I'm a freelance writer and mom of two little girls and a cat. When not chasing them I write about parenting, business, and gardening.
Curiosity in Children About Genetics and DNA
Recently, my 5-year-old daughter has been asking a lot of questions about human bodies and why we are the way we are. Perhaps her curiosity itself is genetic—my twin sister is a geneticist. She’ll ask, “Why do I look like my sister?” or “Why I am I allergic to amoxicillin?” At her young age, she won’t be able to understand the answers to these questions at a very complex level, but there is no reason we can’t begin exploring these topics further and allow her to gain at least a basic understanding of how our bodies and genetics work.
When I went to our local library, I discovered that there were very few books written at a simple-enough level to read to a young child about these topics. I decided to take my search further and find the best books about cells and DNA for kindergarteners. After searching on Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, and consulting with scientist friends, I have come across the following books that have been, for the most part, just right to satisfy her curiosity. After reading these books, she is now stopping people in the hallway at school to tell them how they got their eye color!
The Best Children’s Books About Cells
Enjoy Your Cells by Frances Balkwill
This book is probably more of a 2nd grade and up book, but I have read it to my 5-year-old, just picking and choosing which parts we read. Every page is full of detailed illustrations and quite a bit of text, but it’s not boring. There are funny speech bubbles coming from lots of the pictures, too. Some were too advanced for my daughter to understand, but quite a few made her chuckle. myself learned quite a bit from this book!
I like this book also because, unlike other books that talk about cells and DNA, it introduces the fact that humans begin from a single cell, and that our DNA continuously copies itself to make more and more cells. It did this without going too much into “the birds and the bees,” but still answering critical questions and filling in blanks for kids who are curious as to how we get our DNA in the first place.
A Children’s Story about Cells: For Children who Appreciate Biology by Michael Bacotti
You can read this book for free if you have the Kindle Unlimited subscription on Amazon, otherwise it is available as a paperback. It is a very simple book that introduces the concept of cells, how they make up organs like our skin, and how our immune systems fight off bad cells i.e. bacteria. This book is very short and can be read in under 3 minutes—however, the illustrations are very basic and good for explaining cells to small children.
The Best Children’s Books About DNA and Genes
Have a Nice DNA by Frances Balkwill
This is by the same author as Enjoy Your Cells, mentioned above. It goes into a bit more detail about conception, so be sure to go through the book beforehand and note pages you would like to skip when reading. Again, this book explains the basics of DNA: it’s shape, how it is stored in the nucleus, how it copies itself, and what it means. This is the kind of book to buy rather than just getting from the library for a short time—although its not too long, there is A LOT of information and it is a good reference to go back to. The more you re-read this book, the more your little one (and you!) will retain.
The Baby Biochemist: DNA (Volume 1) and The Baby Biochemist: RNA (Volume 2) by Margot Alesund
These books go together, and both have similar word count and language, but the first volume introduces considerably easier concepts that are more familiar to the average non-biology-major adult. The DNA book presents the idea of DNA, its structure and nucleotide names, and how DNA is stored by being wrapped around histones and then in chromosomes. It covers briefly that we get one set of chromosome from our biological father and one from our biological mother, but I would like to have seen it cover a little bit more about how that determines what we look like. I like that this book also adds cute little speech bubbles to the different cell and DNA illustrations.
The RNA book briefly reintroduces the topic covered in the first DNA book, then jumps right in to RNA’s job and the many different types of RNA molecules. It explains the different roles of DNA and RNA, and again has cute little speech bubbles with each RNA molecule explaining its job. The ideas about RNA are complex but written as simply as possible. My 5-year-old is able to recall more information about DNA than RNA, which is understandable because the RNA book has a lot more intricate details.
23andMe You Share Genes with Me by 23andMe Inc.
I first came across this book in my sister’s (whose a geneticist) house while visiting. It was in the library of her then 2-year-old son. This book is a short little board book that simply explains how humans have certain percentages of their genes in common with other living things. It starts out with plants that we have less genetic overlap with, then to insects and animals which we have more in common with. The idea is that all living things are connected because we share a large part of our genome. This book is perfect for littler kids, but also good for older ones to illustrate how all life is connected. It is published by 23 and Me, which is a genetics company that will analyze your DNA for a small fee.
Gregor Mendel: The Friar Who Grew Peas by Cheryl Bardoe
I like this book because it goes into heredity and how we can actually see genes expressed, rather than just looking at cells and DNA at a microscopic level. This is a good book to read after reading the other books on this list, and after kids have a concept and background of what a cell is and what DNA is. It explains how Gregor Mendel, one of the first people to catch on to the fact that living things inherit and pass on traits, used peas to prove his theories.
The Baby Biochemist Series
Online Learning Resources About the Human Body and Genetics
Reading is a great way to explore nonfiction concepts with little kids, especially if the material you are reading is fun and story-like. After getting a strong knowledge base through learning, kids may want to explore the topic of human genetics further. There are plenty of places online for more information and ideas for activities. Below are some links to more online resources about the human body and genetics for kids:
What is DNA and How Does it Work?
Zarana on July 26, 2018:
I'm considering writing kids' science books & am digesting the brilliance that already exists. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts & recommendations.
Rochelle Frank from California Gold Country on February 24, 2018:
I think your child may be on the way to becoming a scientist. Human curiosity is a wonderful thing. (I wonder if it is genetic?)
I think it is a wonderful thing that you offer encouragement to your daughter.. Too many kids get their curiosity shut down early and often, even in school.
(The picture at the top looks like military campaign ribbons.)