We've collected some of our favorite books to pair with hands-on making activities on this page. Combining tinkering activities with books invites playful engagement with STEAM concepts and processes while also reinforcing language development, collaboration, communication, and literacy skills. Our book selections are made with a lens toward playful learning, inclusion, and creating space for a variety of voices across a series of themes:
Select books are available at the Exploratorium Store. If you enjoyed this resource page, consider purchasing books from our store when possible.
Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld
Is this a duck or a rabbit? What if you add more context, like a sandwich in front of the duck’s bill or a carrot in front of the rabbit? This story playfully explores differences in perspective. Listen to Mr. Limata’s Read aloud →
This enchanting and visually striking story is told entirely through images. Use the nighttime adventures of a child and their flashlight to kick off your explorations of and discoveries about light and shadow. Listen to Mr. Limata’s Read aloud →
Follow Moonbear as he tries to outwit his troublesome shadow! We love this book for its compelling story and illustrations of shadows in the world. Consider reading it and then making your own Moonbear-shaped shadow makers out of cardboard and other materials.
Where do shadows go at night? Find out in this lyrical and visually striking book, which also supports a conceptual understanding of light and shadow with lines like: "'cause in the night there is no light and shadows disappear from sight."
Jack's Amazing Shadow
Meet Jack and his magical, amazing, and mischievous shadow. As an added bonus for anyone engaging in balance explorations, in addition to an engaging story about shadows, this book also features an illustration of balancing cups and plates in a tall tower!
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Katey Howes and Elizabet Vuković (illustration)
This story features beautiful illustrations of different projects, including teetering towers of toys, boxes, and other everyday objects. Our favorite spread prompts: “Make a tower, make it tall. Make it balance, wobble, fall.” We especially love that this book features a collaboration between friends and a young female builder of color. Listen to Mr. Limata’s Read aloud →
A flock of birds perch on a tree, which sways under their weight. This book playfully explores counting, balance, and stability.
"I love using the image of a BIG bird balanced out by lots of small birds support building sculptures that aren’t symmetrical." —Steph from the Tinkering Studio Team
One cat sleeps. Two cats play. Three cats? Stack! This book explores numeracy, introduces useful balancing vocabulary like “stack” and “teeter,” and emphasizes trying out different things to see what happens.
Just A Little Bit
Ann Tompert and Lynn Munsinger (illustration)
An elephant and a mouse want to play together on a seesaw. The story escalates quickly as more and more animals climb onto the seesaw to help them play. The book is a great launching point for balance explorations because it memorably demonstrates how just a little bit of weight can make all the difference.
Ellen Stoll Walsh
Two mice build their own teeter-totter. They're balancing just fine, but then along comes a frog. The textured collages in this story depict different animals as they encounter the teeter-totter. We like using this book to launch building moving balancing sculptures with objects of equal or unequal weight.
Megan Wagner Lloyd and Brianne Farley (illustration)
Katie loves to build but hates reading, and her brother loves to read but hates to build. Use this book to launch stacking explorations with everyday objects.
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STRUCTURES AND CONSTRUCTION
With simple and compelling illustrations, Not a Box visually reminds us of all the different ways a box is not just a box, if you add a little bit of imagination. We love using it as inspiration for creating our own projects that use recycled materials in creative ways and taking a second look at everyday materials. Listen to Mr. Limata’s Read aloud →
This is a sweet story by Morag Hood about standing out and embracing differences. Our favorite illustrations feature Colin the carrot acting as a tower, slide, and bridge. We use it as a launching point for explorations of slope through ramps and rollers and of different approaches to constructing towers, bridges, seesaws, and slides.
We love this STEAM-rich story about building with cardboard boxes because it centers two female builders of color, is filled with inspiring illustrations of cardboard constructions, emphasizes the power of collaboration, and showcases all different kinds of making — from blanketeers and spaghetti-tects to tin-foilers and egg-cartoneers.
A Box Story
Kenneth Kit Lamug
This book is a compelling reminder of all of the possibilities in a simple box. What happens when we can look at everyday objects and recycled materials with a little more creativity?
The Most Magnificent Thing
A girl has a wonderful idea. "She is going to make the most MAGNIFICENT thing! She knows just how it will look. She knows just how it will work. All she has to do is make it, and she makes things all the time. Easy-peasy!" But making her magnificent thing is anything but easy, and the girl tries and fails, repeatedly.
Creature Construction Dancing Boxes
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Let's Make Faces
There are so many faces to discover in our world! All you have to do is look. Is a button just a button? Or is it an eye? That stick of gum sure looks like a mouth. How about some old yarn, unraveled from a scarf—that could be hair. Put all these objects together and you can make a face!
LEGO Still Life with Bricks
Lydia Ortiz and Michelle Clair
Transforming handfuls of bricks into minty toothpaste, eggs and bacon, lush houseplants, and more, LEGO Still Life reimagines the mundane and sparks playfulness in everyday life.
This beautiful book turns fall foliage into a material for making. Use the illustrations of leaves collaged into textured animals and landscapes to inspire your own creative arrangements of ordinary objects, or take your stop motion explorations outside to build your own leaf characters!
Round is a Tortilla
Roseanne Thong and John Parra (illustrator)
In this lively picture book, children discover shapes all around them: rectangles are ice-cream carts and stone metates, while triangles are slices of watermelon and quesadillas. With rich illustrations, a fun-to-read rhyming text, and an informative glossary, this playful concept book will reinforce the shapes found in every child's day!
Story Time + Tinkering page
Full Collection of Story Time + Tinkering Readings