Tag Archive: science


Curious World of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly (InfoSoup)

Callie returns in triumphant fashion in this second Calpurnia Tate book following the Newbery Honor-winning first novel. Calpurnia continues to study science and nature at her grandfather’s side. Together they begin to dissect worms and insects, moving upwards towards vertebrates. Callie develops several scientific devices to measure latitude and barometric pressure. When the barometric pressure drops seriously low and an unusual gull shows up in the yard, Granddaddy heads to the telegraph office to sound the alarm for coastal areas, but there is little to do in places like Galveston Texas where tens of thousands of lives are lost. Meanwhile, Callie’s brother Travis is continuing to bring home stray animals like armadillos and raccoon, leaving Callie to help hide the evidence. Their cousin who survived the hurricane in Galveston comes to live with them, moving into Callie’s room and bearing secrets of her own. Through it all, Callie struggles with the expectations for girls around the turn of the century, trying to find a way forward towards education rather than marriage.

Kelly writes of science in a way that will have any reader eager to start looking at the writings of Charles Darwin, reading about health issues of cows and horses, dissecting their own grasshoppers, and heading outside to find the North Star. She turns it all into an adventure, filled with outdoor excursions, smelly animals, and rivers to explore. At the same time, it is also a look at the expectations of a girl from a good family and the difference between her future and that of her brothers. Callie’s struggle with this inequity speaks to her courage and her tenacity, two parts of her character that are evident throughout the book. This dual nature of the novel adds lots of depth to the story, allowing fans of nature and fans or strong heroines a shared novel to rejoice about.

Kelly’s characters are wonderfully well rounded. Callie is not perfect and is far more interesting and human for that. She is not patient, hates to play the piano and sew, and speaks up at times that would be unseemly. At the same time she is wonderfully wild, brazen at times, and heroic at others. She stands by those who support her and thwarts those who oppose her. She cunningly uses people’s self interests to promote her own and is constantly learning from those around her. Even the secondary characters are well drawn and have depth. From Granddaddy to Callie’s mother to her cousin Aggie, all can surprise because they are crafted as full human beings.

This romping novel is a fitting and fabulous follow-up to the first. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt and Co.

Mesmerized by Mara Rockliff

Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled All of France by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Iacopo Bruno (InfoSoup)

When Benjamin Franklin went to France to ask them for their help in gaining freedom for the American colonies, he discovered that they were fascinated by science. Particularly, they were abuzz about Dr. Mesmer, a man who staged shows and used an unseen force that he claimed was similar to electricity to cure people of their health issues and control their thoughts. Even Marie Antoinette was taken with Dr. Mesmer and in awe of his powers. The King of France asked Ben Franklin to explore what the force was. So Franklin started the very first blind test, literally, by blindfolding people and experimenting to see if they could tell if Dr. Mesmer was using the force or not. In the end, several things were discovered like the placebo effect and the amazing power of the human mind itself.

Rockliff writes a rollicking book where science is what everyone wants to know more about but also where science is in its infancy. This look at a specific moment in history is dynamic and great fun, particularly due to the personalities involved and also the fact that it demonstrated scientific ideas that are still in use today. Rockliff relishes the fun of the entire story along with the reader, allowing this story to carry forward on its own wild pace which will delight teachers looking for a book on science that is fun to share aloud.

Bruno’s illustrations add to that wild feel with their fancy flounces when talking of Dr. Mesmer and the straight-forward but period touches when Franklin takes the page. There are full color double-page spreads mixed with other pages with more white space. The illustrations have a broad sense of humor that ties in well with the text.

A fabulous nonfiction book that is sure to surprise and enthrall history and science buffs. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

Water Is Water by Miranda Paul

Water Is Water: A Book about the Water Cycle by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Jason Chin (InfoSoup)

A poetic look at the various stages of water in the water cycle, this book moves logically from one to the next as water evaporates, condenses and changes. Seen through the lives of two siblings, the book begins with pages where the children are down near the lake and then rain drives them back home. Once home, they get a glass of water then water is boiled for a cup of cocoa out on the porch. Clouds come out in the evening, lit by the setting sun. Then autumn arrives with its foggy school mornings. Rain falls down as the school bus reaches school and then there are puddles to jump in at recess. Winter arrives with ice and snow and then spring returns with more puddles and mud. Apples are picked and turned into cider that the children drink up.

Shown through seasonal changes and a very personal view, this water cycle book makes everything very tangible and real. At the end of the book children can learn more about evaporation, condensation and precipitation which are tied directly to the forms of water that they experienced in the bulk of the book and the story. Keeping the focus on the ways that children themselves experience the water cycle makes this book particularly accessible.

The illustrations by Chin are done in watercolor and gouache. They are filled with nature and beauty from the wonder of the sky in evening to the bright colors of the fall leaves to the brisk cool colors of winter. The illustrations capture the beauty of weather and forms of water in a vivid way.

A dynamic and personal book about what can be an abstract theory, this book on the water cycle is exactly the sort of science book that will inspire additional investigation in the world and science. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.

Small Wonders by Matthew Clark Smith

Small Wonders: Jean-Henri Fabre and His World of Insects by Matthew Clark Smith, illustrated by Giuliano Ferri (InfoSoup)

In a small French village lives a strange man who is interested in the smallest of creatures, the insects around us. He lures flies with dead animals that he pays the children in the village to find. His home is filled with specimens. No one realized that he was one of the greatest naturalists of his time. Jean-Henri Fabre grew up in the countryside where he was fascinated by the natural world around him. No one else seemed interested in the same things that he was, but that didn’t deter him from investigating them. Henri became a teacher and studied hard, but not about insects. It was not until a book rekindled his interest that he started to study them in a serious way as an adult. He discovered things about insects that no one else had ever seen and he documented them fully. So when scientists in France nominated one of their own for a tremendous national honor, they voted for Fabre.

Smith writes with a gentle tone throughout, documenting Fabre’s entire life from his childhood to the great honor he received from his peers and his nation. The story starts with the arrival of the president of France for the award and then shows how Fabre’s fascination with insects started as a boy. The period of time when insects were not a focus is clear but also brief and then the book grows almost merry as it documents the many accomplishments of this humble man who followed his own interests in science.

The illustrations are pastoral and lovely. They capture the beauty of the French countryside and also the wonder of the insects, showing them in great detail. There is a playfulness to the illustrations that also reflects the childlike joy that Fabre found in his wonder about insects.

A lovely book about a scientist who followed his own dreams and interests to great acclaim. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

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

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