Even though my son loves to read non-fiction science books I don’t post much about it. Primarily this is because he reads them to himself and I am not one to make book lists of books I haven’t read. Also, I don’t find as much pleasure making non-fiction book lists as I do for fiction. That’s my personal bias but I am trying to change that for YOU.
The Common Core standards and STEM have increased interest in finding fun, quality non-fiction books to share in the classroom as teaching tools, but these books are great for home reading, too. I made a shorter science picture book list for Pragmatic Mom some time ago that includes a few extra titles. This book list isn’t meant to be exhaustive and I hope it will encourage you to search out more books about your children’s favorite subjects, or engage your kids in some science projects.
I’m doing things a bit differently this time, not as much reviewing (remember the bias?), but rest assured, these are books I have picked up and enjoyed. I’ve chosen books for a variety of ages, from preschoolers, kindergartners on up through 5th grade and beyond. There are 5 books on 11 fascinating topics and I’d love to hear your suggestions for favorite non-fiction science books in the comments. (Note: Book covers are affiliate links.)
Interesting side note: I actually intended for this to be a list of 50 books, but accidentally included 11 topics instead of 10. I didn’t have the heart to delete 5 books!
DINOSAUR PICTURE BOOKS
How Big Were the Dinosaurs? Lita Judge has written one of my favorite fiction picture books, Red Sled, so it was natural that I would pick up her dinosaur book. I love it.
Boy, Were We Wrong About Dinosaurs. Remember the Brontosaurus? This book goes beyond just the facts about dinos as we know them now, but how our scientific understanding changes over time.
Barnum’s Bones. This is a playful look at the man who discovered the first T-Rex, every kid’s favorite dinosaur.
Inside Outside Dinosaurs. If many of these books seem a bit advanced for your kids, then Inside Outside Dinosaur is a good choice for your preschooler. Munro’s oversized book is simple: alternating pages display the inside and outside of dinos! It’s a perfect read before heading off to your local natural history museum.
My First Big Book of Dionosaurs is a longer, more in-depth book, but still great for preschoolers on up.
PLANT WORLD PICTURE BOOKS
Celebritrees: Historic and Famous Trees of the World. An interesting look at famous trees and what makes them so special.
Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table. A former basketball star turns an abandoned lot into a community garden. This is a great way to teach kids that not all farms need tractors.
Secrets of the Garden: Food Chains and the Food Web in Our Backyard. A story of two kids planting and reaping a harvest will encourage kids to become little scientists in their own gardens.
Living Sunlight: How Plants Bring the Earth to Life. Because I am an arts & literature type of person I love science books that describe their subjects in poetic terms. The text is marvelous. I guarantee your will be inhaling and exhaling deeply by the end! Plus, Molly Bang’s illustrations are simply illuminating.
Planting a Wild Garden is a lovely and large book that uses the narrative of a family planting a garden to describe the natural propogation of plants through seed distribution.
Space Picture Books
Pluto’s Secret: An Icy World’s Tale of Discovery. Pluto’s had a rough time of it these last few years. It’s about time he got his own book. It’s a fun and playful story, with loads of facts about the little guy.
National Geographic’s Big Book of Space. I think I could put a “Big Book” in each of these categories for which there is a relevant title. I usually am put off by books displaying brand merchandising, but this is an excellent series that grows with the child. (Besides, NG is a pretty high quality “brand”.) I recommend it.
The Mighty Mars Rover: The Incredible Adventures of Spirit and Opportunity is for ages 8 and up but my younger son loves looking at the photographs. You won’t get any closer to Mars than this book.
Moon Shot. Brian Floca’s detailed illustrations tell the story of Apollo 11.
A Black Hole Is Not a Hole. For ages 8 and up. This book is so good. It actually made me understand black holes… and made me laugh.
ANIMAL PICTURE BOOKS
Frog Song. Splendid illustrations, splendid onomatopoeic text you can practically feel and splendid facts about these interesting creatures threatened with extinction.
Eat Like a Bear. Little known fact: I really like bears! Share the love of bears with this simple, playful book about how and what bears eat all year long. Includes an end note about different kinds of bears. Great for little ones.
The Little Book of Sloth. Honestly. Just look at the cover. What else is there to say?
Can We Save the Tiger? More than a book about tigers, author Martin Jenkins examines several extinct species, what led to their extinction, and how we can work to save endangered animals.
Lifetime: The Amazing Numbers in Animal Lives is a fun look at animals for kids who also love numbers.
LAND PICTURE BOOKS
A Rock Is Lively. Kiddo is really into rocks and gems these days. I’m looking forward to when he and his uncle the geologist get together next. He’s been reading books for older kids, but this is a lovely illustrated book for kids just starting out.
Volcano Rising. A dramatic look at volcanos using paper collage illustrations that will have your kids “hissing” and “pop!-ing” and shouting “volcano rising!” by the end.
Redwoods. Perhaps I should have listed this under the “plant” category above, but redwoods seem like more than just mere plants to me.
Earthquakes (Let’s Read and Find Out). I would have liked to have found a book with more interesting illustrations, but this is a good introduction to the rattle of the plates.
The Sun, The Wind and the Rain. This is a lovely book that uses a child building a sand castle as a parallel to the way mountains form. The simple explanation makes it a good choice for younger children.
OCEAN PICTURE BOOKS
Coral Reefs. Once again Jason Chin hits the mark with his awesome illustrations. A girl in the New York Public Library starts reading about the ocean only to find herself swept away on an adventure of scientific discovery.
Ocean Sunlight: How Tiny Plants Feed the Seas. Be sure to read this as a companion to Living Sunlight, above.
All the Water in the World is a wonderfully poetic look at the water cycle.
Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle. Science is not just about the elements, it’s also about people.
Sea Horse: The Shyest Fish in the Sea. When I was a kid I was a little obsessed with the tiny sea horse. They seemed so magical to me. John Lawrence’s illustrations from wood cuts and engravings perfectly capture that magic.
HUMAN BIOLOGY PICTURE BOOKS
Who Has What? All About Girls’ Bodies and Boys’ Bodies is an excellent book for kids who are starting to notice that not everyone is the same.
The Human Body Factory is for kids ages 7 and up who like books with lots of little information blurbs!
What’s Eating You?: Parasites — The Inside Story. Moms will be grossed out, kids will be rivited.
The Gas We Pass: The Story of Farts. Honestly, are you sensing a theme here? This one is great for preschoolers, by the way. (Includes non-humans, too!)
What Makes a Baby? was one of my favorite picture books of 2013. It’s a not-dumbed down version of how things work and a celebration of families. Excellent.
ENVIRONMENT PICTURE BOOKS
Energy Island: How One Community Harnessed the Wind and Changed Their World. Hold onto your hats. The story of how the Danish island of Samsø became completely energy efficient will inspire your kids.
Meadowlands: A Wetlands Survival Story was a particularly interesting book for my kids since we live close by. I’m quite pleased that the name “Meadowlands” is no longer synonymous with football in their minds!
What’s So Bad About Gasoline? In general, I find the “Let’s Read and Find Out” series of leveled science books to be an excellent series. You will easily find them at your local library. My son found this to be a fascinating book. It’s a good start to learning about fossil fuels.
No Monkeys, No Chocolate is an interesting look at how monkey behavior is integral to the continued existence of chocolate. This is a great conversation starter about the interconnectedness of life on earth and how important it is to maintain balance in the environment.
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind mixes social studies, engineering and environmental issues. Learn how a fourteen year old changed his community.
EVOLUTION PICTURE BOOKS
Island: A Story of the Galápagos. Jason Chin’s marvelous illustrations tell the story of evolution on “Darwin’s Island” from its geological beginnings to the present. Fascinating.
Older than the Stars. I love, love, love this book. Like several other books on this list it has a sort of “double text”. You can read the large text straight through as a story to younger kids, but the sidebars will interest older kids looking for answers to their burning questions. This beautiful look at how the universe evolved ties all living things to the beginning of time.
Lucy Long Ago is for kids ages 8 and up. It is a fascinating look at the discovery of “Lucy” in 1974 by paleontologists and how it changed the way we view our human ancestry. There is a lot of information in this book but it’s very approachable (even for grown-ups like me!).
Life on Earth: The Story of Evolution is a kid-friendly approach to a huge subject. You can read a little or a lot of this book because each page has small asides about various animals or evolutionary traits.
Our Family Tree: An Evolution Story is a good book to explain a complicated subject to kids ages 4 and up.
ENGINEERING PICTURE BOOKS
Toilet: How It Works. Many of David Macaulay’s books about engineering and structures are for middle grade on up, but this leveled easy reader will entice kids into the world of mechanics with their favorite subject: the bathroom. (This is part of the How It Works easy reader series. Be sure to check out the other books!)
If You Lived Here: Houses of the World is a combination of architectural science and social studies.
Brooklyn Bridge. It’s true that we have a teensy-weensy bias towards books about New York City. Can you argue, though, about the awesomeness of this bridge? This book is not just about engineering science of the bridge, but the history of the time, the persons involved, and it contains stellar illustrations, maps and diagrams.
Dreaming Up: A Celebration of Building. Kids at play mirror great feats of engineering around the world. Fantastic for preschoolers. I definitely would have put this one on my list of picture books for little engineers and inventors had I discovered it earlier!
Engineering the ABCs. Teach your kids ages 4 and up about all the ways engineers contribute to the world.
MISCELLANEOUS SCIENCE PICTURE BOOKS
The Secret Pool is completely fascinating! Did you know about vernal pools? They are their own little temporary eco-system.
Citizen Scientists: Be a Part of Scientific Discovery from Your Own Backyard. This book encourages your kids to get involved in nationwide observations through organizations like FrogWatch USA.
Seeing Symmetry. Math, art and science come together. Fabulous for younger kids! Buggy and Buddy has a wonderful nature activity to do in conjunction with the book.
The World is Waiting for You teaches kids about amazing and adventurous careers in scientific fields.
Poop: A Natural History of the Unmentionable. I’m pretty sure my kids have read every poop book there is. I should probably make a list.
Do your kids love non-fiction? What are their favorite science picture books?