Tag Archive: science


star stuff

Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos by Stephanie Roth Sisson

This is a picture book biography about Carl Sagan and how he got interested in the stars.  It all started when he went to the 1939 World’s Fair and was inspired.  He started researching stars and space and wondering about the universe around us.  He got his doctorate and worked with other scientists to create machines that would investigate planets and take pictures of them.  Then he went on television with his show Cosmos and told everyone about the universe and how we are all made from the same stuff as the stars.  This is an inspirational story of how a child who loved the stars turning into a man who taught a generation about them.

Sisson keeps this book at the exactly right level for young readers.  She does not dwell on Sagan’s time in college, but instead spends much more time on his childhood dreams and interests.  She focuses too on his work as a scientist and then speaks very broadly about his time on television.  I greatly appreciate that his work was not narrowed to just Cosmos, but instead it is celebrated as a part of what he accomplished in his life.  The book ends with an Author’s Note and a bibliography and source notes that readers looking for more detailed information will find useful.

In her illustrations, Sisson wisely incorporates elements of comic books with panels and speech bubbles.  These give the book a great modern feel and help propel the story forward.  Done in a friendly cartoon style, the illustrations make astronomy approachable and friendly for the reader.

Children will be inspired to see a young person’s dream become their vocation in life.  This picture book is a new way for Sagan to inspire people to learn about the stars.  Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.

ben franklins big splash

Ben Franklin’s Big Splash: The Mostly True Story of His First Invention by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by S. D. Schindler

Ben Franklin grew up the son of a soap maker and loved to spend his free time on summer days swimming in the river near his home.  In the time of his childhood, people just did not swim or wash regularly because they thought it would make you sick, so Ben was considered rather odd for the amount of time he spent in the water.  As he swam, Ben started to wonder why it was that fish swim so much better than he could.  And so Ben starts to come up with inventions that would help him swim like a fish.  First, he made swim fins for his hands out of wood and they did make him much faster, but they also made his wrists sore and tired.  The next invention was swim sandals, but they didn’t improve things much since they slid off his feet.  But Ben was not a quitter and so he took each defeat as a way to improve his idea.  After all, he was a scientist through and through.

Rosenstock sets just the right playful and rather silly tone with this biographical picture book.  She includes plenty of details about the society in the 1700s and how it was different from our modern one.  Using different fonts and repeating words, she also emphasizes the importance of trial and error in science and solving problems.  She also ties in the fact that this is how science works and how scientists learn things, along with a healthy dose of dedication and resolve.

The illustrations by Schindler are marvelous, cleverly covering up the more private parts of the naked swimming boy with splashes and waves.  They have a light-hearted quality to them and also a visual lightness that makes the book even funnier as they swim across the page.

A book to inspire children to try to solve problems they discover, this is a fresh and summery look at a boy genius at play.  Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

tiny creatures

Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Emily Sutton

There are tiny creatures all around us that do the most amazing things!  Microbes are too small to be seen by the human eye, but look through a microscope and you enter a world of them.  There are microbes like viruses that cause diseases or colds.  And there are others that are very good for our health and turn milk into yogurt and compost into dirt.  Microbes may be very small but their impact on our world and our lives is very big.  This book shows the huge impact they have and how much we need to appreciate them.

Davies has written very engagingly about microbes in this book.  When talking about something like microbes, the numbers can get too large to understand, but Davies nicely ties these huge numbers to others that make sense.  She shows how quickly a microbe can reproduce using the page of the book.  The entire book is cleverly done, exposing the facts about microbes in a friendly and approachable way.

The illustrations by Sutton show both the microbes and their effect on the world.  The pages with the tiny microbes are fascinating as one gets to see the different types up close.  The illustrations have a friendly charm about them that makes the subject matter even more fun to read.

A great book on microbes, this will encourage children to pick up a microscope and learn even more about these tiny little creatures.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

fourteenth goldfish

The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm

Released August 26, 2014.

Eleven-year-old Ellie loves doing puzzles, because the pieces fit together so neatly.  She doesn’t like change at all, like the way that her best friend Brianna never talks with her anymore.  She lives with her mother in a tiny house with the garage filled with costumes from her job directing high school theater.  Her mother wants her to find her own passion, but Ellie isn’t sure that she has one.  Then something very strange happens, and her grandfather comes to live with them.  But he’s not really himself, instead he’s thirteen years old again!  Now Ellie has a “cousin” Melvin who goes to school with her but dresses, talks and thinks just like her grandfather.  Could he really have found the key to eternal youth?  This is the classic story of growing up, mixed with someone who is trying to grow down.

Holm’s signature light touch is a large part of the success of this novel.  Dealing with big issues like aging, death, and growing up, Holm manages to keep the tone light enough to make the reading great fun.  She mixes science into the story, clearly displaying her own interest in the subject, but also making sure that the science is just as readable as the story.

She populates her story with great characters from the dramatic mother to Ellie herself who readers will relate to quickly and easily.  Melvin is my favorite character in the book, written for pure delight as a great mix of teen boy and aging man.  In particular, I love that Holm kept him wearing the same clothes, talking to his daughter in the same way, and relating with teens he meets as if he didn’t resemble them in the least.  He’s a brilliant character, a wonderful grandfather, and profoundly funny.

Grab this as a great book to share in a classroom, it has lots to discuss but is immensely readable and serves as a clever entry point to science fiction reading.  Also, get this into the hands of Holm fans who are ready for something beyond Babymouse.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Random House and Edelweiss.

gravity

Gravity by Jason Chin

In his latest book, Chin examines the theory of gravity and how it works on our planet and in the universe.  As with his previous books about redwoods and coral reefs, Chin takes a complicated subject and reduces it neatly to a child-appropriate level.  He also adds a touch of magic and whimsy.  The book begins with the book falling out of the sky and right in front of a boy on a beach, playing with his toy astronaut and rocket.  Then gravity goes away and his toys, bucket, shovel and banana head out into space.  From there, the effect of gravity on the earth is explained and eventually gravity returns and the objects fall back to earth.  But not exactly where you’d expect them to.

Told in very brief sentences, the book will work for even the youngest scientifically-inclined children to enjoy.  More information on gravity in a wordier format is provided at the end of the book.  Chin keeps the body of the book light-hearted and still scientific even as toys float right past the reader in the vastness of space. 

As with any book by Chin, his art is exceptional.  He manages on a still page to capture the effect of items floating in space, weightless and free from gravitational pull.  He also succeeds in conveying clearly when gravity is turned off and when it is returned, something not easily done in illustrations.  The beauty of what he captures is magnificent.  He shows the sun from space, the earth, and it is all vast and lovely.

Another winner of a title from Chin, get this into the hands of little ones who dream of science and space.  This is a very readable science book that would make a great addition for sharing aloud in a story time or unit.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.

The UK’s Royal Society will be awarding a prize to the book for young people that best communicates science.  The age range is for under 14-year-olds.  Here are the six books on the shortlist:

Big Book of Stars and Planets Eye Benders: The Science of Seeing & Believing 

Big Book of Stars and Planets by Emily Bone

Eye Benders: the science of seeing and believing by Clive Gifford & Anil Seth

How Animals Live (How it Works) Lift the Flap Questions & Answers about your Body (Usborne Lift-the-Flap-Books)

How Animals Live by Christiane Dorion

Lift the Flap Questions & Answers About Your Body by Katie Daynes

We've Got Your Number What Makes You You?

We’ve Got Your Number by Mukul Patel

What Makes You You? by Gill Arbuthnot

feathers

Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen

Feathers do so many things for birds and this book looks at all of the ways that feathers help birds in the wild.  Sixteen different birds are featured in the book, each one with a specific focus on what they use their feathers for.  There is the wood duck who lines her nest with feathers to keep her eggs cushioned.  The red-tailed hawk uses their feather to protect them from the sun as they fly for hours.  Other birds use their feathers in unique ways like the rosy-faced lovebird who tucks nesting materials into her rump feathers to take back to where she is building her nest.  Towards the end of the book, the author looks at all of the different sorts of feathers that birds have.

Stewart tells readers in her Author Note that this was a book she had worked on for some time as an idea.  Her use of metaphors to show what feathers do is an inspired choice, making the book all the more accessible for children.  She provides details with specific birds, explaining how they use their feathers and also providing little pieces of information on how the birds live and their habitats.

The watercolor illustrations are done to look like a naturalists field journal with scraps of paper, loose feathers, notes, cup rings, and scraps of fabric.  All of the images of the birds have their locations as well, adding to the field journal feel.  The result is  richly visual book that may inspire readers to start their own bird journals.

This is a book that will instruct and amaze, just the right sort of science book for young readers.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Charlesbridge.

rotten pumpkin

Rotten Pumpkin: A Rotten Tale in 15 Voices by David M. Schwartz, photos by Dwight Kuhn

A dynamic mix of story and nonfiction, this book follows the life of a pumpkin.  He has his shining moment as a jack-o-lantern lit for Halloween, but then is put into the compost.  That is where the story gets interesting.  First he is chewed on by mice, squirrels, slugs and vomited on by flies.  Now he looks a lot different and has fungi growing.  The various molds introduce themselves, explaining what they do, including the fascinating Penicillium.  Sow bugs, earthworms, slime mold and yeast work on the pumpkin too.  It is left as just a pile of seeds and little else.  Until spring arrives!

Schwartz shows readers just how fascinating science is with his in-depth descriptions of the decomposition process.  Children will adore the explanation of how flies taste and eat, the process of earthworm poop, and all of the molds seen up close.  But this book goes far beyond the gross and takes the reader right through the entire process, detailing it with interesting moments throughout. 

The photographs by Kuhn are particularly useful in a book like this.  Capturing the changing face of the pumpkin as it molds over adds real interest visually to the title.  At the same time, the close up images of yeasts and slime mold are grossly gripping.

Perfect for autumn and Halloween, this book will have kids looking at their slumping pumpkins with new eyes.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

volcano rising

Volcano Rising by Elizabeth Rusch, illustrated by Susan Swan

Volcanoes can seem destructive, but in this nonfiction picture book they are shown to be sources of creation as well.  The process of eruption and magma is described and the book looks at the fact that different volcanoes move at different speeds.  The book is written in two levels, one for more of a picture book audience and the other for elementary students ready for detailed information.  While the simpler part stays general, the more detailed information includes specific volcanoes and stories of their eruptions.  The book makes volcanoes interesting rather than frightening, looking at how ash restores fields and how most creative eruptions can be out-walked by people.

Rusch’s two levels of text really stand apart from one another.  The simpler version really reads as a playful picture book complete with sounds.  It does still offer facts and information, but the deeper text is filled with those.  That longer text loses the playfulness of the shorter but is a wealth of information on volcanoes that even young enthusiasts will find fascinating.

Swan’s illustrations are done in cut paper and have a vivid color that really makes the volcanoes pop.  She shows various volcanoes in her art, contrasting them with one another nicely.  It is the images of eruptions that really explode on the page and will delight readers.

A double-layered book that can be shared in a storytime or in a science classroom.  Appropriate for ages 3-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Charlesbridge.

on a beam of light

On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky

The author of Manfish: A Story of Jacques Cousteau (my review) returns with this picture book biography of Einstein.  It follows the story of Einstein from birth through his series of amazing discoveries about the universe.  The book begins with pages where Einstein as a small child does not speak until he is inspired to ask questions thanks to a compass which is given to him.  Einstein is also inspired by picturing his bicycle riding on beams of light, racing through space.  So he began to study science and numbers and after graduating from college wanted to be a teacher.  Instead, he found a job working in a government office where he had extra time to think.  That time to think turned into incredible discoveries about science and the nature of the universe until scientists and professors were seeking Einstein out to come and work with them.  The end of the book celebrates Einstein’s eccentricities as well as the discoveries that he made.  This is an inspiring look at a scientist who broke all the rules and decoded the universe.

Berne’s writing truly celebrates this amazing thinker.  The pacing is brisk, but the tone allows readers to linger and think if they wish to.  When she focuses on his odder behaviors, they are seen through a lens of what they meant for his genius rather than just being peculiar.  And who wouldn’t want to not wear socks and have ice cream too! 

Radunsky’s illustrations are done on textured paper that adds a soft yellow glow to the entire book, something wonderful to have in a book that speaks about rays of light.  His drawings are rough and have a wonderful sense of playfulness. 

A great read about a great man, this picture book biography should be welcomed by young scientists as well as in science classrooms.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

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