Anyone who has read to a child for more than 3 minutes recently knows that animals are favorite subject matter for picture books. Since I’m married to a biology professor who specializes in ecology, I often hear grumbling from the other room about how many of the animals would have simply eaten each other by page 4. While we enjoy ridiculous animal books as much as the next family, we especially love books that are both entertaining and accurate. If you have a budding ecologist at your house, I highly recommend all 7 of these fantastic reads:
The Slug by Elise Gravel is our favorite of the Disgusting Critters series, mostly because our resident preschooler is obsessed with slugs. Other books in the series introduce flies, spiders, lice, worms, and more. These are informational books (as opposed to stories), but they are far from boring. Most of the humor comes by way of the disgusting critter in question. The facts are short and to the point—perfect for a budding entomologist.
You Nest Here with Me by Jane Yolen, Heidi Stemple, and Melissa Sweet is a sweet rhyme a mother tells her daughter before bed, all about mother birds nesting with their babies. I’ve already talked about how much I love a nice rhyming book, and this one is no exception. I also appreciate the diversity of birds in the book. I was 25 before I knew about brood parasitism, but You Nest Here with Me manages to slip it in without missing a beat.
Stellaluna by Janell Cannon is a beautifully-illustrated story of a bat who lives for a time with a family of birds. The illustrations are gorgeous and the last two pages are full of the author’s notes on bats. Jannell Cannon has similar stories about a snake, a hyena, and a cockroach, but Stellaluna is my favorite.
An Egg is Quiet by Dianna Aston and Sylvia Long is the book I wish I would have found before we studied birds and reptiles in school. Each page highlights a different characteristic of eggs, complete with beautiful examples from all over the animal kingdom. My favorite page is full of all the different colors of eggs, from dark red salmon eggs to speckled (and bumpy) green cassowary eggs.
Science Verse by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith is as silly as everything you’ve come to expect from Jon Scieszka, but also full of fantastic scientific poems. The poem topics range from the skeletal system to artificial food additives to the water cycle. Don’t let this description mislead you: these are ridiculous poems despite their educational value. (Case in point, this poem: “Mary had a little worm. She thought it was a chigger. But everything that Mary ate only made it bigger. It came with her to school one day, and gave the kids a fright. Especially when the teacher said, ‘Now that’s a parasite.'”) This book was a much bigger hit with the older child than the younger two, but I haven’t found a child yet of any age who doesn’t appreciate silly poems.
Creaturepedia: Welcome to the Greatest Show on Earth by Adrienne Barman. I wasn’t planning on including anything so encyclopedic on this list until I found two absolutely stunning specimens (this being the first). Creaturepedia is full of animals classified by type, but not the types I’ve come to expect. Some categories include the pretty-in-pinks (pink animals), the faithful (animals that pair for life), and the big-eared beasts (the illustrations on this page are especially fantastic). We get 80% of our picture books from the library, but this is one I will buy. (And likely buy again for all the nieces and nephews in my life.)
Animalium: Welcome to the Museum by Jenny Broom and Katie Scott is similar to Creaturepedia in that each section is full of animals classified by type. This book is divided in a more traditional way (amphibians, invertebrates, mammals, etc) and further subdivided in each group (for example, the fish chapter includes a subsection for sharks, skates, and rays and one for ray-finned fish).* Each chapter ends with information about a different habitat. The pictures are reminiscent of old nature journals, which I love. Of all the books on the list, this is the most specific and targeted at the most advanced readers. The publisher markets this to 3-7th graders, and I don’t disagree. If you have an especially eager mini ecologist or one a bit older than the typical picture book reader, start here.
*Josh would like me to point out that this is the scientifically-accurate way to classify fish. Sharks, skates, and rays are all in the same class of cartilaginous fishes. The fact that the book follows the structure of a phylogenetic tree brings him intense, nerdy joy.
I would love to hear about any other favorites from the animal-obsessed out there. What are you and yours loving?