Favorite Living Science Books for Grades 1–3

During the early elementary years, you want to accomplish three things with your science lessons. First, you want to cultivate within your child a sense of wonder at God’s creation. Second, you want to help that child cultivate a habit of close observation, and third, you need to lay the ground work of personal experience and that’s going to support future science studies. How do you do those three things? Well, let’s ask Karen Smith.

Sonya: Karen, how do you do those three things in the early elementary science lessons?

Karen: Through reading living science books and doing nature study; getting your children outside so they can observe firsthand. Those two things: nature study gives your child an opportunity to make personal observations in nature, and living science books provide information to go with your child’s personal observations. They pique his interest in things for science and nature and expose him to a world of nature that he might not have access to where he lives.

Sonya: Yes, so they can do both, support his own experience but then expand on it as well.

Karen: Today I have 10 of my favorite living science books for grades 1 through 3.

Sonya: This will be a treat to hear about these books. Are we ready to dive in?

Karen: We are ready.

Sonya: Okay, first one is A Seed is Sleepy by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long.

Karen: This book is beautifully illustrated and it shows how seeds are different in how they look, how they are dispersed, and how long they take to grow into a mature plant. But it also shows how they are the same in the way of the parts that they have and the ways that they germinate. It’s just a gorgeous book and very gentle for children to learn about all the different seeds that are out there.

Sonya: Now, I love how you’ve created companions that go with different living science book spines, if you will. And the companion for the Outdoor Secrets book includes this one as well, right? The companion expands on that living science book spine. So they might hear one story about a seed in that spine, but then if a parent has that companion book, it will list other library books, experiments maybe, or nature study projects that will expand on and elaborate on those. So this book is listed in the Outdoor Secrets Companion. Beautiful book. All right, next we have Pond by Gordon Morrison.

Karen: Yes, this one is used for third graders in our Pond and Stream Companion. It’s similar to Outdoor Secrets Companion but for Pond and Stream. This book tells about the fascinating life that happens in and around a pond throughout the course of one year. It has a main text narrative that goes throughout the whole book, but on almost every two-page spread there is more information, if the child is interested, down in smaller print. So there’s more information if they want it but otherwise she can just read the main text.

Sonya: And I hear that you repeated that, “If they are interested; if they want it.” Talk a little bit about how important that is at this early elementary level.

Karen: You want to keep an interest in science and nature at these young ages. You don’t want to pile on your child if they’re not ready for it. You want them to be ready for it and eager for it. And so it’s important for them to have good experiences now so that when they get to the hard work of studying one branch of science in the later years, they can carry that excitement with them. That’s important.

You want to keep an interest in science and nature at these young ages. You don’t want to pile on your child if they’re not ready for it. You want them to be ready for it and eager for it. And so it’s important for them to have good experiences now so that when they get to the hard work of studying one branch of science in the later years, they can carry that excitement with them.

Sonya: That’s a good way to put it. All right, how about The Brook Book: Exploring the Smallest Streams. Oh! Jim Arnosky, he’s one of your favorites.

Karen: One of my favorite nature authors. This book relates what you can find in and around streams, but it also gives you instructions on how to observe those things and how to catch them and release them when you’re done observing. It gives you tips on doing nature study also, which is fabulous. Jim Arnosky is so great at that.

Sonya: Oh, he is.

Karen: This book you will have to find it at your library or from used booksellers, because it is no longer in print.

Sonya: It’s so sad that so many of Jim Arnosky’s wonderful books are not in print anymore. He does have some still in print, but others aren’t. If you find a Jim Arnosky—I would say any of them—snatch them up.

And that one’s also in the Pond and Stream Companion.

Karen: It’s just an optional book because it is out of print, but if you can find it, grab it, because it is a gem of a book.

Sonya: Now your latest companion is is a little bit more elaborate than the other companions. The one for grades 1 through 3 is called Discovering What God Has Made. Several of these books we’re going to go through now are included in that new one, right?

Karen: Yes.

Sonya: So here’s a little taste of what to expect in the new one.

Karen: The new science course is based on the days of Creation. So it’s more of a general science course. You’re going to study all sorts of things with it. So I have chosen some of my favorites from that.

Sonya: There are a lot of wonderful books in that course, but here’s the first one, Crow Not Crow by Jane Yolan and Adam Stemple.

Karen: Yes, this book actually shows you how to start small with nature study. It is the story of a dad and his young daughter, and it’s the first time that she gets to go birding with her father. She’s excited because her older brothers have gone and they know all sorts of birds by now but she doesn’t know anything. And so her dad takes her through how to do birding. He starts by helping her see things, and he points out, he says, “What do you see on the ground?” “Oh, ants!” and then he points out something else. The first bird that they see is a crow, and he tells her to observe that crow carefully, “What do you notice about that crow?” Then he guides her into what color it is and what the size is. The rest of the book is her comparing other birds to the crow she knows. And all she knows about the birds that are not crows is that they are not crows. He does not identify them for her. So she learns one bird at a time in this way. At the end of the book she’s excited, because she knows the next time they go out, it’ll be another bird that they get to learn.

Sonya: That is genius, because so often it’s the parent’s temptation to just spew the knowledge. We’re out here, “That’s a crow and that’s a cardinal and that’s this and that’s that.” We could completely overwhelm the child. I love that approach.

Karen: Yes. It’s a wonderful book, and in the back of it, it has a little picture of every bird that’s in the book—not crows as well as the crow. And then it’s linked to the Merlin Bird App. There’s a little QR code for every bird, so you can hear its sound if you want to. A very wonderful book.

Sonya: Yes, for those early elementary kids. Now another book in the Discovering What God Has Made guide is A Drop Around the World by Barbara Shaw McKinney. Tell us about this one.

Karen: This one is a look at the water cycle but in a little different way. We follow one drop of water as it makes its way around the world, either through falling to the ground as rain or going through a stream; sometimes a cow drinks it and it comes out as milk and it gets spilled and it’s evaporated. And so it goes through the water cycle and shows how water moves around the world and the different ways that it does that.

Sonya: Oh, I like that. That’ll be great. Another one is Where Butterflies Grow by Joanne Ryder. I never think of butterflies as growing. That’s a catchy title.

Karen: Well, they do grow because the caterpillars grow, and then they emerge as butterflies, which do not grow anymore, but the caterpillars grow. And so this book follows the lifecycle of a Swallowtail butterfly instead of a Monarch. There are so many books on Monarch butterflies, so it’s nice to find one that is about a different type of butterfly. It shows every stage. And as you can see from the cover, there are a lot of things going on in each picture, but it’s not overwhelming. The child can look and observe what’s going on outside of the butterfly also.

Sonya: Yes, you get the bee and the caterpillar and the butterflies themselves, and the mouse and different types of flowers. But as you say, it’s not overwhelming.

Karen: No, they are very gentle pictures but very interesting for the child to look and observe, if they want to do that. Otherwise, you can just follow the caterpillar and butterfly throughout the book.

Sonya: Okay, great. Now this has been a favorite of mine for many, many years, Box Turtle At Long Pond by William T. George.

Karen: Yes, this is the day in the life of a box turtle and how he misses his opportunity for getting food and how he eventually gets some. Just a wonderful, gentle story, and you learn so much about the box turtle in it.

Sonya: It’s hard to learn about a box turtle through nature study unless you have a lot of time.

Karen: And if you can find one.

Sonya: Yes, so this story will expand a child’s ideas of the turtle beyond just sitting there. It’s a beautiful book. All right, another one that is in the Discovering What God Has Made is A Caribou Journey by Debbie S. Miller.

Karen: Debbie Miller is becoming another one of my favorite nature authors. I’ve discovered her by researching all these different science courses for you. A Caribou Journey follows a mother caribou and her yearling bull calf, and eventually she has another calf, but it follows a year in their life and how they live and the dangers that they face. It’s all done in a gentle way that is not scary to young children; there’s nothing that’s gory, but you understand that they face dangers. We don’t go into big details about it; the suggestion’s there.

Sonya: Which is appropriate at this stage.

Karen: Yes, but again, a very nicely illustrated book but very gentle in its storytelling, and you learn a lot about caribou. Most of us are not going to see caribou outside of a zoo. So this is a way to expose your children to something that might not be in your location.

Sonya: Great! All right, Crocodile Safari. Oh, this is another Jim Arnosky. Is this one in print?

Karen: This one is not in print. You must find this one at your library or used book sellers also. Crocodile Safari is Jim Arnosky’s and his wife’s experiences exploring the Florida Everglades looking for crocodiles, and he describes the differences between crocodiles and alligators and what they’re looking for. He goes through each day and how many they saw each day, and just Jim-Arnosky style all throughout. Very well done. If you can find a book that still has the DVD with it, the DVD gives you Jim Arnosky showing you live some of the crocodiles, but then he also gives you tips on how to draw them on the DVD. So that is a really nice addition to the book. So if you find the book, look for that DVD, that’ll be a bonus.

Sonya: Now this last book is not in any of the companions, but it is in a wonderful resource that you have provided free on our website, which is a list of living science books for all the grades. I don’t even know how many titles you have on there now, but that’s been hours and hours and hours of research as you look and, you know, “Not that one, not that one, not that one, here’s a gem,” and put those gems on there. Here’s one of the titles on that list, Star of the Sea: A Day in the Life of a Starfish by Janet Halfmann. Tell us about this book.

Karen: This was a book that I had hoped to use in Discovering What God Has Made, but it went out of print. So again it’s one that you will need to find at your library. It is a newer book, so you may be able to find it at your library or from used book sellers. It’s the story of a starfish and the dangers that it faces throughout its day, and how it eats, and just wonderful things that you learn about the starfish just by looking at a day in its life. Again, it’s something that many of us cannot observe in our location but we can still learn about it through the book.

Sonya: Yes, and even for those, I would think, who live near a beach where starfish live, a lot of the things that this tells you would be difficult to observe firsthand.

Karen: Most likely, yes.

Sonya: Great book. Thank you. This has been great, and I hope you will give us reviews on other grades as well in future posts. We’ll invite you back to do that.


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