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Early Childhood Resources Review

Finding Outstanding Science Trade Books

Science and Children—March/April 2023 (Volume 60, Issue 4)

By William Straits

There are many online book lists, but one of the most helpful is NSTA’s annually produced Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K–12. This list, created in conjunction with the Children’s Book Council, regularly includes narrative and expository texts describing topics across all science disciplines. Each year, several books are perfect for early childhood settings. Lists from the past 25 years are available at As you explore, you will find titles that will captivate your children. As examples, two 2021 awardees, with an early childhood activity for each, are described below.

What Do You Do If You Work at the Zoo? by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page (2020)

This book explores different tasks performed by zookeepers. Children will be delighted to learn that zookeepers’ duties include brushing hippos’ teeth, scooping panda poop, and more. Along the way, the authors provide insights to the lives of different animals and share the work required to adjust animals to life in a zoo.

Many early childhood classrooms have plastic animals available, and it’s not uncommon for children to use these animals to “play zoo.” Sharing, What Do You Do If You Work at the Zoo? will transform your children’s zoo play. Take cues from the book, and provide materials such as balls, bottles, counting and measuring tools, and more. (Always use safe and age-appropriate materials; be especially aware of possible choking hazards.) Your children can act out different strategies zookeepers use to groom their animals—rubbing sunblock onto an aardvark’s ears, shining a tortoise’s shell, giving an elephant a pedicure, and so on. (Have soapy water, brushes, and washcloths ready!) Your plush animals can also be used; children can take inspiration from the book to imagine caring for baby kangaroos, tickling tapirs, and feeding vulture chicks, giraffes, and manatees. Throughout these activities, encourage children to express how their play relates to information presented in the book.

Packs: Strength in Numbers by Hannah Salyer (2020)

This book shares the names for several different groups of animals, focusing specifically on threatened species. And while schools of fish and packs of wolves may be familiar, your children will be surprised to learn about implausibilities, mobs, flamboyances, and armies. The recurring theme of “better together” makes this book ideal for discussions of teamwork and cooperation.

Prior to reading the book, engage children in teamwork activities, such as:

Group Puzzle Solving – Distribute pieces of a puzzle to your children. Have them study their pieces individually and describe what they think the puzzle might be. Then have the children share their pieces and collaborate to guess and then solve the puzzle together.

Body Words – Spell out three-letter words (e.g., C-A-T, D-O-G) and have children work together to form the letters with their bodies while lying on the ground. Take pictures of their Body Words, so children can relive the process and think more about how to form the letters.

After each activity, ask questions (e.g., Could you solve the puzzle with just your pieces? Could we spell words with just one body?) that help children to understand that through collaboration people can achieve goals that we cannot individually. Then, as you read Packs: Strength in Numbers, encourage children to use these experiences as they explain the benefits of “teamwork” demonstrated by animal behaviors described in the book.

As you select books, make sure they connect with other classroom activities; books should delight and inform children, but should also be springboards that inspire children to engage in a range of related learning experiences. In the lists of Outstanding Science Trade Books you will find titles that you can connect to all parts of your school day, including dramatic play, writing, art, and, of course, science.

William Straits is a professor of science education at California State University Long Beach and serves as the director of the National Center for Science in Early Childhood.


Jenkins, S., and R. Page. 2020. What do you do if you work at the zoo? New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Salyer, H. 2020. Packs: Strength in numbers. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Literacy Early Childhood Elementary

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