Science Fun 101

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Science Fun 101

Engaging intros to science topics for preK-2nd graders

Why is the sky blue?
Why do dogs wag their tails?
Why don’t I float away when I hold a balloon?

If you have a kiddo in your life, you probably encounter questions like these all the time. These questions are beautiful proof that children are budding scientists, eager to explore how and why things work. But, um, they’re really dang tough to answer.

Maybe science isn’t your thing. Maybe, for instance, when talk turns to gravitational waves or, frankly, the water cycle, your eyes glaze over and all you can do is move your face and utter vocalizations that you hope pass for human conversational behavior. Or, maybe science is absolutely your thing, so much so that it’s tough for you to break concepts down to their simplest parts. Whatever your own relationship to science, there are fantastic, developmentally-appropriate books that can help you introduce your little one to scientific topics. Not only are the following titles first looks at physics, life sciences, earth science, and math that are suited to quench your child’s curiosity, they’re also perfectly suited to read aloud and are, above all -- *gasp*-- fun!

Dinosaurs From Head to Tail by Stacey Roderick, illustrated by Kwanchai Moriya

Meet a parasaurolophus, diplodocus, therizinosaurus, and more in this quick read with something for everyone. Dinosaur newbies will be introduced to facts about each species in a non-intimidating format complete with pronunciation guides and bright, happy, paper-cut illustrations. Miniature dinosaur experts will enjoy the opportunity to show off their knowledge by guessing the answers to the questions on every other page (i.e. "What dinosaur had a neck like this?"). This title is also available as an e-book. When you're finished, try Prehistoric Actual Size by Steve Jenkins as a follow-up that's sure to wow with its to-scale renderings of prehistoric creatures.

Grandmother Fish: A Child's First Book of Evolution by Jonathan Tweet, illustrated by Karen Lewis
This book manages to successfully introduce the concept of evolution to young children. *Mind blown*. It's eminently readable, with the text that encourages active participation throughout. And, thankfully, it includes lots of info in the back to aid adults with conversations and further research.

I'm Trying to Love Spiders (It Isn't Easy) by Bethany Barton
A great choice for kids who are wary of bugs and spiders -- or kids who LOVE them but have reluctant parents -- this interactive read aloud invites readers to join in on a recurring bit in which the narrator/reader make an effort to love spiders but keep getting scared and squishing them. No actual spiders harmed in this book. In between the silly running joke, you'll find interesting facts about how spiders eat, make webs, and produce venom. For another excellent pick about a fascinating creepy-crawly, try the phenomenally photographed Geisel Honor book Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator by Sarah C. Campbell.

Trout Are Made of Trees by April Pulley Sayre, illustrated by Kate Endle
In addition to some interesting facts about the titular fish, this simply-illustrated picture book with sparse, large text is a great first introduction to food webs and clearly communicates the notion that from plants to bacteria, shrimp to people, every living thing has a place in the circle of life. 

Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Emily Sutton
No matter how old you are, it's difficult to wrap your head around things you can't see, which is why Tiny Creatures is so special. It doesn't waste a word as it uses super approachable kid-friendly language and imagery to explain what microbes are, what they look like ("some look like spaceships", others, "like daisies"), how they eat ("they're too small to have mouths, so they just soak up what they need through their skin"), and what they do (only some make us sick it turns out-- others do fantastic and important jobs!). 

A Mammal Is an Animal by Lizzy Rockwell
With repetition throughout that will help young ones naturally join in on the reading, this is a perfect introduction to the idea of animal classification as a whole, as well as the specific features that signify which animals are, in fact, mammals. For more about mammals, check out Tooth by Tooth: Comparing Fangs, Tusks and Chompers by Sara Levine. I could maybe write an entire article about how much I love this funny, joyful, engaging, concise picture book exploration of dental anatomy.

Plant Secrets by Emily Goodman, illustrated by Phyllis Limbacher Tildes
"These are seeds...But all these seeds have a SECRET." (Spoiler alert: Inside there's a tiny plant, and the plant has a secret too, which -- second spoiler alert -- is a flower!) And so it goes. Lovely, large, realistic-but-child-friendly gouache illustrations accompany well-paced text that contains just enough information and no more. A worthy first look at plants and some of their parts. 

A Rock is Lively by Dianna Hutts Aston, illustrated by Sylvia Long
Long's gorgeous, richly-colored illustrations and Aston's careful balance of large simple text and smaller, lengthier, more informative text on each double-page spread combine to produce an exciting book about, who'da thunk it, rocks. Use it to help you answer tricky questions about how old rocks are, what the differences are between different types, how humans and animals use them, and how hot they have to be to melt. The multiple levels of text, with plentiful rich vocabulary words, really allow the book the grow with a child. This title is also available as an e-book.

I Face the Wind by Vicki Cobb, illustrated by Julia Gorton
This book is an excellent example of breaking down large, complicated concepts into preschool-friendly chunks of language. And best of all, the text prompts readers to discover air and wind for themselves using easy-to-find materials -- a plastic bag, tape, two balloons, a coat hanger, a book. Sure to be a hit with active learners.

Earth!: My First 5.4 Billion Years by Stacy McAnulty
The planet Earth itself will be your narrator in this fun and funky guide to our planet, its place in the universe, and its many ages and stages. The creator has produced a succinct, funny narrative, complete with plot and characters, equally funny illustrations, and big concepts like Pangea. While you're at it, check out this author's latest title about the center of our solar system, Sun!: One in a Billion.

A Second is a Hiccup by Hazel Hutchins, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton
How long is a second? A minute? A day, a week, a year? Quantify your answers with child-friendly examples (in a week, for instance, there are "seven wake-ups, seven sleeps;" in a month, "caterpillars find their wings" and "if you fall and scrape a shin, in a month there's brand new skin."). The lilting rhyme makes for a rhythmic reading experience. Follow this one up with Just a Second by Steve Jenkins for even more examples of what can happen in just a second, a minute, an hour, and so on.

Magnets Push, Magnets Pull by David A. Adler, illustrated by Anna Raff
The first page kicks off with a clear statement about the relevance and importance of magnets to our lives -- "A world without magnets would be a world without computers, printers, cell phones, televisions, vacuum cleaners and microwave ovens." What follows is a mixture of facts, theory, physics vocabulary like "current," "poles," and "force," and practical tests you can try with children, mostly with just a simple magnet and household items like string, paper clips, paper, and water. This one would be best for children on the older half of the PK-2 spectrum, and even beyond. For other entry points to physics, try Light Waves by the same author/illustrator duo, or the gorgeously illustrated Gravity by Caldecott award winner Jason Chin. 

Happy reading,