A Mighty Girl's top picks of books for kids -- and their parents -- on the joys of outdoor play, exploration, and discovery!
For many kids, there's nothing more fun than the chance to play outside! The winter's thaw has already provided plenty of opportunities for puddle jumping and planning this year's garden, and soon nicer weather and the end of the school year will soon provide more opportunities for hiking, beach trips, and lots of outdoor playtime. Best of all, it’s good for them: research shows how much benefit kids get from unstructured play outside.
To celebrate the joys of the great outdoors, we’ve collected many of our favorite Mighty Girl books about all the wonders that outdoor play has to offer. The Mighty Girls in these stories have plenty of imagination, along with bundles of energy, and the end result is lots of outdoor fun. We've also included a selection of books for parents about just how important it is to let your kids get out in the sun, sand, and dirt of outdoor games and ideas on how to build more outdoor time into your family's busy schedule.
For books that celebrate the arrival of spring, especially the fun of gardening, check out our blog post 25 Mighty Girl Books Celebrating Springtime & Gardening.
For more books for children and teens that celebrate the wonders and joys of nature, visit our Nature & Environment section.
Mighty Girl Books About Playing Outside
There’s something about enjoying the outdoors with a child that makes even the ordinary magical! These books highlight the wonderful, creative — and sometimes messy — fun that Mighty Girls can have outside.
Outdoor play provides the opportunity to explore everything your body can do! In this fun story for very young children, a little girl imitates the animals she sees around her — from dogs and cats to monkeys and ants — to learn to do everything from walking to exploring the world around her. Taro Gomi’s eye-catching artwork features a constantly-moving little girl who’s ready to take her lessons anywhere, while always maintaining her sense of wonder.
Summer Days and Nights
On a hot summer day, this little girl finds all sorts of ways to entertain herself: butterfly catching, swimming, picnics, and lemonade are just the beginning! Nighttime brings its own special things to explore: owls, frogs, and more. But even this bundle of energy can’t stay awake forever, and soon she’s dreaming of more adventures to come! This cute story celebrates the small but special details of summer! Fans of this book will also want to check out Tracks In The Snow an exploration of winter featuring the same protagonist.
Stella, Star of the Sea
Fans of Stella and Sam will love these two adventures, one at the beach and one in the forest! This irrepressible sister-brother pair are always up for some imaginative outdoor play. On their ocean visit, Stella answers all of Sam’s questions about the beach’s mysteries — in the hope that, eventually, Sam will brave coming in the water. Kids will also enjoy Stella, Fairy of the Forest, in which Stella’s guarantee that Sam will spot dozens of fairies leads to a little disagreement when creative visions collide. In the end, though, both brother and sister are happy to enjoy time together in the great outdoors.
In this exquisite wordless picture book, a little girl’s day at the beach is told with evocative illustrations. Using only two watercolor shades, Lee captures a curious flock of seagulls and a restless sea — and the girl who dares to enter their world. In the sort of playful dance that can only happen with a child, the ocean becomes a character of its own, and the day at the beach becomes the beginning of a beautiful friendship. This unique book is sure to intrigue young children.
Do Princesses Wear Hiking Boots?
This little girl is princess-crazy but she also loves to climb trees, ride trikes, play in the dirt, and many other “non-princess” things. Or are they? The only way to find out is to ask her very patient mother! One question at a time, her mother tells her that, yes, princesses do all the same things that any little girl does — yes, even doing chores and eating their crusts. This funny story, one of several books about what it really means to be a princess by Carmela LaVigna Coyle, is a great way to remind your Mighty Girl that there’s nothing mutually exclusive about princesses and outdoor play!
Ladybug Girl At The Beach
Fans of Ladybug Girl (and her alter ego, Lulu) will love this story of finding the courage to try new things! Lulu has been dying to go to the beach but when she gets there, the ocean is so much bigger than she expected. At first, she keeps to the sand, but when a wave scoops up her favorite pail, Lulu will need Ladybug Girl’s courage to go in for the rescue! This story is perfect to share with any young child who’s looking forward to a beach trip — or wondering nervously if the beach is really all it’s cracked up to be.
Blip the robot thinks she'll find everything she needs on her computer screen: while plugged in, she learns interesting facts, listens to music, tries new dance moves, and even "visits" faraway places. But when a power outage pushes Blip into the analog world, she discovers that there's much more to life than what she saw online! Antony switches from a black and grey world of pixels to vibrant shapes and colors as Blip discovers that everything she did virtually can be done in real life... and that it's much more fun with friends. Clever and cheerful, this book is a fun reminder for kids that computers are a tool, not the whole of life, and that there's a big world waiting for them to explore!
Blueberries for Sal
In this classic Mighty Girl picture book, a little girl named Sal heads out with her mother to pick blueberries — right around the time a little bear cub and his mother do the same! Thanks to a pair youngsters who are paying more attention to the sweet blueberries than to where they’re going, the two families get mixed up, and soon it’s Sal tailing the mother bear and the bear cub following Sal’s mom. Fortunately, in the end two children — with very full tummies — end up in their homes where they belong. This Caldecott Honor book has been a favorite since 1949, so it’s perfect for introducing to yet another generation.
A Perfect Day For Digging
Nell and her dog Rusty have been waiting all winter for the perfect day to start digging! Norman, Nell’s neighbor, though, doesn’t see the appeal; who wants to get all mucky and messy? But once treasures start getting unearthed — a marble, a lost dinosaur toy, and even the arm of a china doll — Norman’s curiosity overwhelms his cleanliness. Soon, he too has rolled up his sleeves, grabbed a trowel and discovered that you can dig joy out of the earth! This fun story of friendship and daring to try something new is also a celebration of the fun to be had in a pile of dirt.
Rhoda’s Rock Hunt
Rhoda is on a long hike with her aunt and uncle, and while their backpacks are full of supplies, hers is soon full of rocks! Everywhere Rhoda looks, there are beautiful stones, and every last one of them has to go into her pack. But soon, Rhoda’s pack is so full that it’s too heavy to lift. If she can’t bring every rock home, surely she can find some way to celebrate the beauty she sees in these simple rocks. This charming new release showcases an ingenious Mighty Girl who wants to share her favorite part of nature with the world.
The little girl in this book has known nothing but nature from birth and she couldn’t be happier. Animals teach her to speak, eat, and play; what else does she need? When well-meaning humans find her and brings her to civilization, she’s perplexed — why do they insist on living in concrete boxes? — and then frustrated — how can they stand living without animals, without green, without wild? In the end, perhaps not all wild things can be tamed. Any parent who has called their child “wild thing” — and any child who’s dreamed of life in the woods — will enjoy this delightful tale.
When this little girl moves from a rural home to a new city, she's thrilled to discover a place called Butterfly Park... except there are no butterflies. As she makes friends with kids in the neighborhood, they all try catching butterflies and releasing them in the park, but the butterflies just fly away. Then the girl realizes that the butterflies need flowers to tempt them to stay, and soon, she's recruited the whole community to help plant butterfly-friendly plants they can all enjoy together. The story is charming, but it's Elly MacKay's incredible lightbox diorama illustrations, made from painted paper, that steal the show in this exquisite book. As an added bonus, the dust jacket includes a poster of plants to make your own butterfly garden.
North Woods Girl
When Grandma tucks her pants in her boots and grabs her walking stick, this little girl races to join her side! As they walk near Grandma's north woods home, both grandmother and granddaughter get to enjoy special experiences unique to each season — from the snowy nighttime hoot of an owl to the pleasures of fresh tomatoes from the garden — but most importantly, they get to spend extra time together. This charming story captures the joy of exploring nature with someone you love.
It may look like the land across the street is just a plain old rocky hill, but Marian knows that the spot she calls Roxaboxen is actually a world full of mysteries. In Roxaboxen, rocks, old crates, and weeds become jeweled homes, fancy streets, and many more wonders. In fact, anything can happen in Roxaboxen — anything you imagine, that is! And as anyone who’s been to Roxaboxen — or a place like it — knows, that’s not something you ever forget.This beautiful homage to the ability of children to build worlds, and keep them for the rest of their lives, is sure to have your kids building their own Roxaboxen in the backyard!
Secret Tree Fort
When two sisters are ushered outside to play, the older one just wants to read a book under a tree — completely ignoring her little sister's entreaties to come and play. So the little sister tries to tempt her with descriptions of her secret tree fort, with details that get wilder and more amazing with every minute! But when she finally adds that the whole fort is made out of candy, the older sister can't take any more, and declares that it can't be real. Or maybe...it's just not real yet. This book celebrates both the imagination of creative kids and the amazing potential outdoor play provides to make imagination into reality.
Outdoor adventure can happen in the city, too! This little girl's father is distracted by errands and pays her little attention as she finds colorful wildflowers nestled into the cracks and crevices of the pavement. Her hands are soon bursting with flowers, and she starts to give her treasured blooms away — to a man sleeping on a bench, to a friendly dog, and to her mother and siblings when they finally arrive home. By the time the story ends, her small acts of kindness have brought color and joy to the whole neighborhood. This gorgeous and emotionally powerful wordless picture book is sure to be shared over and over.
My Mama Had A Dancing Heart
The passage of time becomes a special delight for this mother-daughter pair who celebrate each change of the season with a wild dance outside! Their dance represents so much: their delight in the outdoors, their joy in life, and their love for one another. Years later, the daughter is a ballerina preparing for a show, who knows that her mother’s heart will always dance along with her. This lyrical book, with exquisite illustrations, is sure to become a favorite for any Mighty Girl who finds time outdoors makes her want to dance!
A little girl dreams of being a dancer but she has a lot of work to do before she'll be the ballerina she imagines. So she goes to her favorite place, a grassy glen in the woods, to practice. Her ballet instructor always says to "Hold your head as if you're wearing antlers" and, as if to provide inspiration, one of the forest's deer appears. A few twig antlers later, and girl and deer whirl and dance together in a special but silent dance. When the deer departs, it leaves behind a dancer with newfound confidence. This evocative story with vivid illustrations is sure to be a favorite with anyone who has imagined themselves with the grace that comes naturally to the animal kingdom.
The Specific Ocean
A girl’s family is vacationing by the Pacific Ocean and she is not happy about it — at first. Who said she wanted to leave her friends in the city for a boring, freezing ocean anyway? But as she slowly allows herself to be coaxed into exploring the seaside, she discovers that the ocean has its own rhythm, once that defies rushing and hurry and encourages her to pause and enjoy its beauty. And when she has to leave, she realizes that she can take that gentle ocean — this specific ocean — with her wherever she goes. This lyrical picture book by the author of Virginia Wolf also conveys an important message about the power of natural spaces.
When We Go Walking
One of Wendy’s favorite times is when she and her family go walking together on Rambling Road. Rain or shine, they venture out, and every trip Wendy finds some sort of treasure to bring home with her. But the family can’t manage their walk in all weather, and a heavy snow looks like it’s going to keep them from their happy rambles. Fortunately, Wendy’s treasures allow her to treat the whole family to a special indoor surprise! This charming book celebrates family time outdoors — and a Mighty Girl’s ability to see the amazing in ordinary objects.
When Grandma Gatewood Took A Hike
When 67-year-old Emma Gatewood became the first woman to solo hike the entire length of the Appalachian trail in 1955, it wasn't just a remarkable accomplishment for her: the attention she brought to the trail saved it for future generations! "Grandma" Gatewood's talk about the terrible conditions she found on her hike prompted a rejuvenation of a trail, and her success also inspired a new generation of people to take on this incredible journey. In this picture book biography, author Michelle Houts explores how a mother of eleven set out on a 2,500-mile trek without professional gear — not even a tent — and walked her way into history. Adults who would like to learn more about Gatewood's story can check out the excellent biography Grandma Gatewood's Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail.
Hattie & Hudson
Hattie loves exploring the local lake in her trusty canoe — but one day her cheerful song entices a giant beast up out of the water! Everyone in town is terrified, but Hattie sees past the creature's size and notices his friendly expression. She names him Hudson, and soon the pair are fast friends. And what better thing can she do for her friend than showing the people who judged him based solely on his appearance that he's not scary and dangerous, but cheerful and kind? Hattie's story celebrates the joys of lakeshore life with a subtle environmental message about the right of creatures to live in natural spaces, and kids will love watching Hattie teach the adults around her a lesson or two about acceptance.
Backyard Witch: Sadie's Story
Sadie has two best friends — but when both of them go on vacation together, Sadie is left behind and heartbroken. Then, she makes a startling discovery: a witch has moved into her backyard playhouse! Ms. M is no ordinary witch: her magic is based on nature and inspiration, not potions and wands, and she's an avid birder. But with Ms. M's friends Onyx the cat and Ethel the bird missing, she needs a little extra help — and Sadie fits the bill. It's the start of an adventure that will teach Sadie about birds, magic, and the wonder that surrounds her seemingly ordinary life. This charming early chapter book, the first of a planned series, will teach young readers about common bird species and get them thinking about the natural world that surrounds their own home.
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
Calpurnia adores being outside, and especially making observations about the plants and animals around her — but in Texas in 1899, her “ungirlish” interests are disappointing to her mother. Nevertheless, Calpurnia manages to pique her naturalist grandfather’s interest with her observation that yellow grasshoppers in her yard are much larger than green ones. As she develops a surprising new bond with her grandfather, Calpurnia also realizes that the world around her and attitudes about girls and women are changing. Perhaps a girl who loves science and the outdoors won’t be considered strange for long... This Newbery Honor book features a feisty and likeable protagonist who gives a face to the prejudices against women in science at the turn of the century. For those with younger readers, Calpurnia's adventures are also now available in an early chapter book for ages 6 to 9, Skunked!: Calpurnia Tate, Girl Vet.
Lumberjanes, Volume 1
Jo, April, Mal, Molly and Ripley are best friends who are looking forward to a fun few weeks at camp, that is, until they see a woman turn into a giant bear! Suddenly, the friends find themselves in the midst of mysterious and supernatural adventures in the great outdoors. Fortunately, “Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady-Types” can provide them with all the skills they need. It’s going to be quite the unexpected summer! This collection gathers issues 1 to 4 of this fun series, which also makes reference to inspiring women of history. Fans of the first volume will also want to check out the upcoming Lumberjanes, Volume 2.
Get Them Outside: Parenting Books About Outdoor Adventure
Playing outside is fun, but it’s also important for mental, physical, and emotional development! These parenting books highlight the benefits of outdoor play — and how you and your children can enjoy them together.
How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature
The average American child today spends only four to seven minutes playing outside — 90 percent less time than their parents did as children. Scott D. Sampson, a paleontologist and the host of the TV show Dinosaur Train, provides a framework for getting kids back into connection with the great outdoors. By showing how kids' interaction with nature changes as they mature — and teaching parents and educators how to overcome seeming obstacles like technology and urban environments — Sampson shows the many benefits of outdoor play and how even today's children can develop an enduring love and appreciation for the great outdoors.
Last Child In The Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder
Today, many kids are reluctant to be separated from comforts like electronic devices and climate control for something as “boring” as outdoor play. Louv argues that a lack of connection with the outdoors — and the lack of exercise and mindfulness that follows — is affecting kids’ development. When parents and educators get kids back outside, the result is improved test scores, better problem solving, and lower incidences of ADD, obesity, depression, and more. Louv offers great ideas for incorporating nature into family life and the academic world, in hopes that no child will ever be the last child in the woods.
Balanced and Barefoot: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes For Strong, Confident, and Capable Children
Sometimes it seems like kids can learn all they need indoors, but studies show that rough and tumble outdoor play — the kind that's directed by kids rather than by parents or teachers — is critical to develop sensory, motor, and executive functions. In fact, there's even evidence to suggest that a lack of movement contributes to ADHD, sensory processing issues, emotional regulation problems, and aggressiveness with peers. Using the philosophy of her popular TimberNook program, author Angela Hanscom provides ideas and strategies for parents and educators to ensure that kids get the play they need, whether they live in the country or in an urban environment. You'll be amazed at how a few simple changes can make your child happier — in mind, body, and spirit.
Fifteen Minutes Outside: 365 Ways To Get Out Of The House And Reconnect With Your Kids
If you’re committed to getting your whole family outdoors more often, it can seem intimidating or overwhelming, but as Cohen points out, all you really need is a few ideas about 15 minutes a day! This collection of activities — one for every day of the year — provides seasonally appropriate ideas that require little advance preparation, expertise, or resources to do. This simple and inspiring parenting guide is a great way to combine enjoying nature with quality time with your children.
I Love Dirt!: 52 Activities to Help You and Your Kids Discover the Wonders of Nature
As the title of this book captures, playing outside with your Mighty Girl may help you rediscover your own love of nature! This book contains 52 simple and open-ended activities, designed to begin your outdoor adventure without dictating it every step of the way. Text boxes called “Help Me Understand” provide answers to some of the most common questions kids will ask during each activity — although many curious kids will want to research and explore further once they get home! Parents will also love that this book is organized by season, so it’s easy to find just the right activity for the day you have before you.
Up: A Mother and Daughter’s Peakbagging Adventure
For the most adventurous mother-daughter pairs, this memoir will provide plenty of inspiration! Herr’s daughter Alex had so much energy from such a young age that Herr started taking her hiking on mountains adults might struggle with at the age of 5. Together, the pair climbed all forty-eight of New Hampshire’s highest mountains. This story of a daughter learning independence, fearlessness, and daring from her mother — and her mother learning some of the same lessons from her daughter — is sure to get you and your Mighty Girl thinking of the challenges you could take on together.
Encouraging your Mighty Girl to go outside — or heading outside yourself — seems like such a simple step, but it really can make a world of difference. Whether you end up digging in the backyard, exploring hiking trails, watching the living creatures around you, or building sandcastles at the beach, we hope these stories will inspire you and your Mighty Girl to find your special place in the great outdoors.
Additional recommended Resources
- For more books about nature and the environment, visit our Nature section.
- For Mighty Girl books that celebrate the seasons of the year, check out our blog Growing Girls, Growing Gardens: 25 Mighty Girl Books About Springtime Fun, our blog Harvest Time: Fabulous Fall Mighty Girl books, and our top books celebrating winter.
- For books to encourage your Mighty Girl to dare a new adventure, check out our blog post Let's Go On An Adventure: 20 Books To Inspire Adventurous Mighty Girls.
- For a selection of toys to encourage outdoor play, from sports equipment to gardening tools to riding toys, visit our Outdoor Play section.