Welcome to Part II of our Super-Gargantuan Guide! In this edition, we’ll be exploring the world of science books for kids. I attempted to cast my mind back to when I was a child, and also solicited the advice of child-possessing readers. Feel free to toss more titles my way – this list has plenty of room for growth. And it’s all about feeding kids full of science early and often, so as to ensure that their sense of wonder grows to magnificent proportions.
In each category, I’ve listed the books in order from youngest readers up to older, so it should be easy for you to find the right book for every kiddo on your list. You’ll notice that my assessments as to age appropriateness differ from those suggested by the publishers. Kids are smarter than we give them credit for. Help ’em out with the big words, and don’t insult their intelligence by giving them books that are way below their mad comprehension skillz.
Table of Contents
Everybody Needs a Rock by Byrd Baylor [Ages 3 to infinity]
I’m in love with this book. It’s an absolutely charming story that shows the value of having a rock of your very own. It includes whimsical advice on choosing the right rock. I have a suspicion it might instantly addict kids to geology. It’ll certainly get them looking more closely at the rocks around them. It features simple, lovely illustrations and an awesome female protagonist. While you’re buying one for the kiddos, buy one for the adults, too.
Looking for a rock and mineral guide that has gorgeous photos, excellent jokes, and covers the basic facts? Look no further! It’s worth it for the silly jokes alone.
How the Earth Works: 60 Fun Activities for Exploring Volcanoes, Fossils, Earthquakes, and More by Michelle O’Brien-Palmer [Ages 5-10]
Fans of Harry Potter will love the cover of this one, which is reminiscent of the American editions of the books. They’ll continue to love it once they get inside. This book is all about active science that’ll help them understand Earth’s structure, plates, landforms, fossils, rocks and minerals, crystals and gems, and earthquakes and volcanoes. It’s full of classroom-tested activities that integrate mathematics and music, language and art, geography and history, and more. The songs are adorable, set to familiar tunes. As far as the activities go: who can resist a cupcake core sample? ZOMG. Best earth science activity ever.
A Changing Earth (21st Century Skills Library: Real World Science) by Heather Miller [Ages 6-12]
This book provides clear, simple explanations regarding how Earth changes, how those changes take millions or billions of years, and how those changes happen, complete with excellent photographs illustrating the concepts. It covers changing landforms, including glaciers and erosion, volcanoes, and plate tectonics. There’s a nice blurb for geology careers, too – we’re detectives! And there are plenty of safe, fun, simple, try-this-at-home experiments.
Rocks, Rivers, and the Changing Earth: A First Book About Geology by Herman and Nina Schneider [Ages 7-12]
This book is a bit out of date, but it has many other charms and makes a good introduction to the geosciences. It shows kids how things as small and ordinary as clouds and leaves tell dramatic earth science stories. It includes fun and easy little experiments to illustrate the concepts covered. Topics include rivers, soil and erosion, groundwater, minerals, mountains, coasts, oceans, uplift, volcanoes and earthquakes, and humanity’s relation to the earth.
Geology of the Desert Southwest: Investigate How the Earth Was Formed with 15 Projects by Cynthia Light Brown [Ages 8-12]
Being a former Arizonan, I love this book: it captured the essentials of my old home state in the first paragraph. But it’s about more than AZ: the whole desert southwest is covered. It traces the earth science story over billions of years, covering geology, geography, plate tectonics, mountains, volcanoes, earthquakes, hydrology, climate, ecosystems and natural resources. It breaks out the important words, and has excellent activities that help make the science easy to understand. And Cynthia Light Brown knows what’s really interesting about a rock – read on to find out! She’s also written about the Geology of the Pacific Northwest and the Geology of the Great Plains and Mountain West, so be sure to check out those regions, too!
Geoscientist (21st Century Skills Library: Cool STEM Careers) by Matt Mullins [Ages 8-12]
Speaking from personal experience, Mount St. Helens is a fantastic way to get kids interested in the geosciences, so it’s an excellent thing this book starts with a vivid story about the ashfall from the May 18th eruption. A wide variety of geoscience careers is covered, including hydrogeology. The beautiful photography and great layout make this a very attractive introduction to geoscience careers.
The Incredible Plate Tectonics Comic: The Adventures of Geo, Vol. 1 by Kanani K. M. Lee and Adam Wallenta [Ages 8-14]
When I first got my hands on an advance copy of The Incredible Plate Tectonics Comic, I squeed. I did. Because I am a nerd, people. I love geology, and I thoroughly enjoy superhero comics, and I adore media that put someone other than a generic white male in the spotlight for a change. And this comic book is written by Kanani K. M. Lee, an actual geophysicist whose specialty is the interior of the earth – and writing rocking great geologic comics. Illustrator Adam Wallenta brings her characters to vivid life, with blazing, bold color illustrations.
Dawn of the Dinosaur Age: The Late Triassic & Early Jurassic Epochs by Thom Holmes [Ages 12-14]
This book, which is full of words like “marvelous” and uses quite a bit of gentle snark, is part of a larger series. If you’ve got a budding paleontologist in the family who already knows every dinosaur fact under the sun, chuck one of the other books in the series their way. For those just getting started, or who had a dino obsession when they were younger and then got distracted, this is a great way to get them hooked on science again. It makes clear that paleontology is a vitally important science. Then it goes on to explore Archosaurs, the origin of the dinosaurs, early Mesozoic dinos, theropods, sauropods, and the early Ornithischian dinos.
Warning! Disasters by Katharine Kenah [Ages 3-6]
Wonderful photos illustrate this simple book about various natural disasters. The sentences are very simple, suitable for reading with very young kids. While it’s about disasters, it’s not scary, so fears won’t be fueled.
Horrible Science: Nasty Nature by Nick Arnold [Ages 9-14]
Even the author and illustrator bios are funny in these books. The cartoons are a scream. This book appeals completely to kids’ fascination with gross stuff. It also hooks ’em by hinting at the forbidden: “99% of teachers wouldn’t dream of teaching…” Total catnip. In this volume, kids will not only learn about nature (nasty, of course); they’ll learn that scientists are human (and sometimes nasty), and American kids can pick up some Britishisms while they get their science on. There’s a whole series of these things, so if this book is a hit, you’ll be able to keep the kids happily wallowing in science for ages.
Science in Seconds for Kids: Over 100 Experiments You Can Do in Ten Minutes or Less by Jean Potter [Ages 5-12]
You’ll need this book handy for those days when the weather’s got a lot of bored kids trapped indoors. There are 108 experiments covering a wide variety of scientific subjects. They’re designed to use cheap, simple materials you’ve probably already got around the house, and take only minutes to complete. The step-by-step instructions are easy to follow, and results are explained after the experiment is finished. The book stresses the importance of repeating experiments to ensure accuracy, and encourages kids to think of variations.
Girls Who Looked Under Rocks: The Lives of Six Pioneering Naturalists by Jeannine Atkins [Ages 8-13]
Focusing mainly on entymologists, this book profiles six girls who became pioneering scientists and writers: Maria Sibylla Merian, Anna Comstock, Frances Hamerstrom, Miriam Rothschild, Rachel Carson, and Jane Goodall. It shows that women are excellent scientists, and also highlights how traditionally “feminine” traits can add a lot of value to the scientific enterprise.
Originally published at Scientific American/Rosetta Stones.