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Dec. 12, 2014

Five Books Guaranteed to Make Kids Love Science

by Rachel Poliquin

Click to enlarge images
‘Tis the season for making book lists and checking them twice! This week on Science Friday, authors Deborah Blum and Annalee Newitz wrap up the Best Science Books of 2014. But what about the kids? In these five children's books, wickedly talented authors and illustrators take on the science of supernovas, worms, stomach rumblings, and more with impressive style.
 
 
Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space, by Dominic Walliman and Ben Newman (Flying Eye Books)
 
Every child deserves to learn moon facts from a space-cat wearing a tiny fedora. Written by physicist Dominic Walliman, with pictures by award-winning illustrator Ben Newman, Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space explains everything kids need to know about our universe and how we explore it. Ever wonder how rockets work, how spacesuits evolved, or just how big Earth is compared to our neighboring planets? Professor Astro Cat breaks it down with clever diagrams and ingenious comparisons. (If Earth were a cherry tomato, Mercury would be a peppercorn and Jupiter, a watermelon!) Best of all, like any good scientist, Walliman doesn’t claim to have all the answers. Sections on the future of space travel and the possibility of extra-terrestrial life leave the mysteries of deep space open for future scientists to unravel.
 
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Shackleton’s Journey, by William Grill (Flying Eye Books)
 
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Ernest Shackleton once wrote, “I believe it is in our nature to explore, to reach out into the unknown. The only true failure would be not to explore at all.” That passion for adventure comes to life in Shackleton’s Journey, William Grill’s beautiful picture book about the explorer’s failed attempt to cross Antarctica. Grill’s colored pencil drawings are lively and charming, with an attention to detail. Elaborate visual lists immortalize every one of Shakleton’s 69 sled dogs and detail each piece of equipment packed on board the explorer’s ship, Endurance. Meanwhile, vast seascapes convey Antarctic loneliness and the peril of an ice-packed sea.
 
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Animalium (Welcome to the Museum), by Katie Scott and Jenny Broom (Candlewick Press)
 
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For the kid who lingers over the cases of taxidermied animals at the natural history museum, Animalium is the ticket. Consider this oversized encyclopedia a museum visit between two covers. Katie Scott and Jenny Broom divide the animal kingdom into “galleries,” arranged in evolutionary order from sea sponges to mammals. Some showcase animal families; others explore habitats or zero in on a single species. Scott’s full-page pen and ink spreads have the timeless elegance of a John James Audubon print, and Broom’s prose moves nimbly between broad facts to curious details. Take, for example, the book’s account of frog metamorphosis. The illustrations carefully record the stages from spawn to adult, while this tidbit—Darwin's frogs nurture their young in their mouths—is memorable enough to stick with readers long after their tour.
 
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Infographics: Human Body, by Peter Grundy and Simon Rogers (Candlewick Press)
 
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For every gross or awe-inspiring fact about the human body you’ll find in Infographics: Human Body, designer Peter Grundy has a stylishly minimalist infographic to match. Take, for example, the image exploring the body as a “factory.” Grundy’s blocky human icon sports a pencil leg (we each contain enough carbon to make 900 pencils), a cannon firing from its backend (humans produce one liter of gas every day), and a cleaver hovering above an itchy pet (humans contain enough sulphur to kill a dog’s fleas.) With bold colors, simple shapes, and subtle humor, Infographics explains complex bodily processes in kid-size pieces.
 
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The Worm, by Elise Gravel (Tundra Books)
 
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Elise Gravel’s The Worm is the second book in her Disgusting Critter series, which introduces kids to the charms of such squirm-inducers as head lice, flies, rats, slugs, and spiders. In this installment, Gravel covers basics like worm anatomy and diet with simple text and bold, hand-lettered typography. But it's the earthworm protagonist, sporting a beret and greeting readers with a worldly “Énchanté!”, that helps make the book so entertaining. It has a witty quip for every wormy fact (at one point, the hermaphrodite exclaims “You look ravishing today, dear!” to its tail). But even the book’s more aesthetically challenged creatures—tapeworms, I’m looking at you—can’t help but woo with their cute dot-eyes and expressive mouths. The Worm is gross, silly, and informative—the perfect combo for maximum kid appeal.
 
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About Rachel Poliquin

Rachel Poliquin is a freelance writer based in Canada. She is the author of The Breathless Zoo: Taxidermy and the Cultures of Longing and Beaver, due out in 2015.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.
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