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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Moth: An Evolution Story by Isabel Thomas, illustrated by Daniel Egneus (9781547600205)
This nonfiction picture book explains a specific process of evolution by following the story of the Peppered Moth. The moths emerge from their cocoons after the long winter, quickly seeking shelter from predators. At first, most of the moths had speckled black and white wings. It allowed them to better hide in the bark of the woods. The ones that happened to be born with dark wings got eaten by predators. So the speckled moths were able to survive to lay their eggs. But then the world around them changed with more soot and pollution covering the bark of the trees and other objects. Now it was the dark moths that survived best and could lay their eggs. Steadily, the moths started to become darker and less speckled. Now though, pollution is lessening and there is no longer as much soot. So the speckled moths are returning alongside the dark moths.
The tale of the Peppered Moth shows many elements of evolutionary process, including natural selection and adaptation. Both of those concepts are more fully described in the final pages of the book but are fully realized in the main part of the book as well. Thomas does a lovely job with the prose, giving the reader just enough information to allow the story to unfold before them. She limits the amount of words on the page, making this accessible for quite young children.
The illustrations are marvelous, inviting readers into the darkness of a moonlit woods as the moths emerge from their cocoons. The pages fill with moths of different mixtures of black and white. When day comes, more predators enter the pages. As the pollution enters, the world becomes dark and filled with dots and specks of dirty soot. The moths glow against the new darkness, or hide well, depending on their color. It’s a stirring and rich look at evolution happening right before your eyes.
Beautifully written and illustrated, this is a very special nonfiction picture book. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from copy provided by Bloomsbury Children’s Books.
Llama Destroys the World by Jonathan Stutzman, illustrated by Heather Fox (9781250303172)
The book begins with the prediction that on Friday, Llama will destroy the world. On Monday, it all began with Llama eating far, far too much cake. On Tuesdays Llama dances, so he tried to put on his dancing pants. He had to squeeze in to them because they didn’t quite fit due to the amount of cake he had eaten the day before. His pants ripped, creating a sound loud enough to enter space and create a black hole. On Wednesday, Llama noticed the black hole, did scientific calculations and then made a sandwich instead of letting anyone know. On Thursday, signs of doom started appearing everywhere. On Friday, everything was sucked into the black hole. But what will happen on Saturday?
I love that the entire plot of the book is laid out in the title and again on the first page. Llama is going to destroy the world and it will happen on Friday. That hangs over the head of the reader, creating a sense of real drama. It also allows the book to head in a wild and zany direction that is incredibly engaging and that only gets sillier as the week continues. The ending is a great twist in a book that looks a physics, time and space.
Fox’s illustrations are so funny. Llama has googly eyes and a comical face with plenty of expression. The different elements of the story are given heft and drama by the illustrations, including the ripped pants, the pile of cake, and of course, the black hole.
Funny, scientific and zany, this picture book is so much fun. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Henry Holt & Company.
Predator and Prey by Susannah Buhrman-Deever, illustrated by Bert Kitchen (9780763695330)
In poems for two voices, this book shows the cunning, evolution and beauty of predators and their prey. From bats to frogs to snakes to hawks to spiders, the poems feature all sorts of animals. Engagingly, often it is sometimes the obvious predator who is actually going to be the prey. That is certainly true in the example of the spider at the center of her web who is being preyed upon by the assassin bug. After each of the poems, there is a section about the animals in nonfiction prose that illuminates the relationship of the two species more clearly.
I was amazed to discover that this is biologist Buhrman-Deever’s first book for children. Her two-voice poems are very effective and could easily be used in classroom activities to be shared aloud by pairs of children who will enjoy being predators and prey since so many of the animals featured are very fascinating. She gives voice to the animals in her poems and then allows scientific information to be shared as well. The end of the book has a lengthy bibliography which is greatly appreciated.
The illustrations by Kitchen are exceptional as well, showing the reader the relationship between the two animals being discussed. They are realistic and dramatic as the animals stand off on the page. Several of the pages also have large gated pages that open to reveal the poem beneath them, allowing Kitchen’s full imagery to be appreciated without words blocking it.
A very successful mix of poetry and science, this one is sure to be preyed upon by hungry readers in classrooms and activities. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from library copy.