What’s That Smell?

A few months ago, due to catching COVID-19, I lost my sense of smell for the first time in my life. It was quite a shock to wake up one morning and be unable to recognize strong scents like garlic, vinegar and bleach. Thankfully my sense of smell has returned, and I have been grateful to once again recognize the wonderful aromas of coffee, food, flowers and countless other things (even if it was kind of nice to avoid smelling some not-so-wonderful scents for several weeks). In honor of our miraculous noses, and the over one trillion odors that the human nose can detect, I have highlighted a handful of children’s books — fiction and nonfiction — that focus on all aspects of smell.

For a couple of primers on how our sense of smell works, “What is Smell?” by Molly Aloian, and “Smelling,” by Martha E.H. Rustad, are both great photo illustrated books that will give young readers a thorough rundown of the science behind scent.

For more on the science of smells, Kay Edward’s “Stinky Science” examines “why the smelliest smells smell so smelly” in a very funny way, with chapter titles like “How You Smelt What You Got Dealt” and “The Structure of Stinks.” And in “How to Make a Mystery Smell Balloon,” by Lori Shores, you’ll learn, through easy step-by-step instructions, how to create a fun science project that will have your friends crinkling their noses and asking, “What’s that smell?!”

In “Something Smells!” by Blake Liliane Hellman, and “Mitzi Tulane, Preschool Detective, in What’s That Smell,” by Lauren McLaughlin, our fictional protagonists Elliot and Mitzi each try to get to the bottom of new, mysterious odors in their home. 

And what about animals? Did you know that an elephant’s sense of smell is five times better than a human’s? You can find this and other factoids in “Nose Knows: Wild Ways Animals Smell the World,” by Emmanuelle Figueras,  which shows the many ways that animals use their noses for locating food, friends, mates, enemies, danger and their way back home. For canine lovers, “Super Sniffers: Dog Detectives on the Job,” by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent, and “Sniffer Dogs: How Dogs (and Their Noses) Save the World,” by Nancy F. Castaldo, show how dogs use their incredibly advanced sense of smell to do some very important high-stakes jobs. And on a more humorous tip, Jane Yolen’s book, “Eek, You Reek!: Poems About Animals That Stink, Stank, Stunk,” vividly describes a variety of animals that give off revolting smells.

And finally, if you want some books that you can actually smell, we have a couple of scratch-and-sniff books, the board book, “How Do Dinosaurs Eat Cookies,” also by Jane Yolen, and “Honeydukes: A Scratch and Sniff Adventure,”by Daphne Pendergrass, a Harry Potter book that catalogs a variety of delectable confections from the shelves of the wizarding sweet shop Honeydukes.