Deep Dive: Beautifully Detailed Nonfiction Science Books

Updated: Feb 8, 2019

On first glance this may seem like a niche category, but spend enough time looking through these giant picture books and you'll find there's an entire universe of them to explore. There are few things I love more than seeing a child poring over a deeply detailed book: Swimming in the illustrations, paddling along through the pockets of incredible information that the tome is saturated in, immersed for hours only to surface for air once in a while to share a fascinating find with the nearest set of ears.

OK, if I'm being honest, I own a lot of these books even though I don't have children of my own because they're so. Darn. Gorgeous. Books that are lavishly illustrated are, of course, our favorites, but those that are based in reality and gush with well-written, accessible descriptions of the natural world? Are you kidding? Give me a stack of these and I'll be nose-to-the-page until next week.

If you know a book-swimmer, a fact-spelunker, or a collector-of-tidbits, might I suggest:

A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars, by Seth Fishman

Numbers, numbers everywhere! The universe is awash with *stuff*: things that grow, stars that shine, people and ants and dogs and baseballs. For your lover of facts and figures, amounts and distances, I highly recommend checking out Fishman's exploration of just how big is BIG when we talk about the universe.

Professor Astro Cat's Frontiers of Space, by Dr. Dominic Walliman

Though a bit on the sillier side with the inclusion of Professor Cat, this book was indeed written by a PhD, physicist Dr. Dominic Walliman, and pulls no punches when it comes to hard-hitting science. This fascinating exploration of everything space -- from the birth of a star to parts of a rocketship, from gravity to the likelihood of extraterrestrial life -- will have your cosmic reader hooked from page one.

How the Meteorite Got to the Museum, by Jessie Hartland

Harland's book follows the entire process of getting a sample of meteorite from its origin in space to the museum's glass case. Follow the journey, then check out Harland's other books on how specimens end up on display: How the Dinosaur Got to the Museum and How the Sphinx Got to the Museum.

Trilogy: Nature Anatomy, Food Anatomy, and Farm Anatomy by Julia Rothman

I can't say enough about these three books. An incredible classroom asset as well as a brilliant addition to your home library, Rothman's series is an illustrated collection of pasta shapes and kitchen knives (Food Anatomy), constellations and types of moths (Nature Anatomy), how to make cheese, composting, and prime cuts of beef (Farm Anatomy)... and absolutely everything in between. Created with care (and, if you buy the box set, complete with several beautiful and informative prints), lovers of categories will add these to their desert island list. Or maybe make it their entire desert island list. Or maybe that's just me.

Botanicum: Welcome to the Museum, by Kathy Willis

This guide to plant life by Katie Scott and Kathy Willis is an introduction to botanicals like you've never seen it before. While pulling from the tradition of botanical drawings, the book still feels fresh and new, and the illustrations are clear enough that your budding horticulturist, botanist, or herbalist will have no trouble telling the real thing when they see it in the wild. For a guide to animals, check out Animalium, Botanicum's predecessor on, you got it, animals.

The Street Beneath My Feet, by Charlotte Guillain

What's under the sidewalk? What about the cornfield? This double-fold-out book shows down as many layers as you'll care to see about what can be found in urban and rural environments far beneath the ground we actually touch when we walk around our neighborhood.

The Polar Bear, by Jenni Desmond

Anything and everything you could hope to know about polar bears is included in this stunningly illustrated examination by Jenni Desmond. Desmond is also the author and illustrator of The Blue Whale and The Elephant, similarly structured with poetic yet factual language, as well as some truly gorgeous picture books for younger readers which I'll be including on future lists.

Which books provide hours of entertainment for the children you know? Tell us your favorites!

Print this list! Click here for a link to a condensed version of this list in Google Drive.


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