Dens, cubbies, forts, we love them all! With a child obsessed with building forts, we have tried forts out of a variety of objects--cardboard, fabric, blankets, cushion, sticks, pallets, tarps, and more!
Check out my podcast episode on building forts here--it shares tons of resources around den making.
I decided to compile some books around fort building after a friend mentioned a book in nature with more racial diversity, showing pictures of children in color as part of the illustrations (more on that soon!). She suggested the book Fort Building Time. Let me say it is delightful!
Fort Building Time by Megan Wagner Lloyd
My nine-year-old and I liked Fort Building Time the best. It goes through the seasons with the many things children can do outside and has a different type of fort for each season--one is made of large snow balls, another of sheets and rope, another of driftwood and beach blankets, and another is a tree house. Every season allows fort building, with branches or blankets too. At the end the fort falls down (as many do!) and it allows for fixing projects and imaginative play. . The text is lyrical and poetic without too many rhymes. The illustrations are lovely and include depictions of children of color.
I also started looking for more books about forts! While they may not have as much diversity, they do show lots of ways of building forts. I tried and tested these with my boys and they loved pouring over these together. I can't wait to use them with groups and at nature play days. :-)
Here are some books we found:
The Better Tree Fort
Russell's family moves to a new house with a great big maple tree in the backyard. He wants to build a fort in the tree; however, his dad is not so handy at building forts. The boy built plans, includes a basket and rope, and they go to the lumber store (and many more). Slowly they began to work on the plans. They eat dinner and even slept in the fort. Russell could see a bigger, better tree fort being built a few yards over and went to say hello. It ends with Russell and his dad in their tree fort, realizing there will always be better tree forts and Russell says, "But not a better dad."
Secret Tree Fort by Brianne Farley
My six-year-old liked this book the best and it was my nine-year-old's runner up choice. I also found it delightful. Two sisters are sent outside to play (with a quick loose parts start with blocks and mermaids, and whales that look like the fort the younger describes later on). The older sister sits and reads while the younger girl shares all the neat details of her secret fort when her sister doesn't want to play with her. It has a rope ladder, water balloon launcher, a roof, a basket and pulley, special flags, natural treasures and magnifying glass, a crow's nest, an underwater viewing space, etc. Obviously, she has quite the imagination with whales, mermaids, and pirates near her fort. The secret is the fort is made of candy! The older sister doesn't believe her; however, they realize that maybe they can build it. They start working on plans and gathering building materials.
Shelter by Celine Claire
The animals are preparing for a storm and two strangers arrive to the area; however, no one will help them find shelter for the storm. The strangers (bears) make a shelter with the snow. The fox family finds themselves on the outs as their shelter begins to sag and seek refuge with the strangers who help them out. This books shows how we can be kinder to others than they might have been to us.
Stick! by Irene Dickson
A young boy uses a stick in so many ways! He uses it as part of a flag, to write in the sand, float it down a stream, etc. At the end, many sticks are put together as new friends gather together.
Little Red Fort by Brenda Maier
In this spin on the Little Red Hen, a young girl invites the other children to help build the fort; however, none help. With little encouragement, she learns how to build a fort and builds it! The end has an illustration of different types of forts--bunk bed, snow, kitchen chair, sofa, etc. I love that the girl has dirty knees sometimes and that the children are allowed some freedom to play outside and build!
King Jack and the Dragon Fort by Peter Bentley
King Jack and his friends must protect their castle fort from the dragons. The book has good illustrations showing their fort made of cardboard, blankets, and other items they find. The friends stand together but also King Jack realizes when it's time to return to his parents. The text rhymes.
The Fort on Fourth Street: A Story About Six Simple Machines
This book is a little more formulaic with a cumulative rhyme. It illustrates how a young boy wants to build a fort, but he needs some help. Even with grandpa, they still need help from simple machines, such as wheels, pulleys, etc. The readers follow along to see the process of building the fort. I would pair this with opportunities to explore all these simple machines. This is a more "formal" fort, rather than a simpler, child made fort. Sometimes the text seemed a little forced; however, it does great at introducing the various simple machines. There is a section on simple machines at the back and ideas and questions to get started on building your own fort. The book publisher also has an activity guide online.
Nothing to Do by Douglas Wood
Forts only make a small appearance on one page of this book; however, I loved the illustrations. This book shows some racially diverse children in the illustrations. This book talks about slowing down and having a day with nothing to do. Those unscheduled days seem to be getting fewer and farther between sometimes. As a side note, I loved how the author's note at the beginning explains her choices for her drawing patterns. She knows we grow when we have nothing to do and used growth patterns (explosion, meandering, branching, alternation, spiral, helix, close packing, and spherical) as the basis of some of her artwork. This gives her lots of spaces to do a whole lot of playful scenes. While not just outdoor play focused (though there is plenty of that), there is project building, small boat building and sailing, watching the clouds and ants, paper airplanes, reading a book on a porch swing, games, and block building and more. There is also tree climbing, fort building, making snow angels, building snowmen, tire swings, hanging upside down, and lightning bugs. I thought is was a fun book!
Maggie and Abbie's Never Ending Pillow Fort by Will Taylor
This is a chapter book with magical connections behind their pillows. The girls realize their pillow forts connect to each other and begin building more pillow forts to explore other places until they run into the authorities. The forts connect all over the world and the girls must go through a 3 day challenge to keep their magical fort connection. Many adults have really enjoy this book as well!
Play the Forest School Way
This is more of a "how to" book of ideas to connect in outside in nature play. It shares age ranges for each activity. Shelter building is part of the included activities. Most activities require little more than nature. This focuses on HOW TO play outside (options) in more of a lesson plan approach. So not exactly a read out loud to kids book, but a good resource. This is a good starter book if hoping to get outdoors more. If you already do a lot outside, it may not hold the same appeal.
What books around fort building do you and the children in your care enjoy? Feel free to leave a comment and/or share a picture of your fort!
Article on Fort Building from Children and Nature Network
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