Brilliant books for British Science Week
To celebrate British Science Week 2023, Isabel Thomas recommends some of her favourite books for inspiring adventures in science, through story, poetry, art, and analogy.
If the World Were 100 People by Jackie McCann and Aaron Cushley (Red Shed, 2021). The winner of this year’s Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize, and deservedly so. Back when I was a commissioning editor at A&C Black, I was caretaker of the class book If the World Were a Village, first published in 2002. If the World Were 100 People is a new take on this premise, with up-to-date facts and stats and truly representative illustrations, to tell the story of the entire world in a way that its youngest citizens can grasp.
Penguins and Polar Bears by Grace Helmer and Alicia Klepeis (Little Gestalten, 2020). This beautifully illustrated book is one of my favourite titles about the poles. The clever illustrations manage to capture the beauty and bewildering scale of these environments. By directly comparing the Arctic and Antarctica it helps to bust misconceptions too.
The Bedtime Book of Impossible Questions by Isabel Thomas and Aaron Cushley (Bloomsbury, 2022). A child’s curious question is a great opportunity to talk about science – especially if no-one knows the answer! In this book, I collected 70 of the best questions I’ve ever been asked by children and answered them in the form of 70 mini bedtime stories that will start BIG conversations.
This Rock, That Rock: Poems between You Me and the Moon by Dom Conlon and Viviane Schwarz (Troika Books). UNESCO World Poetry Day Poet Dom Conlon has written so many fantastic books blending poetry, story and science. It was very hard to choose one, but I cannot resist the pull of this witty and thought-provoking collection of poems about the Moon. Don’t miss his foray into MG fiction, Matilda Meets the Universe, illustrated by Heidi Cannon and coming in June.
Protecting the Planet: Emperor of the Ice by Nicola Davies and Catherine Rayner (Walker Books, 2020). The emperor penguin life cycle is a favourite in primary schools. It captured my youngest son’s imagination so much, his bedroom will soon be named a newly-discovered penguin colony. This incredible book brings the story fully up to date – from the satellites now used to monitor penguin populations, to the threat of climate change that poses a danger far greater than overwintering in the world’s most hostile environment. Unmissable.
The Rock from the Sky by Jon Klassen (Walker Books, 2022). First and foremost, this is a genius picture book story that made my little nephew howl with laughter in the middle of a car park in Milton Keynes after a tiring day out. It could also be used to spark so many different conversations about science, about communication, and about our fears and hopes for the future. For me, it works like the allegorical film Don’t Look Up to start conversations about climate change.
The Rabbit Problem by Emily Gravett (and a lot of rabbits) (Pan Macmillan, 2010). I often come across children who love science but say they hate maths. I love to introduce books that show how maths and science are interwoven. The Rabbit Problem is one of my favourites. The premise is simple: If a pair of baby rabbits is put into a field, how many rabbits will there be at the end of a year? This extraordinarily clever and funny book provides an unexpected answer to this mathematical problem, as solved by Fibonacci!
Scientists in the Wild: Galapagos by Helen Scales and Rômolo D’Hipolito (Flying Eye Books, 2023). STEM offers incredible opportunities for adventure and shaping the world. But children can’t aim to be what they can’t see. Growing up in a very low-income family, I never longed to be penguinologist, a herpologist or an ichthylogist – I simply didn’t know that these roles existed. The longing came later in life. Bringing academia to vivid life, this series will open doors for so many children.
Inside the Body: An extraordinary layer-by-layer guide to human anatomy by Joelle Jolivet (Thames and Hudson, 2022). From one of my favourite author-illustrators, a huge book that allows readers to get under their own skin like never before. See inside our organs, digestive system, limbs, head and brain, and follow the development of a baby from foetus to birth.
How does Chocolate Taste on Everest? by Leisa Stewart-Sharpe and Aaron Cushley (Wren & Rook). When you’re introducing children to BIG ideas, it’s a great idea to start with something personal. In this big and beautiful book, children’s senses are the bridge to understanding different biomes and habitats around the world.
It’s a Wonderful World by Jess French (Dorling Kindersley, 2022). Veterinary surgeon, zoologist, and radio and TV presenter, Jess French lives and breathes animal sciences. This stunning title taps into young children’s’ passion for protecting their planet, giving them hands on tips for shaping the future. For younger readers, Jess has written the gorgeous Nature Heroes series.
Full of Life: Exploring Earth’s Biodiversity by Isabel Thomas and Sara Gillingham (Phaidon, 2022). This is the most ambitious book I’ve ever written! As we emerged from lockdown, I set out to explore every branch of the tree of life, using the most up-to-date methods of classification. I was lucky enough to work alongside scientists at the Darwin Tree of Life project for a year, many of whom kindly became my expert readers. Sara Gillingham’s incredible illustrations complete 224 pages of kaleidoscopic wonder.
How to Spaghettify Your Dog by Hiba Noor Khan and Harry Woodgate (Bloomsbury, August 2023). I’ve had a sneak peek at this title, and it’s a book to pre-order for a summer of science! Written by a physics teacher, every page is packed with things to explore, discover, and do. I recommend devouring it quickly, digesting it slowly, and burping out fantastic facts all day long. Coming in August 2023!
Nature’s Treasures by Ben Hoare (Dorling Kindersley, 2021). I love a book that gives me the same feeling as exploring a science or natural history museum: a mixture of delight in small details and awe at the endless possibility of life on Earth. Nature’s Treasures is a book to take on trips or curl up for that feeling of finding a freshly cracked conker.
Dr Maggie’s Grand Tour of the Solar System by Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock and Chelen Ecija (Michael O’Mara, 2019). I was lucky enough to meet Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock when we spoke together at Cheltenham Literature Festival last year, and experienced her irresistible energy and sense of wonder first-hand. As a space scientist and telescope expert, she is the perfect author to take you on a tour of our cosmic neighbourhood.
Nano: The Spectacular Science of the Very (Very) Small by Jess Wade and Melissa Castrillón (Walker Books, 2022). Nano is a classic already, inviting us into the beautiful unseen world of nanotech. Physicist and campaigner for diversity in STEM fields, Jess has written more htan 1,750 Wikipedia biographies of women in STEM, and I hope it is not long before we see a children’s book about Jess’s own inspiring story!
Can You Get Rainbows in Space? by Dr Sheila Kanani and Liz Kay (Penguin Random House, 2023). Written by an astronomer, physics teacher and the Royal Astronomical Society’s Outreach and Diversity Officer this book uses the rainbow as a starting point to explore colour. It turns out you CAN make a rainbow in space, and this book will show you how!
Author bio: Isabel is a Human Scientist and award-winning science writer and the author of more than 200 books about science for young people. She also writes features for The Week Junior Science + Nature and runs science writing workshops for schools around the world. Her books include Moth: An Evolution Story, and Fox: A Circle Of Life Story both illustrated by Daniel Egnéus and published by Bloomsbury. Fox: A Circle Of Life Story has just won the AAAS Subaru Prize for Excellence in Science Books 2023. You can follow Isabel on Twitter @isabelwriting.