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23 Career Books for Kids (Elementary + Middle School Students)

Career books for elementary and middle school kids that paint a more complete picture of “a day in the life”.

I set out to find the best career books for kids out there.

middle school girl student with beakers doing chemistry, text overlay "best career exploration books for kids"

Not the ones that paint rosy pictures about fantastical careers – like the life of an astronaut, video game tester, or President of the United States – but the books that also include tidbits about the not-so-pretty side of careers as well.

You know, the mistakes, missteps, frustrations, and failures that each of us adults have navigated in our own careers.


  • Dr. Seuss quit art class because his teacher wanted him to follow the rules – thank goodness he kept going!
  • Grace Hopper’s eventual boredom with repetitive computer programming work led her to create computer codes.
  • Rosie Revere’s Uncle laughed at her “silly” inventions.
  • Leland Melvin’s opening manages kids’ expectations – just because you’re an astronaut, it doesn’t mean you ever get to go into space (who knew?).

Let me be clear: we’re not dashing dreams here. We are, however, adding an element of reality to them. Which is a good thing to do for career exploration for students.

But before we get into that, let's talk about what career exploration actually is, and why it's important.

What is Career Exploration?

Career exploration for students is dedicating some time for your child to learn about the types of careers and positions that they are naturally interested in, or where they naturally show talent in.

It can include things like:

Why is Career Exploration Important?

Do you remember wayyyyy back to the days when you thought you would be a fill-in-the-blank?

For me, this was a teacher. Then, it changed to being a writer.

Oddly enough, I'm now both (but I didn't start out that way − which is why I said “oddly” enough!).

These fields didn't just magically pop themselves into my head; they were vocations I was naturally interested + talented in.

For example, I used to play teacher at school and was asked by many of my teachers over the years to help tutor other kids who were struggling to keep up. Also, from elementary school onwards, I would write little books that I'd staple together (the illustrations were terrible!).

But something happened in between childhood and my 30s, when I actually started working in both of these areas (teaching + writing). When I graduated college at 22, I took a job in marketing + sales. Then I moved to being an environmental investigator.

I'm not saying either of these careers was bad, but they weren't the ones. Imagine if I had done a bit more career exploration in my pre-teens and teens and figured out that, in fact, writing and teaching others about money was really what I was put on this earth to do?

The point I'm trying to make is that career exploration is an extremely important thing to do as a child, pre-teen, and teenager (and, yeah, adults can do it as well!). The earlier you can get your child started looking down the paths of various career fields, the better for them.

Career Exploration Books for Elementary Students

Now, onto some books that will help with this process.

Note: I’ve personally read each of these books and give my honest reviews/opinions below.

1. Baby’s Big World: Chemistry, Veronica L. Murphy

Career Path: scientist, chemist

Ages: 1-3 years

Why not get started this early? In this cutely illustrated book, your youngin’ is introduced to chemistry. Elements are like “crayons in a box”, and the elements table is like a “crayon box.” Your kid might start to see their world as little tiny elements while reading this.

A great book about jobs for kindergarten.

2. The Most Magnificent Thing, Ashley Spires

Career Path: inventor, entrepreneur, tinkerer (hey, that's a job, right?), problem solver

Ages: 3-7 years

I chose specific career titles for this book; however, you should know that it’s probably a great foundation to read for any career. Why is that?

Because even though this little lady is trying to invent something, what happens during her many iterations happens to all of us in life – mistakes, missteps, frustrations, failures.

I love how the author seamlessly weaves in the lesson that out of many failures come lessons and things you learn that will ultimately shape the final product, whatever that product may be.

3. Imagine That! How Dr. Seuss Wrote The Cat in the Hat, Judy Sierra

Career Path: writer, illustrator, book publisher, book agent

Ages: 3-7 years

I love how this book starts off explaining how The Cat in the Hat came to be by explaining an unmet need: first graders weren’t making the leap from reading just a few words to reading a whole book.

Adults figured out that kids needed fun kid-beginner books to get them interested.

At this point, Dr. Seuss had already published 9 books. So, a man commissioned him to write and illustrate a first-grade reader book using specific words – 236 of them to be exact.

The book then follows the creative process of, well, writing a book. It’s quite creative!

4. Ada Lovelace: Poet of Science, Diane Stanley

Career Path: scientist, creator, mathematician

Ages: 4-8 years

Ada Byron was a super-creative kid who dreamed of steam-powered flying horses. Her over-excitedness and big imagination came from her father, Lord Byron, a famous poet whom she never met. Her mother, on the other hand, was a math and scientist (their marriage apparently lasted 1 year).

Her mother decided to ground her in a strict scientific education, which turned out to be great training paired with her wonderful imagination.

One day Ada’s mother takes her to tour a factory where she finds the mechanical loom. From this machine, she gets her big idea to use punch cards to tell the machine to do things. Then several years later she forms a friendship with scientist Charles Babbage.

Follow along with this beautiful book on her journey as she writes the first programming code.

5. What Do You Do with a Problem?, Kobi Yamada

Career Path: business wo(man), entrepreneur, inventor, marketer

Ages: 4-8 years

All businesses exist because they solve a problem. First, they find a problem, or perhaps stumble into it, and then they see that it is actually an opportunity to make something, offer something, or do something, that will make the problem go away.

This book is all about not being scared by problems or worried by them, but facing them dead on and seeing them for the opportunity that they really are.

6. Shark Lady, Jess Keating

Career Path: scientist, oceanographer, biologist

Ages: 4-8 years

Your child can follow oceanographer Eugenie Clark’s career exploration journey as she followed her hunch + passion about studying sharks and the ocean. From trips to the aquarium and free diving in the Atlantic Ocean to Research Missions, she was determined to show others that sharks are not just mindless killing machines.

7. Margaret and the Moon, Dean Robbins

Career Path: engineer, software/coding, computers, astronaut, scientist

Ages: 4-8 years

Margaret was a very curious young girl. She asked questions about all sorts of things, and eventually went into computer programming. This led her to become director of software programming for NASA’s Project, Apollo, which included missions Apollo 8, Apollo 9, Apollo 10, and then Apollo 11. And it was her code that helped with a small glitch during the landing as well.

8. Charles Darwin’s Around-the-World Adventure, Jennifer Thermes

Career Path: explorer, adventure, biologist, scientist, anthropologist, archaeologist

Ages: 5-7 years

I love the way this book approaches the scientific hypotheses Charles had for his explorations. It all flows well so that future scientists can see how everything just sort of ties together in life.

9. Iggy Peck, Architect, Andrea Beaty

Ages: 5+ years

Iggy Peck just loooovvveeesss to build things. He wants to build with his hands all day long, even after meeting his 2nd-grade teacher who is hugely against buildings (as a matter of course).

What I love about this book is that it shows kids their interests and work has real meaning and can make a difference/fill a need in people’s lives. Isn’t that what we all want to do when we “grow up”?

10. Grace Hopper Queen of Computer Code, Laurie Wallmark

Career Path: video game maker, inventor, creator, tech, innovator, computers

Ages: 5+ years

While pulling a late-nighter writing code, Grace realizes that not only does she tend to write the same code over and over again into her programs…but she dislikes redoing the same work repeatedly.

I like how this book details some of the non-glamorous sides to tech work (and I would understand these a bit, as my husband works in computers): late nights, repetitive work, broken down machines with lots of pressure to get them back up running (specifically if you’re working for the Navy!), etc.

It’s also great for showing your child how maintaining an imagination throughout childhood and adulthood is beneficial in everything you do.

11. Rosie Revere, Engineer, Andrea Beaty

Career Path: engineer, entrepreneur, creator, inventor

Ages: 5-7 years

Rosie loves to build things out of all sorts of ‘throwaways’. But one day her Uncle laughed at one of her inventions – a hat to keep snakes away (he was a zookeeper, after all) – so she became shy about sharing her inventions. It’s her grandmother who eventually teaches her that great flops are necessary on the path to great success.

12. My Journey to the Stars, Scott Kelly

Career Path: astronaut, engineer

Ages: 5-8 years

Scott and his twin, Mark, both became astronauts with NASA.

What I like about this book is that it starts out with a child (Scott) who doesn’t quite know what he wants to be when he grows up.

Until he found a book (ha! Go figure). Then he knew he wanted to be a test pilot. The book then breaks down, step by step, how he achieved his goal.

While he and his brother never actually flew in space together, they both flew on several missions. And probably their most important help with NASA? Since they’re twins with the same biological makeup, they can test how their bodies change in both space and on Earth at the same time. One twin (Scott) spent an entire year in space while the other stayed on Earth so that they could test the effects on the body and eventually get astronauts out into space for longer missions (like to Mars).

13. The Boy on Fairfield Street: How Ted Geisel Grew Up to Be Dr. Seuss, Kathleen Krull

Career Path: writer, cartoonist

Ages: 5-9 years

Your child can read along as Ted Geisel becomes Dr. Seuss. Through being fascinated by zoo tales his father talks about at the dinner tables, and the comic strips he gets from his father’s newspapers, and quitting art class because the teacher expected him to follow rules (ha! What Dr. Seuss book ever follows “rules”?).

His mother was even totally cool with him drawing on his walls.

14. One Giant Leap, Robert Burleigh

Career Path: astronaut, scientist

Ages: 6-8 years

I love the art in this book, which helps tell the story of the first lunar landing. While they start off with the historic, magical event in those moments when mankind first stood on the moon in front of millions of viewers at home, this book then takes a (small) twist to show the behind-the-scenes troubles these two astronauts faced. In other words, the not-so-glamorous side to astronaut-ing!

15. Radiant Child, Javaka Steptoe

Career Path: artist, writer

Ages: 6-9 years

Jean-Michel Basquiat was a cultural phenomenon in the 1980s as an artist. This book discusses not only his strong pull towards art as a child, but how he listens and answers that pull by drawing morning, noon, and night.

At museums his mother takes him to, they not only look at the works of art, but they read about how the artist made the piece so that Jean-Michel learns how to actually become an artist.

I love how this story takes Jean-Michel as a child with a passion, then follows that through to how he actually made a career from it. From his home to NYC, from spray painting art on walls to museum galleries.

And his mother? Encouraged him greatly not only with her style/stylish home and taking him to museums, but by sitting on the floor next to him and drawing on his father’s old work papers.

By the way, the artwork in this book? It’s beautiful.

Career Books for Middle School Students

1. The Quest for Z, Greg Pizzoli

Career Path: explorer, adventure, biologist, scientist, anthropologist, archaeologist

Ages: 7-10 years

British Explorer Percy Fawcett came from a family with adventure in their blood. His father was a member of the Royal Geographical Society, and Percy followed suit in his 20s. Calling a “blank spot” on a map in the jungles of Brazil the Lost City of Z, he was determined to find out what was there.

Which took him over 21 years to find!

The book follows his career path, sewn together by expeditions he goes on, what he packs for it, encounters and troubles he comes across, as well as briefly touching on finding funding for his quest.

P.S. I love the art in this book!

2. Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions, Chris Barton

Career Path: inventor, creator, toy-maker

Ages: 7-10 years

The author does a great job of taking your kid through the ups and downs of an inventor’s career through an invention they’ll be highly interested in: the Super Soaker.

Lonnie Johnson actually stumbled into the invention by accident while working on some plumbing. But he had been an inventor and creator his whole life. His parents were very lenient in allowing him to mess with things as a kid, even though they had hardly any space with a boatload of kids in their mobile home.

I like that this book goes through the troubles Lonnie, and other inventors, can face. For Lonnie, he actually took a test telling him that he wasn’t going to be a good engineer. Boy was that proven wrong! At one point, Lonnie even quits his job, though it doesn’t pan out for a while. Of course, once he found a toy company to latch onto his idea, he was good to go.  

3. When I Grow Up I’ll Be a Veterinarian, Connie Colwell Miller

Career Path: veterinarian

Ages: 8-12 years

The little girl in this book plays Dr. Thomas with her friend, Julia. What I like about the play is that it includes cool-sounding Veterinarian things – playing with animals, helping owners understand how to care for their pets – and the not-so-cool-sounding things such as giving vaccines and being on-call after leaving the office in case there is an emergency.

4. Gifted Hands, Gregg Lewis

Career Path: doctor, medicine, nurse, surgeon, missionary

Ages: 8-12 years

Ben Carson is a remarkable man. And his mother? Is quite remarkable herself. She went through great adversity during his childhood, starting with marrying out of the foster care system at the age of 13, and then having the strength to raise her boys on her own after finding out her husband had another family.

What is most striking about her is her faith in God, hard work ethic, and ability to see that turning off the television (despite other people telling her she was crazy) and making her children lifetime lovers of reading.

Books, tempering his anger, his steadfast faith in God, and a mother who told him, “if you ask the Lord for something and believe he will do it, it will happen…” are all the reasons why Carson became a top neurosurgeon.

This book details some of the parts of being a neurosurgeon (or surgeon, for that matter) that are both glamorous and not, such as hugely complicated and long-lasting surgeries without much sleep, lots of schooling, tons of hard work, and life satisfaction.

5. Chasing Space, Leland Melvin

Career Path: astronaut, engineer

Ages: 8-12 years

I love how within the first three paragraphs of this book, it clarifies something for a child looking to become an astronaut, “just because you’re an astronaut doesn’t mean you ever get to go into space. To go into space, you need to get assigned to a flight. It’s the last step in a journey that can take a lifetime. And not all astronauts walk in space. Some command or pilot the spacecraft. Others are mission specialists who do scientific experiments or work the shuttle’s robotic arm.” And of course, he outlines all of the other jobs you can have at NASA without actually being an astronaut, such as computer technicians, lawyers, and nutritionists.

This book also touches on the application process to become an actual astronaut, with Melvin’s own 1998 class of 25 astronauts being chosen from 2,500 applications. They test your eyesight, your character, claustrophobia, psychological tests, etc. It’s quite rigorous. Then once you’re in your astronaut class? All kinds of training you have to go through like land survivalist and water survivalist training, and becoming a pilot of NASA’s T-38 jet.

Melvin also had to “trace the path” of his candidacy. In other words, tell them when he first knew he wanted to be an astronaut. What’s interesting is that he also had briefly played in the NFL, dreamed of being a tennis player as a child, and thought he’d work for DuPont or another chemical company. So, the path was not necessarily a straight one, which is so often the case for our careers (right?!).

This book also talks about Melvin’s struggles with racism growing up in the 1970s, and how this helped shape his aspirations.

Finally, in the back of the book are several really neat, STEM-inspired experiments for your budding engineer to do at home. The same kinds Melvin did when he was a kid!

6. Steve Jobs: Thinking Differently, Patricia Lakin

Career Path: inventor, creator, tech, innovator, computers

Ages: 8-12 years

Is your kiddo interested in inventors, creative thinkers, and/or technology buffs? Steve Jobs embodies each of these, plus more. Honestly, he’s a very quirky guy who has made some questionable choices, some of which are discussed in the book and others are not.

But what is great about this book from a career exploration viewpoint is showing the emergence of a brand-new industry and how one man tagged onto it, and then led it.

Being an entrepreneur and pioneer is not all rainbows and unicorns. This book does not put a happy face on everything and points out the struggles along the way as well. Such as working on dining room tables and in garages, making decisions that take entire decades to actually pay off, and creating a company that eventually kicks you out of it.

The talk about creating the first Apple computer and subsequent iterations fascinated me, and I’m not a tech-gal.

What I also loved about this book is how true Steve Jobs stayed to himself, and how curious he was. It weaves together his different interests – such as a calligraphy class taught by a former monk, and India – quite nicely into a fabric of influence that helped Apple emerge as the company + collection of products we know today.

Heads up: Jobs was a college dropout. He found it boring.

7. The Finest Hours, Michael J. Tougias & Casey Sherman

Career Path: firefighter, policeman, coast guard, military, captain, rescue worker

Ages: 13+ years

I was entranced by this book. It’s an account of an actual situation in which two oil tankers near Cape Cod broke into two during a Nor’easter.

I mean…can you imagine? I get a chill just thinking about how bitterly cold this expedition was!

The book chronicles the nothing-short-of-heroic efforts of four coastguardsmen as they figure out how to get out to these sailors and save their lives.

As far as career exploration, I like how the author outlines a few of the Coast Guard’s individual pathways to actually getting into the Guard. For example, Bernie joined the WWII efforts in the U.S. Maritime Service and served on a merchant ship in the South Pacific. Then he enlisted in the Coast Guard. All this was after he was somewhat forced into ministry schooling but decided it was completely not for him.

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Amanda L. Grossman is a writer and Certified Financial Education Instructor, a 2017 Plutus Foundation Grant Recipient, and founder of Money Prodigy. Her money work has been featured on Experian, GoBankingRates, PT Money,, Rockstar Finance, the Houston Chronicle, and Colonial Life. Amanda is the founder and CEO of Frugal Confessions, LLC. Read more here or on LinkedIn.