The Snail with the Right Heart by Maria Popova

Cover image

The Snail with the Right Heart by Maria Popova, illustrated by Ping Zhu (9781592703494)

Beginning with the mutations and evolution that brought life to Earth, this picture book soon focuses on snails as they climb out of the water and onto land. Mutations continued to happen, including to one specific snail who was discovered by a retired scientist. It was a smaller snail than normal, with a darker shell and a tentacle that had trouble unspooling, and a shell that spiraled in the opposite direction than other snails’. The scientist sent the unique snail to a snail laboratory where it was named Jeremy. It turned out that Jeremy’s body was a mirror image of most other snail’s and he also had inverted internal organs. Because of that, Jeremy could only mate with another mirror image snail, another one in a million. So the snail laboratory made a plea for the entire world to look for another “lefty” snail. Amazingly, in only a few weeks, two potential mates were found and sent to the snail laboratory. When eventually Jeremy had offspring, he was so old that he didn’t live to see them arrive. Sadly, none of the new snails had a left-spiraling shell. The mutation was once again dormant, but it will return again.

Inspired by a true story, this picture book is a touching mix of poetic description and scientific facts. Popova’s language embraces the reader, showing them the beauty and wonder in mutation, genetics and evolution. She marvels at finding two potential mates in the world for Jeremy and then delicately celebrates Jeremy’s life at the end. She writes with real intention both to reveal the amazing nature around us but also to describe the science, including Jeremy’s mirror image body, the way that snails mate, and the work of the scientists who cared enough to explore his mutation.

Zhu’s illustrations are awash in colors, from the blues of the original waters of life to the rich green of English gardens. Done in watercolor swirls and drips, the illustrations are a mix of close ups from a snail’s view and the bustle of humans transporting Jeremy and the other snails. There is even a lovely foldout page that invites readers to even more fully enter the depths of the garden.

Full of wonder and science. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy provided by Enchanted Lion.

You’re Invited to a Moth Ball by Loree Griffin Burns

Cover image for You’re Invited to a Moth Ball

You’re Invited to a Moth Ball by Loree Griffin Burns, photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz (9781580896863)

Combining detailed instructions, plenty of encouragement and vivid photography, this book invites families and classes to create their own nighttime moth ball. The first steps are understanding moths and then putting together the supplies and tools you will need: including a sheet, rope, UV collecting light, and your own camera and flashlight. Prepare the screen and then also make sure you have a snack, one for the moths of course! Now you have two types of bait: light and nectar. Patience is part of the process, as more moths will come as the night gets later and darker. Take your time, be gentle, and marvel at these creatures that live all around us.

Burns offers such a merry invitation to readers in this book, making it feel like a true celebration of insects that we often take for granted or don’t even think about. Her encouragement to do research is appreciated, dedicating time in her set up of the moth ball to model reading books and learning about the creatures you are going to view. Her instructions are child-centered, creating a process that children can do themselves and participate in directly.

The photographs also center on the children managing the entire process themselves. When night falls, the magic in the photos happens as children carry their own lights, the moths arrive and the real party begins. The images of the moths themselves show their proboscis, furry bodies and amazing wings.

A grand project to immerse children and families into wildlife, insects and spending the night outside. Appropriate for ages 5-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

NSTA Best STEM Books 2021

The National Science Teaching Association (NSTA) has announced the winners of their Best STEM Books of the year. They define the best as books that “help by celebrating convergent and divergent thinking, analysis and creativity, persistence, and the sheer joy of figuring things out.” Here are the winning titles:

Ada Lovelace by Ben Jeapes, illustrated by Nick Ward

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Tai Boys’ Soccer Team by Christina Soontornvat

Beastly Bionics: Rad Robots, Brilliant Biomimicry, and Incredible Inventions Inspired by Nature by Jennifer Swanson

Changing the Equation: 50+ US Black Women in STEM by Tonya Bolden

Galileo! Galileo! by Holly Trechter and Jane Donovan

Gnu and Shrew by Danny Schnitzlein

Jumbo: The Making of the Boeing 747 by Chris Gall

Machines in Motion: The Amazing History of Transportation by Tom Jackson

Machines That Think!: Big Ideas That Changed the World #2 by Don Brown

Marie’s Ocean: Marie Tharp Maps the Mountains Under the Sea by Josie James

Mission to the Bottom of the Sea by Jan Leyssens, illustrated by Joachim Sneyers

Newton and Curie: The Science Squirrels by Daniel Kirk

Numbers in Motion: Sophie Kowalevski, Queen of Mathematics by Laurie Wallmark, illustrated by Yevgenia Nayberg

The Polio Pioneer: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine by Linda Elovitz Marshall, illustrated by Lisa Anchin

“Smelly” Kelly and His Super Senses: How James Kelly’s Nose Save the New York City Subway by Beth Anderson, illustrated by Jenn Harney

Spaceman: The True Story of a Young Boy’s Journey to Becoming an Astronaut (Adaption for Young Readers) by Mike Massimino

Who Gives a Poop?: Surprising Science from One End to the Other by Heather L. Montgomery, illustrated by Iris Gottlieb

Wood, Wire, Wings: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane by Kirsten Larson, illustrated by Tracy Subisak

Work It, Girl: Blast Off into Space Like Mae Jemison by Caroline Moss, illustrated by Sinem Erkas

AAAS/Subaru Prize for Excellence in Science Books – 2021 Longlists

The AAAS/Subaru Prize for Excellence in Science Books is awarded for “outstanding science writing and illustration for children and young adults.” It encourages the writing and publishing of high-quality science books for all ages. Below are the longlists for middle grades and picture books. The young adult list tends to be adult nonfiction titles, you can find that here. All of these lists are great collection development tools for librarians. Here are the longlisted titles:

2021 Longlist for Children’s Science Picture Book Award

The Boy Who Dreamed of Infinity: A Tale of the Genius Ramanujan by Amy Alznauer. Illustrated by Daniel Miyares

Dinosaur Lady: The Daring Discoveries of Mary Anning, the First Paleontologist by Linda Skeers. Illustrated by Marta Alvarez Miguens

Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera by Candace Fleming. Illustrated by Eric Rohmann

If You Take Away the Otter by Susannah Buhrman-Deever. Illustrated by Matthew Trueman

Mario and the Hole in the Sky: How a Chemist Saved Our Planet by Elizabeth Rusch. Illustrated by Teresa Martínez

Our World Is Relative by Julia Sooy. Illustrated by Molly Walsh

Packs: Strength in Numbers by Hannah Salyer

Winged Wonders: Solving the Monarch Migration Mystery by Meeg Pincus. Illustrated by Yas Imamura

2021 Longlist for Middle Grades Science Book Award

The Book of Big Science Ideas: From Atoms to AI and from Gravity to Genes…How Science Shapes Our World by Freya Hardy. Illustrated by Sara Mulvanny

Can You Hear the Trees Talking?: Discovering the Hidden Life of the Forest by Peter Wohlleben

Condor Comeback by Sy Montgomery. Photographs by Tianne Strombeck

Eclipse Chaser: Science in the Moon’s Shadow by Ilima Loomis. Photographs by Amanda Cowan

Eels by Rachel Poliquin. Illustrated by Nicholas John Frith

Growing Up Gorilla: How a Zoo Baby Brought Her Family Together by Clare Hodgson Meeker

Save the Crash-test Dummies by Jennifer Swanson. Illustrated by TeMika Grooms

Under Pressure: The Science of Stress by Tanya Lloyd Kyi. Illustrated by Marie-Ève Tremblay

Grow: Secrets of Our DNA by Nicola Davies

Grow Secrets of Our DNA by Nicola Davies

Grow: Secrets of Our DNA by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Emily Sutton (9781536212723)

Take a look at living things and their DNA in this informative picture book. Living things grow in different habitats, some grow quickly and others very slowly. Some grow to only a small size while others become enormous. It is each creature’s DNA that serves as a pattern how it will grow, from nose shapes to eye color. Your DNA also shows who is related to whom and what animals are closest to us genetically. DNA connects us to our ancestors and to other creatures in our world. It is both unique and universal.

Davies presents this scientific information in an engaging mix of details about DNA and how it works and also a marveling at the role that DNA plays in our lives and throughout the generations. That tone makes this book a great pick to share aloud with a classroom that is exploring these concepts. It is a very readable and delightful nonfiction picture book.

The art by Sutton is marvelous, detailed and interesting. From DNA charts and double helix to dinosaur skeletons and all sorts of animals from around the world, the illustrations invite exploration. They also depict a wide variety of people on the pages, diverse and of all ages.

A top notch nonfiction picture book that shows how we are all connected. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Candlewick.

Clever Hans by Kerri Kokias

Clever Hans by Kerri Kokias

Clever Hans: The True Story of the Counting, Adding, and Time-Telling Horse by Kerri Kokias, illustrated by Mike Lowery (9780525514985)

In 1904 in Berlin, Germany, Wilhelm von Osten had an extraordinary horse named Clever Hans. Hans could count and tell time. He could identify colors and the value of coins. He could do math, read words, and knew music as well. Many people didn’t believe that Hans could really do these things and assumed it was nothing but a trick. Wilhelm von Osten truly believed in his horse though, having spent four years teaching him using treats to keep him focused. Scientists came to test Clever Hans and watch for secret signals from van Osten or others in the audience. Soon the tests started to figure out how Clever Hans was doing such amazing things! It wasn’t a trick, but instead showed exactly how smart he actually was.

Kokias invites readers deep into the mystery and wonder of Clever Hans. She sets up her book so that readers are presented with the amazing things that the horse can do and then bring them along on the journey of exploring what was actually happening. The book is gripping and fascinating as readers steadily see their own theories dismissed by the experts and the final reveal of the truth is satisfying and fascinating. The art by Lowery has a great playfulness to it that adds to the delight of the book.

A book of scientific discovery that readers must finish to discover how Clever Hans does it. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by G. P. Putnam’s Sons.

Llama Unleashes the Alpacalypse by Johnathan Stutzman

Llama Unleashes the Alpacalypse by Johnathan Stutzman

Llama Unleashes the Alpacalypse by Johnathan Stutzman, illustrated by Heather Fox (9781250222855)

Llama continues on his path of scientific exploration and world destruction in this second picture book in the series following Llama Destroys the World. The book opens with the promise that by dinner Llama will have unleashed a great alpacalypse upon the world. Breakfast comes first but Llama makes an awful mess making a balanced meal. He hates to clean up, so he turns to inventing a new solution, a dangerous one, a Replicator 3000. At lunch, Llama invites Alpaca over. Alpaca loves to clean and soon is inside the replicator. With a zoop, she is replicated, but then Llama continues to push the button, creating an army of cleaning alpacas set to clean the world. As they leave Llama’s house and head out, dinnertime arrives. Disaster near, but a clever plan involving great pizza may be enough to save us all, until dessert.

I adored the first book in this series which had plenty of humor and lots of science. This second book has a lot to love too. It has less science but continues with the wild humor of the first, offering plenty of clever noises, rather clueless characters, and dangerous but exhilarating science experiments.

Fox’s art adds to much to the book with her googly-eyed Llama and Alpaca, the merrily cleaning army, and the alarmed citizens. Swirls of toilet paper, wet mop paths, and spritzes of cleaner make this just right for our pandemic sensibilities too.

One joyous mess of a picture book. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy provided by Henry, Holt and Company.

 

Child of the Universe by Ray Jayawardhana

Child of the Universe by Ray Jayawardhana

Child of the Universe by Ray Jayawardhana, illustrated by Raul Colon (9781524717551)

This picture book takes the science of how atoms move through the universe and then shows how that makes us all very special. Through the eyes of one father and his child, each of us is celebrated for our connection to stars, planets and the entire universe. The story is told in lyrical verse that connects the child to the sun, the moon and faraway planets. The little girl’s features and hair are all compared to the Milky Way and the shine of the cosmos, inextricably tying them to one another. This book will have us all delighting in the iron in our blood, the calcium in our bones and the stars in the sky. 

Jayawardhana’s text in this picture book is evocative and lovely, inviting everyone to think of their own connection to the universe. Combining this poetic approach with the science behind it in his Author’s Note, this book really allows children to imagine themselves as an integral and unique part of a much larger system, dreaming beyond the earth.

Colon’s art is jaw dropping in this picture book. He takes readers to other planets, frozen and barren but then lights the skies with new planets, galaxies and stars. He fill the bodies visually with the swirl of stars and planets and then juxtaposes humans into these wild and beautiful worlds he has created. 

A stellar look at our connection to the universe. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Make Me a World. 

Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier by Jim Ottaviani

Astronauts Women on the Final Frontier by Jim Ottaviani

Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier by Jim Ottaviani, illustrated by Maris Wicks (9781626728776)

The team who brought us the Primates graphic novel continue their focus on women in science. This time they tell the story of Mary Cleave and how women were finally able to enter NASA has astronauts. It is the story of hard work and dedication, of insistence on being heard and knowing when to push. It is a story of proving the worth of women, undergoing a battery of tests and still being told no. The tale is a compelling one, a story of politics and science, of women’s right to be seen as valid scientists, engineers and pilots.

There are so many heroines on these pages! Women who changed the course of NASA along the way. Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, is also shown as the space race intensified between the United States and the Soviet Union. Throughout, Cleave narrates the history for the reader, as she floats in space herself, testimony to the progress that would eventually be made. Just as with any fight for equal rights, this one took a lot of time and a lot of women to enact. It is a story worth exploring.

The graphic novel format works particularly well with this subject as the story plays out almost as a documentary across the pages. Wicks makes each woman recognizable on the page as an individual, eventual side-by-side illustrated version and actual photograph show how deeply she connected the images to the actual women.

A stellar look at gender in space and science that is inspiring. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy provided by First Second.