31 Days, 31 Lists: 2018 Science and Nature Books
There is a hidden war in the world of children’s books that few discuss. Every year we see ALA award works of nonfiction. And every year someone out there, it might be me, it might be you, counts to see how many of those books are Biographies and how many are about other concepts like Science or Nature. I don’t have to tell you that often Biographies wipe the floor with the other Nonfiction topics. Why? Not sure. If I could speculate I’d say that a lot librarians on award committees are like myself. They’re former English majors that naturally gravitate to narrative nonfiction, particularly when it applies to individuals’ stories.
Well, not today!! Today we applaud books that have science and nature at their very core. Great books. Important books. Fun books. Beautiful books. Books that deserve your attention. Enjoy:
2018 Science and Nature Books
Hidden City: Poems of Urban Wildlife by Sarah Grace Tuttle, ill. Amy Schimler-Safford
For all those city kids that honestly believe in their heart of hearts that nature is something you find in the country or on a farm, here is the book to prove them wrong. From ants and daddy longlegs to bats and blackbirds, these 27 poems aren’t afraid to inform, even as they entertain.
In the Past by David Elliott, ill. Matthew Trueman
I don’t care if you don’t know a single solitary dino-loving kid. It doesn’t matter! Any child would be enthralled by what Elliott and Trueman have conjured up here. Twenty-one ancient animals, critters, and creatures get their day in the sun. This book was such a delightful surprise when I read it the first time. Don’t deny yourself the pleasure of discovering it.
The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane, ill. Jackie Morris
If you haven’t heard me talk about this before, I can say honestly that the concept was simple. When the most recent edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary was released it excised 40 words about nature. Macfarlane and Morris picked up the challenge of giving them a home once more. It was easy enough. You simply make acrostic poems out of their letters, and paint some images of them, both real and imagined. The end result is a rather large (15″ X 11″) book equally worthy of both a coffee table or a child’s bedroom.
NonFiction Picture Books
Animal Antipodes: Global Opposites by Carly Allen-Fletcher
I’m a sucker for a new idea. Take this one. First of all, do you know what an antipode is? Roughly speaking it’s “the direct opposite of something else.” With that in mind, Ms. Allen-Fletcher takes the globe and then examines two animals that are directly opposite one another as they stand on it. Each animal has adapted to its own unique environment and this book is just itching to show you how. Lovely and smart by turns. My favorite book combination.
The Big Book of the Blue by Yuval Zommer with Sea Life Expert Barbara Taylor
Whew! I came within a hair’s breadth of missing out on this one. Recently Jon Scieszka was on NPR recommending some of his favorite titles, and lo and behold he happened to mention this little beauty. Actually “little” is the wrong word for this. It’s hefty! Clocking in at 13.75 inches by 9.25 inches (a trend this year?), this book is beautiful to the eye, sure, but also highly informative! Apparently getting a “sea life expert” is a good way to pack your title with reliable information. Alas, there’s no bibliography, but there is an Index back there. I was quite fond of how the information was broken up by subject too. A book that will definitely need some rereadings (if you can fit it on our shelf).
Bird Builds a Nest by Martin Jenkins, ill. Richard Jones
I think this sweet little number is doomed to forever be paired with Denise Fleming’s This the Nest That Robin Built, simply due to the fact that the two books came out the same year and are aimed at around the same age level of reader. Of course, in the case of this book the idea is that this is supposed to be a book about forces. Ideas like pulling and pushing, heavy and light, etc. I don’t know that that actually comes through all that clearly. Instead, I think it’s more successful as a book about a bird building its nest step-by-step.
Bonkers About Beetles by Owen Davey
If you’re not familiar with the “About Animals” series, this book is just the latest edition. There may be 400,000 known species of beetle out there, but there’s only one book like this. With truly beautiful art, a budding entomologist will get a huge kick out of the sheer amount of information on display here. Bonkers indeed
The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding the World’s Coral Reefs – The Story of Ken Nedimyer and the Coral Restoration Foundation by Kate Messner, ill. Matthew Forsythe
When getting environmentally conscious books for children, it’s usually a good idea to give them something other than the usual brand of gloom and doom. The threat is real and dire, but if you depress kids too much with the truth, you run the risk of having them stop thinking about that depressing thing altogether. Enter this Messner/Forsythe collaboration. What I like so much about it, in part, is that it shows a problem and then shows someone who is currently (as in right this very minute) doing something to stop and correct it. The coral reefs are dying. Can they be fixed? This book may have the answer, and along the way you get stellar writing and luminous art that you’ll want to page through again and again. A winner.
Do Not Lick This Book by Idan Ben-Barak, ill. Julian Frost, photographs by Linnea Rundgren
This again. Heck, I’d put it on every list, if I could. It deserves all the things. See the recent Fictionalized Nonfiction list to learn why.
Drawn from Nature by Helen Ahpornsiri
Pressed plant art is deftly arranged so as to best illustrated this book that’s ostensibly about the seasons. One of the most beautiful on today’s list. That’s probably why it also ended up on the Calde-nott list as well.
Earth! My First 4.54 Billion Years by Stacy McAnulty, ill. David Lutchfield
Super cute, but it’s not alone. See if you can spot McAnulty’s other space-based historical picture book on today’s list. You’ll know it when you see it.
Flying Deep: Climb Inside Deep-Sea Submersible Alvin by Michelle Cusolito, ill. Nicole Wong
Hope you’re not claustrophobic, because it’s time to climb in a submersible. One of at least two submersible titles this season (the other being Otis and Will Discover the Deep: The Record-Setting Dive of the Bathysphere) it’s a deep dive (HA!) into an underwater subject. Is two submersible stories in one year too many? NO! Bring on more, sez I! More!
Fossil by Fossil: Comparing Dinosaur Bones by Sara Levine, ill. T.S. Spookytooth
A rather clever little concept. So much so that I’m surprised no one’s thought to do it before. Essentially, it drills how what the dinos looked like by applying their own unique physical features to humans. What if you had teeth proportional to a T.rex? Or fingers as long as a pterodactyl’s? I’m always on the lookout for books that present old information in smart new ways. This fits the bill.
Fur, Feather, Fin: All of Us Are Kin by Diane Lang, ill. Stephanie Laberis
Some kids live to categorize. For them, I give you a book that examines the similarities and differences among six classes of animals. I actually put it on my Rhyming Picture Book list earlier this month, but it fits just as nicely here. Beautiful art as well.
Hey-Ho, to Mars We’ll Go! by Susan Lendroth, ill. Bob Kolar
Every year there’s one unexpected book that appears on the most lists I put out. This year, surprising me, it was this book. It rhymes so it got on the rhyming list. It’s perfect for space-related storytimes, so it was on the Readloud list. And since it’s part story, part space adventure, it was on the Fictionalized Nonfiction list too. Add in the space travel element and voila! List number four. Funny little book. Whoda thunk it.
The Honeybee by Kirsten Hall, ill. Isabelle Arsenault
I love this book! If you’re a children’s librarian you are asked for books about bees on a regular basis. So when a book this book suddenly appears on the scene I can only hope that every children’s librarian and teacher has already gone out and purchased as many copies as their arms can carry. I’m a positive optimist with this book, though. A little ray of sunshine in a cold, cruel world.
A Leap for Legadema: The True Story of a Little Leopard in a Big World by Beverly and Dereck Joubert
This is not the first book in National Geographic Kids’ series following wild animals, but I like it more than the others I have seen. Legadema is a sweet little leopard, and you root for her. The photographer and author did what they could to avoid anthropomorphization and succeeded mightily.
Look at the Weather by Britta Teckentrup, translated by Shelley Tanaka
You’d think there’d be a slew of beautiful weather books for kids every single year. Instead you’ll get cursory titles with rote pics. Nothing to compare to this truly lovely collection. A good book to give if you want to hand someone a gift that’s sufficiently heavy and downright pretty.
Lovely Beasts: The Surprising Truth by Kate Gardner, ill. Heidi Smith
I love books that upset expectations. Written with, I’d say, toddlers in mind, this is one nonfiction book that works on every age level. You go in with a set of prejudices and expectations and find, instead, a some surprises that upset everything you’ve ever assumed. Gee. Can’t imagine how that could come in useful for a parent in the current day and age.
Otis and Will Discover the Deep: The Record-Setting Dive of the Bathysphere by Barb Rosenstock, ill. Katherine Roy
I have had more people come up to me this year (2018) saying how much they loved this book. Some have even floated the possibility of it winning some major awards. I’d love that, since I’ve been a Katherine Roy fan for a long time. May it get all the things!
Prickly Hedgehogs! by Jane McGuinness
We Yanks don’t have hedgehogs as pets to the same degree that the Brits do. Still, who cares? They’re positively irresistible. In this book a mama hedgehog teachers her babies to forage on their won. The mixed-media art is absolutely beautiful too.
Red Sky at Night by Elly MacKay
On first glance this title might seem better suiting to a list of nursery rhymes than scientific concepts. That, however, would be limited thinking. Who says it can’t be both? In this book, Ms. MacKay hit on a rather brilliant notion. Why not look into the scientific veracity of such nursery rhymes as “Red sky at morning, sailors take warning”? Where she was able to find as many rhymes as she has collected here, I simply do not know. They’re all legit, of course. The brilliance of the book comes when you consider how difficult it would have been to find enough to fill a story, link the poems together into a single comprehensive storyline (we watch two children and their guardian set off for two days, battling the elements) and do the research. In the back you’ll find a section that explains why each of these phrases might or might not be true. And let me tell you, they’re true a lot more often than they’re false.
Snails Are Just My Speed! by Kevin McCloskey
I think Kevin McCloskey just gets better and better with each book. We Dig Worms was cute. Something’s fishy was keen. But this book with the snails? Beyond cool! Betcha you pick up at least one fact about snails you didn’t now when you went in.
Stinkiest! 20 Smelly Animals by Steve Jenkins
Geez. For half a second there I started pondering what it would be like if I didn’t include a Steve Jenkins book on this list. Horrors! A collection of books about science and nature without his customary brilliant papercuts? Unthinkable. A victim of his own success, Steve Jenkins has gotten so good at what he does that no one seems to notice as much anymore. But I do. For a second there I thought I might have two of his books on today’s list. Turns out, I only have one. See if you can guess which one confused me.
Sun! One in a Billion by Stacy McAnulty, ill. Stevie Lewis
Did you guess what the other book by Stacy McAnulty might be? If you guessed this one, you’re good!
This Is the Nest That Robin Built by Denise Fleming
It rhymes! It scans! It’s a readaloud! It’s science! If ever you wanted to know how sparrows made their nests so thick and tight, I have your answer here.
The Triumphant Tale of the House Sparrow by Jan Thornhill
I LOVED this book! House sparrows are probably the most common little bird pests indeed. But if you ever wanted to know more than you could possibly retains about them, might I interest you in this book?
The Truth About Bears by Maxwell Eaton III
The Truth About Dolphins by Maxwell Eaton III
The Truth About Elephants by Maxwell Eaton III
The Truth About Hippos by Maxwell Eaton III
What else to say? I just pray these books are selling well enough. We need more humor with our science and nature. It does the heart good. These books should be enough to last you for a while. Perfect for the kid who wants humor ut doesn’t mind some true stuff along the way.
Warbler Wave by April Pulley Sayre with Jeff Sayre
Imagine spending countless hours, days, weeks, months, even years, attempting to get just the right shots of the warblers that migrate through your lands. This Sayre team did it, and the results are magic. Great photography of the real world.
Water Land: Land and Water Forms Around the World by Christy Hale
Why, hello there, brilliant little book I came within a hair’s breath of missing. This was one of the late year delights of the season. I had no idea when I checked it out of the library that it was going to be so useful. Or interesting! Can you tell your isthmus from your bay? Time to do some reading. The die-cuts throughout the book are great as well.
Who Eats Orange? by Dianne White, ill. Robin Page
Technically this is a color concept book (what will each type of animal eat or not eat) that’s fun to play. The reader is introduced to a color and then a slew of animals that eat it in its different forms. Does it look a bit like Steve Jenkins? Little wonder. Robin Page has worked with him for years. Gorgeous and fun.
NonFiction for Older Readers
Beavers: The Superpower Field Guide by Rachel Poliquin, ill. Nicholas John Frith
It’s so strange to me that one of my favorite books of the year was about, of all things, beavers. But if you read this book you’d understand. I actually had a friend come up to me the other day, telling me she’d read it too. She had that odd glint in her eye. The one I get when I’m so excited about a book that I can’t stop talking about it. So good news. It’s addictive! Read this and you’ll never want to talk about anything ever again.
Cute As An Axolotl: Discovering the World’s Most Adorable Animals by Jess Keating, ill. David DeGrand
The latest in Jess Keating’s “The World of Weird Animals” series. I had a co-worker on my list committee at work that had never encountered one of her books before and the minute he saw this cover he fell deeply, deeply in love. For my part, I saw her speak at NCTE about all the different ways a person is able to use this book with kids. It appeals to a wide range of reading and comprehension levels. No surprises there. I always knew she was brilliant.
Death Eaters: Meet Nature’s Scavengers by Kelly Milner Halls
I mean . . . that cover.
Do I need to say anything else?
I do not.
Eavesdropping On Elephants: How Listening Helps Conservation by Patricia Newman
Several books I’ve read this year (including one of the Eaton’s up above) have mentioned that elephants communicate with one another long distances by, essentially, rumbling. How does that even work? Why do they do it? And are their threats to this method of keeping in touch? No elephant love should be without this book. Nuff said.
Eye Spy: Wild Ways Animals See the World by Guillaume Duprat
Oh my goodness! Such a smart book. Basically it shows a single farm scene and then shows how your view of it would change if you were one animal/insect/reptile/bird or another. Remember Brendan Wenzel’s They All Saw a Cat? This is the same book, only on a higher level, for those kids who wanted to know more. My favorite pages are the ones where scientists still don’t know how one critter or another sees the world.
The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science by Joyce Sidman
Of all the books on today’s list, this is the one I’d give a Newbery Award to. Hands down. No question. I read this true story of Maria Merian early in 2018 and I can remember everything ten months later. The writing and poetry is top notch, the visuals engaging, and the design ideal. Merian should be a household name by this point. Hopefully this book will help her to become one.
The Hyena Scientist by Sy Montgomery, ill. Nic Bishop
You know what I really love? Books that show process. In this particular case, kids reading the book actually get to see how a person becomes a naturalist in the field. And, like the beaver book, I learned so many amazing facts about hyenas that I kept peppering my poor friends and family members with additional information. Turns out, hyenas aren’t the nasty scavengers pop culture always makes them. They’re cunning, creative, smart and playful, not to mention matriarchal.
Made for Each Other: Why Dogs and People Are Perfect Partners by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent, ill. William Muñoz
I like dogs just fine but I’m not crazy about them. Still, even I could see how much fun this little book was. What is the connection between a dog and a person, specifically? Here’s your answer.
The Mushroom Fan Club by Elise Gravel
The BEST mushroom book for kids out there. What a funny, creative way to present all this information. I hope we see more oddities like this one in the future.
Rivers: A Visual History from River to Sea by Peter Goes
An incredibly beautiful (and large) examination of rivers all over the world. There is a LOT to see on each page, so this is the book you hand to the dreamy kid. The one who loves books like Animalia, where you pore over pages and spreads for hours. This would be perfect for that.
Science Comics: Trees – Kings of the Forest by Andy Hirsch
I’ll be the first to admit that as an adult there was a lot in this book that I didn’t understand. Hirsch doesn’t dumb information down, so when you start taking a deep deep dive into the logistics of trees, it can come off as pretty complicated. Still, the cartoon format is so fun and engaging that who knows? Maybe a kid will learn something along the way.
Interested in the other lists? Here’s the schedule of everything being covered this month. Enjoy!
December 1 – Board Books & Pop-Ups
December 2 – Board Book Reprints & Adaptations
December 3 – Wordless Picture Books
December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds
December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books
December 6 – Alphabet Books
December 7 – Funny Picture Books
December 8 – CaldeNotts
December 9 – Picture Book Reprints
December 10 – Math Books for Kids
December 11 – Bilingual Books
December 12 – Translated Picture Books
December 13 – Books with a Message
December 14 – Fabulous Photography
December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales / Religious Tales
December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year
December 17 – Poetry Books
December 18 – Easy Books
December 19 – Early Chapter Books
December 20 – Comics for Kids
December 21 – Older Funny Books
December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction
December 23 – American History
December 24 – Science & Nature Books
December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Picture Books
December 26 – Unique Biographies
December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books
December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books
December 29 – Fiction Reprints
December 30 – Middle Grade Novels
December 31 – Picture Books
Filed under: 31 Days 31 Lists
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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