The Best Animal Books for Kids: Archer's Top 5 Picks
"Every kid needs a non-fiction library," says my 5-year-old son, Archer. His favorite books remind us of meeting new animal friends and exploring nature in the Catskills while we're apartment-bound through the long Brooklyn winter. Our favorite storybooks come and go, but we never get tired of these beautiful non-fiction kids' books. Archer's top 5 animal books have amazing pictures to intrigue little kids and fascinating facts for animal lovers of all ages. They make the best gifts because they'll enchant a child for years to come.
The oversized 11"x15" illustrated book is geared toward kids aged 8 to 12, but Archer been fascinated with it since preschool. His favorite pages include the Tree of Animal Life, which branches off species by species, from porifera (sponges) to humans, along with the gorgeous illustrations of frog metamorphosis.
Animalium makes a great coffee table book for adults, too, and I learn something new every time I page through. For instance, did you know that "Ostriches have been known to kill lions with their kick!"? Yikes.
2. Unusual Creatures by Michael Hearst keeps the tone goofy and conversational while dishing out facts on the world's weirdest animals. This book fills Archer with joy. Did you know that wombats squeeze out cubed poop? The angular feces won't roll away, which helps these Australian critters mark their paths. Another fun fact: their dung is also used to make green-speckled paper.
For anyone who wants to learn about the axolotl, an endangered amphibian that can regenerate entire body parts (including limbs, eyes, and even hearts), or the hairy-armed yeti crab, named for the fabled abominable snowman of the Himalayas, you simply cannot beat Unusual Creatures. Meant for kids aged 9 to 12, this also captured Archer's attention in preschool.
3. Jam-packed with up-close, full-color photos, the National Geographic Animal Encyclopedia invites reader to look right into the eyes of 2,500 species.
Archer loves the pages devoted to record-setting animals, like the fastest flier (the peregrine falcon, "plunging-diving through the air at speeds of what many believe to be 200 miles an hour") and the most poisonous mammal (the deceptively innocent-looking platypus: "Victims as large as dingos [wild dogs] will be dead in minutes if this paralyzing predator strikes.")
Recommended for ages 8 to 12, this book is the logical next step when you've already worn out your copy of the National Geographic Little Kids First Big Book of Animals, for ages 4 to 8.
4. Weird Birds by Chris Early was Archer's first souvenir from the gift shop at the American Museum of Natural History. Each bird is poised against a clean white background with blurb about its avian powers, each more super-heroic than the last. With such awesome photos and fascinating facts, we think a more fitting title would be Spectacular Birds.
When I asked Archer to list his favorite birds from this book book, he quickly came up with a list of 20, including the balloon-bellied frigate bird, the creepy-yet-Muppet-like marabou stork, the yellow-eyed tawny frogmouth, the storybook-beautiful resplendent quetzal, and the tangerine-toned Andean cock-of-the-rock.
This 64-page paperback is listed for 10 to 18-year-olds, but again, Archer -- a spectacular bird in his own right -- has been really into it since he was 4.
5. The Great Animal Search, The Big Bug Search, and all the other Usbourne Great Searches books written by Caroline Young and illustrated by Ian Jackson, are the most tattered books in Archer's non-fiction library. "These books remind me of really looking for animals in nature. I like reading them on the potty," he says.
Archer has spent many, many hours scouring the intricate and magnificent illustrations for creatures like quails, quolls, damselflies, and lacewings, while picking up tidbits of knowledge on each fascinating animal. For instance, did you know that "Jerboas hop across the sand like mini-kangaroos"? The fact led us to Google the tiny creature. If you're frightened by the idea of a large mouse who can jump several feet in the air, do not watch this video.
These books are out-of-print, but you can find used copies on Amazon. Archer discovered some old copies at school, and now I'm always on the look-out for used ones to add to our collection, which you can see below.
I just reorganized Archer's beloved non-fiction library and gave it an easy-to-reach spot on his dresser. If you have a favorite nature book that we should add to our stacks, please let us know in the comments!