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9 STEM-focused picture books for young children

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Jun 27, 2018, 8:10 PM EDT (Updated)

My nephew just turned 3, and I can tell he's inherited my sister's (and my) love for reading. I got my love of books from her, so it makes sense that she'd pass it down to her oldest child. Whenever I see him, I make sure to have an ample stash of picture books that will draw his interest and that he'll enjoy.

As he's getting older, though, I want to make sure the books I buy have a good message for him. For example, I try to buy books with female main characters because I don't ever want him to think that boys don't read books about girls (a harmful stereotype that fosters sexist attitudes). And as an advocate for young people learning about STEM and becoming interested in STEM fields, I want to make sure that he is exposed to these ideas at a young age. The last time I went to visit, I researched STEM-focused picture books I could read with him. These books would make great gifts for the children in your life or are perfect to read with your own children.

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Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts

This adorable series of books, which also includes Rosie Revere, Engineer and Iggy Peck, Architect, focuses on real-life historical figures to inspire their main characters. In the case of scientist Ada, the authors drew on Ada Lovelace, Marie Curie, and more in order to create this relentlessly curious girl who goes on fact-finding missions and undertakes scientific experiments to answer her many questions.


Gravity by Jason Chin

This gorgeous book is full of amazing watercolors that will help children understand the concept of gravity. It uses simple words and memorable images to explain what gravity is, why it works the way it does, and what would happen if we didn’t have gravity in a way little kids can understand and appreciate.


The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires

Success stories are incredibly important when it comes to STEM. But it’s equally important that kids learn that it’s OK to fail and how to work through setbacks. That’s just what Ashley Spires tackles in The Most Magnificent Thing. The unnamed girl in this book has a great idea that she wants to make a reality. The problem is, it’s harder than she thought it’d be, and she must work through her frustrations to succeed.


Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly and Laura Freeman

If you enjoyed the book and/or movie Hidden Figures, now you can share the story with a young child. Author Margot Lee Shetterly teamed up with illustrator Laura Freeman to bring the stories of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden to life, letting kids know about the black women who worked at NASA during the space race.


What Do You Do With an Idea? by Kobi Yamada and Mae Besom

How does an idea become reality, especially if that idea is strange or weird or something entirely different from what’s out there? That’s what this adorable picture book tackles. It’s the story of one idea, illustrated as a golden egg, and a boy who wonders and thinks about it, and who sticks with it even after people ridicule him. It’s a story aimed at children, but adults will get a lot of enjoyment out of this simple and beautiful tale.


The Doctor with an Eye for Eyes by Julia Finley Mosca and Christina Wald

This is the story of Dr. Patricia Bath, a girl who came of age during the Civil Rights Movement. She decided she wanted to become a doctor, but had to face discrimination because of her race and gender, as well as because she grew up poor. It’s fortunate for all of us that she persevered, because she introduced a new treatment for blindness that helped many.


Mary Had a Little Lab by Sue Fliess and Petros Bouloubasis

This adorable story is a play on the classic nursery rhyme. What young inventor Mary wants most is a pet, but it’s not one that she can get at a pet store or a shelter. No, Mary must create her pet sheep with the Sheepinator, and it’s a huge hit. But when things go wrong, it’s up to Mary to fix it.


Shark Lady by Jess Keating and Marta Alvarez Miguens

Many children think sharks are ugly and scary (although many others think they’re ugly and scary and also REALLY COOL). Eugenie Clark fell in love with sharks and decided that she wanted to study them, despite the fact that the prevailing view was that women shouldn’t be scientists. Clark went on to make groundbreaking discoveries about sharks and earned the nickname “Shark Lady.”


Mousetronaut by Mark Kelly and C.F. Payne

Mark Kelly is best known as a Space Shuttle Commander and husband to Gabby Giffords, but since his retirement from NASA, he has added “author” to his list of impressive credentials. The Moustronaut series focuses on a mouse who may be small, but he wants to go into space. Against all odds, he’s chosen for the mission. When there’s a problem in space, it’s up to the smallest member of the team to make the biggest difference.