The best children’s books about evolution

Who am I?

Life really is stranger than fiction, and some of the stuff served up by evolution is outrageously bizarre. There are one-celled creatures that make rats want to cozy up to cats, a parasitic worm that turns snails into “disco zombies” and an ape that communicates across continents by pushing keys to create rows and columns of pixels. I’m fascinated by all of these creatures and love writing books for children about evolutionary biology, especially the evolution of intelligence. Besides authoring How to Build a Human, I’ve written about the evolution of intelligence in dolphins (The Dolphins of Shark Bay) and crows (Crow Smarts: Inside the Brain of the World’s Brightest Bird).


I wrote...

How to Build a Human: In Seven Evolutionary Steps

By Pamela S. Turner, John Gurche (illustrator),

Book cover of How to Build a Human: In Seven Evolutionary Steps

What is my book about?

How did we become who we are? In How to Build a Human, I break down human evolution into the seven most important steps leading to Homo sapiens. This fascinating and funny account of the evolutionary journey turns science into an irresistible story. Vetted by experts at the Smithsonian's Human Origins Program, the book also features detailed portraits by celebrated paleo-artist John Gurche that bring our early ancestors to life.

The books I picked & why

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Our Family Tree: An Evolution Story

By Lisa Westberg Peters,

Book cover of Our Family Tree: An Evolution Story

Why this book?

I love the simple, evocative way this story is told through a visit to the beach and the sketching in the sand of creatures representing various stages in evolution, from the first cells to human beings, reminding us of what we share with these long-lost ancestors and what divides us from earlier life forms. This picture book for children aged 4 to 7 distills a complex subject with verve and imagination and deserves a place on your child’s bookshelf.


Out of the Blue: How Animals Evolved from Prehistoric Seas

By Elizabeth Shreeve, Frann Preston-Gannon (illustrator),

Book cover of Out of the Blue: How Animals Evolved from Prehistoric Seas

Why this book?

This superb picture book for children aged 6 to 9 begins by asking children to wonder why dolphins and sharks look superficially similar, yet are less closely related than dolphins and hippos. It covers the emergence of life, evolution in the seas, the appearance of land animals, and the “return to the blue” by dolphins and whales. The illustrations are terrific: bright, simple, and kid-friendly while retaining scientific details.  


Life on Earth: The Story of Evolution

By Steve Jenkins,

Book cover of Life on Earth: The Story of Evolution

Why this book?

A step more sophisticated than the picture books above, Life on Earth is targeted to children ages 9 to 12. The eye-catching format and succinct text cover the diversity of life on Earth, major evolutionary transitions, and nicely illustrates the process of natural selection through a succession of illustrations of frogs as the fittest individuals are selected by their environment. Engaging and packed with information.


The Magic School Bus Explores Human Evolution

By Joanna Cole, Bruce Degen (illustrator),

Book cover of The Magic School Bus Explores Human Evolution

Why this book?

I’m usually underwhelmed by massively popular series books, which tend to “phone it in,” but this entry in the long-running Magic School Bus series impressed me. It kicks off with a student who wants to fill out his “family tree” and gets more than he bargained for, with a speedy dash through all the major stages of evolution as well as visits to a string of early human ancestors. The fantasy story frame will appeal to many children, while others will gravitate toward the jam-packed facts. There’s plenty of everything in this one for children aged 6 to 9.


Charles Darwin's on the Origin of Species

By Sabina Radeva,

Book cover of Charles Darwin's on the Origin of Species

Why this book?

If you want to understand evolution, it certainly helps to know how and where the theory of evolution originated. This picture book rendition of Darwin’s classic work – the foundational text of all modern biology – explains Darwin’s explorations, the process of natural selection, and the common descent of all living things. The direct quotes from Darwin’s own writings are a nice touch, as are the charming illustrations. It doesn’t hurt that the writer/illustrator is a molecular biologist. 


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in evolution, evolutionary biology, and Charles Darwin?

5,809 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about evolution, evolutionary biology, and Charles Darwin.

Evolution Explore 85 books about evolution
Evolutionary Biology Explore 44 books about evolutionary biology
Charles Darwin Explore 27 books about Charles Darwin

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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