7 Picture Books for Kids Who Want to Learn Something New

By Lela Nargi

Every now and then, a kid stumbles upon some new information that delights him almost beyond reason. And so begins the pursuit to discover everything he possibly can about his latest passion—whether it's machines, or artwork, or the stars, or an unfamiliar language. And although nothing can take the place of firsthand experience on a building site, or in a museum, or lying out beneath the night sky, or visiting another country, books come in a very close second.

Here we've rounded up seven volumes that explore themes that are sure to inspire kids who are fascinated by so much of what they see and feel and hear. Reading them along with your children, we challenge you not to learn something, too!

How Machines Work by David Macaulay.  Kids who are enthralled with machinery know they're in for something compelling just by looking at the cover of Macaulay's latest opus, with its moving toothed-gear mechanism that's operated by a determined-looking sloth. The premise of the whole book hinges on an escape from a zoo that's orchestrated by two of its unhappy residents, which sets up the introduction of all sorts of simple machines (and shown to delightful effect with pop-ups and and foldouts) they hope will get the job done...eventually. Pulleys, levers, screws, wheels—it's all in here, and then some (ages 7-10, $20).

Round is a Tortilla and Green is a Chile Pepper by Roseanne Greenfield Thong & John Parra. A welcome twist on the same-old shape and color books, these two rhyming texts offer a primer on rectangles and stars, purple and yellow—as well as introducing things that come in those shapes and hues that are common in Spanish speaking cultures, and in many cases, offering the words in Spanish, too. Thoughtful and full of heart, and centered around family and friendship, these books are certain to make children curious about cultures previously unknown to them, opening up whole new worlds of possibility (ages 3-5, $17 each).

Yaks Yak: Animal Word Pairs by Linda Sue Park & Jennifer Black Reinhardt. Nouns can also be verbs—an infinitely tricky concept to explain aloud, but one that is thoroughly sensical when illustrated on the page—especially when those illustrations are laugh-out-loud hilarious. Word-loving kids will be inspired to bad puns and possibly naughty doings by badgers badgering, parrots parroting, and hogs hogging (ages 4-7, $17 available for preorder). 

I, Humanity by Jeffrey Bennet. What we know about space and the universe increases, it seems, with each passing day. This photo book backtracks to explain the history of our understanding of such concepts as a round Earth and the pattern of the planets—and how it evolved through science. This is the second in the "Story Time from Space" series—log on to watch videos of astronauts reading to children from the International Space Station (ages 7-9, $15 available for preorder). 


Bowls of Happiness: Treasures from China and the Forbidden City by Brian Tse & Alice Mak. Every aspect of ancient Chinese art is laden with symbolism—even when that art is something as simple and seemingly utilitarian as a porcelain bowl. But colors and images all have meaning behind their beauty and this small and decidedly odd tome from the China Institute breaks it all down in a way that will appeal to visual-minded children, who after exploring its pages, will surely go on to look for greater meaning among the objects in your own drawers and cupboards (ages 5-8, $13).


Do Unto Animals by Tracey Stewart & Lisel Shlock. The more likely title for this book is "Do Unto Dogs and Cats," since these are the house pets on which it mainly focuses (although some attention is paid to backyard and farm animals as well). But any child who's a lover of creatures great and small will delight in the highly expressive illustrations, and thrill to knowledge that lets her become an expert in how to make animals supremely happy. Since this book is written for adults, it's offered here as read-aloud material—all the better, since you and your tots can enjoy learning together (all ages, $20).