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31 Days, 31 Lists: Day Twenty-Four – 2017 Science & Nature Books


Someday I long to see a breakdown of what kinds of nonfiction children’s books win the ALA Youth Media Awards. How many books that win are biographies? How many cover STEM topics? How many are about math? (I kid – those never win) But science and nature are awfully popular topics and with good reason. When I would get a classroom of children in my library they’d inevitably ask for robots or sharks or other things. Not always. The history lovers always held a special place in my heart. But by and large, science and nature as a topic was king.

Here then are some killer books along those lines that came out in 2017. Some of fictional with distinctly nonfiction elements, but the bulk of them are straight up science. I’ll split them up by reading/age levels, since we’ve seen a really nice array of different books on both ends of the spectrum. Enjoy!


2017 Science and Nature Books

PRE-K and Younger

Birds Make Nests by Michael Garland


Garland’s one of those guys that plugs along creating incredibly beautiful books written at the easiest of levels getting far too little credit for his talents. And while I may be a little bit biased when it comes to the subject (birds! Yay!) I can’t argue with the results. Just look at that cover.

Good Night, Baby Animals: You’ve Had a Busy Day by Karen B. Winnick, ill. Laura Watkins


I think this was sold as a straight fictional picture book when it came out but I really liked how it incorporated real world facts about a range of baby animals into the very simple text. As far as I’m concerned this is pretty much nonfiction. And really good at conveying information for some of the youngest ages.

The Hidden Life of a Toad by Doug Wechsler


This may well be one of my favorite books of the year. To my infinite shame and horror I discovered only just now that I failed to include it on my 2017 Fabulous Photography list this year. Sacre bleu! Bandied about for a Geisel Award (oh please, oh please, oh please yes!) Wechsler actually made some original toad-related discoveries in the course of making this book. When I was a child I remember quite clearly when my mother told me about how blue jays warn other animals of danger with their song, but that we don’t know much about them. The idea that we could interact daily with a creature of the wild and yet still not know everything about it blew my mind. Hopefully this toad book will have the same effect on kids today.

Mitzi Tulane: Preschool Detective – The Secret Ingredient by Lauren McLaughlin, ill. Debbie Ridpath Ohi


The scientific method for the PreK set. A mysterious muffin may contain trace elements of *shudder* vegetables. Does it? How can you find out? What tests can you run? It’s a smart little idea for a book (the second in the Mitzi Tulane series) and does a pretty good job explaining how you test a hypothesis.

My Awesome Summer by P. Mantis by Paul Meisel


Boy. Boy oh boy I really loved this book. This may be the cutest little cannibal you’ll ever hope to meet on the nonfiction picture book page. Told in the first person, this praying mantis is a threat to bug and brethren alike. Also, and this may just be personal, I kind of love that it’s a female mantis. She’s deadly.

Something’s Fishy by Kevin McCloskey


You want your fish basics? We’ve got your fish basics. You want to be told some basic fish facts with rare exceptions tossed in for good measure? Consider it done. You want cartoons? It’s a TOON Book isn’t it? We’ve got your cartoons. You want irreverent humor? Don’t we all, baby. Don’t we all.


Younger Elementary School

Can an Aardvark Bark? by Melissa Stewart, ill. Steve Jenkins

CanAardvarkBarkIf you’re gong to choose only one Steve Jenkins book in a given year (and believe me when you say that the man is a fan of giving you a plethora of choices) might I suggest this lovely vintage for 2017? It combines the humor of Stewart with the so-good-we’ve-forgotten-how-good-it-is art of Mr. Jenkins.  All the sounds that animals make combine in this cacophony of animalian vocalizations. Bet you could get a nice loud storytime out of it, if you were to be creative.

Crazy About Cats by Owen Davey


It was Kirkus that said of this book “There’s lots going on here, and all of it good.” Well put, oh review journal of note. It does a very good job of covering a wide swath of cat information, but with art that’s just stellar to view. Probably one of the more beautiful illustrated books of nonfiction this year.

Give Bees a Chance by Bethany Barton


I was already Team Barton when I read her previous book I’m Trying to Love Spiders. Following it up with a book on bees was just the icing on the cake. So many schools do units on bees that it just makes sense to alert any and all teachers in your vicinity to this marvelous new title. Plus, in 2017, my librarians discovered that if you wanted to pair it with a fictional picture book, it’s the natural companion to Please Please the Bees by Gerald Kelley (albeit with a bit less unionism).

How Does My Home Work? by Chris Butterworth, ill. Lucia Gaggiotti


When I had kids I was unaware that one of the requirements of the job was to understand precisely how a sewage treatment plant works. But thanks to books like this one I’m beginning to finally get a grasp on the process. I particularly loved this book this year because it manages to take every aspect of energy use in the home and and explain where it comes from and where it goes.

If Sharks Disappeared by Lily Williams


Oh, this one is brilliant. It starts off with the premise that if sharks are as evil as everyone says then it would do the planet a huge favor to get rid of them, right? What follows is a kind of apocalyptic vision where the sharks’ absence affects every aspect of ocean life. We talk about the interconnectedness of nature, but it takes a book like this to REALLY drive the message home. Doesn’t hurt that it’s fun to read too.

If You Were the Moon by Laura Purdie Salas, ill. Jaime Kim


Ah, the ultimate dream. To find good bedtime/science books for small kids. This one does a pretty good job, breaking down ideas about lunar cycles and gravity in a really simple way for the younger children. Plus it’s purdy.

Our Gift-Filled Earth by Eun Hee Na, ill. Ha Jin Jung


This is so cool! It’s an import that discusses where we get our salt, tofu, and rice to glass, cotton, and paper (I just love the fact that tofu is included as a staple). A step-by-step process shows that it takes for these items to appear in your home and why nature’s responsible for them in the first place.

Over and Under the Pond by Kate Messner, ill. Christopher Silas Neal


If you were already a fan of Messner & Neal’s Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt and Over and Under the Snow, you’re bound to like this latest update as well. It’s a book for the budding naturalist in all of us, and a pretty piece to boot. The pond ecosystem book you’ve been waiting for.

Penguin Day: A Family Story by Nic Bishop


I guess you could consider this fictionalized since the images in this “day” are actually cobbled together from a variety of different days (oh, like you can tell one baby penguin from another) but taken as a whole they actually form a very beautiful examination of average penguin life.

Robins: How They Grow Up by Eileen Christelow


This spring a robin made a nest in one of the hanging baskets of flowers on my porch. The four blue eggs went down to three, but then they actually hatched and everything! We were very excited. Then, one day, all the babies disappeared. At the same time, our peregrine falcons nesting on my library seemed to also fail to produce thriving young. I was a bit down in the dumps over the whole “nature red in tooth and claw” thing until I read Christelow’s book. Like the toad book I mentioned above it takes a common everyday animal and tells you new facts about them that you might not have known.


Older Elementary School

Beauty and the Beak: How Science, Technology, and a 3D-Printed Beak Rescued a Bald Eagle by Deborah Lee Rose and Jane Veltkamp


Chalk this one up as one of those books I most regret not reviewing in 2017. I love this book! The idea of replacing a shot off eagle’s beak with a 3D printed one? Amazing. The fact that eagle’s beaks grow back? Did not know that. And the sheer amount of eagle material in the back of the book? Fantastic. Practically longer than the story itself. You gotta see this.

Caroline’s Comets: A True Story by Emily Arnold McCully


A truly impressive story of one of the earliest female astronomers. It’s always interesting to find out what your brain retains after reading a picture book biography. For example, I read this half a year ago and what really stuck in my brain was the sheer amount of work that goes into making lenses back in the day. Caroline’s story is amazing and this book brings her tale to true life.

Catstronauts: Mission Moon by Drew Brockington


My daughter is sitting next to me as I type up these explanations and has just informed me that “That’s not a real book!” Indeed, my girl. She’s right, it’s a work of fiction but there’s a ton of information about the space program that you wouldn’t be able to find somewhere else. And there are cats. In space. Seriously, I gotta sell you on that?

Germs: Fact and Fiction, Friends and Foes by Lesa Cline-Ransome, ill. James Ransome


It just blows my mind that the folks that brought us Before She Was Harriet could just turn around and then produce this magnificent look at the germs, both good and bad, inside our systems. THAT is called range, folks. This is a different kind of book from them, but I certainly hope it’s not the last.


Gorilla Gardener: How to Help Nature Take Over the World by John & Jana


This little fella already appeared on my Message Books list but I’d be amiss if one of the most enjoyable gardening books of the year didn’t also show up here. I love the seed bombs! I love the idea of making gardens appear everywhere. And I love how you could pair this with something like Peter Brown’s The Curious Garden for a true “guerilla/gorilla” storytime.

Grand Canyon by Jason Chin


I talked about whether or not this book could win a Caldecott on Calling Caldecott but let’s not forget that it’s a truly lovely science title as well. It’s been very gratifying to see Chin getting some additional credit and love for this book this year. Maybe he has a Caldecott chance after all? Only time will tell.

The Great Penguin Rescue: Saving the African Penguins by Sandra Markle


We can’t get enough of penguins around here. Your budding conservationists that love penguins (which is to say, all your budding conservationists) will appreciate the sheer number of photographs that dot Markle’s tale of the efforts of the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) to increase African penguin numbers.

How to Be an Elephant: Growing Up in the African Wild by Katherine Roy


There’s a reason School Library Journal selected Roy’s elephant to grace the cover of the December issue. What I love about her books is how brilliantly they integrate the natural world with science. What are the schematics behind the ways in which an elephant is capable of cooling its own body heat down? Well. Now you know!

Karl, Get Out of the Garden: Carolus Linnaeus and the Naming of Everything by Anita Sanchez, ill. Catherine Stock


Sanchez and Stock set themselves up for a bit of a challenge. To make Linnaeus and his life not only interesting but worth reading about for younger readers is no small feat. This does a marvelous job, all things considered. For older readers, that’s for sure.

Mission Pluto: The First Visit to an Ice Dwarf and the Kuiper Belt by Mary Kay Carson, photos by Tom Uhlman


True Story: I was 20 pages into this book before I finally managed to get it into my thick brain that it was about Pluto and not Mars. Yup. That was me. But once I realized what it was that I was reading I just fell in love with this story. If you want a tale of sheer determination, meet the team behind the photos of Pluto. These guys are in it to win it and you’ll adore them by the story’s end.

The New Ocean: The Fate of Life in a  Changing Sea by Bryn Barnard


Well . . . it’s not really the cheeriest book out there, but it’s necessary reading. Do you have a child that likes post-apocalyptic visions of the future to come? Meet their new favorite book! It’s sort of like If Sharks Disappeared, except with more . . . um . . . glum tidings of things to come. But good! Real real good.

Older Than Dirt: A Kinda-Sorta Biography of Earth by Don Brown & Dr. M. Perfit


AGG! I LOVE THIS BOOK SO MUCH!! When its publisher sent out a shortened version of this for reviewers I was hooked from the get-go. This is Larry Gonick for younger readers.

Out of School and Into Nature: The Anna Comstock Story by Suzanne Slade, ill. Jessica Lanan


A female pioneer for the 21st century, though this one spent most of her life in the 19th. The tale of a girl that loved nature before it was cool.

Rivers of Sunlight: How the Sun Moves Water Around the Earth by Molly Bank and Penny Chisholm


We’ve seen Molly Bang’s books on various topics before, but it never ceases to amaze me the chutzpah of the woman. That she attempts to make solar wind a concept that’s visual and understandable at the same time . . . well, heck. I’m in awe.

What Makes a Monster? Discovering the World’s Scariest Creatures by Jess Keating, ill. David DeGrand


I mean, one creature’s monster is another creature’s cuddly pet, am I right? Great photography, funny writing (I’m a big fan o’ the funny) and monsters, monsters, monsters!

The Wolves Return: A New Beginning for Yellowstone National Park by Celia Godkin


Did you see that cool YouTube video about the wolves of Yellowstone earlier this year?

Here’s a new way to do curricular tie-ins. You show that video. Then you have them read the book. Then you bring in Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell. Love it!


Interested in the other lists of the month? Here’s the schedule so that you can keep checking back:

December 1 – Board Books

December 2 – Board Book Reprints & Adaptations

December 3 – Wordless Picture Books

December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds

December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books

December 6 – Alphabet Books

December 7 – Funny Picture Books

December 8 – CaldeNotts

December 9 – Picture Book Reprints

December 10 – Math Picture Books

December 11 – Bilingual Books

December 12 – Translated Picture Books

December 13 – Books with a Message

December 14 – Fabulous Photography

December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales

December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year

December 17 – Poetry Books

December 18 – Easy Books

December 19 – Early Chapter Books

December 20 – Comics for Kids

December 21 – Older Funny Books

December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction

December 23 – American History

December 24 – Science & Nature Books

December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Picture Books

December 26 – Unique Biographies

December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books

December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books

December 29 – Fiction Reprints

December 30 – Middle Grade Novels

December 31 – Picture Books

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Thanks for this list, Betsy! Honored to have IF YOU WERE THE MOON on it along with so many of my favorite nf picture books from this year:>)

  2. Same here, Thank you , Ms. Bird, for including my Something’s Fishy! Some of the other titles are new to me. I will look for them. It has been a great year for informational books.