The great thing about books for children is that you can find a huge variety that are educational without being boring textbook style. This year I separated our kids’ books into categories to make sure we read a good variety on different topics every day, and I thought I would share some of our favorites in case you’re hunting good books on science and nature for your preschoolers too. I found many of these books from the Sonlight lists or in various other lists of recommended books for children – we rotate in several others, but these are the ones we keep coming back to over and over. As with any list, your tastes might differ from mine. These are books that work well for Hannah (who will be four in January) and Jack (nearly two and a half), but Sarah likes looking at them and listening too. If you have other favorites, feel free to share them in the comments section because I’m always looking for more great kids books!
What’s Smaller Than a Pygmy Shrew? does a fabulous job of explaining the relative sizes of things, from large animals down to atoms and electrons and quarks. I know, you’re like, “Seriously? You’re teaching your toddler about quarks, Catherine?” but actually this book is great for explaining how things fit together in a way that small kids can begin to understand. The book has good illustrations and a storytelling style that keeps it from being dry or pushy. It’s just a great book that happens to be full of good information.
How Do You Lift a Lion? is an imaginative book about simple machines. The silly questions like how do you lift a lion or how do you get a basket of bananas to a baboon birthday party make this a fun book and engaging for preschoolers, but there is a lot of real science in the answers. The book covers levers, wheels, pulleys, and other simple machines, and gives great information about how they work in terms that are accessible and understandable even for young children. I’ve been surprised at how Hannah has been able to apply these topics after reading these books. For example, she was trying to get a book to stay on top of the toilet, but it slopes so the book kept sliding off. Hannah declared, “This book won’t stay! There’s not enough friction!”
How to Dig a Hole to the Other Side of the World is a great book about the layers of the globe. The engaging story imagines what a child would have to do to dig a hole all the way through the earth to come out on the other side. I think it does a great job of teaching without just being a dry recitation of facts. Obviously it’s a little fanciful as you wouldn’t really be able to dig through the world, but it’s a good vehicle for learning about all sorts of things from lava to fossils.
The Berenstain Bears Science Fair follows the Berenstain Bear family as they get ready for a science fair and learn about science in the process. There are sections about machines, energy, solid/liquid/gas states of matter, and so on. There is a lot of information in this book, so usually we read it in sections rather than all at once, but you can also read it quickly if you skip over the smaller details on the pictures. Hannah and Jack are especially enthused about their new found ability to classify things as solid, liquid, or gas, and they like to do things like watch water boil into steam, see how ice melts, and so forth. The book contains a lot of simple ideas for “experiments” like the ice/water/steam idea that work well with small children.
In the Tall, Tall Grass and In the Small, Small Pond, both by Denise Fleming, are really excellent books for getting children started in how to notice and describe wildlife around them. The books show small children observing animals and insects in a backyard or small pond and uses rhyming text to describe the creatures and their habits. The illustrations in the books are unique and colorful, and will keep the attention of even very small children.
Our Animal Friends At Maple Hill Farm is a very funny book about the habits and foibles of different types of farm animals. The book includes a lot of details that you might not think to tell a child about farm animals, but that are quite descriptive and helpful in stimulating a child to notice things about animals. I think the book also gives a lot of insight into why certain animals are supposed to have certain traits – for example, the section on geese is funny and will help a child understand the way the geese behave in other books like Petunia and Charlotte’s Web (which are both also excellent books and among our favorites!).
The Bird Alphabet Book is, as you might imagine, an ABC book, but it’s also a really good bird book. The book assigns one bird to each letter of the alphabet and gives useful information about each one. The best part of the book are the excellent illustrations.
About Birds: A Guide for Children is a gorgeously illustrated, easy to read guide to different birds. I like that the pictures have detail and are realistic, but are not just technical drawings. I think this book is a really good background for children, and a good tool to get them started paying attention to birds and being able to identify them.
One Tiny Turtle is one of several great books about sea turtles that we have read since the kids got on their big sea turtle kick this summer. You can read more about our adventures with real sea turtles here if you’re interested. If you happen to have a similar interest, other good books on the subject that I recommend are Little Turtle and the Song of the Sea, Into the Sea, Sea Turtles, Sea Turtles (by Gail Gibbons) and Look Out for Turtles!.
Bugs is an Usborne reference book for children that my mom found for us at a teaching conference. She also got us Caterpillars and Butterflies, Night Animals and Tadpoles and Frogs. While these books are not story-based, they are fun to look at and good for pulling out pieces of information. The books have a lot of detail so kids will like to look at them by themselves, but the detail is appropriate for young kids so if you do read them the books you won’t get bored and they will learn a lot.
I Love Bugs! is a simple rhyming book about bugs and what they do. The illustrations are nothing to write home about, but they are detailed enough that kids can learn from them. I don’t know why but my kids love this book. They can recite it and often “read” it to each other. The book is cute overall and I do think the text is good, plus the labeled drawings of bugs are useful if you have a child who might like to know what different types of bugs are called. I also like that the book depicts a little boy who is observing and learning about nature.
An Egg Is Quiet and A Seed Is Sleepy, both by Dianna Hutts Aston and illustrated by Sylvia Long, are some of the most beautifully illustrated books for children available. They are informative and can be read at different levels depending on how much information your child is interested in or has patience for, but the pictures alone make these books well worth owning.
The Carrot Seed is a short book but a good one. The story follows a little boy who plants a seed and dutifully tends to it in spite of his family’s assertions that it won’t grow. In due time, the carrot grows into a gigantic specimen as big as the little boy. Although the book is simple, it does a fabulous job communicating the time it takes to wait for a seed to become a plant, which I think is a hard concept for very small children sometimes, at least it has been for my kids, who have been known to eat the plants out of the garden at the first sign of leaves instead of waiting for the green beans to materialize.
My Visit to the Dinosaurs is one of Jack’s favorite books. The book is older (our copy belonged to Josh when he was little) so the dinosaurs are shown with some older conceptions, such as showing the tails on the ground rather than up in the air like paleontologists show them now. That said, the book is a great overview and tells about dinosaurs through the story of a child visiting a natural history museum.
If you have a child who is interested in dinosaurs, I would also recommend the “How Do Dinosaurs…” series. While that series is mostly playful and silly, there are fabulous drawings of dinosaurs that are all labeled with the proper name of each one. Jack also loves these books and will look at them for a long time by himself. Some of the books in the series come in board book form, which is especially helpful if you have very little kids around or if you have a kid who likes to rip pages. Not that we have any of those at OUR house, I’m just saying.