Best Books for Kids » The Best Science Books for Kids

Beautiful Science Books for 9-12 Year Olds

recommended by Our Children's Editor

Nonfiction books for 9-12 year olds can be just as fun for adults as for kids, especially when they are beautifully illustrated. Here, our Children's Editor picks science books for 9-12 year olds that are not only informative, but also beautiful works of art.

Birds: Explore Their Extraordinary World

Birds has wonderfully vivid and dynamic illustrations by Angela Harding who specialises in prints of wildlife. The author is Miranda Krestovnikoff, who was President of the UK’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds when she wrote it.

Children are fascinated by birds, which live on every continent and range from tiny iridescent hummingbirds to Andean condors with a wingspan of three metres. In addition to building enthusiasm for observing nature, this book exposes 9-12 year olds to scientific concepts such as gravity (used by the peregrine falcon to reach speeds of up to 320 km per hour) and the Earth’s magnetic field (used by some birds to navigate). Kids interested in engineering will notice how fighter plane designers have tried to replicate the way some bird species streamline their body for speed, and in reading about feathers young readers can start to understand about evolutionary trade-offs between strength and weight. There is also plenty of content about the features of different habitats, and — of course — lots of interesting facts about the birds themselves.

The book (70 pages) is organised into chapters on birds of prey, seabirds, freshwater birds, flightless birds, tropical birds, tree dwellers and passerines (which include the garden birds and corvids that young readers are most likely to see around them). There are also chapters on physical features that are typical of birds (feathers, beaks and eyes) and aspects of bird life such as migration, nests, and thriving in extreme cold and in cities.

Glow: The Wild Wonders of Bioluminescence

This gorgeous, large format book made our list of the best books for kids of 2023. It’s a fascinating science book, relatively short for 9-12 year olds but it packs a lot of information into just 40 pages and is ideal for dipping into over time. Each double-page spread is an individual chapter, explaining the various purposes of bioluminescence (including communication, defence, camouflage, attracting insects) and the difference between bioluminescence, phosphorescence and biofluorescence. There is also an intriguing chapter on the potential for scientists to engineer the genes that cause luminescence for medical research, testing for pollution, or as an energy-efficient light source.

The author/illustrator is Jennifer N. R. Smith, with consultancy by Dr. Edith Widder, an award-winning specialist in bioluminescence (and a conservationist and explorer who happens to be one of the very few people ever to have seen a live giant squid!).

Mountain of Fire: Into the Heart of Volcanoes

Books for children about earth sciences are relatively rare, so this title (96 pages) about volcanoes is a treat. It is written by Dr. Julie Roberge, a volcanologist at Mexico’s Instituto Politécnico Nacional. The illustrations by Aless MC are simple and colourful, taking inspiration from a wide range of sources, from traditional printing techniques to manga and comics, cultural symbols and forms in nature. This book won the prestigious Bologna Ragazzi award in the nonfiction category in 2022.

Mountain of Fire is a fusion of geography, legends and science. There are chapters on some of the unique volcanoes on each continent as well as elsewhere in the solar system. A few of the myths associated with volcanoes are introduced, highlighting our conflicting relationship with their simultaneously destructive and soil-enriching powers. In terms of the science, there is plenty of information about how volcanoes are formed, their complex connections with the Earth’s mantle and surface, and how an eruption works. There is also a useful glossary at the end.

Ben Rothery’s Deadly and Dangerous Animals

The illustrations in this book are not only anatomically accurate but so delicate and detailed that they are honestly difficult to distinguish from photographs. Ben Rothery has written and illustrated several other beautiful books about animals (covering creatures on land, in the sea and in the air), but if you are looking for a science book with almost guaranteed appeal to a 9-12 year old, you are unlikely to go wrong with this topic.

The book (54 pages) is organised into sections such as teamwork, speed, stealth and mimicry, and makes readers think analytically about what makes something deadly and dangerous. Not all the deadliest animals are obvious hunters such as the leopard on the cover. For example, the poison of a golden frog can kill several adult humans, an adult dragonfly catches up to 95% of the prey it chases, and the Sargassum fish can swallow creatures larger than itself. This book was shortlisted for the Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize 2023.


This is a large format science book (112 pages) published in collaboration with the Royal Botanical Garden at Kew in London. You can happily leaf through it as an aesthetic experience (indeed the plates are also sold as postcards), but readers can learn a lot of scientific information from this book. As the introduction points out, without plants there would be no humans, and reading it makes you want to understand the patterns of plant diversity that are so important to life on Earth. There are chapters on the first plants, trees, palms, herbaceous plants, grasses, orchids and adapting to environments. We learn the science behind why some plants live in water while others are suspended in mid-air, and about especially intriguing plants such as cacti, parasitic plants and carnivorous plants.

The author is an award-winning Professor of Biodiversity at the University of Oxford, and was Director of Science at Kew when she wrote this book. The illustrations, clearly influenced by traditional botanical drawing, are by Katie Scott who has also illustrated several other titles in the Welcome to the Museum‘ series which Botanicum is part of. Other science titles in this beautiful book series aimed at 9-12 year olds include Planetarium (winner of the Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize 2019), Dinosaurium, Oceanarium, Animalium, Anatomicum, Fungarium, Arboretum and The Story of Life: Evolution. Several of the titles come in an attractive mini gift edition as an alternative to the large format edition, and there are activity book spin-offs as well.

If you are looking for books about plants for slightly younger kids (around age 7-10), here are two good options: I Ate Sunshine for Breakfast: A Celebration of Plants Around the World by Michael Holland and Philip Giordano and Humongous Fungus: The Weird and Wonderful Kingdom of Fungi by Professor Lynne Boddy and Wenjia Tang. They are both very colourful and full of scientific information. I Ate Sunshine for Breakfast was shortlisted for the Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize 2021.

What else?

Some very beautiful science books for 9-12 year olds have made our best books for kids of the year in recent years:

How Life on Earth Began by illustrator Aina Bestard gives an overview of the evolution of life on Earth through fossils and dinosaurs to the first humans in an exquisitely produced edition. The illustration style, depicting many lost landscapes and fascinating extinct creatures, pays homage to 19th century scientific engravings.

How Our Solar System Began is an equally beautifully produced sister volume about our solar system, its planetary orbits and the unique and fascinating worlds of each planet and their moons. Again, the large illustrations pay tribute to the graphic style of prints from a time before sophisticated equipment for studying space was available. It is a gorgeous nonfiction book with scientific contributions by ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array) and Dr. Antonio Hales at the ALMA Observatory. The two books are around 80 pages each.

Full of Life: Exploring Earth’s Biodiversity is a quality science book for kids in a broad age range, probably age 8-14. There are some really interesting sections on the bigger picture (how much of biodiversity on Earth is bacteria) while most of the detail in the book is devoted to animals. It is illustrated in a striking and colourful graphic style by Sara Gillingham, an award-winning art director and designer. Isabel Thomas, the author, is a prize-winning science writer. At 244 pages, Full of Life is a comprehensive but concise science book about our planet’s biodiversity, based on the ‘tree of life’ reference tool, and is an excellent resource.

For kids who want to explore chemistry and are ready for more textbook-style study, Theodore Gray’s The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe (240 pages) is really appealing. Instead of artistic illustrations, this one mostly has photographs. It is the first in a trilogy, followed by Molecules and Reactions.

Matt Sewell is best known for his books on birds, but the one that I have seen kids get totally absorbed in is Forgotten Beasts. This book is not about dinosaurs (he has published a separate volume called Dinosaurs) but about lesser known weird and wonderful — and often terrifying — creatures that once roamed the Earth. Around 100 pages.

Let’s not forget that Earth is a blue planet. Earth’s Aquarium: Discover 15 Real-life Water Worlds by Alexander Kaufman and Mariana Rodrigues introduces different types of aquatic life, from mudflats to deep water. Before diving into the specifics of each water world, readers are introduced to general features such as salinity, density, light penetration, currents, pressure, waves, acidity, tides and oxygen concentration in 80 colourful pages.

For a quirky book not written by a scientist but nevertheless likely to stimulate enthusiasm for scientific inquiry, Amazing Octopus is also worth a mention. It’s written in a conversational tone and often veers into the author’s reflections on other topics, but at heart it’s about the octopus, which is such a fascinating creature. The intricate illustrations are in black, white and gold, and are very striking. 148 pages.

Finally, if what you are looking for is less a work of art and more of an overview of science with enough illustration to appeal to 9-12 year olds, What’s Science all about? is a good choice. It has 290 pages divided into three sections: biology, chemistry and physics.

Science books for kids

March 6, 2024

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Our Children's Editor

Our Children's Editor

Our children's editor, Tuva Kahrs, is in charge of book recommendations for kids on Five Books. As well as interviews with authors and experts, she carefully picks the best books of the year to bring you the very best books for kids of all ages as they are published. Here are her recommendations of the best kids' books of 2023 and the best teen books of 2023.

Our Children's Editor

Our Children's Editor

Our children's editor, Tuva Kahrs, is in charge of book recommendations for kids on Five Books. As well as interviews with authors and experts, she carefully picks the best books of the year to bring you the very best books for kids of all ages as they are published. Here are her recommendations of the best kids' books of 2023 and the best teen books of 2023.