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Mentor Text Monday: Lyrical Nature Books

The nature and other STEM nonfiction books I grew up with tended toward info-dumps. They presented facts about scientific, mathematic, or other concepts without much imagination or word play.

Today’s STEM books burst with lyrical language, including alliteration, repetition, and other poetic techniques that make for an engaging read-aloud. Given worldwide concerns about climate change, books celebrating the natural world provide ample opportunities for rich sensory details and lively verbs, galvanizing young minds. Here’s a look at some recent lyrical nonfiction books from my group PB Spree.

ANIMALS IN SURPRISING SHADES: Poems About Earth’s Colorful Creatures written by Susan Johnston Taylor (me) and illustrated by Annie Bakst (Gnome Road Publishing, 2023) uses poetry to explore animals in (almost) every shade of the rainbow, as well as a few bonus animals. Aside from the opening, closing, and back matter, each spread features a different animal and poetic form such as haiku, concrete poem, or quatrain. This reflects the incredible biodiversity of our world.

I used rhyme and alliteration to keep the tone light and engaging. To capture how each animal moves within their environment, I also studied YouTube videos of the animals and chose verbs carefully. Words like “slithering,” “curving,” and “flutter” convey a sense of motion. In fact, I’ve had kids act out animal movements during story time. They love hopping like a poison dart frog!

DEEP, DEEP DOWN: The Secret Underwater Poetry of the Mariana Trench written by Lydia Ludikis and illustrated by Juan Calle Valles (Capstone, 2023) is a lyrical tribute to the world’s deepest oceanic trench. Ludikis’ text uses the second-person “you” and asks rhetorical questions to engage young readers and spark their curiosity.

Descriptions like “bone-chilling cold” make readers feel as if they have actually journeyed to the depths of the ocean, viewing snails and squids up close. Onomatopoeic words like “swish” and “splash” make DEEP, DEEP Down a lively read-aloud, too.

GREAT CARRIER REEF written by Jessica Stremer and illustrated by Gordy Wright (Holiday House, 2023) tells the true story of a decommissioned US aircraft career that became a manmade reef off the coast of Florida to protect marine life. Phrases like “rusty, empty and without purpose” create an emotional connection with the aircraft carrier while staying true to the facts.

Stremer furthers this emotional connection by describing the risks of turning the carrier into a reef: “one miscalculation, one explosion could cause the ship to flood unevenly … will they get it right?” The repetition of “one” is pleasing to the ear but also underscores the project’s challenges. Readers will want to keep turning the pages to see if it’s successful!

A RIVER OF DUST: The Life-Giving Link Between North Africa and the Amazon written by Jilanne Joffman and illustrated by Eugenia Mello (Chronicle Books, 2023) is cleverly told from the first-person point-of-view of the dust that nourishes the Amazon. After all, who better to tell this story than the dust itself?

Poetic comparisons to the smudge on a finger and the grime that swirls down a drain emphasize the dust’s importance. Vivid verb choices like “soar,” “rise,” and “whip” create a lovely sense of motion, not unlike dust clouds moving across a continent and an ocean.

If you’ve read any of these books, what did you think? What are your favorite lyrical nonfiction books? [Please share your recommendations in the comment section.]

BIO: Susan Johnston Taylor is the author of Animals in Surprising Shades: Poems About Earth’s Colorful Creatures, which School Library Journal called "a STEAM-themed poetry collection that should have broad appeal for young readers." She's written over a dozen books for the educational market, and her writing also appears in Highlights for Children, Scout Life, and several poetry anthologies for kids and adults. Find her online at

On Twitter: @UrbanMuseWriter

On Instagram: @UrbanMuseWriter

Member of: PB Spree

As a giveaway, I am happy to offer a signed hardcover of Animals in Surprise Shades (US addresses only) or a free custom sell sheet designed by me (available to authors anywhere in the world). Winner will be chosen on October 30 and posted on Twitter and in the comment section on October 31st.

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