My kids love hands-on science but not because I've held their hands through dozens of experiments. It's their natural inclination to explore their world with their hands and with experimentation. Engaging, beautiful picture books encourage children in their natural, budding scientific propensities. I love to read wonderful books to them and watch the whole process begin again and again. The books give them information and new things to wonder about, and with each passing year, their experimentation matures.
A parent's job is to encourage exploration by not complaining about messes, by providing materials upon request as well as having general science tools around all the time, and by taking children on hikes throughout the year, allowing them to experience various ecosystems and geologic forms.
And provide increasingly sophisticated information as children grow and develop. Picture books are the ideal place to begin, and they'll take you through several years of graduated learning.
Keep in mind that all of these book lists are works in progress, so check back frequently for more picks using the page feature at the top of my blog.
The Great Kapok Tree: The Tale of the Amazon Rain Forest by Lynne Cherry (published March, 1990)
Synopsis: (from publisher) (Ages 4-8) The author and artist Lynne Cherry journeyed deep into the rain forests of Brazil to write and illustrate her gorgeous picture book The Great Kapok Tree: A Tale of the Amazon Rain Forest(1990). One day, a man exhausts himself trying to chop down a giant kapok tree. While he sleeps, the forest’s residents, including a child from the Yanomamo tribe, whisper in his ear about the importance of trees and how "all living things depend on one another" . . . and it works. Cherry’s lovingly rendered colored pencil and watercolor drawings of all the "wondrous and rare animals" evoke the lush rain forests, as well as stunning world maps bordered by tree porcupines, emerald tree boas, and dozens more fascinating creatures.
Awards: IRA Teacher’s Choice (1991), ABA’s Pick of the Lists, Reading Rainbow Review Book, NSTA-CBC Outstanding Trade Book for Children
Synopsis: (from Publisher's Weekly) (Ages 4-8) In this breathtakingly beautiful picture book, Cherry combines illustrations that reveal a naturalist's reverence for beauty with a mythlike story that explains the ecological importance of saving the rain forests. The text is not a didactic treatise, but a simply told story about a man who falls asleep while chopping down a kapok tree. The forest's inhabitants--snakes, butterflies, a jaguar, and finally a child--each whisper in his ear about the terrible consequences of living in "a world without trees" or beauty, about the interconnectedness of all living things. When the man awakens and sees all the extraordinary creatures around him, he leaves his ax and "walks out of the rain forest." A map showing the earth's endangered forests and the creatures that dwell within ends the book which, like the rain forests themselves, is "wondrous and rare."
The Gift of the Tree by Alvin Tresselt (published March, 1992)
Synopsis: (from School Library Journal) (Grades 1-3) New illustrations breathe freshness into this book originally published as The Dead Tree (Parents, 1972; o.p.). It stands as a tribute to the mighty oak tree, focusing on its majesty in maturity, through gradual decline to final decay. The interdependence of plant and animal life is clearly evident, including both those that seek its shelter and those that hasten the decaying process to prepare the soil for new life. The original text stands the test of time, reaching its audience with power and emotion as it directs attention to the forces of nature at work. The writing style encourages the young to develop a sensitivity to all aspects of nature without lecturing. Illustrations stretch from : cover to cover across double-page spreads to immerse readers in a forest setting. Seasons and years fade one into another through impressionistic woodland scenes that form the background for the oak and various animals that appear in realistic form. Color tones reflect the seasons, as they are softly muted in fall and winter; more vivid in spring and summer. These illustrations are far more vibrant than those in the previous edition. A perfect choice to use with Romanova's Once There Was a Tree (Dial, 1985) and Hiscock's The Big Tree (Atheneum, 1991) to promote a full understanding of the natural cycle of trees, ever changing, ever renewing.
The Season's Of Arnold's Apple Tree by Gail Gibbons (published April, 1988)
Synopsis: (from publisher) (Ages 4-8) This book about nature and the changing seasons focuses on a young boy and a very special apple tree. In Gail Gibbons’s bright illustrations, Arnold collects apple blossoms in spring, builds a tree house in summer, makes apple pie and cider in the fall, and hangs strings of popcorn and berries for the birds in winter, among other seasonal activities. Includes a recipe for apple pie and a description of how an apple cider press works.
How Do Apple's Grow? by Betsy Maestro (published January, 2000)
Synopsis: (from Kirkus Reviews) (Ages 4-9) A straightforward, carefully detailed presentation of how ``fruit comes from flowers,'' from winter's snow-covered buds through pollination and growth to ripening and harvest. Like the text, the illustrations are admirably clear and attractive, including the larger-than-life depiction of the parts of the flower at different stages. An excellent contribution to the solidly useful ``Let's-Read-and-Find-Out-Science'' series.
The Apple Pie Tree by Zoe Hall (published September, 1996)
Synopsis: (from Booklist) (Ages 4-7) Two young sisters describe the changes that occur in their backyard apple tree throughout the seasons of a year. The tree is bare and brown in winter, but spring brings two robins that build a nest and raise a family amid the apple blossoms. In summer, the robins fly off, the girls enjoy playing in the tree's shade, and the apples grow bigger and redder. Finally, in autumn, they pick apples and bake a delicious apple pie. Halpern's colorful collage illustrations perfectly complement the succinct text. Eschewing the use of backgrounds, she concentrates on the tree and the children, which results in crisp edges and an uncluttered appearance that will please young audiences. Appended with an explanation of pollination and a recipe for apple pie, this will make a perfect choice for fall story hours and primary science lessons. Pair with Gail Gibbons' Seasons of Arnold's Apple Tree (1984) for another perspective.
Synopsis: (School Library Journal) (Preschool - Grade 1) From bud to fruit, two children follow the cycle of an apple tree as it is nurtured through the seasons. The book incorporates the role of bees and the weather in the production of the fruit. Another use of the tree is shown, as a pair of robins build their nest and begin a family. The story ends with a nice, warm apple pie being taken from the oven. The large pictures and text are suitable for young children. The colorful, clear-cut illustrations use a paint and paper collage technique. An end note shows how bees pollinate the tree's flowers and offers a recipe for apple pie. Great for sharing with a group or one-on-one.
Why Do Leaves Change Color Let's-Read-and-Find-Out-Stage 2 by Betsy Maestro (published August, 1994)
Synopsis: (from publisher) (Ages 5-9) As children jump into piles of leaves and help their parents rake the yard, they also wonder: Why do leaves change color? With bright illustrations from Loretta Krupinski and clear, simple text by Betsy Maestro, this book explains what happens to leaves in autumn. This informative concept book includes detailed pictures of leaves in different sizes, shapes, and colors and a list of activities that kids can do with leaves.
This is a Stage 2 Let's-Read-and-Find-Out, which means the book explores more challenging concepts for children in the primary grades. Let's-Read-And-Find-Out is the winner of the American Association for the Advancement of Science/Subaru Science Books & Films Prize for Outstanding Science Series.
Supports the Common Core Learning Standards and Next Generation Science Standards
The Reasons for Seasons by Gail Gibbons (published March, 1996)
Synopsis: (from Booklist) (Ages 5-8) Gibbons uses simple words and clear, colorful pictures to explain the seasons, the solstices, and the equinoxes. Besides discussing the earth's tilt and orbit, she also comments on what people and animals do in each season of the year. Brief and occasionally disjointed, these remarks will serve as a starting point for class discussions. Brightly colored pictures, as accessible and appealing as those in Gibbons' other books, illustrate the text.
Synopsis: (from School Library Journal) (Grades 2-3) Gibbons seems to know just what teachers need to fill that open niche in their curriculum plans. In this title, she explains in succinct, easy-to-understand terms what causes the seasons to change in the two hemispheres. The text is amplified by her trademark illustrations done in bright, primary colors. Children have difficulty grasping the fact that the weather is just the opposite on the other side of the globe and why; this attractive offering will clarify that concept for them.
Sunshine Makes the Seasons (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out-Science 2) Reillustated by Franklin Branley (published May 2005)
Synopsis: (from publisher) (Grades K-3) The sun shines down on us, giving warmth and light. But did you know that the sun also makes the seasons? As the earth makes one complete rotation around the sun every year, the seasons on the earth change -- from winter to spring to summer to fall and back to winter again. Find out how the light from the sun affects life on the earth for all living things in this look at the only star in our solar system.
Four Seasons Make a Year by Anne Rockwell (published March, 2004)
Synopsis: (from School Library Journal) (Preschool - 1st grade) A girl describes the seasons on her family's farm in the northeastern United States: weather; development of vegetables, flowers, trees; birds' activities; chores; and her favorite pursuits. Beginning in the spring, she plants a sunflower seed and follows the plant's growth throughout the year. The clear and airy text appears on a narrow panel on each spread along with some spot art. The mixed-media illustrations reflect the simplicity of Rockwell's text. Faint collaged bits of The Old Farmer's Almanacbehind the text add interest. Halsey uses an inventive device among her more conventional illustrations: she creates a visual flannel-board landscape that appears repeatedly bearing flat, felt-type images (farmhouse, tractor, trees, barn, and scarecrow) with appropriate seasonal details. A clear and general introduction to the cyclical formation of the calendar.
Synopsis: (from Booklist) (Grades K-2) A little girl introduces the four seasons as she observes them at home on the farm. Each season brings changes in the natural world and in her activities. In spring, snow melts, rain falls, a robin sings, and she plants a sunflower seed by her back door. In summer, plants sprout, trees leaf, her sunflower grows tall, and she swims in the pond. In winter, she feeds the birds the sunflower seeds she had picked in the fall and makes a mental note to plant more seeds in the spring, neatly completing the circle of her story and the cycle of the seasons. The first-person text is simple and childlike, a tone reflected in the clearly delineated collages. Combining ink drawings with acrylic paintings on torn paper, these illustrations create eye-catching compositions. A nice finishing touch is Rockwell's appended note, which acknowledges that the story takes place in the northeast, where the seasons differ dramatically, and encourages children to look for local changes, which may be more subtle.