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By Ellen B.

STEAM into 2021 with Great Nonfiction Reads for Children

Do you have a budding Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Marie Curie, or Katherine Johnson in your home? Someone who loves to make things or is always curious about how things work?

Whether your child likes books about Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, or Mathematics, the team at EVPL can help you satisfy their need to know with some great STEAM-themed books.

Here is just a small sampling of some of the wonderful nonfiction books published in 2020 that give kids something to make or do, explain the world around them, and highlight the heroes of STEAM. 

Nonfiction Titles

The Highlights Book of Things to Do: Discover, Create, and do Great Things by Highlights for Children. Recommended for kids in Grades 2-6.

When I was little, the only thing that made waiting at the dentist’s office tolerable was reading a copy of Highlights magazine, a treasure trove of stories, brain-teasing puzzles, and articles on manners, science, and more. This book, created by Highlights’ editors, is a collection of things to learn, think about, and do. With chapters such as “Things to do inside”, “Things to do in the kitchen”, “Things to do with your brain”, and “Things to draw”, there is sure to be something to catch the imagination of a child. 

While not exclusively a STEAM book, many of the chapters deal with those concepts. 

Also, in the introduction, “How to use this book”, the editors’ approach to making mistakes and experimentation is the exact philosophy of STEAM education: Doers aren’t afraid of making mistakes because they reveal new discoveries-including how to do something different next time. (p.2)

Adults and children who are looking for new activities and ways to keep young minds engaged during weekends, holiday breaks, or summer vacations will enjoy this book.

Under Your Feet: Soil, Sand and Everything Underground by Dr. Jackie Stroud, illustrated by Wenjia Tang. Recommended for kids in Grades K-4.

Under Your Feet reveals a part of this world that we may take for granted – the earth itself!  We walk on soil every day, we grow our food in soil, but we may not know very much about its importance or how we can protect it. Scientific terms are explained clearly throughout the book, and colorful illustrations make the information appealing and accessible. Readers will learn about what soil is made of and about the many different critters that burrow underground and contribute to the well-being of the soil – mammals, invertebrates, insects, and microbes. At the end of the book, there are cool activities, experiments, and tips on how we all can take care of the soil under our feet. Kids who love to play in the dirt will “dig” this book!

In the Dark: The Science of What Happens at Night by Lisa Deresti Betik and Josh Holinaty. Recommended for kids in Grades 3-7.

I love books that make me stop and say, “Wow! I never knew that!” I had many of those moments while reading this book. Betik and Holinaty present an entertaining look into four topics of the night: 

  • Sleep: Most of us spend the night doing this, but why do we sleep?  Why is it important? Why do we dream? 
  • Nocturnal Animals: Learn about living creatures that are awake at night and the special adaptations that help them to survive. 
  • Plants: Some plants do strange things at night, such as bloom, fold their leaves, and some even do math! 
  • The Night Sky: After the sun goes down, the fascinating objects of the night sky come out. The wonders of stars, constellations, moons, planets, comets, auroras, and meteors are explained.

With comic book style illustrations, a glossary of terms, and a list of further resources, after reading In the Dark, kids will know more about what goes on when the lights go out. 

Jumbo: The Making of the Boeing 747 by Chris Gall. Recommended for kids in Grades K-4.

Jumbo tells the story of the planning and process engineers used to answer the challenge to design the Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet in 1968. Detailed illustrations explain the forces of gravity, lift, drag, and thrust that are important to flight, and then show how engineers created larger wings and more powerful engines to get such a large aircraft into the air. The engineers tested, tested, and tested again with models until they got the correct aircraft shape that was safe and comfortable for passengers. This is the perfect book for curious minds that always want to know how things are made and how they work. 

It’s a Numbers Game! Basketball: The Math Behind the Perfect Pass, the Buzzer-Beating Bank Shot, and So Much More! by James Buckley, Jr., with a foreword by Kobe Bryant. Recommended for kids in Grades 3-7.

Not only does this book give basketball fans stats on their favorite players and teams from the NBA, WNBA, and the NCAA, but it also explains why the shot clock is 24 seconds long, what the dimensions of a basketball court are, and how many “bumps” are on the surface of a basketball! The full-color photos of star players in action are also appealing. 

Kids will sit and read for hours about the geometry, science, and technology of the sport. Then they’ll want to get up and test their skills from the “Try This” section at the end of every chapter. It’s not guaranteed that reading this book will help someone become the next Michael Jordan, but it will help them gain a better understanding of how math works in the real world! 

Perkin’s Perfect Purple: How a Boy Created Color with Chemistry by Tami Lewis Brown and Debbie Loren Dunn, Illustrated by Francesca Sanna, Recommended for kids in Grades 3-6.

William Henry Perkin and his work in chemistry is a perfect example of how trial and error and careful experimentation can lead to great discoveries. In a light narrative, Brown and Dunn describe William as a very curious child who had a passion for chemistry. During his studies at the Royal College of Chemistry, he joined his teacher’s pursuit of a new, more affordable medicine to cure malaria using coal tar. While this experiment failed, Perkin did develop the formula for a purple dye, which was desired by the ruling class of England. “Perkin’s Purple” was a hit in London society. In the grand scheme of things, creating fabric dyes may not seem like a great achievement, but it was the methods Perkin used in his experiments that became the scientific method we know today, the standard of experimentation that helps scientists create medicines and treatments for diseases. Included at the back of the book is more detailed information on Perkin’s life, an explanation of the scientific method, additional resources, and an experiment to conduct. 

Spark your curiosity with a variety of STEAM programs available on EVPL’s YouTube channel

For more children’s materials on STEAM-related themes, browse our catalog at evpl.org. 

Ellen B.

Ellen B.


With 8 locations throughout Vanderburgh County, EVPL is ready to discover, explore, and connect WITH you! We encourage you to uncover new things, revisit old favorites, and to engage with us along the way.

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