Book Reviews: Discoveries Galore — Three Children’s Books About the Natural World

By Cyrisse Jaffee

This trio of beautifully illustrated children’s books offer journeys into science that rival science fiction.

The Universe in You: A Microscopic Journey by Jason Chin, Neal Porter Books, 2022.

We’re Not Weird: Structure and Function in the Animal Kingdom by Michael Garland. Holiday House, 2023.

What a Shell Can Tell by Helen Scales. Illustrated by Sonia Pulido. Phaidon Press, 2022.

This trio of beautifully illustrated children’s books offer journeys into science that rival science fiction. The most spectacular one, The Universe in You, begins with the Calliope Hummingbird (the smallest bird in the United States) and ends with atoms, molecules, and elementary particles — the building blocks of life. These combine to make “a singular person, who can think and feel and discover.” In a nice nod to diversity, the “singular person” happens to be a girl in a wheelchair. As the narrative takes us deeper and deeper into tinier and tinier things, the stunning illustrations help us visualize the complex concepts. This book will fascinate not just curious kids and budding scientists, but adults as well. Extensive notes provide additional information. Jason Chin is an award-winning author and illustrator who previously received the Caldecott Medal (given annually to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children) for Watercress by Andrea Wang. His book Grand Canyon was awarded a Caldecott Honor, a Sibert Honor (for outstanding informational books) and the NCTE Orbis Pictus Award (excellence in nonfiction).

Despite its awkward title, We’re Not Weird will surely appeal to kids who love animals — and those who love all things “weird”! From saiga antelopes to Atolla jellyfish to narwhals to Sunda flying lemurs, this compendium of 20 lesser-known beings explains how “special body parts” and behaviors help these animals adapt to their environment. The attractive and colorful woodcuts and digital illustrations will help keep children engaged. Kids tend to remember the strangest things and this book will give them lots of facts to impress their peers or grandparents with their arcane knowledge. An index, glossary, and additional notes are included.

Although it’s not quite the season in the northeast for beachcombing, What a Shell Can Tell will get kids ready for summer. Written by a marine biologist, this oversize book is chock full of information about over 50 kinds of shells and mollusks around the world. In addition to “where they live, what they eat, how they move,” as the subtitle tells you, the book also explains how shells can give us insights into not just the deepest ocean floor and coral reefs, but the past and the future as well. The lovely illustrations, created digitally, add vibrancy to the text. Kids tend to be natural shell collectors. This book will help them expand their knowledge base and sharpen their observation skills for their next beach adventure.

Cyrisse Jaffee is a former children’s and YA librarian, a children’s book editor and book reviewer, and a creator of educational materials for WGBH. She holds a master’s degree in Library Science from Simmons College and lives in Newton, MA.

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