The Best Science Picture Books of 2013 (Including One That Explains Where Babies Really Come From)

What Women Really Think
Dec. 6 2013 11:46 AM

Best Science Picture Books of 2013



From bones to engines to mechanical fish, this year was good to children’s scientific imaginations. I wrote in October about Bone by Bone, a brilliant picture book that asks kids to wonder what their bodies would look like with different configurations of bones, and in the process lays the groundwork for sophisticated ideas about evolution. Bone by Bone remains a top pick for the year, along with the gems below, all of which nurture the substratum of wonder that can pave the way for later scientific thinking.

How the Meteorite Got to the Museum by Jessie Hartland. Objects in museums are often presented matter-of-factly, as if they’ve always been there. But this book charts a meteor’s course as it sails from outer space, over Kentucky, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, until it crashes into a Chevy Malibu in Peekskill, New York. From there, it connects the people who deal with the meteorite—from those kids are already enchanted with, like firefighters and police officers, to those they will come to know, like the geologist, the curator and the cosmologist—all rendered in cartoon whimsy.


What’s In There? By Robie Harris. Illustrated by Nadine Bernard Westcott. Early on, a girl in green rain boots explains: the baby “did NOT grow in her mommy’s tummy. She grew in her mommy’s uterus.” In this introduction to pregnancy that is as charming as it is anatomically-correct, the story of an expectant family is interwoven with playful, cutaway drawings of the growing fetus—first the size of an apple seed, then a peach, then finally a sweet, swaddled bundle named Jake.

Locomotive by Brian Floca. This excellent entry in the “train book” genre presents children with the inner workings of a 19th century locomotive, from the coal to the pistons to the rods, as it makes its way westward. The meticulous drawings articulate the ambition, sweat and wonder that produced this era of innovation. Some strokes are steady and referential; others are fast to convey motion and speed. Together they flow like a love letter to old-fashioned engineering.  

Papa’s Mechanical Fish by Candace Fleming. Pictures by Boris Kulikov. Based loosely on Lodner Phillips, a 19th century inventor who experimented with submarine design, the father in this tale tinkers with collapsible coat hangers and steam-powered roller-skates, until setting his mind to making a mechanical fish. He creates one unsuccessful vessel after another, returning each time to his workshop with exuberant focus to try again. Rather than idealizing the engineer, the book teaches that invention is an iterative process—and that high-tech fish don’t come without failure.

Amanda Schaffer is a science and medical columnist for Slate.


Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

It’s Not Easy for Me, but I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Divestment Is Fine but Mostly Symbolic. There’s a Better Way for Universities to Fight Climate Change.

Subprime Loans Are Back

And believe it or not, that’s a good thing.

It Is Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

Why Are Lighter-Skinned Latinos and Asians More Likely to Vote Republican?

How Ted Cruz and Scott Brown Misunderstand What It Means to Be an American Citizen

  News & Politics
Sept. 22 2014 6:30 PM What Does It Mean to Be an American? Ted Cruz and Scott Brown think it’s about ideology. It’s really about culture.
Business Insider
Sept. 23 2014 10:03 AM Watch Steve Jobs Tell Michael Dell, "We're Coming After You"
Atlas Obscura
Sept. 23 2014 9:01 AM Tristan da Cunha: Life on the World's Most Remote Island
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 7:43 PM Emma Watson Threatened With Nude Photo Leak for Speaking Out About Women's Equality
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 9:42 AM Listen to the Surprising New Single From Kendrick Lamar
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 6:27 PM Should We All Be Learning How to Type in Virtual Reality?
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 23 2014 7:00 AM I Stand With Emma Watson
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.