All children are born explorers, engineers and investigators. Here are a selection of books for curious children to feed their need for discovery, all of which would make excellent gifts.
Alphasaurs, and other Prehistoric Types: Sharon Werner & Sarah Forss (Blue Apple Books, 2012)
There are so many dinosaur books for dino fans, but this one is particularly good for curious children due to the unique illustrations. Each dinosaur is made out of a single letter, in a variety of fonts. This could potentially encourage reluctant writers to have a go at letter formation, but also introduces a world of design – can your child design their own book or magazine using just letters? There are plenty of large flaps to keep interest and a plethora of bitesize dino facts. Our full review can be found here. The same team also created Alphabeasties and Bugs By The Numbers, for your animal loving explorers.
The What on Earth Wallbook: Christopher Lloyd & Andy Forshaw (What on Earth Publishing, 2010)
What on Earth Happened? by Christopher Lloyd is a chunky tome that tells the known history of the planet from creation, through prehistoric eras, to people and world history. The Wallbook is based on this, and is a huge elongated poster packed with illustrations of events across history, that can either be hung on a wall or left in ‘book’ form to pore over and discover interesting snippets that can start a conversation or a project. It has its faults, but is an ambitious idea to try to cover the world in one narrative and the Wallbook is great fun to browse through.
The Story of Things: Neal Layton (Hodder Children’s Books, 2009)
This is such a fun book! It takes us through a history of ‘things’ from cavepeople who had no possessions, to developing civilisations (I love the page which is of a desert, with four hidden pop-ups of civilisations that came and went, such a clever illustration of the concept), to industry and modern day electronics. There are so many things to lift and pull and peek under that you barely realise that this is actually a history book. Some of the pop-ups are a little flimsy (or maybe that’s just my copy), so it’s not one for heavy handed toddlers, but fixing the odd break is a good engineering skill for the reader too! There are two other books in the series too: The Story of Everything, and The Story of Stars. Excellent fun.
Barefoot Books World Atlas: Nick Crane & David Dean
This really is the perfect primary-age atlas which not only gives an overview of the shape of the world and its countries but covers important information for each continent (or part continent, as some are split) under the headings Physical Features; People and Places; Climate and Weather; Land Use and Natural Resources; Environment; Wildlife; and Transport. Capital cities are clearly marked on the maps and they’re also full of images from the countries to give a sense of the diversity in the world. Lift-up flaps give more ‘did you know?’ facts of historical significance. Not only useful for homework projects, the accessible text and interesting layouts (with something to lift on every page) are likely to have children pouring through this just for fun (and learning lots about the world along the way!) There’s also a world poster in a pocket on the back page for displaying on the wall if wanted. Written in 2011, this is an up-to-date introduction to continents, countries and cultures for a modern audience. Did you know that the Mount Rushmore sculptures took 14 years to complete, The Great Wall of China isn’t visible from the moon, Rubik’s cubes were invented by a Hungarian sculptor, and the keel-billed toucan is the national bird of Belize? You would if you had this Atlas 😉
Maps: Aleksandra Mizielieska & Daniel Mizielieski (Big Picture Press, 2013)
This book is HUGE. It is also utterly beautiful and worth every penny of its £20 price tag. Writing about it can’t possibly do it justice. You can view a sneak peak in the video at the end of this list but it’s really one to get in real life and spend hours and hours pouring over. On a simple level, it is literally a book full of maps. It can’t cover the entire world, so there are huge swathes of countries that have been missed out (Maps 2 maybe?!) but each country that is included has been illustrated with a host of national facts: significant buildings, native animals, examples of popular boy and girl names, food, work, historical figures… Major or important cities are marked, and there is a list of capital, languages, population and area. The text is minimal, on the whole it is there to label the illustrations and yet Maps still managed to be packed full of facts. It’s not an Atlas, and doesn’t pretend to be. It is unique, beautiful, and perfect for curious children (and grown-ups).
Ocean Deep: Richard Hatfield (Child’s Play, 2011)
This is a beautifully illustrated exploration into every part of the ocean from rock pools to the deepest depths. The sturdy card pages make this suitable even from early ages, and all ages can appreciate the illustrations before reading the labels to learn all the names, and the text to find out more about the ocean. Each page is cut so you can see further pages into the book, so it feels like you are diving deeper and deeper into the ocean. The design also gives lots for little hands to explore, and the entire book can be displayed on a surface due to the concertina pages. Another one that needs to be seen in real life to be appreciated, full of facts, and some really creepy critters the deeper down you go…
Metamorphoses: Egg Tadpole Frog (Child’s Play, 2006)
This is a(nother) brilliantly clever book from Child’s Play. The shaped cover is tied with ribbon, and inside you find the life cycle story of frogs (Butterflies and Dragonflies are covered in other titles in this series.) This can be read as a book, with very clear and simple text, and pages that sort-of pop up. But… open it up and you have another table display of the entire life cycle with sticking out bits, and… Oh, you just have to see this in real life again, it’s just brilliant! I didn’t hold it very well (one-handed) in the video below but it gives you a rough idea. It really is brilliant, and perfect for young explorers. The back of the pages shown are illustrated with various frog species. The pages are strong card so will withstand lots of play too.
Snow Roly Poly Box Book: Kees Moerbeek (Child’s Play, 2008)
Child’s Play are definitely getting my thumbs up and full marks for ingenuity for books to entice even the most uninterested-in-books child. There are currently a dozen roly poly box books to choose from, but Snow is perfect for this time of year (in the Northern Hemisphere at least!) It looks like a cube, but pull the arrow on the outside and up pops and owl. follow the arrows and you unfurl a whole host of snow-loving creatures from across the globe. And it’s just as easy to roll back up again too. This is the least book-looking book you’re likely to find! Great for small people to explore.
Boys & Girls Floor Skills: Gemma Coles (Head Over Heels About Gymnastics, 2013)
I have occasional bug bears with independently published books, especially when cost cutting results in a flimsy and unattractive paper book, but it’s clear that careful thought has been put into both use and content with this beautifully produced guide. With a spiral spine, and the ability to stand upright, this book can be used whilst practising the skills inside. The clear, real-world, photographs illustrate gymnastic skills in easy to follow steps from simple to complex. It can’t replace hands on tuition, but it’s been giving my extremely active climbs-the-walls six year old a lot of new fun things to try. I especially love how it is aimed at boys and girls, and the pictures have a boy and girl equally illustrating the skills. For any child with an interest in gymnastics, this would be an excellent starting point before (or as well as) proper tuition. Check out the Head Over Heels About Gymnastics website for a discount on this clear and well produced guide.
How Many?: Ron Van Der Meer (Random House Children’s Books, 2007)
When I was searching for pop-up books a couple of years ago, Ron Van Der Meer was recommended and I found How Many? in a discount store. It is full of complex pop-up sculptures in bright colours and geometric shapes. The text asks you to count shapes, colours, lines… or you can just marvel at the complex sculptures. This is definitely not for small children without supervision, as the detailed pop-ups are delicate. It appears to be out of print, although you can get used copies online. Whilst searching for a replacement to write about I discovered this newly reissued Interactive Art Book reviewed at The Little Wooden Horse, which although it doesn’t quite replace the mathematical side of How Many?, does showcase paper engineering skill and artistry.
Because these are all very interactive books, I made this brief video whizzing through a few pages of each to give a taster of what they’re like. They are all much nicer in real life. (The video is soundless)
Disclosure: Alphasaurs, The Story of Things, Ocean Deep, Egg Tadpole Frog, Snow, and Gymnastics Floor Skills were sent to us by their respective publishers for review. All other books were purchased or borrowed independently. Barefoot Books links are affiliate links. No other financial reward was given and the opinions are my own. I was not asked to write this post.