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Favorite Living Science Books for Grades 4–6

Some of the most enjoyable things about teaching science in the elementary years, when you’re using the Charlotte Mason method, are that you get to share books that make science come alive to that child, you get to pique their interest in nature all around them, and you get to expose them to a world of nature that they might not otherwise have access to. All of that is done through those living books and that nature study that are so intrinsically part of a Charlotte Mason approach. Today we want to focus on the living books. And here to share some of her favorites is my friend and coworker, Karen Smith.

Sonya: Karen, today we’re going to focus on books for what grades?

Karen: Grades four through six.

Sonya: All right, and you just recently released a new science study for those grades, called Exploring What God Has Made. Many of these books are included in that study, correct?

Karen: Yes.

Sonya: And there are many more in that study.

Karen: Oh, yes.

Sonya: So these are some of your favorites, and I’m excited to hear all about them. Are you ready to dive in?

Karen: I am ready.

Sonya: All right. The first one is called The Secret Life of a Snowflake by Kenneth Libbrecht.

Karen: Yes. This is a fascinating look at how snow forms, the properties of snow, and the different structure of different types of snow. It has fascinating photographs in it. Kenneth Libbrecht photographs snowflakes. It’s one of the things he does. And so the book is filled with photographs of snowflakes and their different structures, and he explains all of that in the book.

Sonya: It reminds me of an updated version of Snowflake Bentley and what Bentley used to do. I wonder if Bentley motivated him and inspired him in his studies.

Karen: May have been, yes.

Sonya: What a wonderful science relation there, wow.

Karen: Yes, and this is a great book for those of you who live in cold climates to use. Even if you don’t use the study, it’s a great book to grab to discover the snow that’s around you during those cold winter months.

Sonya: Wonderful. All right, next we have A Drop of Water: A Book of Science and Wonder by Walter Wick.

Karen: Yes, this book covers topics like evaporation, condensation, capillary action, and surface tension, but it does it through text that is engaging and just wonderful photographs also.

Sonya: So this is not a dry textbook-y approach.

Karen: No, it is not. And it also includes in the back some experiments that you can do at home with water.

Sonya: Nice. Oh, here’s an old friend, Pagoo by Holling C. Holling.

Karen: Yes, it’s a favorite author all around. But Pagoo follows the life of a hermit crab from the time that he hatches out of his egg until the time that he is ready to mate. And it just describes the efforts he has to make to find his shell home and the dangers that he faces living in the ocean. But through his course of life, we meet other sea creatures like mussels and an octopus and all sorts of things. And we learn more than just about a hermit crab.

Sonya: And I’m sure it’s all done in Holling C. Holling style, which is so living.

Karen: Yes, with lots of information around the edges that you can read if you want to, to learn more. Again, you can just do the main text or read those extra bits too.

Sonya: This one’s called Life in a Bucket of Soil by Alvin and Virginia Silverstein.

Karen: Yes. This book is a gem. This book has been around for a long time. I actually own a copy of it that the authors published under a pseudonym, but today you can get it with their real names on it. But it takes you through how to collect specimens and how to study invertebrates that live in the soil. And you learn about things from earthworms to spiders to beetles and to all sorts of little things that live in the soil. It’s just a wonderful guide for nature study, but as I told, you learn about all those things too. So it’s not just, “Here’s how to go out and collect those.”

Sonya: So it’s a combination.

Karen: Yes.

Sonya: Nice. And here’s two little eyes looking up at me: Frog Heaven: Ecology of a Vernal Pool by Doug Wechsler. Okay, tell me about this vernal pool thing.

Karen: Vernal pools are temporary bodies of water. They form in the spring when snow melts and you get the spring rains. But then because they don’t have a source feeding them, like a creek or a stream or a spring, they dry up eventually. And so this book tells you about all of the life that is dependent on a vernal pool, from frogs and salamanders to the different plants and the different birds and animals that come to them, and how those are used by them.

Sonya: So it’s not just about frogs.

Karen: No, it’s about all sorts of things that happen there. and it follows it through a year. So you get to see the vernal pool at different seasons also.

Sonya: Oh, nice. All right, Snake Scientist by Sy Montgomery.

Karen: Yes. This book tells you all about the garter snake, how it lives, how it hibernates in the winter time, and how they find mates. But it also tells you about how scientists study them and the things that they do to learn more about them. So just a fascinating book with photographs of the snakes and people holding them and doing different experiments with them.

Sonya: Okay, what are you going to tell the mom who says, “I’m not getting that book. That’s snakes. I’m not even going to touch that book.”

Karen: Snakes are God’s creatures too. And none of the snakes in this book will harm you.

Sonya: Big Cats by Nic Bishop. Now, those who didn’t like the snakes, maybe they’d like to pet this tiger. It looks very fuzzy.

Karen: They might, though the tiger is probably more dangerous to them than the snakes.

Sonya: Good point.

Karen: Nic Bishop is another one of my favorite nature authors. He does fabulous photographs of all sorts of things in nature. Big Cats is just one of his books. This one has those excellent photographs of his but also tells you about many of the different big cats. Now, he does general information about big cats, so things that they all have in common, but then he also tells details about tigers and lions and mountain lions and leopards and all sorts of the big cat family, wild cats. In the back of almost every one of his books, he also tells you a little bit about how he got the photographs and his experiences in getting those photographs.

Sonya: I’m sure he had some adventures.

Karen: Which is a wonderful way for you to get ideas for doing nature study also. And it also gives you an idea that people who take photographs for nature or film documentaries, it takes a lot of effort to do those.

Sonya: Those are great ideas to introduce to your child along with the animals itself. Wonderful. All right, so those are all in Exploring What God Has Made, that science course. Now there’s a few more sitting here that are not in that course. And this first one looks like an old one, but it’s probably a good one, I’m sure, if it’s your favorite. It’s called Beaver Business by Glen Rounds.

Karen: Yes, Glen Rounds is another one of my favorite nature authors. Glen Rounds writes about his experiences in nature. This book is about his experiences observing a family of beavers in a swamp. And so the whole book, he’s not telling you just scientific information about them, he’s telling you about what he observed by watching them. And so just a fascinating look at the lives of beavers.

Sonya: Now, it’s out of print. So libraries might have it, do you think?

Karen: Library or used book sellers. It is older. You might be able to find it at a good library, but probably used book sellers.

Sonya: Okay, great. An Extraordinary Life: The Story of a Monarch Butterfly by Laurence Pringle.

Karen: Yes, this book is fascinating. It doesn’t just cover the life of a butterfly—from egg to butterfly, the whole stages of the caterpillar—but it also covers the migration of the butterflies through North America down to Mexico and their overwintering there. And the illustrations are just gorgeous and fascinating in it. And again, a book that is out of print. So you’ll need to find it used or at your library.

Sonya: It’s hard to find good children’s living science books that stay in print. It seems like, even more than history books, science books tend to go out of print faster.

Karen: About every two to three years. Two to three years is about as long as most of them stay in print.

Sonya: That’s just sad, but hopefully we can find the used copies. And the last one that you have to share with us today is A King Salmon Journey by Debbie S. Miller, who’s one of your favorites, I know, and John H. Eiler.

Karen: Yes, this book follows the life cycle of a salmon, but instead of beginning with the salmon hatching out of its egg and growing up and going to the ocean, it goes the opposite way. It starts with the adult salmon and follows it as it swims back to its first place. And along the way you meet the different people who live along its route going there: how they use the salmon and what they do with it and how they capture it and just a little bit about their lives. And you also learn about scientists and how they study the salmon in the ways that they do that too. So lots of ideas within that book.

Sonya: Yes. Now these last three books that you mentioned that are not included in Exploring What God Has Made are included on your living science book list.

Karen: Yes.

Sonya: So on our website, you have compiled a free list of your favorite living science books for all the grades. It’s huge. I don’t know how many titles are on there, but it represents a lot of your life researching and finding the gems. Thanks for sharing these with us today.

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