10 How-To Guides for Curious Kids

One of the amazing superpowers of childhood is curiosity, continuously asking “why?” and not being satisfied without finding the perfect answer. These guidebooks will help get them there.

10 How To book covers-SLJ reviews


One of the amazing superpowers of childhood is curiosity, continuously asking “why?” and not being satisfied without finding the perfect answer. Adults know that challenging the status quo by asking the right questions can lead to life-changing innovation. These guidebooks encourage young readers to stay curious so they can someday become revolutionary grown-ups.


Preschool to Grade 4

Bradshaw, John. A First Guide to Dogs: Understanding Your Very Best Friend. illus. by Clare Elsom. 128p. Penguin Workshop. Jun. 2023. pap. $7.99. ISBN 9780593521830. 
Gr 2-4–This charming piece of expository literature from a dog expert and animal welfare scientist shares fascinating canine facts inside a sweet story of a fictional rescue dog named Rusty. Adopted by a light-skinned family of four, Rusty experiences a loving home life for the first time, enjoying walks to the park, a cozy bed, and affectionate care and playtime with his owners. Along the way, Bradshaw explains how dogs experience the world through their senses, primarily the sense of smell. Readers will be fascinated to learn how the inner workings of a dog’s snout function, their millions of turbinates allowing them to detect smells that are days old and even determine the direction the animal they’re sniffing out was traveling! Bradshaw also explains how dogs use their body language to communicate and how little of our language they understand, especially how our angry tones can be confusing for them. With sweet cartoon illustrations throughout, this sweet book helps narrative readers understand exactly how to build a strong relationship with their fluffy friend. VERDICT A paws-itively perfect pick for all early elementary collections.

Drimmer, Stephanie Warren. How To Survive in the Age of Dinosaurs: A Handy Guide to Dodging Deadly Predators, Riding Out Mega-Monsoons, and Escaping Other Perils of the Prehistoric. 96p. National Geographic. May 2023. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9781426372827. 
Gr 2-4–Could you survive in the age of dinosaurs? This guidebook answers the question by encouraging readers to imagine themselves as a time traveler who must survive in prehistoric style. Using tracking skills and dinosaur identification, readers can perfectly picture themselves searching for food, and to keep themselves from becoming food to the largest creatures to ever walk on the planet. Each period has more than just dinos to contend with—they pack some deadly natural disasters, like volatile volcanoes in the Permian and mega monsoons in the Triassic. There’s also helpful advice on how to stay safe, including how to sleep in a tree to keep from being eaten by prowling predators. In classic NatGeo style (tons of callouts, fast facts, and bold graphics), this book features a riot of color and information that will immediately draw in readers. Though these titles tend not to be hardy when it comes to circulation, it’s usually due to an abundance of love from book-ovores. Don’t let that dissuade you from purchasing; this is a unique presentation of dinosaur facts that blends in an excellent Man vs. Wild element. VERDICT Don’t leave your time period without this fun guidebook!

Hicks, Gabriel. A Kid’s Guide to Tabletop RPGs: Exploring Dice, Game Systems, Roleplaying, and More. illus. by Dave Perillo. 144p. (A Kid’s Fan Guide: Bk. 2). Running Pr. Jun. 2023. pap. $17.99. ISBN 9780762481095. 
Gr 3-5–Game on! Readers will be ready to take on tabletop role-playing games (RPGs) with confidence after venturing through this fine tome. Filled with charming illustrations and plain-language explanations, it lays an excellent foundation, starting by describing the necessities for tabletop gaming, like the different types of dice needed, the importance of finding a keen narrator (or DM/dungeon master), and creating a playable character with great stats and fun lore. Of course, not every game is an RPG. Hicks runs through the different types of games readers can explore and even provides a handy flowchart that offers suggestions for games based on a player’s interests, like superheroes, monsters, or sci-fi. Hicks also goes into detail about how readers can get into character and build their own RPG! Perhaps the most invaluable reminders throughout the guidebook are the oft-repeated reminders about respectful gaming. As Hicks rightfully points out, “At the end of the day, it’s just a game.” It’s only fun if everyone’s having a good time and after reading this, novice gamers will never forget that lesson. VERDICT A wonderful addition to all libraries as RPGs are rising in popularity.

Kyi, Tanya Lloyd. The Best Way to Get Your Way. illus. by Chanelle Nibbelink. 56p. Kids Can Pr. May 2023. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781525305481. 
Gr 3-5–Let’s face it—we all wanna get our way in life. Unfortunately, for kids, their lack of power and agency often means that they must accept rules they find unfair. This book lays out how to debate (and hopefully win!) in a way that’s clear and understandable for readers. Each chapter includes two fictional kids arguing either side of a topic like whether kids should go to bed early, or if screen time is positive or negative for children. Each argument, pro or con, is structured the same way: opening statements, presentations of evidence, rebuttals, and closing arguments. Throughout the debates, the narrator discusses some important concepts in effective debate, such as causation vs. correlation, biased sources, logical fallacy, factual accuracy, and repletion. After reading the arguments, kids are encouraged to pick a side based on which argument they believed was the strongest. With a diverse cast and kid-friendly arguments, this is a unique guidebook that empowers all readers to build their debate tenacity. Who knows? Maybe someday they can use it to change the world. VERDICT Distinctive and ideal for its age group, this book would be great for school libraries and classrooms.

Rinee Shah & David Roth. LOL 101: A Kid’s Guide to Writing Jokes.  illus. by Rinee Shah. 148p. Chronicle. May 2023. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9781797213927. 
K-Gr 3–Live from the stack—it’s library night! Professional comedian Roth breaks down the mechanics of a great joke, showing readers just how easy it can be to write a real side-splitter. The clever wordplay and idiom jokes kids so adore may seem super complicated, but Roth’s step-by-step explanation provides a simple template for a winning joke formula. Exaggeration jokes have been around since the days of the dinosaur. All these joke styles, plus Rule of 3 and visual humor, rely on a common element: SURPRISE! That’s what readers learn to strive for. Along with offering tips on joke delivery and style, Roth makes sure readers know two important principles: 1) Never tell another person’s joke without giving them credit—that’s stealing! and 2) Never tell a joke that makes someone sad or uncomfortable. Shah’s colorful cartoon illustrations perfectly complement every spread. Kids who want to be the life of the party will gain instrumental insight from this instructional guide. VERDICT This one’s a must have, no kidding.

Williams, Dave & Linda Pruessen. Space on Earth: How Thinking Like an Astronaut Can Help Save the Planet. illus. by Sho Uehara. 84p. Annick. Jun. 2023. Tr $21.99. ISBN 9781773217666; pap. $14.99. ISBN 9781773217673. 
Gr 2-4–Living on a space station is the ultimate survival situation—the scientists have a finite amount of resources and can’t just run to the store if they run out of water, food, or fuel. As anticipated, astronaut Williams and author Pruessen provide sound scientific explanations for Earth’s water cycle and the makeup of oxygen. Those descriptions are followed with how astronauts use the limited amount of water and oxygen they brought from earth into orbit, and how readers can utilize some of those principles to conserve water and create cleaner air. Food waste and food shortage issues are also covered, a welcome topic, though all the “Think Like an Astronaut” advice is written to children whose families don’t require food assistance programs. Kids won’t be able to enact much of the conservation guidance tips in the waste and fuel sections alone, but the evidence-based explanations will make it easy for them to convince their caregivers to help them make household changes. For readers looking for ways to do more for the planet, this will be an exciting read. VERDICT A strong selection for most libraries.

Grades 5 & Up

Matulli, Allison & Clelia Castro-Malaspina. Your Freedom, Your Power: A Kid’s Guide to the First Amendment. illus. by Carmelle Kendall. 192p. Running Pr. Jul. 2023. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780762478385. 
Gr 6 Up–Lawyers Matulli and Castro-Malaspina take readers on a tour through the Bill of Rights and Constitution with an extended layover in the First Amendment. Breaking down the First Amendment’s five guarantees, the authors offer thorough explanations of what those freedoms mean and where gray areas still leave them open to interpretation. What makes this guide so powerful is that while most books about the First Amendment provide examples of landmark cases brought before the courts in defense of adult rights, all the cases here are brought on behalf of minors. Students’ Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Speech include such well-known examples as prayer at school-sponsored events, forced creationist curriculum, and dress codes. The Freedom of Assembly section, too, encourages readers to embrace their power as activists like the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and the 1963 Children’s Crusade. There’s a helpful primer to how the U.S. court system functions, which curiously never indicates that minors cannot file lawsuits. Other than that small oversight, this is a thoughtfully crafted book. VERDICT A useful addition to most libraries.

Mehta, Monica Gupta & Asha Lily Mehta. It’s Totally Normal!: An LGBTQIA+ Guide to Puberty, Sex, and Gender. illus. by Fox Fisher. 208p. Jessica Kingsley. May 2023. pap. $18.95. ISBN 9781839973550. 
Gr 7 Up–The mother-and-daughter TikTok team known as the Normalizers answers nearly every possible question readers might have about LGBTQIA+ sexuality and gender in this honest, inclusive guide. Monica, an educational psychologist, takes a direct approach to the topic, explaining in plain language all the ins and outs of puberty, crushes, anatomy, and sex, and answering FAQs from curious teens along the way. The layout unfurls naturally, starting with puberty and moving on to how safe sex (of all varieties, including solo) works, emphasizing the importance of consent. The chapters on gender and sexuality are invaluable to young readers—the tone is relatable and the medical information is accurate and accessible. Included throughout are Monica’s own stories, as well as stories crowdsourced from the Normalizer community, and Fisher’s helpful cartoon illustrations. It’s almost impossible to put enough positive superlatives behind this essential guide. This covers all the bases that current heteronormative sex-ed curriculum skips, preparing teens who identify as anything other than cishet for safe, healthy, consenting relationships. VERDICT A necessary addition to middle/high school and public libraries.

Where to Start: A Survival Guide to Anxiety, Depression, and Other Mental Health Challenges. illus. by Gemma Correl. 208p. Penguin/Rocky Pond. Apr. 2023. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780593531402. 
Gr 5 Up–Self-diagnosis and depression is on the rise. TikTok and Instagram therapists can be unreliable, their advice incomplete. It can be daunting for teens to admit to caregivers that they are struggling and need help. Mental Health America (MHA) has assembled a plain language guide that dispels common misunderstandings about mental health challenges, providing readers with practical guidance. The first part focuses on describing the signs and symptoms of different mental health difficulties. While an assessment chart is included, it’s made clear that it should not be used for diagnostic purposes. The next two sections empower readers to talk to others (including caregivers and professionals) about their mental health. The benefits of live therapy and therapy apps, as well as crisis text lines, hotlines, and warmlines, are made clear before MHA makes an important point: not everyone can afford these options. This is where part four, DIY Mental Health, comes in. While it’s impossible to be comprehensive, the chapter covers common topics, like self-hate, suicidal ideation, and toxic influences, with actionable advice and worksheets. Correll’s illustrations are the perfect complement to this essential survival guide. VERDICT This gentle, detailed guide is a must-have for all libraries.

Williams, Molly. How to Speak Flower: A Kid’s Guide to Buds, Blooms, and Blossoms. illus. by Miriam Bos. 120p. Running Pr. May 2023. Tr $14.99. ISBN 9780762479177. 
Gr 4-6–Williams walks readers through flower anatomy, pollination, and the history of floriography, or the art of using flowers to communicate. Though this historical section lacks citation from any primary sources, it includes examples from around the globe. Readers then learn how they can use flowers to share their feelings, including love, friendship, and gratitude. Flowers also have healing qualities; chamomile has anti-inflammatory properties and marigold has antibacterial properties. Not all blooms are positive though—there are a few with negative meanings, like orange lilies and butterfly weeds, and some that are deadly. For the toxic blossoms, Williams includes a critical warning and phone number for the Poison Control Center. But the gloom ends there, as Williams includes cute quizzes (like “What’s Your Soul Flower?”), instructions for cultivating a cutting garden, and a DIY Flowers chapter with crafts like homemade potpourri and a flower crown. When this finds its true readers, it will shape them completely. VERDICT A flowery purchase that’s bright and beautiful.

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