Larson, Kirsten W. The Fire of Stars: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made Of. Illustrated by Katherine Roy. Chronicle Books, 2023. 978-1-452-17287-3. $18.99. 48 p. Grades 2-5.
Cecilia Payne was born in Wendover, England in 1900. As a young girl she would spend hours outdoors studying nature. She was endlessly fascinated by insects, plants, and animals. In 1912 her family moved to London so that her brother could receive a proper education. Cecilia was sent to a religious school for girls. There were no science classes, and there was no opportunity to spend time with nature in the busy city. Then Cecilia discovered a science lab meant for older students. She would sneak into this lab to read the textbooks and work with the chemicals to educate herself in chemistry. When a new science teacher was brought to her school, Cecilia was encouraged to study and learn all she could about science. Cecilia earned a scholarship to study botany at Cambridge University. One day she heard a lecture by a famous astrophysicist. Fascinated, Cecilia attempted to change her major, but she wasn’t allowed to. She decided to move to the United States where she was accepted into the astronomy program at Harvard College Observatory. While at Harvard, Cecelia discovered that stars are made of hydrogen and helium. Author’s notes include a timeline, bibliographic references and an explanation of star development that is easy to understand.
THOUGHTS: Cecilia Payne is not well known to most children. Her research laid the groundwork for modern astrophysics. This picture book biography compares Cecilia’s journey to becoming a scientist with the physical creation of a star. The gentle story, combined with pencil and walnut ink illustrations by Katherine Roy, makes an inspiring biography.
Beckerman, Nell Cross. When the Sky Glows. Illustrated by David Litchfield. Beach Lane Books, 2022. 978-1-534-45039-4. Unpaged $18.99. Grades PreK-2.
Undoubtedly at some point in your life, you have looked up into the sky and wondered about what you see–why does the sky look that way? What is that light up in the sky? Author Nell Cross Beckerman aims to answer these questions for young readers in her nonfiction picture book When the Sky Glows. Shooting stars, auroras, rainbows, lightning storms, volcanic eruptions, and full moons are just some of the natural events that fill the sky with light and amazing colors. Simple and lyrical text introduces each topic on a spread with an accompanying illustration depicting humans (or animals) observing the sky. The following spread is illuminated with color showing the glowing sky above the scene. A brief paragraph in the lower right explains the science behind the event. David Litchfield’s digitally rendered illustrations saturate each scene with lawyers of glowing yellows, pinks, purples, greens, and blues. Backmatter includes sources for additional research and a section of text discussing the issue of light pollution.
THOUGHTS: This title is ideal for read alouds and could easily be incorporated into lessons involving science, meteorology, weather, etc. Illustrator David Litchfield’s illustrations put the “glow” into When the Sky Glows and will surely inspire a sense of wonder and appreciation for light in readers. Highly recommended for elementary collections.
Summer Adventures is an early nonfiction book aimed at young readers. Bright photographs and bold primary colors are used throughout the book. Each two-page spread depicts a primary student enjoying a popular summer activity, including the beach, playgrounds, family barbecues, fishing, camping, and swimming and boating. Text is very simple, with only one sentence per page. Table of Contents, Index, Glossary, and suggestions for further summer adventures all are included in this nonfiction selection leveled for Kindergarten readers. A QR code at the end of the book enables teachers or parents to access free worksheets, coloring sheets, games, and more.
THOUGHTS: An excellent introduction to nonfiction text features. Photos depict diverse representations of children and families. Perfect for an early primary or preschool library or nonfiction section. Activities and lesson plans accessed through the QR code are developmentally appropriate and are a nice addition for easy lesson planning.
525.5 Natural Sciences and Mathematics Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD
McDonald, Jill. Hello, World! Kids’ Guides. Doubleday Books for Young Readers, 2022. $15.99 ea. $63.96 set of 4. 32 p. Grades K-4.
Exploring Sharks. 978-0-593-56481-3. Exploring the Solar System. 978-0-593-48204-9. Exploring Dinosaurs. 978-0-593-56820-0. (available in 2023) Exploring Insects. 978-0-593-56823-1. (available in 2023)
This nonfiction selection tours our solar system beginning with the sun. The eight major planets and the known dwarf planets are covered. Each planet has a two-page spread with fun facts, a footer indicating the location of the planet in relation to the rest of the solar system, and a sidebar with statistics. The sidebar info-panels give the size, distance, temperature, length of day and year, and number of moons for each planet, in a consistent and organized format. The text is simple but has enough interesting information to keep young readers intrigued without being overwhelmed. Each spread includes a thought-provoking discussion question. Delightful, bold, brightly colored illustrations add to the fun on this engaging trip through the solar system.
THOUGHTS: A very well organized informational text with plenty of intriguing facts for early elementary students. Varied fonts and the whimsical illustrations give the book a fun and exciting feel. My very favorite part of each two-page planetary information spread are the discussion questions. Some questions are pensive queries about favorite things on Earth, or personal preferences for warm or cold environments. Others are STEAM related questions about cloud colors and day length. These questions have an SEL quality that will enhance scientific discussions in the classroom.
523.2 Astronomical Objects and Astrophysics Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD
Hopkinson, Deborah. Only One. Anne Schwartz Books, 2022. 978-0-399-55703-3. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3.
A young narrator takes readers on a walk through the woods as she explains how, with a big bang, one tiny speck turned into a universe full of stars, planets, galaxies, and more. Situated in this universe is our Earth, which is surrounded by a layer called the atmosphere and contains continents, oceans, and millions of species. Ultimately, the narrator finishes the same way she began–with one. She declares that even though there are more than seven billion human beings, all of us unique, we all are still part of one human family responsible for preserving our one and only planet, Earth.
THOUGHTS: Through an informational monologue and soft, beautiful illustrations, the narrator manages to educate while simultaneously relaying an important message about protecting our planet. Also, at the end of the story, the author provides a list of resources for additional information about climate change and how we can help the Earth. This is an excellent resource for earth science, space science, and environmental science collections.
Perdew, Laura. The Stars: A Gazillion Suns (Picture Book Science). Nomad Press, 2021. 29 p. 978-1-619-30992-0. $9.95. Grades K-3.
This nonfiction picture book introduces the reader to the basic principles about the galaxy and the stars. The book goes over information about the sun in our solar system, how stars are created, why they twinkle, as well as how they end. Throughout the book, there are two extraterrestrial commentators who have silly commentary to the reader, and at the end of the book there is an activity for the reader to complete related to the constellations. There is also a glossary in the back of the book; however, there is no table of contents.
THOUGHTS: This is a great introduction to space and the constellations for a young reader. The addition of the two extraterrestrial commentators is a great choice by the author, and the illustrations add to the charm of the whole book. Highly recommended for an elementary collection.
523.8 Constellations Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy
Slade, Suzanne. Mars Is: Stark Slopes, Silvery Snow, and Startling Surprises. Peachtree Atlanta. 978-1-682-63188-1. 51 p. $19.99. Grades K-3.
Sand dunes, craters, volcanoes, canyons, lava flows, cliffs, and ice are only some of the amazing landforms covering the surface of Mars. In this oversize book, each double page spread consists of a full-page landform photo that is complemented by large-scale descriptive text and a smaller, more detailed caption. One spread features “sandy, windswept dunes” and describes how Mars’s winds blow the sand into mesmerizing ripple and wave patterns. Another highlights the “stark slopes” of an impact crater formed by an asteroid or meteorite collision. The full-color images in the book were taken with NASA’s HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) camera. The camera was launched into space in 2005 and has been sending images back to Earth ever since. Detailed backmatter include sections titled “Launching the Mission to Mars,” “HiRISE: The Spectacular Space Camera,” “More About Mars,” and “Highlights of the Exploration of Mars.”
THOUGHTS: This title is reminiscent of April Pulley Sayre’s books which present brief and poetic nonfiction tidbits complemented by beautiful full-page photographs. Although there is not enough information in this title to support research reports, students will be drawn in by the breathtaking photos of the Red Planet. It also will be useful as an introduction to science units about the solar system and outer space.
523.43 Planets Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD
Gardner, Whitney. Long Distance. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-534-45566-5. 315 p. $21.99. Grades 5-8.
Author and illustrator Whitney Gardner’s latest, Long Distance, is a charming middle grade graphic novel with something for almost every reader to love. When 10-year old Vega’s family relocates from Portland to Seattle, she has to leave her best (and only) friend Halley behind. To help her make new friends, Vega’s dads send her to a remote camp in the Washington woods called Very Best Friend. Vega is skeptical; she has Halley, after all, although her bestie hasn’t returned her last few texts. And the camp itself is unusual, with nonstop overcast skies, zero cell reception, and awkward counselors. Vega and her fellow campers discover surveillance gear hidden inside a pinecone, fake rocks scattered in the forest, and other clues that something is amiss. Vega, twins Gemma and Isaac, and chatty Qwerty join forces to gather more information in some of the book’s most entertaining sequences. Whitney Gardner’s illustrations are digitally rendered, with camp scenes depicting the natural world in earthy tones of green, rust, and slate blue. Bright, otherworldly colors cue the graphic novel’s big reveals.
THOUGHTS: This fish-out-of-water story blossoms into a science fiction-infused mystery, all while delivering some heartfelt lessons about how to make (and be) a real friend, no matter the distance.
Barnham, Kay. World of Wonder (series of 4). Illustrated by Maddie Frost. Crabtree, 2021. 32 p. $20.75 ea. $83.00 Set of 4. Grades K-2.
Amazing Animal Babies. 978-0-778-78247-6. The Awesome Night Sky. 978-0-778-78276-6. Incredible Rain Forests. 978-0-778-78248-3. A Wonderful World of Weather. 978-0-778-78246-9.
Barnham and Frost team up wonderfully with text and pictures suitable for the K-2 crowd. Each book focuses on one aspect of nature or science, acting as a pleasant introduction to the topic for beginners. Each book keeps a positive tone about ecology, learning and exploring, offering two-page spreads with a paragraph of text on each page. It’s just enough information, and may leave curious readers questioning; be prepared with answers to “what’s that animal?,” “where does the sky end?,” “why do some babies stay with their moms and some don’t?,” or “how many constellations are there?” Two friendly children (one white, one slightly darker-skinned) and a black dog appear throughout the books, learning with the reader. The books close with Things To Do (three ideas such as inventing your own animal, creating a word cloud (each book), or designing a weather board game), Learning More (book and online resources), and Glossary (7-9 words used in text).
THOUGHTS: A solid choice for introducing astronomy, weather, rain forest and animal babies to young readers.
Science (520, 551, 577, 591) Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD
Chin, Jason. Your Place in the Universe. Holiday House, 2020. 978-0-9234-4623-0. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades 1-3.
At eight years old, some kids might feel like the center of the universe, or like everything revolves around them! It may seem true, until you change the perspective and compare some sizes of things earthly and extraterrestrial leading all the way out beyond the Milky Way! Jason Chin does an excellent job of casting some comparative scale in his newest nonfiction narrative text with stunning visuals which continuously expand to show the vastness of the universe. Then he pulls it back to those children to help them realize the universal truth that they too will make their own way and keep a sense of wonder along the way.
THOUGHTS: There are other titles that could partner with this book to show “our place in space” and lead to size and distance lessons galore. Curious minds will also read the endnotes and captions to go further and wonder more. Recommended.