a) Some children are fascinated by science and find it more engaging than literature.
b) Boys have a particularly strong interest in books that show how things work, or which offer a different angle on understanding the world.
c) Through such books children are introduced to new written genres and new language.
d) These books also teach and encourage children to value problem solving, observation and learning.
In choosing such books I'd consider the following:
- Look for varied genres, not just books that read like high school science texts.
- Choose books that use a lot of visual literacy as well as words.
- Look for books that use colour, drawing, diagrams and photographs.
- Identify books that adopt innovative approaches to observation and inquiry.
1. Books for preschool children
It's harder to find science and technology books for preschoolers but there are some good ones around.
Pond Walk by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace (ages 4 to 7) and published by Marshall Cavendish Children's Books - Buddy sets out with his mother one day to take a walk around a pond. On the way he gets to observe the animals and insects that live there. His mother takes a field guide and along the way answers all of Buddy's questions as she reads the book and explains what she knows. Buddy (like the reader) learns how to observe and gains knowledge of language and the world. Buddy has a notepad in which he draws pictures and writes captions. This is a book that models what it is to 'do' science and have fun as well.
Puggle (2009) by Catriona Hoy and Andrew Plant (Illustrator), published by Working Title Press - This story was stimulated by a visit by Catriona to the home of wildlife carers and a 'real life' orphaned echidna. The book tells the story of a baby echidna named Puggle who is taken to an animal refuge after his mother is hit by a car. The book traces Puggle's slow development from being helpless to being independent. It shows how it learns to suckle, how its body changes, being released into the wild. While the book is in a narrative form it communicates factual information about echidnas and has additional factual information on the end papers.
A seed is sleepy (2007) by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long (Illustrator), published by Chronicle Books - This is a delightful picture book that describes how seeds germinate. Each double page features a different aspect of seeds with a poetic statement in large-size handwritten calligraphy. The book uses very simple narrative and poetic, for example 'a seed is clever'. Scientific information for each simple statement is offered on the back page. The botanical illustrations are outstanding watercolour plates. As it is an American book it uses imperial measurements not metric.
Let's try it out with towers and bridges: Hands-on early learning science activities (2003) by Simon, Seymour and Nicole Fauteux, and illustrated by Doug Cushman. Published by Simon & Schuster. This is one book from the 'Let's try it out' series that presents simple experiments with everyday materials. This book uses blocks, drinking straws, cardboard tubes and pieces of paper to show how buildings and bridges of different shapes can be made strong enough to withstand various forces. Australian readers may not be familiar with the introductory section about the American pioneers going west but this is a minor issue. Other books in the series can be found at the author's website: http://www.simonsayskids.com/
Where in the Wild?: Camouflaged creatures concealed…and revealed (2007) by David Schwartz and Yael Schy (text) and Dwight Kuhn (photos). Published by Ten Speed press. This is a lift the flap book which demonstrates how camouflage works for young children It uses a stunning visual format. Each page opening has a heading and poem on the left-hand side and a full-size colour photograph opposite. In each photograph is a well-camouflaged animal. The child can lift the flap to find out what the camouflaged creature is. On the reverse of each flap is extensive information about the creature. The animals are primarily North American and feature mammals, birds, amphibians, insects, and reptiles.
2. Books for children aged 5-8 years
Some of the above books are probably suitable for 5 and 6 year olds as well but there are many other wonderful books for this early school-aged group.
Bird's-eye View (2006) by Maria Gill and with photographs by Darryl Torrckler & Geoff Moon. Published by Penguin Books - Bird’s-eye View reveals what 13 New Zealand birds see in their natural environment. The idea came to the New Zealand author as she watched a hawk one day while driving her car. Could it see her? What do birds see? She was surprised to find only limited research on the topic. The book introduces the reader to the range of visual capabilities that a bird has compared with humans. Using recent avian-vision research a bird’s-eye view is shown in stunning panoramic images. This innovative book offers a new perspective on the way birds live. Sure to fascinate many children.
'How Machines Work: The Interactive Guide to Simple Machines and Mechanisms' by Nick Arnold & Allan Sanders, published by Quarto Children's Books and distributed in Australia by Walker Books.
Bat loves the night (2001) by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Sarah Fox-Davies. Published by Scholastic. This book uses a simple narrative to follow one night in the life of a Pipistrelle Bat, as it flies out between broken tiles, under trees and over bushes catching insects, before returning to its roost and its baby. Like many factual books for younger children it offers a secondary text that offer extra information on echolocation, food and roosting sites. The beautiful illustrations by Sarah Fox Davies add to the text. The book was reissued with an accompanying CD in 2008.
Robert Crowther's amazing pop-up house of inventions (2000) by Robert Crowther. Published by Candlewick Press. Crowther has been making incredible pop-up books for many years, including the well known 'The most amazing hide-and-seek alphabet book'. This book is an introduction to the history of technology, as he moves room by room through a house, including the kitchen, bathroom, living room, bedroom and garage. The reader lifts flaps, opens doors and turns dials to reveal when appliances, machines and other forms of technology were first invented or used.
Stephen Biesty's incredible cross-sections (1992) by Stephen Biesty (illustrator) and Richard J.C. Platt (author) C. - This fantastic book was one of the first to offer detailed cross-sections of various inventions. The large format book uses double-page pages spreads and cutaway drawing formats to reveal the inner workings of a building or vehicle. Captions are used to label relevant parts and explain the key components of each construction. The book includes castles, cathedrals, skyscrapers, coal mines, oil rigs, various ships, planes and trains. Boys will look at this book again and again. Richard Platt has also done many more books in the last 20 years (here).
The pebble in my pocket: A history of our Earth (1996) by Meredith Hooper and illustrated by Chris Coady - This books starts with a pebble small enough for a child to hold and describes geological processes from a time of volcanic activity 480 million years ago. It shows how things change as uplift and erosion of the Earth's crust, sedimentation, new cycles of uplift and erosion, and changes in living things over that time lead to constant change. The author uses simple but effective language that enables children to grasp the process of change on the Earth over millions of years.
The Emperor's Kingdom (2010) by Roger Kirkwood - This book tells of the life cycle of the Emperor Penguin. Using wonderful photographs, and an accompanying DVD it traces the cycle of life from February as they feed and build energy, April as they gather in colonies, May when the one egg is laid and the male takes responsibility to balance the egg in the freezing cold for 50 days before, June and July as the females journey to feed, the hatching and the return of the mothers. Told with simple text and stunning visual support.
3. Books for children aged 9-12 years
The Book of Potentially Catastrophic Science: 50 Experiments for Daring Young Scientists (2010) by Sean Connolly and illustrated by Robert James - This is a fantastic book. It has 34 short chapters each of which starts with an account of a major scientific or technological discovery or breakthrough. After this, the science of each is explained and simple experiments are offered to explore the topic. Topics are as diverse as Galileo's homemade telescope, Jenner's water microscope, Curie's Popcorn carbon dating, Wilbur's flying machine, Fermi's chain reaction and Gagarin's orbit. This is a book about serious science and technology presented in a simple, clear and fun way. Boys (and girls) aged 11-14 with an interest in science and discovery will love this book.
The Way We Work: Explore the Human Body Head to Toe (2009) by David Macaulay and Richard Walker - Macaulay changed the way we look at science books with his stunning first book 'The Way Things Work' (1988). His work communicates complex scientific and technological concepts in ways that young children can understand. His use of diagrams and visual material changed science for many children from a dull subject from a creative and engaging area of inquiry. He won the Caldecott medal for his book 'Black and White' in 1990.
This latest book has Macaulay turning his attention from technology to how the human body works. The 336 pages in double page spreads offer rich texts and (as usual) complex visuals. This is another wonderful example of how science can be made accessible for children.
The Usborne internet-linked science encyclopaedia (2000) by Kirsteen Rogers - This is a stunning comprehensive encyclopaedia that introduces a wide range of scientific topics to the young readers and in the process lists hundreds of excellent websites. It is beautifully produced, with many coloured illustrations and excellent well-written content. It is a stunning reference work for young and old. You can find the various websites mentioned in the book here.
Paper airplanes and super flyers (1996) by Neil Francis and illustrated by June Bradford - This book offers instructions on how to make gliders and paper aeroplanes, including fantastic stuff like how to add elevators, wing flaps and rudders. It also shows how to make parachutes, and kites and describes the principles of how they work.
How cool stuff works (2008) by Chris Woodford (and others) -
This excellent book examines the modern components behind a great deal of science and technology. It is divided into chapters with key verbs as headings (eg. 'Connect', 'Play', 'Move' and 'Survive'). It has full colour illustrations and graphics and is very well designed. Each page offers brief explanations of how new technology like MP3 players, voice recognition, microwave ovens, submersibles, virtual keyboards and pacemakers work.
'One Small Step' (2009) by Jerry Stone - This is a wonderful recent example of a factual book about science. It was produced to commemorate the first moon landing on July 20th 1969. The book is a replica of a scrapbook put together by a 12 year old boy whose grandad was working in the Houston Control Room on the day when man first made it to the moon. It’s a collection of Moon-landing memorabilia (e.g. space menus, certificates, transcript of the first steps exchange etc), photographs and so on. It also has more recent space science information, including the future of space travel.
Related posts and resources
Previous post on 'Getting Boys into Reading Through Non-fiction' HERE
'Good Science Books for Children', Australian Academy of Science HERE
'Make and Do Books: Engaging Readers in Different Ways' HERE
Usborne 'Quicklinks for Internet-linked Books' HERE