Help Kids Learn “Why?” Through STEAM Books and Activities
Because – why not!
By Zoey Barnes
If you have a preschooler, you might be familiar with the “why’s.” “Why, Mama?” “But… why?” One of my favorite answers (deflections?) is, “Let’s go look that up.” Except, we never manage to make it to the computer. Reading STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) books, however, has been a fantastic way to answer those “whys” and find more to ask.
Even better, lately I have been asking the excellent children’s librarians at the Santa Fe Public Library to create book bundles (more on these below) on STEAM, female scientists or anything that excites my 3-year-old. This has led to one of the most gratifying experiences I have had lately with my daughter: reading books about science and scientists. It is thrilling to watch her engage so enthusiastically with topics that excite and intrigue her. These are not topics that I would pick up myself, and to be honest, they are not even topics I can claim to understand all that well. But I do love science, and I love learning right along with her. I love helping to cultivate her wonder and awe at the world. These books also help to answer all those “why” questions. Just because I took classes in college called “Rainbows and Light” and “What is Time?” does not mean I understood them as well as I understood these books.
If you have older children on summer vacation, reading about STEAM during the summer can also help fill the gap between the school years. Many parents have concerns about how the pandemic has set their children back academically. Reading books on STEAM and doing activities together is certainly a way to keep our science minds and our curiosity engaged during the summer.
Here are a few books that have engaged the mind of a very curious 3-year-old and her parents, but these books might also interest younger school-aged children as well.
Scientists Get Dressed by Deborah Lee Rose (Persnickety Press, 2019)
At first I could not pinpoint exactly why my daughter adores this book. Maybe it is full-color picture spreads or the immediacy of seeing a scientist at work. Some of the most intriguing pages include astronaut Mae Jemison, a doctor holding a brain, a raptor biologist holding a bald eagle with a prosthetic beak, a volcanologist on a live volcano spewing lava, and a biologist swimming with blue sharks. Now, however, after many reads, I can see why she loves it so much and why it was the National DeBary Award Winner for Outstanding Science Books for Children. It brings the excitement of discovery and preparation for scientific journeys into your own home. It makes being a scientist or an engineer seem possible.
Moonshot by Brian Floca (Atheneum/Richard Jackson Books, 2019)
In-depth, gorgeous and detailed illustrations accompanied by a narrative in poetic verse make this book about the Apollo 11 moon landing, well, transcendent. Adults and children alike can delight in the pictures, the story or the accomplishment of two astronauts walking on the moon for the first time. The words are simple enough for older toddlers or young preschoolers. The pictures are descriptive enough for elementary-age kids, or even space-interested parents.
Lights Day and Night: The Science of How Light Works written by Susan Hughes, illustrated by Ellen Rooney (Kids Can Press, 2021)
This book follows a young girl and her kitty to illustrate the role light plays in our lives. The book is comprehensive but not complicated, and the sweet mixed-media illustrations illuminate (pun intended!) the text. The book includes a shadow puppet activity at the end so budding physicists can experiment with optics through light and shadow play.
Our World is Relative written by Julia Sooy, illustrated by Molly Walsh (Feiwel & Friends, 2019)
Do you understand relativity? Do you know how to explain relativity to a small child? Me? Well, not so much before, but now, yes, thanks to Our World is Relative. Sooy expertly and simply describes Einstein’s Theory of Relativity in a way that young learners can understand. With beautiful, accurate illustrations, this book follows a young girl throughout her day — riding a train, watching the sunset, looking at the stars — to convey with precise measure all the ways we can find the concept of relativity in our daily lives.
Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed (HarperCollins, 2018)
This book is based on astronaut Mae Jemison and is a favorite in our house. It imagines Jemison’s curiosity as a little girl looking up at the stars and the development of a strong interest that led to her work as a doctor and the first African American woman to travel into space. It is less heavy on facts or on the science of space travel. Instead, it captures the wonder of developing a fascination. When Mae’s teacher and class laugh at her for wanting to be an astronaut, her mother tells her that no one can stand in the way of her dreams. For any child, or adult for that matter, pursuing your passions and interests despite what others say is a vital lesson. In this case, one with out-of-this-world possibilities.
Tiny Creatures by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Emily Sutton (Candlewick, 2016)
What a relevant book during a global pandemic! Gorgeous illustrations of the smallest organisms make for fascinating reading and looking for even tiny kids. The watercolor illustrations of microbes will delight readers of all ages.
Bee Dance by Rick Chrustowski (Henry Holt & Co., 2015)
Did you know that bees dance to tell other bees where to find pollen and nectar? Simple words and paper cut-outs depict the daily task of a forager bee. My daughter gasped in awe at one picture of a meadow full of flowers.
Other series to enjoy:
Ada Twist Scientist, Rosie Revere Engineer, & Iggy Peck Architect: These books take a child’s intense interests and, to the amazement and amusement of their parents, follow how science, engineering, art and math become essential to their personalities as budding learners.
All of these books can be found at your local library or your local independent bookstore. To request a Children’s Personalized Book Bundle from any Santa Fe Public Library branch fill out an online form in English or Spanish, or call your nearest library. The library will call, email, or text when they are ready to be picked up. More information can be found on the Santa Fe Public Library website. To request a book bundle from the Vista Grande Public Library in Eldorado, please call them at (505) 466-7323.
Zoey Barnes is a writer and social worker. Prior to becoming a social worker, she was an adult and children’s bookseller for five years. She was born and raised in Santa Fe and recently returned home with her husband and 3-year-old daughter.