Baby Readers Becoming Baby Scientists
Back in the day, in the earliest of the 2000s, I honestly remember learning what an oceanographer did as a career when I was in 7th grade.
Babies these days have it so much easier – they can learn science from their very first picture books. Baby Oceanographer and the other books in the series by Laura Gehl are some household favorites that we have. We’ve read them so many times. These Baby Scientist books at our house truly get read ALL THE TIME, again, and again, and again. And yet, they’re still enjoyable to open up and read again, whether you’re two years old, or thirty-two.
Pause: I am, by Federal Trade Commission law, required to explain to you how the internet works. I put weblinks into this post and do so using the big book search place that is Amazon (have you heard of them? Once or twice?) As a result of these links, I may be paid a tiny portion of the revenues that these links generate from you doing your Amazon shopping, when you buy 150 inflatable pool noodles or 12 espresso machines. .
These book recommendations are my own. These thoughts are definitely my own (no one else is claiming credit for my Daniel Tiger brainstorming of questions down below). And equally, your purchases are your own to make – seriously, shop anywhere! I discuss how I find books from book bargains, public libraries, and used book stores. You can utilize those routes as well. And, if you click on any of these links, I may end up getting a portion of the revenue from the dog food you purchased on Amazon a day after you read this blog post. That’s how the internet works. Back to the fun stuff… baby books.
Our Favorite Board Books For Babies:
Seriously, hands down, favorite books to put on a baby shower registry.
Baby Botanist, for the kids who eat their veggies.
Baby Oceanographer, for those who go to the beach.
Baby Paleontologist, for the dinosaur lovers
Baby Astronaut, for the kids who are out of this world.
And so I get all of them and give them to new parents so that they don’t get stuck reading 1 book over and over, but instead 15 books over and over, for some flavor and variety (and science!)
I love that these books talk about science occupations – like I said, I didn’t really understand the word oceanographer as a career until 7th grade – but that they also represent ordinary toddler activities. Baby Botanist is eating lunch, Baby Astronaut is preparing for bedtime (in outer space and back at home on Earth). Baby Oceanographer is taking a bath, and spending the day at the beach. Baby Paleontologist is exploring the backyard for clues. They get to go on science adventures, touching algae and being in a spaceship doing experiments, and going underwater, and digging for dinosaur bones – and it’s as normal as the final pages when they head to bedtime.
These books also include diverse representations of scientists. Baby Botanist is a Black girl scientist, she has a purple bow in her hair, and in the final page Baby Botanist hugs her mother, showing a Black parent in a supportive role. That hug page always gets me – it’s so good in a book about carrots.
Baby Astronaut is a female astronaut, and she appears to be Asian. She is accompanied by an owl sidekick who doesn’t make much sense, but he’s a fun add-along character. (I’m starting to realize they all have an animal sidekick that can be spotted on every page. Baby Botanist has a grasshopper, and Baby Oceanographer has a crab who comes along for adventures.
Baby Oceanographer is a white male scientist, with blonde hair. On the final day at the beach (much like the hug scene between Baby Botanist and her mama), Baby Oceanographer joins a friend in the sand – and that’s Baby Botanist, soaking up some rays with her hairbow as usual.
Baby Paleontologist is the newest addition to the series, so I don’t have it too memorized yet. It has a male paleontologist with a dark brown skin complexion. Baby Paleontologist also uses the word “fossil” a million, trillion times or so. Therefore, my recommendation would be to get that word in your child’s vocabulary before throwing this book at the kid. (Don’t throw books at babies!) What I mean is, play a game where something is a ‘fossil’, play it a few times until the baby has a representation of what a fossil is. Then read the book, maybe holding that representation of “fossil” while doing the reading.
That’s what we did – with great success – in our earlier Baby Scientist books. With gravity, we had our beanie baby zebra and our toothbrushing Elmo experience no gravity, and the effects of gravity. When we said, “Oops!”, and “Uh-Oh!”, we also said, “Gravity” and giggled. As a result, baby took the Elmo and the baby zebra and started floating them around too – knowing that this isn’t how our world works, and eventually they would fall to the ground, as all Earthbound things do.
Baby Botanist has a long list of favorite foods in the book – apples, oranges, peas, carrots, noodles, chocolate. This made it great as one of baby’s very first books, as eating was becoming a big deal. Also, and this may interest some people, every one of Baby Botanists foods is plant-based. I am not sure if Baby Botanist is vegetarian, vegan, or just not eating any meat at lunchtime, but throughout the book it discusses plant-based foods because Baby is a Botanist. 🙂
This is a way longer review that I expected to write about board books, but you can see they are well-loved in our household. I look forward to the next installments in the series, so that I can finally learn some more science while reading kid’s books for babies.
Baby University (Physics for Babies) board book series, by Chris Ferrie – this is the link to Nuclear Physics, Optical Physics, Astrophysics, and Statistical Physics four book set. Take a deep breath and applaud yourself upon reading ALL that to your baby.
So, you want me to explain astrophysics to you?
Well, you’re just going to have to read “Astrophysics for Babies” to find out for yourself.
What I love about these books is that they break things down into simple illustrations. They do require putting in that work of introducing the key word – getting comfortable as a parent saying, “this is gravity” or “this is a nucleus” – but they are written on a level for toddlers to begin thinking about the world around them. We have most of the books, but bypassed their A-Z series for some other alphabet books, so I am not as familiar with the A-Z ones by Chris Ferrie.
I think these books would be a hit in some households, and a flop in others. While Baby Oceanographer series is on my “Buy all new parents” list, these books require some skill in making them relevant. If the parent isn’t comfortable or in a creative mood, the connections don’t flow.
For example, in Organic Chemistry for Babies, there’s pictures of glucose molecules, methane molecules, and amylase molecules. These are combined with household items.
One option is to take these words, from the baby book, and sprinkle them into daily conversation. “We’re gassing up our car, putting methane in it!” “Did you just fart? You released methane, eww!”
“It’s time to eat, need that glucose.” “Here’s some bread, it’s got your glucose.”
“When you spit, it has amylase on it.” Next time the 2 year old slobbers on you as a parent, “Are you spitting? Are you spitting? Is that amylase coming from your mouth?” Or the baby spitting up, or the family dog.
It’s an option – certainly it’s not for everyone. But if you’re tired of reading the same story of a moon and a red balloon and a cow jumping over a crescent moon (when there’s a full moon outside), if you need a break from the mouse and the house and the brush and the mush, then you can add in Block Chain, Quantum Physics, or Organic Chemistry into the rotation for your own light bedtime reading.
Non-Science Related, other favorite baby books.
The Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle. It’s got numbers, its got fruit and junk food. It has HOLES in the book. It has pages of different sizes. It take years to build up to the full story, but each reading is a journey to get through it before the 2 pears or 4 strawberries gets swept past by the little baby hands dictating the book speed. More time to poke holes toward the pickle, of course.
Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site, by Sherry Dusky Rinker. This book is new, not one from my own childhood (I just checked and it seems like it’s a “past 5 years” kind of addition). It is like a Goodnight Moon but for construction vehicles, putting them each to bed. It thanks them for their contributions for the day, their hard work, and then they – each in their own way – tuck in and go to sleep. There’s something very of-the-Earth about these humble little construction vehicles. Reading more in the series might be an avenue we go down, but right now we’re having fun doing the onomatopoeia of the trucks as they wheeze and cough and get to bed.
There’s a Dragon In Your Book, by Tom Fletcher. This book is like “If you give a mouse a cookie” in terms of each action leading into a new situation or crisis. But it’s also interactive, like the books asking you (not) to touch the pages. There’s a dragon, the dragon may have some sinus issues, the dragon may have not followed fire safety protocol. You might also have contributed to some arson, then there’s some imaginary water balloons and imaginary ice cream scoops to make it all better. A little bit of a wing flapping and high-fiving, and suddenly the dragon finds herself sitting amongst more dragons. I hope one of them doesn’t have sinus troubles… At the moment this may be my favorite book in our line-up, it reminds me of the donkey from Shrek (because of the dragon, and mischief). It also reminds me of the Grover story, “There’s a Monster At the End of This Book”, because of the “Don’t turn the page!” element in this book. Except instead of one singular pay-off in the final page (what’s Grover again?), each page provides a new development like fire, water, baby dragons, or ice cream. It also practices developmental motions like touching, waving, high-5ing.
Never Touch A Spider, Shark, Porcupine, etc. (great for that 6-month to 18 month range)
Books of baby faces, like our one-time top book Smile (which goes through different words that all mean laugh, causing real laughs to take place), or the Global Babies series.
These books with baby faces are excellent first books for that 6 month range when they first look at books) The text is unremarkable – think of six adjectives, and that’s what girls/boys are – but the benefit comes from staring at so many baby faces. After years of the same book set, the appeal of looking at other people’s faces is still present as we flip through the pages.
There’s one from Global Babies that is specifically in both English and Spanish text – Bebes del Mundo/Global Babies.
This one, by Star Bright Books (so not the same company) has been our all-time favorite. Carry Me/Llevame – it shows babies around the world being carried by their parents and caregivers. Lots of fathers carrying their babies, mothers carrying their babies, and a photo from China that appears to be a grandmother carrying the baby. I think what makes this book the most interesting is that it contains the adults along with the baby, that added a level of fascination to it.
Llama Llama is everything!!! Llama Llama Gram and Grandpa is perfect for our household, as is Llama Llama Loves His Mama. Llama Llama’s household is a mother, who dresses like she is working in the 1990s (she gives of some Princess Diana work-dress vibes, and wears pearls). She is a stressed single mother, and in Llama Llama Gram and Grandpa it appears L.L. is going to be staying over (perhaps due to a work trip). This book wouldn’t make sense for families without the grandparents-as-caregivers role, but for families where grandparents are “a home away from home,” this book is a great book to store at their house for visits.
Bears in Chairs, Bears in Beds, Bears in Bath. We added in Bears and a Birthday, Bears in the Band, and “Bears in the Snow” to keep the excitement going. These were our first hardcover books put into the rotation, and they’ve been treated very well. So my quick takes on these: Bears in Chairs is a rhyming work of art. How is it possible to rhyme bears with share with chair, and make it flow so well and not feel like a middle school Valentine’s poem? The messages in them are so positive, they all work together. I would say skip “Bears in the Snow” if you don’t live where there’s snow often – and the rhyme scheme leaves something to be desired. Bears in the Bath is a great book for normalizing bath time, so it’s maybe my second pick. Bears and a Birthday has been fun to read during Birthday Month. So my rankings of Bears (controversial, I know) is Bears in Chairs, Bears in Bath, Bears in the Band, Bears and a Birthday. Bears in Bed is meh because it gets spooky for a second, and then they all end up in Big Brown Bear’s bed as a solution. It misses out on the creative element of Bears in Chairs, where they all push chairs together to make a bench big enough for 5. So many of the books thrive on creative play as the story line, and Bears in Bed doesn’t.
Trucks, Houses and other Priddy Books (with flaps). They start liking flap books about age 1, but HIDE them. At age 2, flap books are gently opened and closed like a respectable human would.
Daniel Tiger’s Bath Book Daniel Tiger’s Bath Time – These looked corporate in their printing, like the “made into a novel after the movie came out” situation. But they have been enjoyable to read, and they teach the same great life-planning messages that Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood teaches [for those of you who have not been consumed by children yet, Daniel Tiger lives in a cartoon version of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, where his dad may or may not have been the cat puppet.] Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is in the pantheon of good kid’s shows, alongside Sesame Street.
Now, while Daniel Tiger’s bath book is an open-and-shut experience of sibling love and getting clean, the Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood PBS show leaves us with so many unanswered questions – like why does Prince Tuesday have that many jobs (is he auditioning to be the understudy for Kirk, in Gilmore Girls)? Does Daniel Tiger live in a modern-day monarchy? Why is the town’s doctor also the volunteer firefighter – what happens if she gets hurt, or is putting out the fire while needing to rescue someone? Did Daniel Tiger’s family tastelessly put up tiger-print curtains made of real tiger skin, or are they faux tiger print? Why does Daniel’s mom wear pants but Daniel doesn’t? Why does he wear 2 piece pajamas for bedtime, at home, but then put on a 1-piece sweater as a complete outfit to go to school? Why do his sweaters and pj shirts turn into leotards whenever he uses the bathroom (which is A LOT)? How does Trolley know to pack the car seat for when baby Margaret is coming along with them, but not on other errands? Do they request Trolley like it’s Uber? Because that’s what it seems like. Those are the questions I have for the Daniel Tiger makers, but I’ve digressed… the Daniel Tiger books are wholesome and simple, while the Daniel Tiger show universe leaves more unsolved questions than Tiger King. Why doesn’t Daniel wear pants? He wears shoes.
Back to the books…
Brian Biggs Tinyville Town Gets To Work series. I’m a Librarian was our first in the series. I’m a Mail Carrier is our next. We might end up with the fire fighter or veternarian books next. I enjoy the friendliness, positivity, and overall human acceptance in Tinyville Town. I want to retire, and my neighbors be the folks in Tinyville Town. It’s like Richard Scarry in creating a fictional universe, but with the cartoon style reminiscent of the tv show “Doug”. This series is great for the preschool set.
Speaking of Richard Scarry, his books have also been a huge hit at our house. They were done in the 1960s originally, so he had to re-update them to make them more gender neutral. There’s still a lot of pigs wearing frilly floral dresses and male swine in banking business suits, in what has otherwise morphed into a mostly gender-not-specified animal town. It could use an infrastructure re-update, modern technology and more accurate cars (I noticed one picture had seatbelts drawn in for that 90s ‘update’, but the driver is not wearing a seatbelt. Again, it’s like nuggets in a time warp, although I do roll my eyes at every frilly apron or at a world that’s 85% male.)
But the books hold up as interesting for their world-building, the foundation on which Good Night Good Night Construction Site and Tinyville Town were built on. They’re a historical relic of old telephones and typerwriters. The Best Word Book Ever has what feels like a hundred pages to flip through. Everything on a farm, everything at an airport, everything on a busy street. Vocabulary-soaking-up baby loves asking about every word, page spread after page spread. I love it too. Dad is like, “nope, I’m out.” So it’s another series that’s not for everyone (it’s dated and dusty), but it’s found its niche with us. I’m generally fine with an “out with the old” principle in children’s books, but this one makes me want it to stick around. I would update Llama Lllama’s mama’s outfits before this book – or this book first, if it means keeping it fresh for another 20, 30 years.
Our Favorite Chapter Books for Early Readers:
Zoey and Sassafras, an eight book series about Zoey and her cat Sassafras as they investigate science, do problem-solving, and meet magical creatures. There’s a lot of learning about zoology going on in these books, disguised as fun. The Zoey and Sassafras series is a great read-aloud to 4 year old children, or as a book series for emerging readers such as those in grades K – 3 (ages 5 to 8). The biggest complaint that readers have is that there’s not enough books in the series – they’re left waiting for more to be published. (
If you already knew about Zoey and Sassafras 1-6 but weren’t aware of the new additions, here’s a link to Zoey & Sassafras #7
Wild Robot series – Wild Robot, and The Wild Robot Escapes. This book would be a parent read-aloud to a child 3rd grade or younger, as well as a book that a quick-reader might pick up for themselves. It’s beloved, but also a hit or a miss.
Imagine watching Fern Gully or Wall-E, I personally loved one of those and didn’t like another. But someone else found the one I loved to be scary and terrifying, and I’m like, “huh, what?” But I get it.
So Wild Robot is a book that people love, but it can leave people going “I didn’t like that book” – because it’s uncomfortable, realistic (as in opposite of cheery, not realistic in terms of befriending a robot), and not-a-happy-middle kind of story. Highly recommend it, so you can love it (or hate) it for yourself.
Other Honorable Mention:
Magic Schoolbus Chapter books (there are 20 in the series)
Here is The Great Shark Adventure – #7 for a small ‘bite’ of the series as a whole.
These are about as good as a Magic Treehouse book. A few people question the believability of the plot in these books – makes face – it’s a Magic School Bus book. But overall, they’re great early chapter books that teach science while going on impractical science adventures.
The original book series – the ones with more cartoons – are the best of the Magic School Bus Books and the true fan favorites, but these are good additions since we don’t get to have 20 of the original book series.
It’s more likely that we’d end up in a digestive tract before class lunchtime than get new widescope picture books of the Magic School Bus series.
Next time, I will tackle:
Picture Books About Famous (and Indie-Lesser-Known) Scientists for Kids
If you made it this far, thank you for spending this time with me getting inside my head regarding children’s books. If you feel like I’m speaking your book language, don’t hesitate to email me and let me know what in this post resonated. Share your book recommendations, too!