Thornton Burgess books

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  • Hello ladies,

    I am working on our book list and lesson plans for fall and I’m wondering a few things about the Thornton Burgess books…..

    Are the individual stories definitely for read aloud or what approximate grade level are they written at in terms of a student being able to read them?

    We will be using Outdoor Secrets Companion as our Science, any of his books particularly good compliments or follow-ups to this study?

    Any favorites? They all look like such fun it is tempting to just want to load up, but since that’s not really feasible right now :o) Would you start with the BIrd Guide? The short stories?



    We have read some of the Thornton Burgess books, but we really loved the Clara Dillingham Pierson Among the People books.  They held the attention of my youngers better than the Burgess books.  There are only 5 of them and you can purchase them all in one book at Amazon.  We found ours for $19. 

    On the other hand, if you have a Kindle you can download all of the Burgess books and the Pierson books for free at  You can also read them online.

    Hope this helps!

    I LOVE these books!! I used them with my second grade son this year(he is 8) and he really liked them too. The Bird book was my favorite. We used a bird guide with it with the pics of the birds and while I read the story about each bird he would try to find it in the field guide…..and Thornton Burgess’s descriptions were so good that he usually could find it with no help from me which he thought was great. I learned so much about birds from this book and my son has retained a lot of the info. We also read the Muskrat one, the beaver one, and just finished Adventures of Sammy Jay. These were cute stories and they kept my sons attention but were not as full of info as the Bird Book. I wish I would have gotten the Animal book(I think it is called) which I believe is more like the Bird book as far as studying the specific animals in depth. Anyway, I would highly recommend these books.Oh and to answer your questions, I did read them aloud. I am not sure what grade level could read them alone. And I have not used the Outdoor Secrets so I cant help you there. Have a great day!! Wendy


    Good Morning!  I  am so glad to be able to chime in here, I learned a fascinating bit of info. from one of the ladies at the conference last week about these books.  (She has a used book shop and loved these books)  I was confused whether I should buy the Animal book OR the individual books, since they seemed to have several of the same “characters” in the table of contents, and I was worried of buying double, kwim?  She told me that T. Burgess used to tell his son bedtime stories every night, which he eventually wrote down, they became popular, and were later published as the individual animal stories.  From my preliminary reading (aloud) with my girls (4 and 7) they are wonderful! The girls are so attentive and wrapped up in them, it’s great!   Apparently, the story books were so informative and popular Mr. Burgess was asked to write the Animal Book for Children as an informative field guide-type book for children.  It was the first of this kind of book available for children.  These were later followed by the Bird Book for Children, the Seashore Book for Children, and one other that is no longer in print and I can’t remember what that is called.  SO.  I bought both the individual story books and the Animal Book for Children to use this year.  We are so excited about these books, I hope this helps! 🙂


    Anyone doing the Burgess Bird Book – you HAVE to check out this site of resources.  My son has really grown to love the BBB when we started using the resources here!


    You can also get the Clara Dillingham Pierson Among the People for free if you have a Kindle or use Kindle for PC:)


    Burgess’ books are probably the most popular in my lending library.  My only complaint is that we often read them as our evening read-aloud.  Burgess has this “annoying” habit of ending a chapter in a very exciting spot and my boys say, “KEEP READING!!  You CAN’T stop HERE!!!”  Laughing  And before we know it, it’s very late.


    My guess is that it depends on your child’s reading levels.  I suppose that reading them alone and understanding can start as early as second grade, but others would enjoy it more if you waited for individual reading at third or fourth grade.  My older daughters are reading them and enjoying them. 

    The Bird and Animal books are based on Peter Cottontail going to “school” to learn more about the birds and animals around him.  So he learns about his cousins from all around the world in a chapter or two of the Animal book, then the cousins of Chatterer the Red Squirrel, and so on.  It is the same thing in the bird book, only it is birds of course.  

    The Burgess Bird Book and the Burgess Animal Book are available as free audio books at  I have burned Cd’s of them and my kids beg to listen to them while they do the dishes at night.

    Part of the fun of these books for my girls are that the same characters are in most of the stories.  To simplify them, the meadow and forest is the “neighborhood” and so Burgess tells the story of each neighbor in their own stories.  It makes the realities of life easy to read and understand without making a kid scared.  Often as she finishes one, my oldest dd will choose another one based on a character that was mentioned in the one she finished.

    They make great read alouds at any age.  =)  All chapters are relatively short so I don’t think that it would matter which ones you start with.  We have enjoyed all of them.  We started with Peter Cottontail, Bobby Coon and Freddy Fox because that was what our library had.  By then I had bought what I could and they have just gone from those.  HTH


    I am not very “techy”.  I bought mp3 of 10 Burgess books on 2 cd’s on E-bay for $10.  They are Librivox audio recordings, but I felt it was worth my time to buy them ready to play.  I play it on the mp3 cd player in the kitchen or van.  My kids like listening to them so far.  We started with Old Mother West Wind, which is supposed to be the first book and explains all of the characters.  Although evolution is not mentioned, I wonder if it is Creationist.  Where does “mother nature” fit into Creation?  I have not found any mention of God with Burgess yet.  We use them to supplement Apologia Exploring Creation science books.


    I’ve been reading the Burgess books with my 7 year old for 2 years now. Everytime we finish one, he grabs another. It’s been really fun for all the kids to listen in as well. He loves to act out the stories with his two little sisters.

    We have not read the “field guide” types yet though. We were reading the books more for enjoyment and character lessons, than for science. But I think now that he has a “relationship” with all the animals, he’ll enjoy those more technical ones, so we might pull them out soon.


    Lesley Letson

    We are big time Burgess fans here – all of my boys love those books. I just wanted to add a few things:

    @mommasmurf – the field guide ones (if you are meaning the Bird Book, Seashore, Animal book) are story books as well, so don’t think that the “field guide” label makes them any less readable. My son is reading the bird book now (as I think we’ve read most all of the individual titles that Dover prints) – in it Peter Rabbit gets introduced to all the different birds with Jenny Wren as his main guide – very cute meeting all the different bird personalities, which are very accurate. 

    As far as the evolutionary aspect goes, the way we handle it, along with anything else we come across that mentions “mother nature” is treating it as nature personified. Just like all the other aspects in the Burgess Books, Jolly Round Red Mr. Sun, the Black Shadows, the Merry Breezes – it is another character. My boys are still young, so I am sure that we’ll get into deeper discussions later, but we teach them that God created everything. In fact, they will often say when a question comes up as to why things are so “Mamma, that’s just the way God made it!” So, I don’t find it confusing or harmful at all – I don’t think the books portray any sort of nature worship. Also in the books it seems that Mr. Burgess wasn’t the biggest fan of hunters, as he speaks of the “hunters with the terrible guns” – well, our family is one of hunters, it makes groceries much more affordable as we don’t buy much meat (and ours is very natural and we know what is in it b/c we process it ourselves!). That doesn’t seem to bother our boys either. They understand dominion, as we’ve taught it to them from a biblical perspective, and we read those parts and understand that from the animals’ perspective those are terrible guns! In fact, last year I had to shoot a rattlesnake that was right in front of our house heading to the play yard – when our three year olds retold the story they said that “mamma shot that snake with Murphy’s terrible gun!” So, all that to say, I wouldn’t worry about those things you may not wholly agree with, if you are teaching them to put things through the Biblical grid they will sort it out just fine – like CM says over in over (and I grossly paraphrase) we underestimate how much they can understand and process – there is too much good in these books to pass them up! They are hands down our favorite nature books. 


    Thank you, mjemom, for addressing my concerns.

    Have you checked your library?  Our library has most titles.  I will have to buy only the Seashore book as it is not at the library and not on the mp3.


    We have many of these books as well.  My 8 yo loves them and wants to read them all. 

    I found most at thrift stores/donated books at the library/paperbackswap, etc., so we have quite a few that were super cheap!

    I do a have Dillingham’s books (on my kindle) and Arthur Scott Bailey’s books (I hope that’s his name) as well and can’t wait to read those too.

    Lesley Letson

    SarahCPA – our library does have many of them, but we like them so much I bought as many as I could get my hands on 🙂 There are a few titles I couldn’t find to buy and we’ve checked them out. Most of the ones I got came from Amazon and are the Dover paperbacks (I’m usually a hardback snob, but here I gave that up for more titles) – the individual titles were around $2/ea and I think were the buy 3 get one free promo – the Bird/Seashore/Animal ones were around $7 I think and maybe were in that same 4 for 3 promo – anyway, like I said – we LOVE Thornton Burgess!! We refer to most critters by their Burgess names – i.e. when my boys see a crow they always say “look, there’s Blacky the Crow!” 🙂 


    I know this thread is several years old, but I though I would list the animal stories in the order Burgess intended, based upon publication date and the last paragraph of each story, which indicates which comes next. Hopefully this helps someone just beginning their Burgess collection. I only have the books available through the Dover Thrift editions, so my list stops with Billy Mink, but you can find Little Joe Otter and other later stories in compilation books or thrift stores. 🙂


    Mother West Wind Series (Burgess’s first collections of stories)

    Old Mother West Wind

    Mother West Wind’s Children

    Mother West Wind’s Animal Friends

    Mother West Wind’s Neighbors


    Animal Story Series are as follows:

    Reddy Fox

    Johnny Chuck

    Peter Cottontail

    Unc’ Billy Possum

    Mr. Mocker

    Jerry Muskrat

    Danny Meadow Mouse

    Grandfather Frog

    Chatterer the Red Squirrel

    Sammy Jay

    In between these books is a stand-alone book comprised of 12 short stories that were published in St. Nicholas Magazine. It is called Tommy and the Wishing Stone. These chapters/stories are longer in length than the animal story chapters and make great bedtime stories; they are similar in “flavor” to Kipling’s Just So Stories.  🙂

    Buster Bear

    Old Mr. Toad

    Prickly Porky

    Old Man Coyote

    Paddy the Beaver

    Poor Mrs. Quack

    Bobby Raccoon

    Jimmy Skunk

    Bob White

    Old Mr. Buzzard

    Happy Jack

    Mrs. Peter Rabbit

    Bowser the Hound

    Old Granny Fox

    Lightfoot the Deer

    Blacky the Crow

    Whitefoot the Wood Mouse

    Buster Bear’s Twins

    Billy Mink


    I hope this is helpful! Of course, the Animal, Bird, and Beach books are also excellent, but I wouldn’t group them with the animal stories per se. They follow the same characters but go much more in depth into nature study, rather than teaching character traits through story/allegory. We love Thornton Burgess in our home!! 🙂

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