The best children’s books to get readers thinking about fascinating and connected layers of the world around them

Brenda Z. Guiberson Author Of Yours 'Til Niagara Falls
By Brenda Z. Guiberson

Who am I?

As a writer of dozens of books for children, I always learn much more that can go into each effort. A “wow” moment gets me started. It could be a giant cactus that grows so slowly, frogs that don’t ribbet, maybe a moment with a sea turtle, or thoughts on geology and natural wonders. Each book comes into a hazy focus after tons of research but much gets left out. What goes in? The best “wow” details get woven into an incredible story full of surprise, joy, and admiration for this world of constant change and those struggling to survive.


I wrote...

Yours 'Til Niagara Falls

By Brenda Z. Guiberson, William Low (illustrator),

Book cover of Yours 'Til Niagara Falls

What is my book about?

Wow! Niagara Falls is a misty, glistening, roaring wonder of the world! But it hasn’t always existed. And eventually the powerful eroding flow of water will be no more. Illustrations show many views and moods as the waterfall shares intriguing stories of ancient history and geology, mastodon hunters and explorers, fractured rocks and artifacts, water power and electricity, daredevil challenges and carnivals, a survival route for migrating birds, and a part in the underground railroad. This is the waterfall that drenches visitors with the “mysteries of change across time.”  

The books I picked & why

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Grand Canyon

By Jason Chin,

Book cover of Grand Canyon

Why this book?

This is absolutely the best “wow” book to take an illustrated journey from the bottom to the top of the Grand Canyon carved out over a billion years by erosive running water. The carefully researched illustrations go back and forth in time, as each new level of rock formation reveals past and present climates and habitats. Clues are provided by preserved traces of ancient life such as fossil skeletons, footprints, plants, teeth, and shells. The author/illustrator was “bit by the geology bug” and you will too after following a father and daughter on this hike of discovery.  

Grand Canyon

By Jason Chin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Grand Canyon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Rivers wind through earth, cutting down and eroding the soil for millions of years, creating a cavity in the ground 277 miles long, 18 miles wide and more an a mile deep known as the Grand Canyon.

Home to an astonishing variety of plants and animals that have lived and evolved within its walls for millennia, the Grand Canyon is much more than just a hole in the ground. Follow a father and daughter as they make their way through the cavernous wonder, discovering life both present and past.

Weave in and out of time as perfectly placed die cuts…

Earthshake: Poems from the Ground Up

By Lisa Westberg Peters, Cathie Felstead (illustrator),

Book cover of Earthshake: Poems from the Ground Up

Why this book?

Humor and poetry brought to the natural wonders of earth? Wow! This book has twenty-two poems such as “Recipe for Granite,” “Obituary for a Clam” and “Instructions for the Earth’s Dishwasher.” A favorite is a plea for a glacier, so sluggish and slow. “Just once, when no one is looking, peel out!” The illustrations are bright and fun and the endnotes provide extra information.

Earthshake: Poems from the Ground Up

By Lisa Westberg Peters, Cathie Felstead (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Earthshake as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Grandmother Fish: A Child's First Book of Evolution

By Jonathan Tweet, Karen Lewis (illustrator),

Book cover of Grandmother Fish: A Child's First Book of Evolution

Why this book?

This is the best book to take a first look at evolution and creatures from long, long, long, long ago. Can you chomp? Grandmother Fish could. Can you crawl? Grandmother Reptile could. Who had a jaw, who could squeak, who cuddled with babies, who could climb? Wow! Can you do those things and talk too?  With beautiful illustrations and simple wording, wonderful connections are made to show how all life is related. Thoughtful back material helps to explain natural selection and other concepts for those readers who will ask more questions.  

Grandmother Fish: A Child's First Book of Evolution

By Jonathan Tweet, Karen Lewis (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Grandmother Fish as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It's a simple question, but not so simple an answer to explain especially to young children. Charles Darwin's theory of common descent no longer needs to be a scientific mystery to inquisitive young readers. Meet Grandmother Fish. Told in an engaging call and response text where a child can wiggle like a fish or hoot like an ape and brought to life by vibrant artwork, Grandmother Fish takes children and adults through the history of life on our planet and explains how we are all connected. The book also includes comprehensive backmatter, including: An elaborate illustration of the evolutionary tree…

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

By William Kamkwamba, Bryan Mealer, Elizabeth Zunon (illustrator)

Book cover of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

Why this book?

This is the best book about a child who teaches himself enough about wind and electricity to save his poor, drought-stricken area from hunger and inability to farm the land. With no money to continue at school he studied books at the library. He saw a picture of a windmill and translated the English words. “Windmills can produce electricity and pump water.” Wow!  How could he make such a machine that could fight hunger? He experimented with junkyard items like old bicycle parts, melted plastic pipe, and washers from bottle caps for his invention  Some villagers helped, others teased him, but eventually he was able to make “electric wind” and pump water from a well.  

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

By William Kamkwamba, Bryan Mealer, Elizabeth Zunon (illustrator)

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When a terrible drought struck William Kamkwamba's tiny village in Malawi, his family lost all of the season's crops, leaving them with nothing to eat and nothing to sell. William began to explore science books in his village library, looking for a solution. There, he came up with the idea that would change his family's life forever: he could build a windmill. Made out of scrap metal and old bicycle parts, William's windmill brought electricity to his home and helped his family pump the water they needed to farm the land. Retold for a younger audience, this exciting memoir shows…

Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt

By Kate Messner, Christopher Silas Neal (illustrator),

Book cover of Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt

Why this book?

Year round, I find “wow” moments in gardens with every new blossom, bug and delicious bite discovered. This book takes a child and her grandmother through four seasons filled with such moments, both in the garden above and dirt below. The language is fun with wasps on the prowl and frantic ants storing food for the winter. When carrots sprout, the illustrator shows them both above and below ground. And the night shift is not forgotten, with a skunk ,and bats, and moths for a spider.   

Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt

By Kate Messner, Christopher Silas Neal (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A companion to the new Over and Under the Pond and Over and Under the Snow, this sweet book explores the hidden world and many lives of a garden through the course of a year.

Up in the garden, the world is full of green-leaves and sprouts, growing vegetables, ripening fruit. But down in the dirt there is a busy world of earthworms digging, snakes hunting, skunks burrowing and all the other animals that make a garden their home. In this exuberant and lyrical book, discover the wonders that lie hidden between stalks, under the shade of leaves... and down…


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