One of my goals as a science educator and homeschool parent is to pass on to children a love for science and for learning. I am often asked what books I would recommend for particular science disciplines. What books do I most enjoy sharing with my own children? Which books are the living books? First coined by Charlotte Mason, living books are described as “… complete works, firsthand sources, classics, books that display imagination, originality, and the human touch.”
Charlotte Mason did not give us a list of the hundred best books, nor did she compose a checklist of what to look for in a living book. Along our homeschool journey, I have therefore looked for living books for science that were not only of high literary quality, but that also communicated important knowledge about a given subject, especially biography, science, nature, and geography. I’ve compiled some of my favorite books for you here – books you’ll enjoy reading again and again.
This is a great series of books about some of the most recognized names in science including Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Leonardo da Vinci, Isaac Newton, and Sigmund Freud. Amusing comic illustrations accompany the text and Krull’s anecdotal stories bring each scientist to life.
Chemistry & Physics
There are numerous books in this series by Adrian Dingle. When I taught a chemistry unit with my kiddos a year ago, they devoured these. The Periodic Table introduces budding chemists to the world of the elements with wit and humor while also presenting factual information.
One of my all-time favorite authors, George has been the recipient of many literary awards. My Side of the Mountain, the story of a boy and a falcon surviving on a mountain together, was a 1960 Newbery Honor Book. Growing up in a family of naturalists, it is no wonder her books resonate with a love of nature.
I enjoy Arnosky’s books as much for the text as I do the illustrations. An artist and naturalist, his accurate illustrations, and his attention to detail makes it easy for children to see how carefully nature has designed plants and animals to function in their natural habitats. “I prefer to show rather than tell,” he explains, “to teach rather than preach, to guide rather than simply warn. In showing my readers what I look for in my ramblings, I hope that they will keep an eye out for such things and make discoveries of their own when they are outdoors.”
Written to be read aloud by two voices ~ sometimes alternating, sometimes simultaneous ~ this collection of charming poems celebrates the insect world, from the short life of the mayfly to the love song of the book louse. I found an audio version to which we listened first – and then we had a blast reading them together.
Who’s Been Here series by Lindsay Barrett George
My children have enjoyed this series of books since they were toddlers. I would often read one aloud prior to a nature outing. Then as we began to explore, I would point out signs of wildlife and ask the kids, “Who’s Been Here?” Slowing down to look at small details, the kids began to ask question and make hypotheses of their own.
Birds Every Child Should Know by Neltje Blanchan
Originally published in 1907, Birds Every Child Should Know is a collection of storylike descriptions of more than one hundred birds commonly found in the United States. Detailed descriptions of birds—their physical attributes, calls, nesting and mating habits, and other behaviors—read almost like fairy tales. My daughter loved this book.
Geology & Geography
Bryd Baylor is one of my favorite children’s authors. She lives and writes in Arizona, presenting images of the Southwest and an intense connection between the land and the people. Her prose illustrates vividly the value of simplicity, the natural world, and the balance of life within it.
The Coast Mappers by Taylor Morrison
I discovered this book quite by accident but upon reading it, wanted for my own collection. In this beautifully illustrated book, Morrison chronicles the challenges and adventures the US Coastal Survey team faced and the methods they used to accomplish this monumental, and essential, task.
Astronomy & Space
Gibbons is another wonderful and prolific writer of children’s books. The titles I have in my own collection include, The Moon Book, The Planets, and The Reason for Seasons. Her clear writing style and the accompanying illustrations help to explain concepts that are difficult to grasp. I’ve used these books to help dispel misconceptions with adults.
The author of more than 250 highly acclaimed science books, Simon has been called the ‘Dean of Children’s Science Writers”. He uses his website, SeymourSimon.com, to provide free downloads of a wealth of materials for educators, homeschoolers and parents to use with his books.
Do you have a favorite science living book or children’s science author? I would love to learn of new authors or books. Leave a comment below and let me know.