Tag Archive: science


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.

look up

LookUp! Henrietta Leavitt, Pioneering Woman Astronomer by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Raul Colon

Henrietta had loved the stars ever since she was a little girl and spent hours gazing at them.  When she studied astronomy, she was one of the only women in her class.  After graduating, she worked at an observatory though she almost never got to look through the telescope.  Instead the women were there to do the calculations, to work and not think.  But Henrietta continued to study and to think, she was especially interested in a group of stars that seemed to dim and glow.  She discovered some new blinking stars that no one had ever found before.  As she studied, she found a pattern in the dimming and brightening of these stars: the blink time allowed her to measure the true brightness of any blinking star in the sky.  Her discovery led to a deeper understanding of the vastness of the universe and her life demonstrated that women are thinkers and scientists.

Burleigh’s writing is almost poetic here.  He speaks of the connection Henrietta felt to the stars: “Sometimes she felt the stars were trying to speak, to tell her what they knew.”  He writes with deep amazement at the vastness of the universe and also speaks of Leavitt’s discoveries in thrilled tones, giving her credit for the hard work and patience it took to find the patterns in the stars.  The book ends with several pages that outline her discoveries, names of other female astronomers, and also have a glossary and bibliography. 

Colon’s illustrations are simply gorgeous.  Done in watercolors and pencil, the illustrations are luminous, glowing with the light of the stars and with the light of the heroine herself.  Textured with swirling lines, the illustrations have a great depth to them as well.

This picture book biography invites children to follow their own passions and get involved in science as well.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

rock is lively

A Rock Is Lively by Dianna Hutts Aston, illustrated by Sylvia Long

Another stellar collaboration by the team that created An Egg Is Quiet, A Seed Is Sleepy, and A Butterfly Is Patient, this nonfiction picture book focuses on rocks and minerals.  The book begins with rock melted as magma beneath the earth.  It talks about what makes up rocks and how old they are, as well as the rocks that we find in space.  Rocks as tools and weapons are explored, mixed in with the amazing rock interiors that surprise and delight. The different types of rocks finish off the factual piece of the book, but the bright and beautiful illustrations continue all the way to the final lapis lazuli endpages. 

Aston manages to write nonfiction as if each sentence is filled with delight.  Her enthusiasm for the subjects she writes about is evident in her writing, inviting young readers to get just as interested as she is.  The art carries that same enthusiasm in its bright colors and details.  Done in watercolor, the colors are surprisingly deep and lush. 

If you have the first three books from these amazing collaborators, this is a must-buy.  It should be on the shelves of any school or public library, sure to get young people exploring a new subject.  Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

strange place to call home

A Strange Place to Call Home: the World’s Most Dangerous Habitats & the Animals That Call Them Home by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Ed Young

Through evocative poetry, this book explores habitats that you would never guess something could even survive in.  But they do!  There are creatures who live in places with no water, no warmth, little food.  And those are the creatures that star in this book, each of them celebrated in verse.  There are penguins, mountain goats, and camels, which may be the animals that came to mind.  But Singer looks deeper than that and introduces unlikely creatures to readers, including petroleum flies that hatch in oil, ice worms that live in glaciers, and blind cave fish from Texas and Mexico.  She takes these creatures, known and unknown, and gives us a glimpse of them and their habitat in a variety of poetry forms.  Each page is a discovery of a new animal and a new type of poetry.

Singer excels at creating poetry that is artistic and has depth and yet offers young readers an approach to verse that is welcoming.  She writes at their level yet doesn’t ever play down to them.  Since some of the haikus and other forms are quite brief, it’s nice that she offers paragraphs of information at the end of the book on each creature.  At the very end of the book, she also speaks to the variety of poetic forms she has employed in the book.

Young’s illustrations add another layer of beauty into the book.  Through his layered paper art, he creates a red forest of flamingo legs, a swirl of desert sands, foaming rivers, and an urban landscape among many others.  His work embraces the diverse habitats, recreating the harshness and the often subtle richness of these unknown worlds.

A great pick for poetry units or units on habitats, this book offers a perfect blend of verse, science and art.  Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from copy received from publisher.

i galileo

I, Galileo by Bonnie Christensen

Told in the first person, this look at Galileo’s life is made all the more personal through the unique point of view.   Galileo tells the tale from the house and walled garden he is imprisoned in.  Blind and aging, he recalls his childhood and the way that he helped his father with his musical experiments after leaving the university with no degree.  He was offered a teaching position in the same university a bit later, but he refused to be traditional and instead wore what he liked and tested Aristotle’s laws of physics.  He was soon let go of his teaching role and headed to another university where they were more interested in his experiments.  There he invented the compass and the telescope.  Looking through his telescope, Galileo discovered that the sun is the center of the universe.  It was then that his troubles truly began.  For seven years, he was bound to silence about his findings until a new man became pope.  When Galileo finally published his findings, they so incensed people that he was tried for heresy before the Inquisition.  And so the story comes back to the old man imprisoned in the walled garden.

Through a brief preface, Christensen sets the stage for the time period of Galileo’s life.  It will help modern children understand the technology that was not available in that day.   Her afterword is equally intriguing and helpful, explaining that it took almost four centuries (until 1992) for the Catholic Church to admit they were wrong to condemn Galileo.  Christensen paints a picture of the world around Galileo well.  His discoveries, his world of academia, the political and religious powers at play, and his mistreatment at their hands.  This book is exceedingly readable.

It is also lovely.  The illustrations are done in jewel tones that have a depth and richness.  They almost recall stained glass with their thicker black lines and the light that shines in each of them.  Even the image of Galileo before the Inquisition plays with light and color. 

A choice pick for libraries looking for a readable and interesting biography of this heroic scientist.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Random House Children’s Books.

ocean sunlight

Ocean Sunlight: How Tiny Plants Feed the Seas by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm

Following her Living Sunlight book, this continues the story of how the sun makes life on earth possible.  Here, the focus is on the ocean and the role that sunlight plays even in the darkest depths of the sea.  The story starts with photosynthesis and food chains on dry land, then moves to the water.  Bang asks where the green plants in the ocean are except for the seaweed.  Then she shows the tiny phytoplankton that make up the plants of the sea.  The food chain is shown and the book then turns to the darkness of the deep and how the food chain works even in blackness.  It is beautiful science. 

Bang successfully combines poetry and science in this enticing picture book. Her tone is inviting, inquisitive and filled with wonder at the amazing things that happen due to our sun.  The book is written from the point of view of the sun itself and how its energy reaches everywhere on earth.  It is a celebration of the sun and of the oceans themselves too.

Chisholm’s art ranges from the glow of the yellow sun to the black deep of the ocean.  Everywhere, even in the darkness, you can see the energy of the sun.  When the phytoplankton are displayed, Chisholm shows them up close in all of their wonderful detail.  Then the energy of the sun dances above the waves in yellow dots.  The entire book sings with energy and light.

This book is a tribute to science and nature.  It’s a readable and very understandable look at the complex systems that make our lives possible.  Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

zig and wikki in the cow

Zig and Wikki in the Cow by Nadja Spiegelman and Trade Loeffler

This is the second Zig and Wikki book, featuring two little aliens who find their way to Earth.  In this book, the two friends lose their spaceship when they return Zig’s pet fly its native habitat.  On the way, the two discover that flies eat poop, that dung beetles use it as well, and that cows have multiple stomachs.  It’s all a matter of learning things up close and personal, right down to being swallowed by a cow.  This humorous mashup of scientific fact, alien appeal, and comic format makes for an engaging read for young readers.

It is really the blend that works so well here.  The writing is light and funny, combined with scientific facts that are highlighted with photographs.  Readers learn about food cycles, ecology and habitats without even realizing it.  Add in the humorous poop factor and the graphic novel format, and this is one appealing package.

A graphic novel series that is a lot of fun and also informational, this second book is a winner, winner, cow dinner.  Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Candlewick Press.

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