Have you been captivated by Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, the recent follow-up to Carl Sagan's seminal documentary series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage? Me too. While the engaging style would likely draw in high school and perhaps middle grade students, it might be a bit too advanced for the younger crowd, despite some amazing visuals and animations. But why wait to introduce them to basic concept of the world, nay, cosmos they live in? History, nature, and the scientific method can really activate an imagination, stimulate curiosity, and provoke inquiry. I've compiled a starter reading list for kids for these exact purposes. All titles are, of course, available at your trusty 24/7 resource center, the New York Public Library. Click on the titles to reserve a copy!
Boy, Were We Wrong About the Solar System by Kathleen V. Kudlinski (ill. John Rocco)
This is a compelling introduction to the history of how we learned what we know about our solar system today. Using narrative storytelling, readers learn about early scientific discoveries and how its scientific methodology challenges conventional assumptions. Plus, this picture book features some wonderfully engaging illustrations by Caldecott winner John Rocco. It also includes a basic timeline at the end for more factually minded individuals.
A Black Hole is NOT a Hole by Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano (ill. Michael Carroll)
For more advanced readers ready to dig more deeply into the mysteries of outer space, this book is constructed to mimic a textbook (a FUN textbook, don't get scared). The writing is anything but dry. In fact it's clear and accessible and even quite funny. It's also helpfully accompanied by spectacular photographs and colorful graphs and diagrams. While decidedly more of a reference book great for projects and reports (a thorough timeline, glossary of terms, and even outside resources for further reading can be found in the back) anyone genuinely interested in the topic will find it an entertaining and informative read.
Moon by Steve Tomecek (ill. Lisa Chauncy Guida)
Though some terminology might be a bit advanced, like 'lunar' and 'crater', this title would still be appropriate for the younger crowd with yet little or no science background. Basic scientific ideas are made accessible with great analogies ("Sometimes [the moon] looks like a skinny little banana") and vibrant illustrations. The book follows a cat experiencing different moments throughout her days in relation to the moon as the accompanying text elaborates on what exactly that ball in the sky is. Together they provide a solid introduction of simple mathematical concepts like distance and ratio, as well as some basic historical facts.
Zoo in the Sky by Jacqueline Mitton (ill. Christina Balit)
Combining astronomy and mythology this gorgeous picture book captures all the majesty of the constellations. The centerpiece of the book focuses on the imagined creatures the star formations are meant to represent making this ideal for even the youngest among us. Depictions of each constellation as characters unto themselves the text and illustrations are able to bring a lovely artistry to a topic that can be bogged down in dry fact-based explanations. Still, for those looking for a more academic framework, maps in the front and back contextualize locations of the stars above us. Plus, encyclopedic entries toward the end help define the stars, the sky and the history of constellations.
Seven Wonders of the Gas Giants and Their Moons by Ron Miller
This is a great book for those seriously interested in planets and outer space outside of the basic concept of the our solar system they might have already learned about. Advanced reading and familiarity with basic science concepts is likely necessary to get the most out of this book, though it would serve as a great reference for anyone who wants a quick answer about the topics covered with the comprehensive index provided. Structured like a textbook, but with rich and detailed photographs and diagrams, this is great for anyone who wants to take a deeper dive into the rings of Saturn, Jupiter's big red spot, or the volcanoes on Io. A glossary, timeline and even some guidelines to begin one's own research are wonderful extra resources.
For other ways to engage curious minds, be sure to check out Science Monday where kids 5 and up can observe simple science principles through a hands-on activity. Read more about some previous experiments we've undertaken here and here.