It’s not easy to write a book roundup for All Animals. As the magazine’s name implies, we don’t discriminate. A book that celebrates butterflies and birds but maligns squirrels and snakes will never make the cut.

That narrows the field considerably but still leaves treasures for summer reading. From natural histories of misunderstood species to stories of interconnectedness, the following selections will help you (and, in some cases, your children and grandchildren) think differently about wildlife in your own neighborhood and beyond.

lesser-loved animals

If anyone makes you want to hug a vulture, it’s Katie Fallon, author of . While dispelling myths about her favorite animal, Fallon emphasizes the vital role of these shy scavengers. As neutralizers of rabies, anthrax and other harmful toxins, they’d be sorely missed if they quit their jobs as nature’s cleanup crew, as happened in India when rabies cases rose following a mass vulture die-off.

In, Dan Flores explains something I wish we’d learned in childhood history classes: that “humans are ancient veterans of the art of species cleansing.” His book is a fascinating look at how we tried but failed to wipe out America’s resilient song dogs. In the equally absorbing , Ben Goldfarb describes the fall and rise of nature’s most influential ecosystem engineers.

An undercurrent of all these books is a cautionary tale about loss of reverence for life, notes John Griffin, HSUS senior director of urban wildlife. Merlin Tuttle’s book is an inspiring story of how to restore it. More than anyone, says Griffin, Tuttle “has been responsible for changing the way we think about bats.”

hidden worlds

Open any book by ecologist Joan Maloof, and you’ll never think of trees and their animal dwellers in the same way again. In the coffee-table-style , lushly photographed by Robert Llewellyn, Maloof writes of squirrels using their tails to communicate and tree frogs changing color to match surroundings. The trees themselves are far from passive, shoring up their defenses after identifying nibbling insects by the chemicals in their feet and turning their leaves away from the moonlight when it’s time to go to sleep.

But do trees talk? In a manner of speaking, they do—through underground fungal networks and chemical cues. Follow along with a middle school-aged child as she reads about an oak named Red who’s a downright chatterbox in Katherine Applegate’s Wishtree. While narrating the life cycles of crows, skunks, owls and opossums who live in her hollows and branches, Red defines “corvid,” “crepuscular” and other words that young readers may not learn anywhere else.

An undercurrent of all these books is a cautionary tale about loss of reverence for life.
Book cover of Wake Up, Woods
Introduce young readers to the ways small animals help spread wildflowers with Gillian Harris, Michael Homoya and Shane Gibson's
Wake Up Woods.

That vanishing common nature vocabulary is illuminated poignantly by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris in , an artistic primer-style book for adults that protests the Oxford Junior Dictionary’s replacement of words like “acorn” and “wren” with terms like “blog” and “chatroom.” A book for younger readers ages 5 to 10, was created in the same spirit by Gillian Harris, Michael Homoya and Shane Gibson. Complete with a glossary, it celebrates the role of ants, deer, mice, turtles and raccoons in dispersal of spring wildflowers.

If you want to track some of these interactions outside with the beloved child in your life, Tristan Gooley’s can teach you how to read sun, moon, plant and animal movements for evidence of location, time of day and other information you’d normally pull out your smartphone to find.

animal-friendly gardens

Too many garden books pit animals and plants against one another. In , Tammi Hartung explains how she coexists with a herd of deer and other mammals while growing her own food and running a thriving plant business. by James Nardi encourages a first-do-no-harm philosophy. Suggested experiments help adults and older children alike learn how plants have evolved strategies and defenses to grow and thrive among wild neighbors.

by Kim Eierman provides actionable steps for helping much-loved butterflies and bees as well as underappreciated creatures like beetles and flies. And presents a radically refreshing alternative to the current industrial food system: Grow native plants that feed both wildlife and humans—and in the process nurture a better understanding of the role that all animals, from shrews to muskrats to coyotes, play in a dynamic and rich landscape.

Nancy Lawson is the author of The Humane Gardener.

From our magazine

This story originally appeared in our award-winning magazine for members, All Animals. Get informative and inspiring content like this delivered right to your door.

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All Animals magazine March/April/May 2020 cover image