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Delve into the world beneath our feet with this list of nonfiction titles that explore the mysterious underground and its denizens.
A lot of people take the ground for granted, but kids know better. They’re always poking and digging and wondering, What’s going on down there? Who lives down there? Scientists know better, too, and like kids, they ask the same kinds of questions about the history of the earth, its systems, its place in the universe, its organisms, ecosystems, and habitats.
We get to the bottom of it all by collecting recent titles that look at what’s happening down below. Some tell about places far, far beneath our everyday world, and others talk about the humans who go there. There are a few STEAM crossover titles, plus recent offerings about fossorial animals, critters that live underground. All of these are nonfiction selections that will pique readers’ interest and imaginations while sneaking in support for elementary and middle-school New Generation Science Standards.
Biggest, Baddest Book of Caves. By Alex Kuskowski. 2015. 24p. ABDO (9781624035142). Gr. 2–4. 551.44.Magazine-style pages are stuffed with full-color, high-resolution photos and bite-size facts about cave structures and formations and the strange creatures that reside within (such as the human fish). This looks at some of the biggest, longest, and deepest caves on the planet.Bryce Canyon National Park. By Jennifer Hackett. 2019. 32p. Scholastic/Children’s Press (9780531137215). Gr. 1–3. 979.2.Hackett explores the role nature has played in creating the park’s natural features and its canyons, landmarks, plants, and trees. A time line, a guide to sites and animals, and detailed photographs are included.
Cave of Crystals. By Martha London. 2021. 32p. ABDO/Kids Core (9781532192845). Gr. 3–5. 910.202.Discovered beneath Mexico’s Sierra de Naica mountain peak in 2000, the Cave of Crystals is filled with gargantuan white selenite crystals. The text explains how the cave was discovered and studied. Graphics include photographs, a map, and an infographic.
Grand Canyon. By Jason Chin. Illus. by the author. 2017. 56p. Roaring Brook (9781596439504). Gr. 2–5. 979.Chin takes readers into the oldest, deepest area of the Grand Canyon, the Inner Gorge, with stunning illustrations offering an enticing catalog, diagrams clearly explaining how the canyon was formed, and numerous spreads revealing what the canyon looked like millions, even billions, of years ago.
How Are Canyons Formed? By B. J. Best. 2017. 24p. Cavendish Square (9781502628862). K–Gr. 3. 551.44.A basic introduction describes how, over time, rivers erode soft rock to create canyons. Additional information considers modern-day concerns, such as flash floods, and describes how previous inundations contributed to the creation of narrow slot canyons. A solid foundation for earth-science studies.
Under Water, under Earth. By Aleksandra Mizielinska. Illus. by Daniel Mizielinski. 2016. 112p. Candlewick/Big Picture (9780763689223). Gr. 2–4. 551.This encyclopedic volume explores underground curiosities in one half and underwater marvels in the other, converging at the deepest points of both: the earth’s core and Challenger Deep, the nethermost region of the Mariana Trench. Each section introduces distinctive creatures, critical scientific inventions, and groundbreaking discoveries.
Under Your Feet: Soil, Sand, and Everything Underground. By Jackie Stroud and Marc Redmile-Gordon. Illus. by Wenjia Tang. 2020. 64p. DK/DK Children (9781465490957). Gr. 2–5. 631.4.This gives the scoop on dirt, sand, and the critters living just beneath our feet. Spreads focus on soil composition; soil horizons; soil’s effect on water quality and global warming; and soil care, types, and inhabitants, including worms, moles, ants, and microbes. Additional spreads cover unusual aspects of soil, such as bogs, swamps, and growing plants on Mars.
Carlsbad Caverns. By Robin Koontz. 2019. 48p. Rourke (9781643690230). Gr. 4–7. 551.44.Discovered in 1898, the long, deep Carlsbad Caverns have provided scientists opportunities to study and discover new information about the Southwest. Bold photo-illustrations, maps, period images, and pictures of scientists at work teach readers about a variety of projects in various scientific fields.
Extreme Earth. By Toby Reynolds and Paul Calver. 2015. 32p. Barron’s, o.p. Gr. 3–6. 551.55.Extreme Earth explains how notable geological phenomena (volcanoes, earthquakes, caves) occur and how human factors affect shifting earth and extreme weather. High-quality color photos drive reader interest, while text boxes introduce supporting concepts and facts.
Extreme Planet: Carsten Peter’s Adventures in Volcanoes, Caves, Canyons, Deserts, and Beyond! By Carsten Peter and Glen Phelan. 2015. 112p. National Geographic (9781426321009). Gr. 4–8. 551.Peter provides exhilarating firsthand accounts of natural wonders in some of the planet’s most inhospitable areas, always managing to convey awe, wonder, and profound respect. Stunning original photography, accessible text, charts and graphs, maps, and hands-on activities and experiments round things out.
Fault Lines: Understanding the Power of Earthquakes. By Johanna Wagstaffe. 2017. 96p. Orca (9781459812437). Gr. 4–7. 551.22.This book has two components: first, basic information about earthquakes and the importance of planning for them and, second, first-person stories from individuals who survived them. Sidebars clarify facts about these accounts, and insets consider other topics, such as seismic activity, on other planets. Sharp photos, drawings, diagrams, and maps provide accessible data, while a confident tone offers reassurance to concerned readers.
Fault Lines and Tectonic Plates: Discover What Happens When the Earth’s Crust Moves. By Kathleen M. Reilly. Illus. by Chad Thompson. 2017. 128p. Nomad (9781619304611). Gr. 5–8. 551.1.Twenty-five hands-on experiments focus on tectonic plates, potential seismic energy, and earthquakes. The projects, aligned with reports of real-life events, and detailed explanations of what happened geologically, appeal to multiple modalities and learning styles, and cover more obscure topics in physical geography and science.Humans in the Underworld
Building Tunnels. By Rebecca Stefoff. 2015. 32p. Cavendish Square (9781502606013). Gr. 3–5. 624.1.This basic text documents the planning and building, required people (civil engineers, geologists, hydrologists), and resources (caissons, excavators, and tunnel-boring machines) needed for creating tunnels, concentrating on three types of tunnels: cut-and-cover, bored, and immersed tube.
Geothermal Energy: Putting Earth’s Heat to Work. By Jessie Alkire. 2018. 24p. ABDO/Super Sandcastle (9781532115714). Gr. 2–4. 621.44.This introduction to geothermal energy begins with steamy pictures (lava and hot springs), followed by a simple illustrated time line of geothermal applications (both Roman baths and the first geothermal district heating system, established in Idaho in 1892, utilized hot springs). Readers learn how geothermal power plants and heat pumps work, and the full-page, digitally created diagrams are especially helpful.
The Science of Bridges and Tunnels: The Art of Engineering. By Ian Graham. Illus. by Diego Vaisberg and Bryan Beach. 2019. 32p. Scholastic/Franklin Watts (9780531133996). Gr. 3–5. 624.193.While the majority of the text concentrates on bridges, readers will enjoy the digital illustrations that show the clever ways engineers manage to build tunnels underwater. While the science is comparatively light, the book’s basic concepts are sturdy.
A Tunnel Runs Through. By Crystal Sikkens. 2017. 24p. Crabtree (9780778729037). Gr. 2–5. 624.1.How do engineers solve design problems when they are building tunnels? They ask questions, brainstorm, plan, make models, and test. Readers learn basic tidbits, and numerous photos show engineers in action. Readers also get to try out their engineering skills by solving an actual (well, possible) engineering disaster.
Underground Cities. By Hailey Scragg. 2021. 32p. Rourke/Escape (9781731642943). K–Gr. 2. 909.09.Readers investigate various underground cities, from stone-carved Petra to the RÉSO (a vast series of tunnels designed to keep Montreal residents out of the cold) to Turkey and even China. Expansive scenic photos capture the size and scope of the varied settings, and additional shots focus on unique details and profiles of underground inhabitants.
Ancient Underground Structures. By Natalie Hyde. 2018. 32p. Crabtree (9780778761280). Gr. 4–6. 624.1.This looks at tombs, tunnels, and living spaces built below ground around the world. While some of these places have been known for centuries, recent discoveries include a complex of homes and booby-trapped tunnels found beneath Nushabad in Iran and a Mayan tunnel only uncovered in Mexico in 2003.
Martian Cave Colonies. By William D. Adams. 2021. 48p. World Book (9780716662693). Gr. 5–8. 523.43.NASA’s Innovative Advanced Projects Program funds ideas for unique and daring space technologies, such as these proposed underground inflatable cave liners intended to be used as temporary homes for astronauts on Mars. The attention-getting full-color photos and cutting-edge technology should capture the attention of readers.
Underworld: Exploring the Secret World beneath Your Feet. By Jane Price. Illus. by James Gulliver Hancock. 2014. 96p. Kids Can (9781894786898). Gr. 3–6. 624.1.This covers multiple scientific disciplines, from tectonics to animals, then segues into human endeavors, from Egyptian tombs and Qin’s army of terracotta soldiers to an entire city that exists below Paris, underground Tokyo, and a subterranean farm. Future prospects for underground exploration are also examined.
Is It Getting STEAMy down Here?
Earth Verse: Haiku from the Ground Up. By Sally M. Walker. Illus. by William Grill. 2018. 48p. Candlewick (9780763675127). Gr. 2–4. 550.Sibert medalist Walker has crafted 29 science-themed haiku, grouped into subjects such as earth, minerals, rocks, fossils, earthquakes, volcanoes, atmospheric and surface water, glaciers, and groundwater, accompanied by Greenaway medalist Grill’s hazy colored-pencil interpretations. A lovely melding of science and art.
Earthshake: Poems from the Ground Up. By Lisa Westberg Peters. Illus. by Cathie Felstead. 2003. 32p. Greenwillow (9780060292652). Gr. 2–4. 811.The 22 short poems in this large-format book all pertain to geology, launching solid facts via imaginative flights of fancy, tethering creations to science via explanatory endnotes. Mixed-media collage artwork includes paintings and drawings on textured and printed papers. Individual pictures differ widely, but the overall effect is unified.
Prairie Dog Song. By Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore. Illus. by Susan L. Roth. 2016. 40p. Lee & Low (9781620142455). Gr. 2–5. 599.36.This conservation song sets the scene of cumulative dependency in an ecosystem shared by prairie dogs, burrowing owls, black-footed ferrets—and nineteenth-century farmers. Mixed-media collages are in a palette of grassland browns and sunset oranges; supplemental materials include music for the song, prairie dog facts, and a time line.
A Strange Place to Call Home: The World’s Most Dangerous Habitats and the Animals That Call Them Home. By Marilyn Singer. Illus. by Ed Young. 2012. 44p. Chronicle (9781484450130). K–Gr. 3. 571.1.In 14 poems celebrating unusual animals that have adapted to equally unusual habitats: snow monkeys stay warm by huddling in hot springs, ice worms wriggle beneath glacial ice, and more. The textured paper-collage illustrations admirably evoke these less hospitable locales. Endnotes offer information about each animal and the forms of poetry.
Thunder Underground. By Jane Yolen. Illus. by Josée Masse. 2017. 32p. Boyds Mills & Kane/Wordsong (9781590789360). K–Gr. 2. 811.What’s that sound underground? In this thoughtful collection of poems, it can be anything from ants to the roar of the subway. Warm, naturalistic illustrations of underground scenes and cutaways contain an element of charming whimsy, such as when bunnies curl up and fall asleep in their burrow or a red-nosed mole curiously digs along the page.
Recent Titles about Fossorial Animals (aka Subterranean Critters)
Begin with a Bee. By Liza Ketchum and others. Illus. by Claudia McGehee. 2021. 40p. Univ. of Minnesota (9781517908041). PreS–Gr. 3. 595.79.After the first frost, most bees die. Queens don’t. They hibernate underground, getting ready to start new colonies when spring comes.
Chipmunks. By Lindsy J. O’Brien. 2016. 24p. Creative Company/Creative Education (9781608186976). K–Gr. 2. 599.36.After learning about chipmunks and real-life burrow features, readers design their own burrow.
Moles. By Rachel Poliquin. Illus. by Nicholas John Frith. 2019. 96p. Clarion (9780544951075). Gr. 3–5. 599.33.This award-winning homage to moles considers them in science, myth, and popular media. The entertaining text is riddled with superlatives: “Tunneling Torpedoes with Indefatigable Paws of Power and Arms of Hercules.”
Pangolina. By Jane Goodall. Illus. by Daishu Ma. 2021. 32p. Minedition (9781662650406). K–Gr. 3.This true tale tells of an orphaned pangolin baby, Pangolina, as she grows up and becomes a mother herself. Plenty of details are included about these strange little animals.
Pangolins. By Grace Hansen. 2021. 24p. ABDO Kids Jumbo (9781098205966). K–Gr. 3. 599.31.An extra-large pangolin photo on each page lets kids see this burrowing creature up close.
Prairie Dog Burrows. By Christopher Forest. 2018. 32p. Focus Readers (9781635178623). Gr. 2–4. 590.This title provides insights into the burrows, tunnels, chambers, and dirt mounds that make up prairie-dog communities.
Welcome, Wombat. By Kama Einhorn. 2018. 160p. Clarion (9781328767028). Gr. 2–4. 650.This is the story of Sleepy Burrows Wombat Sanctuary in Gundaroo, Australia, an organization that protects these odd little marsupials that burrow deep into the ground.
Wombat. By Colleen Sexton. 2020. 24p. Bearport (9781647471491). Gr. 1–4. 650.This thorough review of Australia’s subterranean cuties follows them through a typical day as they emerge from their burrows. Entertaining text includes wondrous factoids, such as wombat moms having rear-facing pouches that protect their babies from flying dirt when Mom’s busy tunneling. Who knew?
Kathleen McBroom is the school library media practicum coordinator for the Wayne State University School of Information Sciences.
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