5 Back-to-School Books for Kids Who Love Science

School days are here again, so pack some valuable reading material in your child’s school bag. Below is a short list of science-themed books for kids that we adults think are cool.

smart shark
Owen Davey
Flying Eye Books (August 2016), 8 and up, $19.95

Sharks have been around for millions of years, but they never get old.British author/illustrator Owen Davey’s smart shark is a pictorial sample of the biology and behavior of more than 500 species of sharks swimming in the ocean. Ever heard of cookiecutter sharks? The species uses its mouth to suck on the victim, then “twists its body and cuts a round piece of flesh from the creature.” Meanwhile, blacktip sharks have been observed dropping schools of fish into “bait balls” which they attack “until only a bunch of scales remain”. Children may especially enjoy the section reserved for the most advanced sharks, which “rewards” the unique characteristics of certain species. Take nurse sharks, which sit next to each other on the ocean floor and “may be worthy of the title of the laziest shark.” David’s stylized illustrations are also captivating: a clever combination of geometric shapes and patterns captures the essence of his carnivorous cartilage themes. (Readers who are keen on Davy’s aesthetics can also see crazy for monkeys.)

From “Smart About Sharks” by Owen Davey (Flying Eye Books, 2016)

Ada Twist Scientist Cover

Ada Twisted, Scientist
Andrea Beatty/David Roberts
Abrams (September 2016), 5-7, $17.95

If your child’s favorite word is “why,” she’ll find like-minded spirit in Ada Marie Twist. After quietly observing the world around her for the first three years of her life, little Ada Marie (whose names are derived from Ada Lovelace, who is widely regarded as the first computer programmer – see below) The comments!—and Marie Curie, who discovered radium), asked her family a series of questions about how the world works. She never stops asking.For example, she was so impressed with their home’s grand clock, she asked: “Why does it tick, why does it tick? Why don’t we call it grand?daughter bell? In her search for answers, Ada conducts experiments that leave behind her a tangled mess and general confusion. Ada’s family needs a particularly troubling mystery—the source of a strange smell— Andrea Beaty’s clever rhymes are highlighted by lovely illustrations by David Roberts that are full of creative details that will inspire any The curiosity of young readers. (If you like Ada Twisted, Scientist, there are two other books in the series – one for architects and one for engineers. )


From scientist Ada Twist by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts (Abrams, 2016)

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who built it?bridge
Top 10 Bridges and Their Designer Profiles
Didier Corner
Princeton Architectural Press (October 2016), 8-12, $17.95

In 1883, a parade of circus animals, including 21 elephants, crossed the Brooklyn Bridge in a public demonstration of its robustness. In fact, at the time of its inauguration, it was the largest bridge ever built. This iconic feat of engineering is one of several innovative bridges that Didier Cornille tours in his book Who Built That? series (also includes skyscrapers and modern houses). Cornille’s clean, lightly coloured line drawings – spanning long rectangular pages, befitting its theme – focus on important architectural and engineering elements, such as trestle and girders, while also drawing attention to scale. For example, a photo depicts cars, trams and pedestrians side by side on the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia, underscoring its status as the world’s longest long-span bridge. Children will also encounter the brains behind bridges, such as architect Norman Foster and designer Michel Virlogeux, who together conceived the Millau Viaduct, a structure supported by cables connected to masts that span Europe’s Tarn Valley . Soaring 1,125 feet at its highest point, it is the tallest cable-stayed viaduct in the world. This is an example of higher order thinking.


From Didier Cornille, Who Built the Bridges: Profiles of the Top 10 Bridges and Their Designers (Princeton Architectural Press, 2016)

Hadf_9781101918623_jkt_LB_resized

darkest darkness
Chris Hadfield/Fan Brothers Illustrated
Little, Brown and Company (September 2016), ages 4-8, $17.99

Chris is a space-obsessed kid. He drives a (cardboard) spaceship and travels (in a bathtub) to Mars. He’s also afraid of what many other kids are afraid of: darkness. In one scene, a wide-eyed Chris lies on a bed with sheets pulled over his nose, surrounded by glowing alien orbs conjured by his active imagination. But on the night of July 20, 1969, as Chris and his family gathered around a neighbor’s TV to watch history unfold, he encountered a darkness he never understood: Neil Armstrong took a step toward the moon the first step. “The darkness of the universe is greater and deeper than the darkness of his room,” writes author and Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, whose protagonist is the darkest darkness in his younger self. “Chris first saw the power of darkness, the mystery and the velvety beauty of black.” Hadfield grew up exploring that darkness. Maybe one day your kids will too.


From “The Darkest Dark” by Chris Hadfield, illustrated by The Fan Brothers (Little, Brown and Company 2016)

Adas Ideas_cover_resized

Ada’s thoughts
The story of Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer
Fiona Robinson
Abrams (August 2016), 6-9, $17.95

Ada’s thoughts, an illustrated biography by Fiona Robinson, opens with a whimsical portrait of a young woman with a bow in her hair riding a mottled steed across the sky. That woman was Ida Lovelace, who once “dreamed of building a steam-powered Pegasus” and is now widely regarded as the world’s first computer programmer. Through delightful decoupage illustrations, Robinson touches on a formative moment in Lovelace’s short life (she died at 36). For example, Ida, who grew up during the Industrial Revolution, visited factories with her mathematician mother.On two pages, a young Lovelace climbs and rolls over in bursts of steam, illustrating how her “imagination spins with a mighty engine!” But Lovelace is a dreamer and A doer. At 17, she met the learned Charles Babbage. When he designed his “analytical engine”, the theoretical ancestor of the computer, Lovelace offered to write the program. Her creative thinking goes even further than her peers: While Babbage believes that a machine like his can only perform calculations, Lovelace “believes it can be programmed to create pictures, music and words.” Talks prescient. (For more on Lovelace and Babbage, check out this SciFri snippet.)


From “Ada’s Ideas, The Story of Ada Lovelace, the World’s First Computer Programmer” by Fiona Robinson (Abrams, 2016)

meet the writer

Julie Lebach

About Julie Leibach

Julie Leibach is a freelance science journalist and former editor-in-chief of Science Friday’s online content.

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