The world of picture book nonfiction (or “information books,” as nonfiction is being called now) is exploding with very well done, well researched, and appealing titles. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are placing a premium on informational texts (aka “nonfiction”), so teachers are looking for solid nonfiction titles to supplement their textbooks; I expect this publication trend in noteworthy nonfiction picture books to continue.
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Authors and Illustrators of Note
A better term than “author” and “illustrator” in the world of science informational picture books is “creator(s)” since often there are multiple people working behind the scenes to bring these books about. Nevertheless, below are some of the best in their field: stellar research, illustrations/photography, readability. These book creators are not necessarily Christians, nor do they all claim to be Creationists over Evolutionists. But do not discount their work: the insight they give us into the marvelous, multi-faceted world God has made is worth a few discussions over the age of the Earth and its beginnings (note that books about space and dinosaurs tend to have the most evolutionary talk). We want our children to be in awe at the intricacies of insects, at the scope of space, at the complexity of the circle of life, at the power behind those tornadoes and volcanoes. Some of the authors and illustrators below can help us encourage just that. [Note: I've stayed away from most series, such as The Magic Schoolbus, for this post.]
A former science teacher, Simon is an incredibly prolific author who loves all things science and has a gift for presenting information in kid-friendly terms. The photography in his older books looks a touch dated to our modern eyes used to high definition photography, but this doesn’t bother children. His books range from pets to weather to the human body to the wild animal kingdom to space to…. Recently, he’s begun writing e-book scientific fiction for children (not “sci-fi”): mysteries and stories where scientific facts are woven in and which each include experiments for kids. I’ve not read these yet, but given Simon’s track record, they’re probably worth checking out. You may read a recent guest post by Seymour Simon over at teachingbooks.net, watch a Reading Rockets video interview with Seymour Simon, or check out his website for more information. Great author choice for early-mid elementary.
One of my favorite nonfiction series for children is Nic Bishop — (i.e. Nic Bishop Snakes, Nic Bishop Frogs, etc.). Bishop fills his books with full page, stunning photographs of the animals in question and accompanies them with age appropriate text. His graduate work in biology combined with a lifetime’s experience in photographing the natural world make his books really stand out. While Simon covers the gamut of the natural world, Bishop’s books for children focus primarily on living things: animals and insects. Nic Bishop’s website is full of information about his work. You may also read about him and watch a video interview with Bishop at Scholastic.com. Good choices for preschool through middle elementary.
Bishop and Simon have collaborated on some truly excellent, long, text-heavy picture books–good for upper elementary and even middle school–about researchers and scientists. The Tarantula Scientist (pictured above) is one of these and is absolutely fascinating.
Switching gears from photography to quality drawings and diagrams, the books by Gail Gibbons are very appealing to preschool and early elementary children because they are simple, clear, and easy to understand. Her books, like Simon’s, run the gamut from plants to weather to space to insects to…. Gibbons has been writing informational picture books for years, so her titles are numerous. Gail Gibbons’s website has lots of information, including teacher’s guides, on her books. You may also watch a Reading Rockets video interview with Gail Gibbons. Note that Gibbons’s text is designed to be educational, but it is also very politically correct.
Floca is not one most people think of for “science picture books,” yet he’s created some truly stunning picture books on applied science topics (trucks, lightships, and more). One of my favorite space books is his Moonshot: The Flight of Appollo 11. His use of perspective and detail is amazing–and note the endpapers; Floca makes use of the entire book. (You can read more about this book and see some of the incredible art here at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.) I absolutely cannot wait to get my hands on his latest book: Locomotive (all about trains!). He also illustrated the Poppy books by Avi which, while chapter book fiction, are full of natural world marvels. See Brian Floca’s website for more information, as well as watch a video of Floca discussing Moonshot for the Brooklyn Public Library, see a picture of his studio, and read an SLJ interview with Brian Floca (with some sneak peeks at Locomotive!).
Steve Jenkins and Robin Page
If you want to be sufficiently creeped out, open Jenkins’s book Actual Size to the tarantula picture and put it down on the floor. Now, just casually glance at it out the corner of your eye. Eep! Jenkins and Page are a husband/wife team that have collaborated on some outstanding science books for young children. They use collage effectively and often accompany their illustrations with minimal text. Most of their titles focus on living things (as opposed to weather/space/etc.). Check out this informative American Scientist interview with Steve Jenkins, Steve Jenkins’s website–especially the part about making books!, and the SLJ Steve Jenkins author study for more information about this duo.
Another collage artist to look for is Lois Ehlert. Her books appear simplistic at first glance, but just try to recreate one of those images! A nice combination of science-for-the-very-young with an art lesson built in, Ehlert’s books are primarily nonfiction and feature a number of titles with science connections. Like Gibbons, Ehlert has several titles that focus specifically on plants–good to know since many science books for kids lean towards animals and space. Ehlert wants to inspire children to create art, too, so use her books in connection with an artistic exploration of your topic. Read this kid-friendly interview with Ehlert from Reading is Fundamental, watch a Reading Rockets interview with Ehlert, see a YouTube video on Making Nature Come Alive with Lois Ehlert, and check out this fantastic Lois Ehlert Book Fun Pinterest board.
What? Isn’t he a poet? Why yes, yes he is. And he writes a lot of his poetry books about the natural world. Florian paints pictures to go with his poetry, and his poems are very informative (without being poems-for-the-sake-of-teaching). In addition to familiar topics such as plants and animals, Florian has also created several poetry books around the seasons. Check out Douglas Florian’s website for more information or read this Seven Impossible Things interview with Florian (accompanied by his art!).
There are lots of poets who focus on the natural world, so don’t forget about this type of science class enrichment! (Joyce Sidman is another good name to look for.)
This short list should get you all started in your exploration of science informational picture books! We’ll have more topic-specific lists for you in the days to come, but we also want to know what YOU have discovered in this field. What science picture books (and creators) have been especially meaningful to your family? Which ones are truly excellent?
For more science picture books, check out our Gardening Picture Book List or some of the many picture book biographies of famous scientists (such as some titles on our picture book biography list). If sci-fi is more your thing, check out Emily’s interview with Kevin Luthardt about his latest picture book. You might also be interested in some recent math picture books. See also Janie’s review of two books for older readers that cover complex space/physics.