What is it with kids and poop? Why do they think it’s so hilarious?! I don’t have an answer for you, but I do have a list of the ten best books for poop-obsessed kids. Call it a gift guide. Call it a recommended reading list. Call it a resource for teachers and librarians. These books don’t resort to potty humor. They are thoroughly researched, nonfiction books that use poop (and sometimes toilets) as a gateway to STEM subjects like biology, engineering, environmental science, and wastewater treatment – with a healthy dose of history.
You will be the coolest grown-up around if you get a kid in your life a book about poop. And the kids will be so thrilled to be reading about this taboo subject, they won’t even know they’re learning!
I’ve organized the books by age, youngest to oldest. The links I’ve provided go to Worldcat.org (a worldwide library catalog) so you can find out if your local library has the book. In most cases Worldcat also provides a variety of links to outlets where you can buy the books as well. Here we go…
Whose Poop is THAT? by Darrin Lunde and Kelsey Oseid (3-7 years)
Part book, part guessing game, Whose Poop is That? combines two topics beloved of toddlers everywhere – poop and animals. Here’s the publisher’s summary:
No, don’t say “Ewwww.” Ask, “Whose poop is that?” This simple, and yes, charming book asks this question about seven examples of animal poop. By investigating visual clues, young readers can learn to identify the animal through its droppings. For instance, find a sample of poop with bits of bone and tufts of hair. Turn the page to learn it came from a fox!
Kelsey Oseid’s illustrations are both accurate and beautiful. Backmatter includes further information about the poop and what scientists can learn from an animal’s droppings.
What Do They Do With All That Poo? by Jane Kurtz and Allison Black (4-8 years)
I’m embarrassed to say that after all the time I’ve spent pondering poo (it comes with the territory when you write a book about sewers!), I had never stopped to wonder what zoos do with the prodigious amounts of poo generated by their animals until I saw this book. In jaunty, rhyming text (with sidebars full of additional fun facts) this books answers that question. Here’s a summary from the publisher:
Find out what happens to all of the poo at the zoo in this funny and factual picture book!
There are so many different kinds of animals at the zoo, and they each make lots and lots (and sometimes LOTS!) of poo. So what do zoos do with all of that poo? This zany, fact-filled romp explores zoo poo, from cube-shaped wombat poo to white hyena scat, and all of the places it ends up, including in science labs and elephant-poo paper—even backyard gardens!
Jane has also written a more recent book called The Clues are in the Poo. I couldn’t get my hands on a copy in time for this blog post, which is why it’s not on the list but I just put it on hold at the library and I can’t wait to read it! The book introduces readers to scientist Karen Chin as she hunts for fossilized dinosaur poop. It’s another fabulous combo – dinosaurs and poop! What kid wouldn’t want to read about that?
Poop for Breakfast: Why Some Animals Eat It by Sara Levine and Florence Weiser (4-8 years)
I’ve had two dogs that (to my absolute horror) considered cat poop a tasty treat, but I had no idea there were other animals that ate poop, until I read this book. (As you can see, I learn A LOT from picture books!) Poop for Breakfast will have you and your kids marveling at Mother Nature’s ingenuity, even as you wrinkle your noses in disgust. Here’s the publisher’s summary:
Eating poop is gross! So why do some animals do it? For lots of good reasons!
Male butterflies slurp up poop to give as a gift to females, which makes their eggs stronger. Robins scarf down the poop of young chicks because it’s full of undigested nutrients. And baby elephants gobble up the poop from adults to get essential bacteria into their digestive systems. This disgustingly informative book is bursting with lots of surprising information about animals—and digestion!
The Great Stink: How Joseph Bazalgette Solved London’s Poop Pollution Problem by Colleen Paeff and Nancy Carpenter (5-10 years)
When I visit young readers on school visits, one of the questions I most often get asked is, “Why did you want to write a book about poop?” It’s a fair question! But I always answer that I never really thought of The Great Stink as a book about poop. It’s about pollution and engineering and sewers and persistence and making one city a better, safer place to live – and it happens to feature quite a bit of poop. (It’s also full of synonyms for poop! See how many you can find in the text. It’s fun!) Here’s the publisher’s summary:
Discover the true story about the determined engineer who fixed London’s pollution problem in this funny, accessible nonfiction picture book featuring engaging art from the illustrator of Queen Victoria’s Bathing Machine.
It’s the summer of 1858, and London’s River Thames STINKS. What is creating this revolting smell? The answer is gross: the river is full of poop.
But the smell isn’t the worst problem. Every few years, cholera breaks out, and thousands of people die. Could there be a connection between the foul water and the deadly disease?
One engineer dreams of making London a cleaner, healthier place. His name is Joseph Bazalgette. His grand plan to create a new sewer system to clean the river is an engineering marvel. And his sewers will save lives. Nothing stinky about that.
With tips for how to prevent pollution today, this fascinating look at science, history, and what one person can do to create change will impress and astound readers who want to help make their planet a cleaner, happier place to live.
Toilet: How It Works by David Macaulay (5-10 years)
We all know David Macaulay can make absolutely anything interesting. But what you may not know, is that toilets, sewers, and wastewater treatments facilities were already interesting! Add in some David Macaulay magic and you’ve got one heck of a good book. Toilet: How it Works is aimed at newly independent readers, but it’s full of information all readers will appreciate. Here’s a summary from the publisher:
Everyone knows what a toilet is for, right? But what exactly happens after you flush? Where does our waste go, and how is it made safe? With his unique blend of informative text and illustration, David Macaulay takes readers on a tour of the bathroom and the sewer system, from the familiar family toilet to the mysterious municipal water treatment plant.
Poop Happened: A History of the World from the Bottom Up by Sarah Albee and Robert Leighton (7-11 years)
I cannot tell you how much I love this book. The recommended age group is 7 to 11, but it’s just as fascinating for adults as it is for kids. Seriously, this is one of those books that answers all kinds of questions you didn’t even know you had. Here’s the publisher’s summary:
Did lead pipes cause the fall of the Roman Empire?
How many toilets were in the average Egyptian pyramid?
How did a knight wearing fifty pounds of armor go to the bathroom?
Was poor hygiene the last straw before the French Revolution?
Did Thomas Crapper really invent the modern toilet?
How do astronauts go in space?
History finally comes out of the water-closet in this exploration of how people’s need to relieve themselves shaped human development from ancient times to the present. Throughout time, the most successful civilizations were the ones who realized that everyone poops, and they had better figure out how to get rid of it! From the world’s first flushing toilet invented by ancient Minoan plumbers to castle moats in the middle ages that used more than just water to repel enemies, Sarah Albee traces human civilization using one revolting yet fascinating theme.
A blend of historical photos and humorous illustrations bring the answers to these questions and more to life, plus extra-gross sidebar information adds to the potty humor. This is bathroom reading kids, teachers, librarians, and parents won’t be able to put down!
Who Gives a Poop? Surprising Science from One End to the Other by Heather L. Montgomery and Iris Gottlieb (10-14 years)
Heather Montgomery (whose books I love!) follows her curiosity to all kinds of interesting places and as her lucky readers we get to come along for the ride and it’s absolutely fascinating! Here’s a description from the publisher:
Follow scientist Heather L. Montgomery into science labs, forests, hospitals, and landfills, as she asks: Who uses poo?
Poop is disgusting, but it’s also packed with potential. One scientist spent months training a dog to track dung to better understand elephant birthing patterns. Another discovered that mastodon poop years ago is the reason we enjoy pumpkin pie today. And every week, some folks deliver their own poop to medical facilities, where it is swirled, separated, and shipped off to a hospital to be transplanted into another human. There’s even a train full of human poop sludge that’s stuck without a home in Alabama!
This irreverent and engaging narrative nonfiction book shows that poop isn’t just waste – and that dealing with it responsibly is our duty.
How the Toilet Changed History by Laura Perdew (10-14 years)
I used this book in my research for The Great Stink and I was super excited one afternoon at a writing conference to find myself seated next to its author, Laura Perdew, who was absolutely delightful. In the book, Laura gives an in depth look at the incredible changes brought about by the toilet and everything that came along with it. This book was written for the education market, so look for it at your library. After reading this book you will thank your lucky stars for the toilet, plumbing, and sanitation systems that make it possible to forget our waste once its flushed! This summary (from Amazon) is pretty dry, but here you go:
How the Toilet Changed History examines the invention of the toilet and explores how improving sanitation has changed cities and human health.
The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why it Matters by Rose George (12 to adult)
I know you’re all long past the stage when poop was something you wanted to think about, but I am telling you…this book is a MUST READ.
The publisher does a fine job of explaining why, so I’ll leave you with their description:
Bodily waste is common to all and as natural as breathing. We prefer not to talk about it, but we should—even those of us who take care of our business in pristine, sanitary conditions. Disease spread by bodily waste kills more people worldwide every year than any other single cause of death. Even in the United States, nearly two million people have no access to an indoor toilet, while the sewers of major cities worldwide are an infrastructure disaster waiting to happen. With razor-sharp wit and crusading urgency, mixing levity with gravity, Rose George’s The Big Necessity breaks the silence, turning the taboo subject into a cause with the most serious of consequences.
I Eat Poop: A Dung Beetle Story by Mark Pett (3-7 years)
“I Eat Poop” is fiction, but I couldn’t give you a list of the best poop books without including this charming, heartwarming, and – yes! – educational book! Here’s the publisher’s short and sweet summary:
A poop-loving dung beetle learns not to hide the quirks that make him special.
Isn’t that a message all of us need to hear now and again?
If you’ve never dissected owl pellets – you must! It’s a fun, and educational activity that the entire family will enjoy. (And it’s a perfect activity for rainy days or snow days!) Owl pellets don’t resemble poop at all. They’re like dense balls of fur that are full of tiny bones. Looking for the bones with your tweezers is like going on a treasure hunt without ever leaving the kitchen table. The website for this kit says it’s appropriate for ages 8 and up, but younger kids can definitely enjoy this activity with adult supervision. Here’s a description from the website I’ve linked to:
Learn about owls and the little critters they eat by doing an owl pellet dissection!
This hands-on owl pellet kit guides students through an owl pellet dissection. This complete kit comes with a large owl pellet (1-1/2″ or larger), dissection tools, instructions, an identification key, and a bone sorting chart printable for bone identification. It has everything you need for an owl pellet dissection! Each large owl pellet is foil wrapped and dry heat sterilized.
This barn owl pellet dissection kit provides background information, teaching students about food chains and food webs! Examine the inside of an owl pellet to discover the indigestible parts (or bones) of the shrews, voles, and other critters that are eaten by barn owls. The included bone chart helps students to identify jawbones, skulls, and other bits and pieces that help them to further understand and define the different animals in a barn owl’s food web. Owl pellet dissection is an engaging, hands-on life science experience for elementary, middle, and high school-aged students. It is a perfect activity to weave into your life science lesson plans – whether a homeschool parent, a school teacher, or any other kind of science educator.
That’s the list! If you end up taking any of my recommendations, I’d love to hear about it. And if you want more book recommendations for adults, send me a message. You’d be amazed at how many good books there are about human waste, sewers, and wastewater treatment. It’s hard to believe that’s a sentence that I’m typing – and one that I say pretty regularly now, but it’s true! Human waste and what we do with it is an enGROSSing subject!