If you’re studying ecosystems and habitats, these picture books can help!
First, let’s start with the difference between a habitat and an ecosystem. An ecosystem includes 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 rainforest, 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
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 oversized 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!
Who’s Hiding on the River? by Katharine McEwen
Learn about river animals with more than 20 flaps and facts. Animals are hiding on the river at different times of day. Who’s hiding? A swan, a fish, an ermine, and more…
Our Underwater World written by Sue Lowell Gallion, illustrated by Lisk Feng
The best thing about this book is the sturdy board book in a globe shape. Open up the pages, and the globe shows an ecosystem such as a lake, stream, mangrove forest, or coral reef. Small text gives factual information, but I think most readers will stick with the bigger, narrative text that describes the picture.
Shady Streams, Slippery Salamanders by Jason Patrick Love, illustrated by Joyce Turley
Use this excellent STEM picture book in the classroom to show how scientists in the fieldwork or to teach about ecosystems, erosion, or salamanders. Two boys who love salamanders help scientists with their research in the Appalachian Mountains. It’s a good mix of dialogue, action, and description plus insets of factual information to support.
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
Beautiful imagery captures the essence of a duck pond from a dog walker’s perspective. “The pond, now stilled, reflections grew, // Doubling creatures old and new.” The book ends with information about a pond habitat and the birds that live there. Sounds like a lovely place to be.
Beyond the Pond by Joseph Kuefler
Ernest D. discovers that his pond HAS NO BOTTOM! Excited, he begins to explore the depths that lead to another world. Good thing he’s a brave explorer!
Who’s Hiding in the Woods? by Katherine McEwen
Who’s hiding around the woods? Lift the flap to see who they are and read facts about each one.
Woodland Dreams by Karen Jameson, illustrated by Marc Boutavant
A little girl and her dog walk through the woods, saying goodnight to each of the woodland creatures. Similar poetic text structure and soothing wordplay, “Antlered swimmer / Pond-weed skimmer / Daylight’s fleeting — wade ashore / Bed down in the great outdoors.” Rich, earthy illustrations give this book a warm, cozy feel.
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.
The Boreal Forest: A Year in the World’s Largest Land Biome by L.E. Carmichael, illustrated by Josee Bisaillon
Lovely soft illustrations fill this informational book about the planet’s largest land biome located in Canada and northern Asia and Europe. Learn about the species that live in this forest, what it’s like in the different seasons, and how it’s affected by climate change.
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.
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 a glossary.
In the Woods by David Elliott, illustrated by Rob Dunlavey
Playful, evocative poems capture the essence of the animals who live in the woods — like Scarlet Tanager, skunk, fisher cat, millipede, and beaver. The bobcat poem begins, “Those tufted ears, the amber eyes, that ambushed second of surprise when the bobcat leaps!” This oversized poetry book is a gorgeous celebration of nature.
Creep, Leap, Crunch! A Food Chain Story written by Jody Jensen Shaffer, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal
The first half of this book is a cumulative food chain story that starts with the sun and the plants. Each page adds on a predator who eats the prey— the mouse eats the cricket, the snake eats the mouse, all the way up to a brown bear eating the fox. Then, the cricket hops away from the mouse, and the fox sneaks around the black bear, and none of the animals get eaten. Back matter explains more about the forest and the animals. This is a perfect STEM read aloud introduction to food chains and forest biomes.
Zonia’s Rain Forest by Juana Martinez-Neal
Zonia loves her rainforest home and animal friends but one day she sees a tree cut down. How will she respond to this invasion of her home? The story ends abruptly without a solution which I found unusual. Upon reflection, I suspect the author wanted to leave room for discussion. (Also available in Spanish.)
Over and Under the Rainforest by Kate Messner, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal
A child narrates what he experiences during a rainforest hike. The child notices the wildlife living up in the canopy and down below on the ground; animals like capuchin monkeys, leaf-cutter ants, sloths, and parrot snakes. Descriptive imagery plus beautiful illustrations transport readers to this verdant ecosystem. “High in the canopy, a furry dark shadow clings to a branch.“
Leap Frog by Jane Clarke, illustrated by Britta Teeckentrup
Go on an interactive rainforest adventure with Felix the tree frog. He’s started by the noises the other animal makes but learns about the other animals (turtle, beetle, monkey, snake) some who are friendly but one who isn’t — the snake. You can help scare away the snake by clapping. Then help Felix climb the tree by counting the branches he climbs. Lots of wonderful sound words like “rat-a-tat-tat” and “swish-slither“.
Tree of Wonder: The Many Marvelous Lives of a Rainforest Tree by Kate Messner, illustrated by Simona Mulazzani
Warm illustrations meet beautiful writing in this new nonfiction picture book about the warm-wet rainforest. Count along as you learn about rainforest animals and plants. Count 6 roaring howler monkeys, 62 agoutis, or 512 Rusty Wandering Spiders. It’s a beautiful book with the perfect amount of text (not too much).
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.
Over and Under the Canyon by Kate Messner, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal
A mother and son take a hike in a desert canyon where animals shelter from the hot sun, Overhead the kestrels glide and eagles dive, along the walls tarantulas creep and geckos scoot. The pair see a roadrunner devour rattlesnakes, a mule deer gallop away, and wildflowers blossom. When the sun fades for the day, mom, dad, and son eat supper and crawl into their tent while coyotes howl and the insects sing a desert-night lullaby. Informative while being interesting and magical.
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.
Hoot and Howl Across the Desert by Vassilik Tzomaka
This oversized book explores some of the driest places on earth from the Antarctica to the Sahara with information located around each two-page spread. The unique neon folk-style illustrations aren’t appealing to me personally but I can appreciate the colorfulness.
I Am the Thirsty Desert by Darcy Pattison, illustrated by Jordan Kim
The personified desert speaks about its life, thirsty and hopeful for water to grow seeds…lots of vivid verbs and lyrical text. Illustrations show the desert animal and plant life. Back matter shares more about each animal and plant.
Desert Jungle by Jeannie Baker
Three-dimensional mixed media natural objects illustrate the journey of a boy who visits his grandfather in the desert. When his tablet goes missing, he searches for it in the desert, where he discovers scary things — birds, reptiles, plants and a coyote . His grandfather helps him become less afraid and more amazed.
Arctic & Antarctic
What’s That Noise? by Naomi Howarth
A charming adventure in the arctic about a seal named Magnus who is concerned about the rumbling noise he hears. He asks Hare for help — and soon all the friends are trying to figure out the noise. This will give readers an introduction to arctic animals.
Around Antarctica Exploring the Frozen South by Tania Medvedeva, illustrated by Maria Vyshinskaya
Travel with journalist Tom as he goes to Antarctica to live and study. Learn about the ice, glaciers, weather, and sea life. Dialogue bubbles of conversation between the humans that live on the base, plus a ton of information about the illustrations. This is one book you’re meant to pour over because it’s got it all — story, information, illustrations, and visual appeal.
At the Poles written by David Elliott, illustrated by Ellen Ronoey
Emperor penguins, krill, and elephant seals in the Antarctic are just some of the topical poems in this book of poetry about the unique creatures who live in the far north and the far south poles.
Over and Under the Waves by Kate Messner, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal
Follow a family kayaking in the ocean. They paddle and notice what’s in the sky and the ocean’s surface like the whales breaching. Below them, the ocean teams with life — both plants and animals. As always, the evocative writing shares memorable details and vivid verbs. “Under the waves, leopard sharks prowl,” and “Barnacles pull in their feather feet, while treefish and prawns tuck away in the rocks.” Once again, Messner illuminates an ecosystem the unique over/under pattern, sharing the wonder of the world’s biggest ecosystem.
If You Take Away the Otter by Susanna Buhrman-Deever, illustrated by Matthew Trueman
Learn about the biome under the Pacific Ocean where sea otters hunt for food and live in the kelp forests. .But when people hunted sea otters to extinction, it affected the other animals and the kelp. Luckily, with new rules, the otters returned and so did their undersea world.
The Tide Pool Waits by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Amy Hevron
Read about the ecology within the biome of a tidepool –– and you’ll want to observe a tidepool in person– I know that I do. “Sea anemones bloom on the rocks. Shrimp paddle out of the seaweed. Tubeworms poke from the sand while sea slugs slither across sponge.” The tidepool teams with life, creatures, and plants, busy for a time, and waiting for the waves.
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
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.
A is for Australian Reefs by Frane Lessac
A for Australian Reef, B for Biodiversity, U for Urchins, Z for Zebra seahorses, and everything in between this book explores the fascinating world of the Australian coral reefs. The pages are illustrated with colorful, beautiful illustrations. The large text shares the main idea information and smaller text gives more detailed facts.
More Habitat & Ecosystem Books
The Home Builders by Varsha Bajaj, illustrated by Simona Mulazzani
Minimal text and detailed illustrations show children the variety of animals 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.“
Wild Zoo Train by Carmela Lavigna Coyle, illustrated by Steve Gray
INTRODUCTION TO BIOMES
Choo-Choo-CHoo goes the Wild Zoo Train as it picks up it’s passengers for an adventurous ride through different biomes — the canyon, the Amazon jungle, the African savanna, Antarctica, and the Moon! The kids watch for the animals and plants specific for each biome but it’s so playful and fun, little readers won’t know they’re learning a ton. I absolutely adore the author’s use of onomatopoeia throughout — it makes for an exciting read aloud.
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. Interactive and informative making this appealing to kids and parents.
A Strange Place to Call Home: The World’s Most Dangerous Habitats & the Animals That Call them Home by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Ed Young
You’ve got to love a poetry book about ice worms, spadefoot toads, limpets, and other animals who live in dangerous habitats. The mixed media collage illustrations will blow you away. Fabulous.
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!
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.
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!