Your kid’s curiosity about science might lead to a few near-catastrophes at home (who knew flammable and inflammable are the same thing?), but that’s the kind of inquisitive thinking that will get them far in life. Here are few ways to encourage them that doesn’t require Bunsen burners, test tubes, goggles, or any kind of large particle accelerator. Imagine — your own child becoming the world’s next big celebrity scientist. Like, Bill Nye big.
The most brilliant scientist of the modern era never said a peep till he was 3 years old. And even after he started speaking he was too busy observing and wondering. On a Beam of Light shows how little Einstein (not those creepy cartoon kids) went from his “Gedankenexperiments” to the Theory of Relativity. It even talks about his favorite pants. (Sadly, they were not smarty pants.)
Ages: 6 – 9
On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne and Vladimir Radunsky ($18)
Valerie Jane Goodall went from watching robins on her windowsill to studying 400-pound silverback gorillas in the wild jungles of Africa. Well, not immediately — that would be a crazy story. But this book does a nice job of condensing her story and includes quotes from Goodall about the secrets to her scientific success. (Hint: It was reading the right kids books.)
Ages: 6 – 9
The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps by Jeanette Winter ($18)
Rachel Carson was the author of Silent Spring, which led to the ban on DDT pesticides, a Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. Show your kids that there’s a reason “organic” became a thing. And while Carson might not be as famous as some on this list, it’s nothing a good posthumous Twitter account can’t fix.
Ages: 8 – 10
Rachel Carson: Preserving a Sense of Wonder by Joseph Bruchac and Thomas Locker ($13)
Maria Merian is both a great scientist and a great Jeopardy question. Who is she? Maria was a 17th-century naturalist who became the forbearer for modern entomology by studying how insects do their thing. One of her most famous observations was how a caterpillar metamorphizes into a butterfly. Apparently it has nothing holes through pie, ice cream, sausage, or swiss cheese.
Ages: 5 – 8
Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian by Margarita Engle and Julie Paschkis ($18)
Jacques Cousteau: French naval officer. Explorer. Conservationist. Filmmaker. Innovator, Scientist. Photographer. Author and researcher. Basically, a man that needs no introduction. Manfish tells the story of a young Jacques (before the groupies) when he was just a kid who dreamed of breathing underwater — and scared the crap out of his parents when he followed up on that.
Ages: 5 – 8
Manfish: A Story of Jacques Cousteau by Jennifer Berne and Éric Puybaret ($10)
Forget everything they know about “Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star.” Henrietta Leavitt will blow little minds because she was the first person to discover the scientific importance of a star’s brightness. Her work made it possible for astronomers to measure greater distances and understand the universe’s vast size. Man, you haven’t thought about that since that one college party.
Ages: 4 – 8
Look Up!: Henrietta Leavitt, Pioneering Woman Astronomer by Robert Burleigh and Raúl Colón ($17)
Space is confusing. Stephen Hawking said that. Between string theory, dark matter, and God particles, it’ll drive you madder than Sam Neill in Event Horizon (worth a second watch.) But this genius cat — and some cool artwork — do a fantastic job of making sure your kid doesn’t spin off the Earth trying to understand it. Now if they could only explain it to you.
Ages: 8 – 11
Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space by Dominic Walliman and Ben Newman ($24)
This picture book helps to connect your kid with the natural world, but without all of that going outside business. Check out the 3D dioramas that consider the fact that we are all made of stardust. Literally, we’re the detritus of stars that exploded trillions of years before we ever existed. Your move, Moby.
You Are Stardust by Elin Kelsey and Soyeon Kim ($19)
This book tells the journey of how a gigantic dinosaur — the diplodocus longus — went from munching on leaves millions of years ago, to being dug up in Utah in 1923, to traveling to its final resting place inside the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. Your little paleontologist loves Dinosaur Train? Well, this story is kind of like that, but with actual science.
Ages: 6 – 9
How the Dinosaur Got to the Museum by Jessie Hartland ($18)
There are no big, brightly colored creatures, or cute rhyming couplets, or happy endings with crocodiles dancing at a birthday party. It’s just straight up one of the best scientific tomes out there. (There’s even Latin in it, so you know it’s smart.) Bust this out around the time your kids become interested in actually reading those placards at the zoo.
Ages: 8 – 12
Animalium: Welcome to the Museum by Jenny Broom and Katie Scott ($35)