7 Brilliant Children’s Books That Teach Us about Our World
It will come as no surprise that we treasure beautiful books here at Chronicle. And when a book is both visually stunning and teaches us something true about the world, we’re even more excited.
Take a peek into picture books that put a magnifying glass up to our environment, open a window into different cultures, and transport us through history.
Over and Under the Pond + A Beetle Is Shy
As an adult, the best nonfiction I’ve read truly gave me a lens into a previously unexplored landscape. The essays of authors such as Alice Walker and Joan Didion allowed me to tiptoe into the American South and West. A similar magic exists in picture books. In Over and Under the Pond, a mother and son set off on a canoe ride through an Adirondack pond. What do they discover in that world? Painted turtles, mink, and ospreys, among other creatures. Open the pages and dive right in—you’ll learn much about the complex ecosystem of a wetland.
If you’re like me, you find insects abhorrent until someone shares some incredible facts about the tiny beings. That’s what happens in A Beetle Is Shy, a jewel box of a book by Dianna Hutts Aston. Full of astonishing surprises (like the fact that the bombardier beetle can release a boiling spray that changes into gas to confuse its enemies!), this book is for both bug lovers and bug haters alike. There’s no doubt that you’ll marvel the next time you see a beetle making its way across your path.
This Is How We Do It + Curious Constructions
Close your eyes and imagine what life is like for someone in another country—in Uganda, India, or Peru. What do those children eat? Or learn in school? What do they wear, and what do their families look like? That’s the premise of the brilliant book This Is How We Do It, meticulously researched by author Matt Lamothe, which captures the daily life of seven real children around the world. A celebration of both commonalities and differences, the book is a must-read.
Another book that transports you around the world through its pages is Curious Constructions. Did you know that Norway has an enormous vault that holds bags of seeds for more than 800,000 crops? How was the Ithaa Undersea Restaurant in the Maldives built? Perfect for the fact-hungry reader who enjoys architecture and awesomeness, this book is absolutely packed full of unusual facts that showcase human imagination and ingenuity.
Round Is a Tortilla + Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns
Concept books, when developed with a cultural context, is a delightful marriage of information. In Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors, each spread features a stunning wash of color and lush image alongside must-read rhyming text. Each page illuminates an element of Muslim heritage and tradition. “Brown is a date, plump and sweet. During Ramadan, it’s my favorite treat.” The helpful glossary at the end explains unfamiliar terms.
In Round Is a Tortilla, a little girl discovers how she is surrounded by shapes. “Round are tortillas and tacos, too. Round is a pot of abuela‘s stew. I can name more round things. Can you?” Many of the featured objects are Latino in origin, lightly immersing readers in Hispanic culture.
As a child, I was riveted by the series Childhood of Famous Americans—old hardcover biographies from the 1940’s and 1950’s. On summer days, I liked nothing better than to curl up on the patio and take a trip to the worlds of Susan B. Anthony and Harry Houdini. Biographies can be our very own analog Time-Turners!
Have you ever marveled at the lightness and fun of children’s picture books? For that, we have to thank John Newbery, subject of the highly entertaining picture book Balderdash! John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children’s Books. Newbery, a revolutionary thinker and publisher, reinvented children’s books by infusing them with a spark of humor and delight. “John liked children. Why shouldn’t they have delightful books of their own?” Indeed! This brilliant book brings the bustling world of St. Paul’s Churchyard in the 18th century to life.
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It’s often true that fact is stranger (and more exciting!) than fiction. Let’s celebrate beautiful facts!
Photography by Irene Kim Shepherd
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