Children's Books

Animals Charles Darwin Saw

by Sandra Markle
San Francisco (CA): Chronicle Books, 2009. 45 pages.

For his part, reviewer Ben Roberts found Animals Charles Darwin Saw to be clearly written if sometimes dry, punctuated with interesting anecdotes, and ornamented with colorful and interesting illustrations, although the map of the voyage of the Beagle should have been more prominent. Fourth-grade children to whom he read the book enjoyed the anecdotes but regarded Darwin unappealing as a person (“just some crazy dude”), and Roberts concluded that “Markle could have done a better job of conveying who Darwin was as a human being—his upbringing, experiences, and dreams.” Overall, he recommended the book as “a nice addition to any school library’s shelves.”

Dar and the Spear-Thrower

by Marjorie Cowley
New York: Clarion Books, 1996. 188 pages.

Written by the creator of a 30-hour curriculum on Prehistoric People and Their World, this story is set in Southern France, 15,000 years ago. A coming of age story that is especially appealing to sixth graders, the book is rich in details about the daily life and technology of prehistoric hunter-gatherers. The novel and accompanying teachers' guide are also designed to "get students to think like archaeologists." Grades 5–7. Approved for use in teaching 6th grade prehistory in California.

Darwin and Evolution for Kids

by Kristin Lawson
Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2003. 160 pages.

In Darwin and Evolution for Kids, Lawson provides a biography of Darwin combined with a sketch of his ideas and their development, along with "engaging and fun activities where children can: make their own fossils using clay, seashells, and plaster; keep field notes as backyard naturalists; investigate whether acquired traits are passed along to future generations; explore the adaptive strategies plants have developed to distribute seeds; observe how carnivorous plants trap and devour their prey; go on a botanical treasure hunt." Darwin and Evolution for Kids was selected by National Public Radio's Science Friday as one of the best science books of 2003. For ages 9 and up.

Darwin: With Glimpses into his Private Journal & Letters

by Alice B. McGinty
Boston: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2009. 48 pages.

Reviewer Louise S. Mead recommends both of these books about Darwin’s life and work, aimed at children ages 6 to 9, both of which appealingly incorporate excerpts from Darwin’s journals. What Mr. Darwin Saw “is a fun picture book [with] ... whimsical colorful illustrations depicting his adventures,” although the story is somewhat disjointed and the explanation of evolution through natural selection is inferior to that in Darwin, which is “easy for children to understand and stresses that evolution happens over many generations.”

Dinosaur Ghosts: The Mystery of Coelophysis

by J. Lynett Gillette, illustrated by Douglas Henderson
New York: Dial, 1997. 32 pages.

Science comes alive in Lynett Gillette's story of the remarkable discovery of fossils at Ghost Ranch, where, 225 million years ago, hundreds of Coelophysis dinosaurs perished "in a tangle of necks, tails, arms, and legs." What catastrophe caused their death and burial? In considering the various scenarios — volcano? flood? poisoned water? asteroid? — Gillette painlessly introduces young readers to the scientific method. Profusely illustrated, with haunting paintings by Douglas Henderson.

Dinosaurs

by Thomas R. Holtz Jr.
New York: Random House, 2007. 427 pages.

Billed as "the most complete, up-to-date encyclopedia for dinosaur lovers of all ages," Thomas R. Holtz Jr.'s Dinosaurs brings together contributions from thirty-three of the world's leading paleontologists (including the president of NCSE's board of directors, Kevin Padian), spectacular illustrations by Luis V. Rey, and Holtz's own enthusiastic and informative text. The jacket copy proclaims, "This is not your mother's dinosaur book. Written specifically for young people from a professional paleontologists' perspective, it's packed with enough detail and insider information to satisfy even die-hard dinophiles."

Earthsteps: A Rock's Journey Through Time

by Diane Nelson Spickert, illustrated by Marianne D Wallace
Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publishing, 2010. 32 pages.

Is the 250-million-year career of a rock a suitable subject for a picture book aimed at kindergarteners through third-graders? Yes! Writes the reviewer for The Children's Bookwatch, "Marianne Wallace's artwork is nothing short of spectacular. Diane Spickert's narrative text is absolutely faithful to the geology and paleontology of the Earth's record as recorded by fossils. Earthsteps is a 'must' for personal, school and community library children's science books and non-fiction picturebook collections." Complemented with a geological time scale (from the Permian to the Holocene) and a glossary of geological terms. Now available in paperback!

Evolution Revolution

by Robert Winston
New York: DK Publishing, 2009. 96 pages.

Reviewer Louise S. Mead offers a mixed if generally positive verdict on both of these books for children. The Big Picture Book is colorful and attractive, and its presentation of the evidence for evolution from the fossil record is appealing, but its treatment of deep time is not ideal and some of the information is out of date. Evolution Revolution teems with detail and activities to try at home, but the layout is busy, perhaps to the point of confusion, and there are errors in the discussion of the rate and cause of mutations.

Evolution: The Story of Life on Earth

by Jay Hosler
New York: Hill and Wang, 2011. 151 pages.

Reviewer Scott Hatfield praises Hosler’s graphic novel as both amusing and educational, writing, “Evolution: The Story of Life on Earth makes it clear that the ideas first glimpsed by Darwin are not confined to old textbooks, but instead form the basis of an active, lively field of scientific inquiry. Its engaging characters, informed content, and clever illustrations make this book an excellent selection for anyone, young or old, interested in learning more about evolution.” The chapters outlining the history of life possess “an epic feel, with the artists using a great variety of panel layouts that creatively address the needs of the material.”

From So Simple a Beginning

by Philip Whitfield
New York: Macmillan, 1993. 220 pages.

With more than 400 stunning illustrations including color photographs and diagrams that genuinely clarify the text, this book tells the story of life and lucidly explains evolutionary principles — no misconceptions allowed. Fascinating insets illustrate concepts like mutation and adaptation with phenomena ranging from the sickle-cell gene to the rattlesnake's heat sensors. Foreword by Roger Lewin. Ages 12–grandparent.

Ice Age Mammals of North America: A Guide to the Big, the Hairy, and the Bizarre

by Ian Lange
Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company, 2002. 224 pages.

The time is the Pleistocene epoch, about 2 million to 10,000 years ago. Continent-size ice sheets cover 30 percent of the earth's landmass, and strange creatures rove the landscape. Ice Age Mammals of North America transports you to the world of saber-tooth cats, woolly mammoths, four-hundred-pound beavers, and twenty-foot-tall ground sloths. The book opens with an overview of the geologic events that led to the Pleistocene epoch and explores possible causes for the ice ages. Generously illustrated descriptions of the animals themselves — what they looked like, how and where they lived, how they may have interacted with early humans — form the heart of the book. A final chapter examines the question of why so many of these animals became extinct by the end of the Pleistocene time. Fun sidebars explore such topics as why some Ice Age animals were so large and how natural processes preserved and even mummified specimens. A list of museums and fossil sites tells readers where they can view remains of these fascinating creatures.

Mary Mae and the Gospel Truth

by Sandra Dutton
New York: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2010. 144 pages.

“This is a story about the interaction of science and religion, told from the perspective of a 10-year-old,” writes reviewer David C. Kopaska-Merkel. “Nevertheless, there is a lot of science in this book, both fact and theory”—particularly concerning trilobites. While the book is aimed at a young adult audience, “I enjoyed reading it myself. The characters are solid and the story well told. The plot has enough twists and turns to satisfy.” Kopaska-Merkel concluded, “The book is as entertaining and thoughtful as any attempt I have seen to tackle the idea that religion and science are compatible. And not just liberal religion and science, but any religion and science.”

Our Family Tree

by Lisa Westberg Peters
San Diego: Harcourt Children's Books, 2003. 48 pages.

Charmingly illustrated by Lauren Stringer, Our Family Tree is the perfect picture book about evolution for children ages 4-8 (supplemented with explanations, a handful of references, and a timeline for their adult friends). Reviewing Our Family Tree in RNCSE, Lisa M. Blank recommends the book to "[p]arents and teachers struggling for an intellectually honest and yet engaging approach for answering young children's questions about how life began." And Ernst Mayr wrote, "If we do not understand evolution, we will never understand our world. How lucky our children are to have this beautiful and moving guide from which to learn!"

Pioneers of Geology: Discovering Earth's Secrets

by Margaret W. Carruthers and Susan Clinton
New York: Franklin Watts, 2001. 144 pages.

Suitable for budding geologists in fifth through ninth grades, Pioneers of Geology engagingly presents the history of geology by concentrating on the life and works of six important geologists: James Hutton, Charles Lyell, G. K. Gilbert, Alfred Wegener, Harry Hess, and Gene Shoemaker (who not only discovered the comet Shoemaker–Levy 9, but also is widely considered the father of planetary geology). With black-and-white illustrations and photographs; a geological time scale and a diagram of the age and structure of the earth appear in appendices, along with a helpful glossary and a bibliography including references to internet resources.

Raptors, Fossils, Fins & Fangs: A Prehistoric Creature Feature

by Brad Matsen & Ray Troll
Berkeley, CA: Tricycle Press, 1998. 48 pages.

With vividly colored illustrations by Ray Troll (whose delightful illustrations grace every issue of RNCSE) and text by Brad Matsen, Raptors, Fossils, Fins & Fangs describes the history of animal life from the Cambrian to the present, using representative species from trilobites to you and me. Perfect for children aged 5–9 and the people who love them (with timelines on every page for curious grownups). "Troll and Matsen are the best," writes Peter Ward of the University of Washington: "This book is for all the kids, grown and otherwise, who still love fossils."

Stones & Bones

by Char Matejovsky, illustrated by Robaire Ream
Santa Rosa, CA: Polebridge Press, 2007. 28 pages.

From the publisher: "Beautifully illustrated in full color, Stones & Bones sketches the story of evolution in seventeen verses. Through words and illustrations readers will find answers to questions such as, when did the Age of Mammals begin and what is it called? When did the first horses appear on earth? The first whales? What is the name and date of Darwin's revolutionary book on evolution? When did the earth begin to form? And many more." NCSE's Eugenie C. Scott says, "Stones & Bones will delight the picture-book set with its rhythmic verse and gorgeous, intricate pictures. Readers (and the read-to) also are likely to learn the real science of evolution, a definite plus."

The Big Picture Book

by John Long
Crows Nest, New South Wales, Australia: Allen & Unwin, 2005. 48 pages.

Reviewer Louise S. Mead offers a mixed if generally positive verdict on both of these books for children. The Big Picture Book is colorful and attractive, and its presentation of the evidence for evolution from the fossil record is appealing, but its treatment of deep time is not ideal and some of the information is out of date. Evolution Revolution teems with detail and activities to try at home, but the layout is busy, perhaps to the point of confusion, and there are errors in the discussion of the rate and cause of mutations.

The Little Giant Book of Dinosaurs

by Thomas R. Holtz Jr.
New York: Sterling Publishing, 2001. 352 pages.

As The Little Giant Book of Dinosaurs reminds us in its opening words, "There was a time when nobody knew about dinosaurs." Aided by Terry Riley's numerous black-and-white illustrations, Thomas R. Holtz carefully and concisely explains how the dinosaurs were discovered, what we know about them, where they came from, and where they went. The book includes a useful glossary as well as lists of dinosaurs by epoch and by location. The author, who teaches at the University of Maryland, College Park, is a member of NCSE.

The Lucy Man: The Scientist Who Found the Most Famous Fossil Ever!

by C. A. P. Saucier
Amherst (NY): Prometheus Books, 2011. 136 pages.

Reviewer Tom Wanamaker writes, “Don Johanson is a major figure in the field of science and this book should give anyone, expert or beginner, a better appreciation of the man and his work. It would make a fine gift to a young aspiring fossil-hunter and a worthy addition to any school library.” He especially praises the book, aimed at readers ten and older, for its copious illustrations, the notes for further reading at the end of the chapters, and its descriptions of evolution and natural selection “at a level that is appropriate for any audience.”

The Sandwalk Adventures

by Jay Hosler
Columbus, OH: Active Synapse, 2002. 159 pages.

A delightful graphic novel, in which Charles Darwin himself explains the rudiments of deep time, common ancestry, and natural selection to Mara, a winsome befreckled adolescent who just happens to live in Darwin's left eyebrow — she is, after all, a follicle mite. Reviewing The Sandwalk Adventures for BioScience, NCSE deputy director Glenn Branch praised it for its "engaging art and snappy dialogue" as well as its pedagogical sophistication: "Hosler obviously is aware of the likely misconceptions that his readership will have about evolution." Also the author/illustrator of the equally delightful Clan Apis, a graphic novel about honeybees, Hosler teaches biology at Juniata College.

The Scopes Trial: Defending the Right to Teach

by Arthur Blake
Brookfield, CT: Millbrook Press, 1994. 64 pages.

The Scopes Trial was, at bottom, about what children ought to be taught in science class, so it is appropriate that Blake wrote his book specifically for children between 9 and 12, clearly and thoroughly describing the Scopes trial and its enduring significance for religion, education, and society. Contains photographs, bibliography, chronology, and index. Part of the Spotlight on American History series.

What Mr. Darwin Saw

by Mick Manning and Brita Granström
London: Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2009. 48 pages.

Reviewer Louise S. Mead recommends both of these books about Darwin’s life and work, aimed at children ages 6 to 9, both of which appealingly incorporate excerpts from Darwin’s journals. What Mr. Darwin Saw “is a fun picture book [with] ... whimsical colorful illustrations depicting his adventures,” although the story is somewhat disjointed and the explanation of evolution through natural selection is inferior to that in Darwin, which is “easy for children to understand and stresses that evolution happens over many generations.”