Children are innately curious about the world around them, especially when those things are a little mysterious. Shadows satisfy both these requirements by being part of our life and by creating suspense. Is it a monster or a teddy bear shadow? Over the years we have collected a few exciting books about shadows, but never became intentional about putting a list together until we started The Science of Shadows unit study. The following books about shadows are great not only for those who intend to make an official study of it, but also just for fun. Here you will find captivating stories from the lands far away (Shadow by Marcia Brown), touching books (Papa Lucky’s Shadow), unique fairy tales (Shadow Story), and books that might appeal to kids who are afraid of the dark (In the dark, dark room). Take a peek…
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Shadow by Marcia Brown, translated from the French of Blaise Cendrars
Shadow is a very imaginative look at shadows but may not be to everyone’s taste. Some kids will love it, while others may not. With my own children, my son said, “I love it! So spooky!”, while my daughter said, “I hate it! So scary!” The text of the story is a French poem La Féticheuse (The Witch Doctor) by novelist and poet Blaise Cendrars, who travelled through Africa listening to the stories of the village shamans told around the night fires. The illustrations are very dark and eerie. The idea is that shadows are everywhere, like ghosts. There is a lot of figurative language and suspenseful imagery. For example, on a double spread with a dark blue background there is an image of a black body sprawled on the ground and another ghost-like lighter form with x’s for eyes hovering over it with claw-like fingers. The text on this page: “On its nightly path it [shadow] often gets bumped, gets torn, trips again and again, and each time sprawls its full length on the ground. But it does not cry out, it has no voice.” I like to introduce my kids to books that are different. This book has unique message, very artistic illustrations, and teaches something about a culture that is new to us. Besides, being part of a unit study on Shadows, this book can be introduced as a lesson in personification (throughout the whole story, Shadow is its own character) and it offers a great introduction to African tribal culture.
On a Dark, Dark Night by Jean Cochran, illustrated by Jennifer Morris
On a Dark, Dark Night is one of those rhyming books that is an absolute delight to read over and over again. In the story, a little boy was just settling down for the night next to a volume of Spooky Stories when “a dark, dark shadow passed by his door.” He bravely jumped out of bed to investigate and… found out that even ten foot tall shadows have perfectly good explanations. This book is perfect for kids who are scared to sleep alone in a room. The illustrations are filled with humor that kids love. And I adore the staccato sounds of a pounding heart “boom-boom-boom” and clanking knees “knock, knock, knock.” It’s a great book!
Shadow Story by Nancy Willard, illustrated by David Diaz
My kids love stories where children outwit much larger opponents and if the book is as creative and eloquent as Nancy Willard’s book then it’s sure to be a hit. On The Night When Shadows Linger a little girl by the name of Holly Go Lolly is born. In place of a fairy godmother, the shadow of a fairy godmother shows up and blesses the baby with a strange gift – she will never be afraid of the dark. The mother is sore about such a useless blessing, but the father wisely notes that, “you never know when a blessing will come in handy.” The family is so poor that Holly Go Lolly only has shadows on the wall to play with, and by the time she is fifteen years old she is so good at using her hands to make shadows that she can create anything, even animals that can spring, run and shuffle.
When the final hour comes and it’s Holly Go Lolly with her gift of making shadows against the big and fierce Ooboo, I bet you already know who will win. The illustrations, by Caldecott Winner David Diaz, are made in the form of drawings that resemble paper cutouts. The book is best for 5 years old and up. Of course, the only thing your kids will want to do as soon as you finish the book, is make shadows. Use this guide to inspire their own creations.
Moonbear’s Shadow by Frank Asch
We first fell in love with Frank Asch’s style when we bought Happy Birthday, Moon. So when my son saw the same bear on a cover of another book he wanted to check it out. We were not disappointed! In this story, Bear is annoyed that his shadow prevents him from catching a fish in the pond, so he decides to get rid of his shadow. He tries many creative ways from nailing his shadow to the lawn, to burying it in a hole. When Bear’s shadow finally starts to behave there is a good scientific explanation behind it which opens the door to a further discussions after the last page. Some questions you may ask: What creates Moonbear’s shadow? Why does Moonbear’s shadow appear bigger and smaller during different time of the day? Why does Moonbear’s shadow disappears when he buries it? I consider this book the best introduction to science for little kids there is! After reading this book, take the kids outside on a sunny day and invite them to get rid of their shadow!
Nothing Sticks Like a Shadow by Ann Tompert
In thirty years since its original publication, this book didn’t lose any of its charm. “’Everyone knows you cannot sweep away shadows,’ said Skunk. ‘You can’t hide from them or run away from them either,’ said Rabbit.” But you can pull shadows apart, right? No? Then you can cut a shadow loose or soak it off perhaps? And so goes this delightful tale of Rabbit’s adventures that was inspired by the author’s own creative adventures as a child. At the end of the reading you can ask kids what Rabbit did to get rid of his shadow and why those things didn’t work. The illustrations have a wonderful old-fashioned feel of timeless European fairy tales.
Papa Lucky’s Shadow by Niki Daly
The most memorable books are the ones that evoke emotions and this book will have you grinning ear to ear. In the center of the story is a loving relationship between two people (grandpa Lucky and his little granddaughter Sugar) and their triumph in the face of adversity (even if the adversity is just a disapproving glance from the mom). In this story Papa Lucky and Sugar take up tap dancing in the streets despite her mom’s objections. But guess who is won over when the duo dances a shadow dance in perfect harmony at the Pensioners’ Club Party? The book teaches that when bad things happen (grandmother died) it’s OK to seek a creative outlet for pent-up feelings, (I started this blog when my father died) and that family ties are a wonderful thing. The illustrations by the author in watercolor and pencil are beautiful beyond words. There is a sense of flow and movement in every dance move and the color scheme is perfect for the story. Besides the concept of the shadow dance (when one dancer mimics exactly the movements of another dancer), there are lots of shadows to look for on each page. This book is excellent for kids 4-8 years old.
The Black Rabbit by Philippa Leathers
In this picture book a little white rabbit is scared of his own shadow but, as it turns out, the shadow saves his life. The author was inspired to write this story after watching her two pet bunnies following each other “like a shadow.” This is a great book for learning about light and shadow, and also about feeling scared and the value of friendships. Some questions to ask while reading this story: Why do you think Rabbit can’t get rid of his shadow? What happened to Rabbit’s shadow in the woods? The map on the last pages leads the reader through the story and my kids enjoyed retelling the story to me while tracing a finger over the rabbit’s route. Simple watercolor illustrations in soft colors are a wonderful touch. Best for 3-6 years old.
My Shadow by Robert Louis Stevenson, illustrations by Sara Sanches
This is a delightful poem about a child and his shadow from a collection of poems called The Children’s Garden of Verses. It’s great for all ages. “I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me. And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.” There follows certain observations about shadows from a child’s point of view: shadows can grow faster than children can grow, but it also can get little without warning, a shadow can give away a hiding child during a game of hide-and-seek, and it’s very lazy early in the morning, before the sun is up. The rhyme of the poem is natural and beautiful and every word is lyrical and expressive. G. K. Chesterton said it best, “[Stevenson] seems to pick up the right word up on the point of his pen, like a man playing [a game of pick-up sticks].” The playful illustrations by Sara Sanches wonderfully enhance the story. I love that there is only one poem line for each colorful double-paged spread. It allows the words to really sink in and makes it easy for beginner readers to read on their own.
Shadows by April Pulley Sayre, illustrated by Harvey Stevenson
From the author of 55 books comes a short picture book about two young friends who spend a fun filled day looking for shadows. “Searching for Shadows, we run, hop!” They see shadows under a flying dragonfly, man’s hat, and their own bodies. They outline shadows with a piece of chalk and watch the shadows shift away. A short rain chases the shadows away, “but the shadows return with the sun. Let’s play!” This is a great book to inspire kids to go outside and make shadows with their bodies and investigate the many shadows in their environment. The illustrations are made with acrylics in a variety of bright colors. This is a great book for preschool explorers.
I have a Friend by Keiko Narahashi
With watercolor paintings and few words per page, author and illustrator Keiko Narahashi follows a little boy through a typical day as he swims, catches butterflies, and walks in the park. The boy’s close friend is his shadow, which is “yesterday’s night left behind for the day.” Young readers will be excited to point out his shadow on each page and discuss how it changes as the day progresses. It’s a great introduction to the science of shadows for little kids (3-5).
The Queen’s Shadow: a story about how animals see by Cybele Young
With this beautifully illustrated and creative book kids learn a lot of scientific facts while enjoying a good detective story. During the Royal Ball the Queen’s shadow is stolen. Every guest is a suspect. The Royal Detective questions Chameleon, Shark, Snake, Goat, Dragonfly, Colossal Squid, Pigeon and the young Sea Urchins. The narration of the story takes up the left side of the page, and the right side shows drawings of the animal’s field of vision and gives information about what they can see. We learned a lot of amazing information like the fact that pigeons can tell the difference between paintings created by Picasso and Monet or that they tell direction by detecting the earth’s magnetic field. I’m surprised this picture book is not more popular. Not only is it educational, but it is beautiful to look at and my kids really enjoyed the mystery. It’s best for kids 6+.
Shadow Play: making pictures with light and lenses by Bernie Zubrowski
I love this amazing activity book from the Boston Children’s Museum. The idea behind the book is to let kids carry out explorations that were done by real artists and scientists throughout history. From making and using a Shadow Box, to experimenting with a real camera (disposable ones are the best choice for beginners), this book is a source of inspiration. Some of the games and activities require what I call “advanced skills” like connecting wires to batteries, but you can simplify and adapt many of them. For example, in the Guess the Shadow game we simply held the objects and cut outs behind a white sheet illuminated by a table lamp and skipped the box. I like the detailed What’s Happening explanations and the section on how the human eye works. The book is recommended for Grade 4 and up. My kids (5 and 8) enjoyed some of the games in this book (which I simplified) and they especially liked experimenting with a camera.
Let the Shadows Speak: developing children’s language through shadow puppetry by Franzeska G. Ewart
If you think that a shadow puppet show is a good idea, but don’t know how to start or think it would take too much time and effort, this book is for you. This book includes practical steps on how to set it up with your kids without much fuss and talks about many benefits of shadow puppet shows. Plus, the book includes some scenarios for you to try. The exploration of cultural attitudes towards shadows is very informative. English phrases like “a shadow of his former self” and “the disaster cast its shadow” demonstrate negative connotations associated with shadows in the West. Which is the opposite of how Eastern and African cultures view shadows. My kids were intrigued by the short stories from around the world that explain how shadowplay began in different cultures. (6+)
Shadows and Reflections by Tana Hoban
How does the shadow of a cat look on top of a car hood? How do the tree branches look reflected in a puddle? Tana Hoban, a child of Russian immigrants, created this book of colorful photographs to invite kids to take a closer look at the world around them. There are no words, just images of people, animals, and objects framed in a very creative way. As you move through the pages ask kids: What is this shadow? What do you think created this reflection? Best for children 4-7 years old.
Shadows and Reflections by Daniel Nunn
This is another nonfiction title that takes the kids on a tour of shadows and reflections in the world around them. Each page has one colorful photograph. The text provides enough information to explain scientific concepts like the difference between transparent and opaque objects and how shadows are made, but the book doesn’t go into confusing details. The sentences are not simplistic, but they are clearly written and perfect for young scientists 6+.
With these 15 books you can launch a fun, investigative, inquiry based unit study into shadows that your kids will love! Making time to read together and to talk about books with your kids is easier if the material appeals to you too. I found the above books engaging and very inspiring during our studies. If you are looking for more ideas on this topic check out The Science of Shadows unit study that is full of hands on, fun activities that kids will love.