Four Children's Books That
Explain "How"

building a house, digging up fossils, flying to the moon, growing apples

Four Books for Children That Explain "How"
Children's books reviews by P.J. Rooks

From the private files of "things we don't talk about at parties..."

If I wanted to try to impress you with my covert knack for wallowing in the murky depths of existentialism, I could say something like,

"You know, from the time we're born to the time we die, our lives all about moving things from one place to another. Electrons, chromosomes, food, trees, metals, cotton bolls, you name it -- it's just one big exercise in moving stuff around. Take this pile of sand, add that pile of lime, move it around a bit… hooray, a skating rink. Take that little seedling and this pile of dirt -- voila -- landscaping! It's a law of physics, after all, that matter is neither created nor destroyed, so what else is there for us to do?"

Charming, no? What, you're not impressed? Okay, well, perhaps you're right. Perhaps it is a bit more inspiring than that.

It certainly is for little ones. How does it get from here to there? Where does it come from; where does it go?

Here are four great books that explain just how interesting the business of "moving stuff around" can be.

A Book to Explain How Food Winds Up on Our Table

Apple Farmer Annie
By Monica Wellington

Ages 2+

Annie is a tireless worker. She lives on an apple orchard and, rather amazingly, harvests all the apples by herself. (Okay, okay, I'll yield here, we probably don't want to get into the intricacies of farm labor and immigration with our toddlers.)

At any rate, Annie collects the apples, sorts the apples, bakes muffins and pies, strains out applesauce and apple cider -- why, she's a regular Joanie Appleseed! And when she's done baking, she loads all her apples and goodies into her big, red truck and heads off to the farmer's market in the bustling city.

All day, Annie sells her apples and when it's all said and done, she closes her stand, counts her money and heads back to the farm.

Monica Wellington's simple, straightforward text and bright, fun illustrations have made this book a favorite in our home -- and what a great way to learn that the food we eat doesn't just magically appear at the market but has a life and a history all its own.

A Book to Explain How Houses Are Built

Building a House
By Byron Barton

Ages 1+

Reading this book is the easy part, but set aside some time when you do, because there is so much you'll want to talk about and explore.

Author Byron Barton does an admirable job of taking the complex task of home building and sifting it out into a few very basic steps. First, dig a hole, build a foundation, pour cement, lay bricks, put in a floor, then walls, then a roof. Now comes the fun stuff -- bricklayers, plumbers, electricians, carpenters and painters all pass through and add their expertise until finally, it is ready for a family to come call it home.

Byron Barton's cut-away illustrations show, for example, how the water pipes go into the bathtub, what the ceiling looks like with wires dangling where the light will eventually go and how a bricklayer stands on a scaffold to build a chimney, among other things.

Building a House is a fun exploration for both boys and girls, who are sure to proudly tell you, the next time they watch the water swirl down the drain, just where it's headed.

A Book to Explain How Fossils Get Dug Up

Bones, Bones, Dinosaur Bones
By Byron Barton

Ages 1+

In a fantastic departure from the usual, (not to mention ubiquitous) spate of dinosaur books, Byron Barton lines up a cast of six intrepid archaeologists who march along with pickaxes, shovels, hardhats, and other tools of the trade in search of a fallen dinosaur.

When they find their prey, they carefully recover the bones, wrap and pack them, load them onto trucks and deliver them to the natural history museum. At the museum, they unpack their crate and, piece by painstaking piece, reassemble their Jurassic jigsaw puzzle. Feet, claws, teeth, head, neck, ribs and tail, the skeleton goes back together to form a complete Tyrannosaurus rex.

They pause a moment to admire their work, then set off to find another.

A Book to Explain How Astronauts Go Into Space

Zoom! Zoom! Zoom! I'm Off to the Moon!
By Dan Yaccarino

Ages 1+

What does it take to get a man (or, in this case, a boy) on the moon? Join Dan Yaccarino as he shows us, step by step, what the astronauts are up to on launch day.

Ready for action, we watch as our rocket goes through the three stages of space flight, losing its boosters as it climbs higher and higher toward the stars. Landing gear, lunar rover, moon rocks and (my favorite) Earthrise, our little astronaut makes a safe landing, has a look around, then heads back home.

Exaggerated illustrations, like the eyes of our little hero that peep out of a space suit large enough to be a planet in its own right, add both an element of humor and a sense of the vastness of space to this short celebration of celestial triumph.

Children's books that explain how things work at Amazon.

For older kids: The Way Things Work and The Way WE Work.

More of P.J.'s reviews.

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