Science and nature books for fourth graders

Whether your child gets his or her thrills from learning about creatures that live under extreme conditions or our flawed food system, these books will appeal to animal lovers and amateur environmentalists alike. Several of these titles provide helpful tips and messages of hope to call kids to action.

By GreatSchools Staff

Quest for the Tree Kangaroo

Quest for the Tree Kangaroo: An Expedition to the Cloud Forest of New Guinea
by Sy Montgomery, photographs by Nic Bishop
Houghton Mifflin (2009 reprint), $8.99

The author and photographer accompanied scientist Lisa Dabek and her team on a trek through the remote forests of Papua New Guinea in search of the elusive Matschie's tree kangaroo. Little is known about this animal that looks like a bear, has a pocket like a kangaroo, and lives in trees. The book is filled with wonderful photographs of tree kangaroos, their lush habitat, and other exotic plants and animals. Background information on Dabek — whose family and friends found her interest in animals strange when she was growing up and who overcame asthma — may be of special interest to aspiring naturalists and biologists.

Extreme Animals

Extreme Animals: The Toughest Creatures on Earth
by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Neal Layton
Candlewick Press (2009 reprint), $7.99

A book sure to spark many "Did you know?" conversations, Extreme Animals will amaze kids with fascinating facts about the creatures that withstand Earth's toughest conditions. From volcano-dwelling microorganisms that live off sulfur to cold-blooded frogs that can turn themsleves into "popsicles," this book makes biology exciting yet accessible.

Oh, Rats! The Story of Rats and People

Oh, Rats! The Story of Rats and People
by Albert Marrin
Dutton (2006), $16.99

The lifelike picture of the rat on this book's cover will be enough to pique the interest of many kids. "Revolting, revealing, and riveting," reads the back cover, and it's an apt description of the nine fact-filled chapters about these "champions of survival." The author provides information on rats' habits and intelligence as well as their role as disease carriers, lab animals, predators, pests, pets, and even food. The gross-out factor alone makes this a must-read.

Gaia Girls: Enter the Earth

Gaia Girls: Enter the Earth
by Lee Welles
Daisyworld Press (2007), $13

Like eco-Nancy Drews, the characters of the Gaia Girls series will appeal to girls ready to take on modern-day environmental challenges. Gaia Girls: Enter the Earth is the first in the series and introduces readers to Elizabeth, who possesses the power of "earth" — the ability to work with and command soil, trees, and creatures in the soil. Illustrated throughout, this chapter book is for mature fourth-graders, as it does not pull any punches when tackling subjects like factory farming. Highly recommended for its compelling story and sensitivity to current issues.

Natural Disasters

by Claire Watts and Trevor Day, DK Publishing (2006)
ages 8 and up, $16

Part of the Eyewitness Books series, Natural Disasters covers a wide variety of natural disasters, from earthquakes to epidemics. Written in plain language and illustrated with spectacular photos and diagrams, it contains a wealth of valuable information, including a historical timeline of major disasters, a glossary, and a list of Web and real-world resources (natural history and science museums) for additional research.

Bottom line: The striking visuals will draw even science-shy kids into the thrall of nature.

The Down-to-Earth Guide to Global Warming

The Down-to-Earth Guide to Global Warming
by Laurie David and Cambria Gordon
Orchard Books (2007), $16

Laurie David and Cambria Gordon's Down-to-Earth Guide to Global Warming makes a concept as complicated as global warming easy to understand. With the first half devoted to the science behind climate change, it's still relevant and enjoyable for kids. This guide will educate and empower young readers, leaving them with the knowledge they need to understand this problem — and the necessary steps to take action.

The New 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth

The New 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth
by the EarthWorks Group
Andrews McMeel Publishing (2009)

A practical guide to conserving resources and protecting the environment, 50 Simple Things provides quick facts and tips designed to inspire action. Statistics and measurements are translated into age-appropriate terms, such as comparing children's body weight to the amount of garbage thrown away in a year. The book also explains how everyday items — like a light switch or a toilet — have a huge impact on the rest of the world. Fun ideas for the whole family to discuss and implement!

The Omnivore's Dilemma for Kids

The Omnivore's Dilemma for Kids: The Secrets Behind What You Eat
by Michael Pollan
Dial (2009), $10

This book, adapted from the version for adults, will help kids understand what's at stake when it comes to feeding ourselves. Journalist Michael Pollan tracks down the sources of the ingredients that make their way to his dinner plate to demonstrate that every food choice we make has global implications.