During this time of year, you can share science stories and adventures with the people in your life who want to be scientists. These children’s books are a great place to start when you want to learn about rocket science, see how different kinds of life are on Earth, or fly through the solar system. There are also some activities you can do with the kids in your life after you finish reading this book. You can also check out Science Friday’s Team Educate for even more ideas.
Ages 0-4: Animals Are Delicious
by Dave Ladd & Stephanie Anderson Phaidon (May 2016)
This book by Dave Ladd and Stephanie Anderson is about animals that are tasty. They eat what? Three food chains: forest, sky, and ocean. What do shrews do? Someone else is also hungry…for the shrew! Kids can enjoy going on a storybook-style journey through each food chain, or they can stretch the chains out and look for similarities and differences between them. People who make art together, like Ladd and Anderson, put together “sets” and figurines in paper to make the pictures look like dioramas in a natural history museum.
Activity Build more food chains! It’s good to start by looking at animals in a park, your favorite nature show, or even the animals at your dinner table! This is how you go backward in the food chains: You look at and study the things people do when they chomp, gulp, snap, or nibble. Make a food chain board book of your own with the help of the arts.
Make sure to check out Wild Ideas: Let Nature Inspire Your Thinking by Elin Kelsey and Soyeon Kim if you like papercut style.
Ages 1-3: Rocket Science for Babies
by Chris Ferrie Sourcebooks Jabberwocky (May 2017)
Why are airplane wings so shaped? Check out lift in Chris Ferrie’s Rocket Science for Babies to see why we put wings on a plane or rocket ship. Physics and father Chris Ferrie thinks it’s never too early to teach young kids about complicated ideas. You can learn about things like quantum entanglement and relativity for babies in hisBaby University series. Images and simple explanations will help you start your child on the path to becoming a rocket scientist.
Activity It’s never too early to try out flight. Pair Rocket Science for Babies with some real-world objects to make the ideas come to life and move away from the page. Throw the ball. What does happen now? When you throw a paper airplane, What does happen now? Is there a big difference between them?
If you want more rocket science for babies, we can help you do that. There is a book by Ruth Spiro called Baby Loves Aerospace Engineering that you should read.
Ages 3-7: One Day on our Blue Planet…in the Rainforest
by Ella Bailey Flying Eye Books (September 2017)
A curious black spider monkey gets lost and doesn’t know where his mother is. To find her, the monkey looks for her in the trees, the river, and the forest floor. Elliott Bailey’s One Day on Our Blue Planet…in the Rainforest is a book that shows how many different things live in the rainforest. Before and after the book, Bailey has a beautiful guide that asks the reader to look back at each page in order to figure out what kind of animals the young black spider monkey sees while he’s on the lookout.
Activity Make sure you have a pair of binoculars. Look up into the trees. There are a lot of different species there. Make a list of animals and the things they have. Bailey talks about some of the behaviors of black spider monkeys. You can add some information about the behaviors of the animals on your list, as well. There’s something wrong. Use a sheet and a light to go moth-watching, or make a safe pitfall trap to see some insect diversity.
There are more One Day on our Blue Planet books if you like this one. There are also books about the savannah and the antarctic.
Ages 5-7: Rube Goldberg’s Simple Normal Humdrum School Day
by Jennifer George/Illustrated by Ed Steckley Abrams (August 2017)
A task can be done in a very long way. When you read Rube Goldberg’s book, Simple Normal Humdrum School Day, you might think about that question and wonder what it means. She imagines him as a child, running through a typical school day, making zany, invention-themed comics. The illustrations by Ed Steckley bounce and rumble so that readers can follow George’s descriptions of how things work.
Activity Find out more about simple machines by making Rube Goldberg machines. Find a task you want to do (e.g. turn on a light, pop a balloon, pour water in a cup). Fill a bin with a lot of different things you have around the house, like blocks, toy cars, tops, and more. Then use those things to make a machine that does what you want. After you make your first machine, try to make it more complicated by adding more parts to it. Keep playing around with things and make an art machine to take it even further, like this:
The book Ruby Goldberg’s Bright Idea, by Anna Humphrey, is a good choice for older readers (ages 8-12). It talks about Rube Goldberg machines and the spirit of invention.
Ages 5-7: Professor Astro Cat’s Solar System
by Dr. Dominic Walliman/illustrated by Ben Newman Flying Eye Books (October 2017)
You might not have known that Mars has the tallest mountain in our solar system, but it is. If you read Professor Astro Cat’s Solar System by Dr. Dominic Walliman, you’ll go on a tour of the planets in our solar system with Professor Astro Cat and the rest of his friends. Retro illustrations by Ben Newman are used at each stop on the tour, like when our astro cats hide under a disintegrating umbrella in the acid rain on Venus. The book is the last one in the Professor Astro Cat series (which has also covered space explorationand physics).
Activity Turn your attention to the stars and planets in the sky at night, and you’ll see them. To start, learn how to identify constellations and the most important stars in them. An app like SkyView can be very helpful as you learn. A pair of binoculars is a good place to start for most people who are new to stargazing. There is no need for a telescope at this point.
If you like this trip, you might want to go back in time with Earth! She wrote the book My First 4.54 Billion Years.
Ages 5-8: A Nest Is Noisy
by Dianna Hutts Aston/illustrated by Sylvia Long Chronicle Books (paperback reprint March 2017)
Air, water, earth and mud are all places where you can find nests. In A Nest Is Noisy, Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long show how many different types of nests there are, how they look, where they are, and how they are used. Army ants, on the other hand, make what they call bivouacs, which are “living nests.” Aston’s interesting and fact-filled writing is made even better by Sylvia Long’s beautiful paintings, which make the story come to life on the page.
Activity Keep in mind that many scientists keep nature journals where they write down things like observations and even sketches of the places they are studying. Start making your own nature journal, and try your hand at sketching the things you see. As time goes on, your sketches will get better. #ObserveEverything is a hashtag for people who want to pay attention to and record everything they see.
I like the book, but there are five more in the series. They’re about eggs, rocks, seeds and beetles and butterflies. You can read them if you want to learn more about them.
Ages 5-8: The Story of Snow: The Science of Winter’s Wonder
by Mark Cassino with Jon Nelson, Ph.D. Chronicle Books (paperback reprint September 2017)
Let it snow! Let it snow! A book about snow called The Story of Snow by Mark Cassino and Dr. Jon Nelson will show you that there’s more to snow than white fluff. It starts with a snowflake. They fall because they’re tired. All snowflakes have six sides. Cassino and Nelson use a mix of illustrations and images of real snowflakes to make people want to look at the snowflakes even more. These people even show you how to catch and look at your own snow crystals!
Activity Follow the directions in the book to get and look at snowflakes. Go on your own snowflake hunt. If you live in a warm place, you can grow your own snowflakes in a bottle (everyone should do this) or make fruit pops that are really cool. This is something everyone should do. Figure out how much snow there is in different places.
Will the drop stop or roll?
Ages 7-11: Animal Architects: Amazing Animals Who Build Their Homes
by Daniel Nassar & Julio Antonio Blasco Laurence King Publishing (July 2015)
Hummingbirds, chimpanzees, and termites all share one thing: They all have wings. Do they have a job? Yes, but they’re also architects. Daniel Nassar, an architect, and illustrator Julio Antonio Blasco write a book called Animal Architects: Amazing Animals Who Build Their Homes. They look at 14 very unique homes. Is this something you’ve heard of? During its larval stage, the caddisfly lives in the water and makes a home for itself out of hard materials and sticky silk. Blasco’s illustrations are a fun mix of pencil sketches, photos, and mixed-media that show the different constructions while keeping the book organized in the same way. Kids might like how each building is compared to a human one (for example, hummingbird nests are like a tiny apartment).
Activity Examine each animal home in the book and figure out what each home does for each animal. Then, talk about how the structure of each home helps each animal achieve that goal. Now, try your hand at making structures with very few materials. Build a strong bridge that can cross 45 centimeters with straws, newspaper, tape, string, and paper clips.