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Finding Science Treasure in Picture Books

Did you say treasure? Yes. Treasure! Science picture books are an often-ignored treasure trove of science learning for children typically considered past the picture book stage. I'll be providing you a list of some of my favorite science picture books, but first let's look at what to do with these treasures.

I have three favorite ways to use science picture books. The first is something I do with books of all types. I use them to bait traps, educational traps, for my children. The key to selecting science bait is the cover of the book. Will it prompt a curious mind to open it? An intriguing title is important, but the cover art is the real lure. The easiest bait to use is a book on topics in which your children are already interested. Don't stop there, though. The proper bait will get kids reading about topics they'd never pursue on their own.

I also use science picture books to start our homeschool science units. Typical elementary level science textbooks do not cover a great deal of information in any single chapter. Often you'll find that a well-chosen science picture book will give much of the same material but in a much more interesting and pleasing manner. The Magic School Bus books come to mind. They are chockfull of information on the subjects they cover. My kids have all read Magic School Bus books on their own by choice. I can't think of one time they pulled the fifth grade science textbook I bought early in my homeschool career off the shelf. A well-chosen picture book will introduce your children to the concepts they will be studying and the specialized terminology they will need to learn. I'm currently doing science units with my fifth and seventh grade children. I still use picture books with them.

Picture books are also an excellent means to learn in a more focused way. While I might read The Magic School Bus on the Ocean Floor as an introduction to a unit on oceanography, I'll find other books that narrow the subject down to a specific topic. For example, How to Hide an Octopus and Other Sea Creatures helps children learn about how animals camouflage themselves in the ocean. Oil Spill! explains what happens when oil is spilled in the ocean and how it can be cleaned up. Whales: Mighty Giants of the Sea is an interactive book about whales. Picture books are not the only resources we use for our science units, but they are probably the most welcome. Whenever my kids see me add a picture book to our stack of stuff for the day, they usually have to check out the cover and thumb through it. Reading that book becomes the top thing on our to do list for the day.

Finding science picture books in the library can be tricky if you prefer to find books by browsing the shelves. Some science picture books are found in the nonfiction section, but the most are found in the easy books section. Easy books are often shelved by author, so finding a book on a particular topic is difficult. To find all that a library has on a particular topic you really have to use the card catalogue. I know most libraries have moved their card catalogue to computer, and they probably call it something different now, but I still think of it as the card catalogue. I miss pulling out the drawers and thumbing through the cards. Use the library's search tool to find books on your subject. You can narrow the list to books for children by adding juvenile to your search terms. Make a list of the books and their call numbers. You really need to see a book before eliminating it from your list of possibilities. The catalogue descriptions for some books are as boring as the books are interesting. Never judge a book by its catalogue description.

Of course, all you bibliophiles are going to want to own these books. Paperback picture books range in price from $5 to $8. If you have more than one child as we did, spread out in age from one to 12-years-old when we first started homeschooling, it makes sense to buy your favorite picture books. Of course new science picture books are published all the time. To get the full scope of what is available, select the Find More Science Picture Books on the right-hand side of this page. If you need to do your book shopping in hands on mode, visit your local bookstore. You've probably already figured out which of your local bookstores has the more complete children's section. The larger the children's section, the more likely they are to stock a wider selection of science books for kids.

However you go about getting your hands on science picture books, it's time to get started on a treasure hunt today.

Favorite Science Picture Books

This is a short list. These books really reflect what I look for in good science picture books.

Mustang Canyon by Jonathan London
We live where we see wild horses regularly. This picture book let's kids spend time really looking at wild horses. They don't usually hang about long, but they are glorious to see in real life.
We Are Dolphins by Molly Grooms
This is a beautiful book that will make any child who is not already devoted to them a dolphin lover.
Find the Constellations by H. A. Rey
A children's beginning book on star gazing by the illustrator of the Curious George books. This is a book that astronomers recommend because the illustrations make star gazing an infinitely easier task for the beginner. Lots of information about the constellations and the myths behind their names.
Race to the Moon: The Story of Apollo 11 by Jen Green
This is one of a series of Expedition books by Franklin Watts. They remind me a little of Usborne titles with lots of detailed illustrations, but they are laid out in a more structured manner. This book is both history and science.
Wild Birds by Joanne Ryder
I wrote the EHO review for this book. It's a fabulous book for introducing a study of birds especially for those that live in the city. Joanne Ryder has many other great science nature books for children. Where Butterflies Grow is another good Ryder title.
The Life and Times of the Ant by Charles Micucci
A sure child pleaser. The illustrations will sweep your child away into the world of ants, and the science content will please any homeschool mom.
First to Fly: How Wilbur and Orville Wright Invented the Airplane by Peter Busby
This picture book has gorgeous illustrations and loads of information about the Wright's work including archival photographs and diagrams.
There's a Hair in My Dirt! by Gary Larson
You may remember the margarine commercial that told us it's not nice to fool mother nature. Well Gary Larson, the creator of The Far Side, shows the true nature of mother nature in this morality tale that teaches us that we'd better understand the natural world before we mess about in it.
Lizards Weird and Wonderful by Margery Facklam
This is the book that was the impetus for this article. It was in my stack of items to review. A friend picked it up and commented on what a great book it was. Which set me off on my you really should good science picture books with your kids speech. She probably didn't need the speech, but it spurred me to write this article. This is a book in which the text and illustrations complement one another. The pictures draw you to the text and the text takes you back to the pictures.
The Moonflower by Jean Loewer
This book is both a story and educational experience. Children will love the story of what happens in the garden at night, and young naturalists with enjoy the information provided in that side bar and the instructions in the back for growing your own moonflowers.

More Suggestions

The Magic School Bus on the Ocean Floor

How to Hide an Octopus and Other Sea Creatures

Oil Spill!

We Are Dolphins

Q Is for Quark: A Science Alphabet Book

Transformed: How Everyday Things Are Made

Are You A Ladybug?

Rabbits, Squirrels and Chipmunks

My Visit to the Aquarium

Along Came Galileo

Encyclopedia Prehistorica Dinosaurs: The Definitive Pop-Up


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