaa of the eagles in the mountains, the snap of the crocodiles of the marshland. Sweet’s gorgeous artwork exquisitely captures an auditory journey of animals, their habitats, and their sounds.
Animal Planet Animal Atlas
Extra large pages of continents show the biomes and animals who live in each. Subsequent pages feature colorful close-up photographs of animals matched with information about the animal– where it lives, why it lives there, and what it eats. This atlas is SO colorful and well designed, any reader will be drawn to look at the photographs and read it extensively. Impressive!
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