A Few of Our Favorite Things
There’s not much that’s more STEAMy than an exceptionally well-written and illustrated picture book about Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and/or Math.
We’ve put together a list of some of our most favorite books to read with children that help them think and create, wonder and innovate.
Remember as you read to children to stop and ask questions – not just questions with a right answer, but deep, rich, thought-provoking questions. Involve the children in the storytelling. It’s also always great to have the kid read YOU the story by making up their own words to the pictures that they see.
These are 11 of our very favorite STEAM children’s books (in no particular order):
1. The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires
Our favorite line: “Why won’t this thing just work?!”
A little girl with a giant brain and huge creativity sets out to make the most magnificent thing out of the parts she finds lying around her neighborhood. People don’t understand her vision and she gets increasingly frustrated, but she persists – and that is certainly a magnificent thing.
2. In the Garden with Van Gogh by Julie Merberg and Suzanne Bober (illustrated by..well, Van Gogh)
Our favorite line: “Twelve sunflowers lean toward the light. Five are wide open, seven shut tight”
It was tough to choose just one of the books from this famous artist series. We really recommend them all. These books depict famous pieces of art alongside a simple poem that tells a bit about what the children see. The beauty of this book (aside from the art) is that in the hands of a skilled adult, the poem is the starting point for children really examining the art, using their observation skills, and thinking about what they see.
Our favorite line: “Now what are you doing with that stick?”/”It’s not a stick”
These charming books pack a big punch of imagination with few words and simple pictures. On one set of pages, someone, presumably an adult, asks a question like, “Why are you standing on a box?” On the facing page, the protagonist is depicted with a box. On the next set of pages, the child explains that it is not, in fact a box. On the facing page, the illustration depicts the box or stick as a mountain, a fire truck, a fishing pole, a paintbrush.
One of the things we love about these books is that they offer opportunities for children to create. Read the books, offer children boxes and sticks and materials to transform them into anything they can imagine. Watch their creativity and innovation soar.
4. Mama Zooms by Jane Cowen-Fletcher
Our favorite line: “Mama zooms me fast down ramps. We love ramps.”
This book depicts a little boy sitting on his mother’s lap in her wheelchair having adventures together. The imagination of the child, the beautiful pictures, and the language allow adults to engage children in conversations about a variety of STEAMy concepts. It’s a wonderful book to accompany explorations of speed, velocity, friction, wheels, and inclined planes. It also can serve to open conversations about differences and abilities. Mama Zooms is a fantastic addition to your STEAM library.
5. Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty, Illustrated by David Roberts
Our favorite lines (we just couldn’t limit it to one): “Alone in her attic, the moon high above, dear Rosie made gadgets and gizmos she loved” and “But questions are tricky and some hold on tight”
Rosie Revere, great-grand-niece of Rosie the Riveter* is an inventor and innovator. Her inventions are marvelous and she shares them proudly with her relatives. Until one day when someone laughs at one of her creations. Though she continues to invent, she becomes shy and fearful of sharing her inventions with the world. Rosie’s great-great-aunt Rose helps to show her that even failed inventions are wonderful and that engineering is a process that includes testing and improving on ideas. She helps Rosie learn from the mistakes and move forward to perfect her design.
This is a phenomenal book with just the right balance of humor, absurdity, STEAM, and messages about believing in yourself and learning from mistakes.
*If you’re unfamiliar with this iconic image that encouraged women to join the workforce as engineers and builders during World War II, it’s worth the time to learn about it. Here’s a good source: http://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/rosie-the-riveter
6. What Is Science by Rebecca Kai Dotlich Illustrated by Sachiko Yoshikawa
Our favorite line: “Science is this and so much more. So into the earth and into the sky, we question the how, the where, when, and why.”
This book depicts children investigating the world around them and gives children a sense of the many things that we can learn from science and the diverse topics that scientists study. It’s an entryway to show children that curiosity and wonder are at the heart of science and that studying science helps answer those deep questions that children so often ask. Science is wonderful and fun and this book shows children that.
7. Have Fun, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell and David Catrow
Our favorite line: “Molly Lou Melon’s backyard had a weeping willow and crumbly rock walls with thingamajigs peeking out from every crevice.”
Molly Lou Melon’s grandmother had told her that, “back in the olden days”, she did not have fancy, battery powered toys or television. She made her own toys. Molly does the same with nature, boxes, tin cans, imagination, and creativity. Molly introduces her new friend, Gertie to the wonders of inventing and making. Gertie’s eyes are opened to a whole new world of possibility. Of the many things we love about this book is that it depicts Gertie using crutches, but never overtly says anything about this difference. It’s present, but not in the forefront of what makes Gertie, Gertie. The language in this touching, STEAMy book is just slightly elevated, exposing children to a rich, “juicy” language (as Dr. Lily Wong-Filmore terms it). This book is perfect for helping children become part of the Maker Movement.
8. Mad Margaret Experiments with the Scientific Method by Eric Braun, Illustrated by Robin Boyden
Our Favorite line: “I have lots of good ideas. People usually come to me when they need help with a problem. I don’t know everything, I just know how to figure things out using the Scientific Method.”
This informative and fun book follows Mad Margaret as she follows the scientific method* to help her friend, Jasper figure out why Jasper sneezes every time he goes to play at his friend, Donna’s house. Mad Margaret shows us how to ask good questions, gather information, form a hypothesis, do an experiment to test the hypothesis, look at the information again and form a new hypothesis, and share the results. This fun story, with its amusing pictures and engaging characters shows children the value of being systematic in answering a question.
*Note: some scientists argue against teaching the Scientific Method as a rigid set of steps. It’s worth reading about some of those arguments (you can find one such here). We agree that the Scientific Method is limiting and that no one should have preschoolers memorize it, but we do think the logical approach to thinking through a problem is represented well in this book.
9. Meet Einstein by Eric Braun, Illustrated by Robin Boyden
Our favorite lines: “Scientists make lots of discoveries” and “When food spills from the table, it always falls down, not up.”
Meet Einstein is a lovely introduction to one of the greatest minds in human history. It gives developmentally appropriate information about light and gravity. This is an easy, quick read that offers many opportunities to have discussions with children as you read.
10. Baby Loves Quarks by Ruth Spiro, illustrated by Irene Chan
Our favorite line: “Baby likes to build with blocks. Nature likes to build things, too. Baby builds with blocks. Nature builds with quarks."
This sweet book introduces the building blocks of nature like quarks, electrons, protons, neutrons, atoms, and molecules. It builds children’s foundational knowledge and awareness of science and strengthens their vocabulary. The book is written and illustrated simply and appealingly and is a delightful start on a path toward scientific understanding.
Our favorite line: it’s almost impossible to pick just one line. We love every word of these books from the dedication page to “The End”. If we must choose, though, our favorite is probably: “I’ll work through the night to create a design. Constantly analyze, tweak, and refine.”
These books are utterly delightful. From trampolines in the living room to a swimming pool in the car; from a car that can fly like a plane and submerge under a lake to an aquarium room in his house, the child narrator has incredible inspirations for inventions to make his house and his car amazing. These books spark wonderful conversations and incredible inventions and are a “must-have” in any STEAMy library! We said this list wasn’t in any particular order, but perhaps we just saved the best for last.
We hope you enjoyed this list of great books to share with children to help them strengthen their creativity, curiosity, and STEM knowledge.
A final note: please remember to also have lots and lots of reference books with photographs of real STEM concepts. You don’t need to read these aloud, necessarily, but children will often look at the pictures and ask deep, rich, meaningful questions about what they see when they look at real pictures of real things. These books can prompt some fascinating investigations and some incredible creations. A library card and a little bit of time can bring a world of real and fascinating images to children.