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.

Review: The Bug Girl by Sophia Spencer

The Bug Girl by Sophia Spencer

The Bug Girl by Sophia Spencer with Margaret McNamara, illustrated by Kerascoet (9780525645931)

This is the true story of a little girl who loves bugs, written by her. She first fell for bugs at two-and-a-half years old when she visited a butterfly conservatory with her mother. She loved books about insects and noticed them everywhere she went. In kindergarten, everyone thought that bugs were cool too. Sophia started a bug hunter club at school and had her own collection of live insects on the porch at home. But in first grade, bugs weren’t cool anymore and the other kids started to call Sophia weird for liking them so much. Sophia was dejected and tried to stop liking bugs, but that didn’t work. So her mother went online and reached out to scientists about their own love of bugs. Stories poured in, supporting Sophia and her passion for insects. Sophia was now making news herself and also got her name on a scientific article, all because of being the bug girl.

Written in Sophia’s own voice, this picture book is entirely engaging. It demonstrates how finding one’s passion in life is a powerful thing, but that the world can also be less than encouraging if you are a girl exploring science and creepy crawlies like insects. The change from kindergarten to first grade is dramatic and impactful, even resulting in one dead bug, killed right in front of Sophia. The end of the book offers an example of the sort of bug book that Sophia would love to write, filled with information on a variety of insects. 

The art is bright and fresh, done in watercolors on white pages. They move from full-page illustrations to smaller ones that capture events in a brisk and friendly way. 

A book about following your bliss, particularly if it’s a trail of ants. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Schwartz & Wade.

Review: Cats Are a Liquid by Rebecca Donnelly

Cats Are a Liquid by Rebecca Donnelly.jpg

Cats Are a Liquid by Rebecca Donnelly, illustrated by Misa Saburi (9781250206596)

Based on a scientific paper, this picture book shows the various ways that cats act like both liquids and solids throughout their day. They go limp and drip when picked up. They flow downhill. They fill any container they are placed in, whether boxes or beakers. They flop and drop to the floor. But they also can shred and tear at times, and go stiff when they see a tempting feather float by. Told in simple language that gets readers seeing cats as watery creatures, this picture book celebrates everything feline. 

The lines of text in this book are short with lots of rhyming that avoids becoming sing-songy by playing with internal rhymes too. There is a wonderful jauntiness to the tone of the book, wondering aloud at what cats truly are and how different they are from other forms of matter. I firmly believe that cats are fluids, but non-newtonian ones. The book ends with information on forms of matter as well as a recipe for oobleck. 

The art here is simple and accessible, almost in the style of popular cat collection apps for cell phones. The cats are varied and marvelous in their liquid and solid states, whether mesmerized by snowfall or avoiding a bath. 

A clever scientific look at the splendor of cats. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Outstanding Science & STEM Book Lists

The National Science Teachers Association and the Children’s Book Council have released their annual lists of the best science and STEM books. The Outstanding Science Trade Book list has been around since 1973 and features the best science book published in that year for K-12. The Best STEM Books list is in its fourth year. It features the best book with science, technology, engineering and math content.

The links above go directly to the pdfs of the 2020 lists.

Review: Skulls! by Blair Thornburgh

Skulls by Blair Thornburgh

Skulls! by Blair Thornburgh, illustrated by Scott Campbell (9781534414006)

This picture book is a rousing look at your head bones or skull. The book uses clever analogies to allow young children to understand the importance of your skull, such as skulls are “like a car seat for your brain” in the ways that they keep your brain safe. Skulls have your jaws and also your teeth, until they fall out. They have holes for various senses, including eating grilled cheese sandwiches. The book encourages children to not be scared of skulls because they are so very important.

This is Thornburgh’s debut picture book and it’s wonderfully unusual and interesting. She uses repetition cleverly in the middle of the book, almost creating a refrain about the holes in skulls, grilled cheese sandwiches and teeth falling out. Her focus on a child’s understanding is clear, creating scenarios that they will respond to and not making skulls frightening but fascinating.

Campbell’s watercolor illustrations are full of energy. He creates scenes full of life that then turn to full of bones at the turn of the page. His humor and zaniness keep the book from ever being creepy except in the friendliest of ways.

Face this one head on! Appropriate for ages 3-6.

Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.