Elem. – Silly Measurements

Cella, Clara. Silly Measurements. Capstone, 2020. $21.99 ea. $87.96 set of 4. Unpaged. Grades PreK-1. 

How Many Ducks Could Fit in a Bus? Creative Ways to Look at Volume. 978-1-9771-1324-5.
How Many Flamingos Tall Is a Giraffe? Creative Ways to Look at Height. 978-1-9771-1322-1.
How Many Kittens Could Ride a Shark? Creative Ways to Look at Length. 978-1-9771-1323-8.
How Many Llamas Does a Car Weigh? Creative Ways to Look at Weight. 978-1-9771-1325-2.

The Silly Measurements series encourages pre/early readers to learn about measurements via humorous comparison between non-traditional measuring units. For example, in How Many Llamas Does a Car Weigh?, in addition to the comparison between llamas and cars (in case you are wondering, a car weighs nine llamas), other items compared include clowns and camels, moose and motorcycles, and baseball and bunnies. Each comparison features large photos and large, colorful text. 

THOUGHTS: A great way to begin to introduce the concept of measurement to young readers, these books are sure to bring a smile to the face of readers with their choice of unusual comparisons. They would also be a great option for those looking for math-related read alouds for PreK-1 age students.

530.8 Measurement          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Elem. – Animal Homes

Murray, Julie. Animal Homes. Abdo, 2020. $19.95 ea. $119.70 set of 6. 24 p. Grades PreK-2.

Burrows. 978-1-5321-8521-2.
Caves. 978-1-5321-8522-9.
Dens. 978-1-5321-8523-6.
Nests. 978-1-5321-8524-3.
Trees. 978-1-5321-8525-0.
Webs. 978-1-5321-8526-7.

While many children’s non-fiction series focus on animals, fewer titles focus solely on the habitats they call home. Abdo aims to fill this gap with their Animal Homes series for younger readers. Each title discusses a home, giving several examples of creatures that live in each type of home and also how each home is created. This reviewer had the opportunity to review Nests. Photographs depicted a variety of nests, including birds’ nests, wasp nests, sea turtle nests, and more. The accompanying text conveyed basic information regarding nests and their inhabitants. Back matter includes a visual glossary and additional photos of creatures that live in the home. Also present is a code that readers can use on Abdo Online to access crafts, games, videos, etc. related to the title. 

THOUGHTS: This series offers primary readers a basic understanding of some of the most common animal homes they might encounter in nature or see outside their windows. Abdo’s accompanying online material is superior to what many other publishers offer and could be utilized by teachers in lessons or as extension activities. Educators who are teaching in a hybrid-type model may wish to encourage students who check out Abdo titles of the school library to explore their title’s Abdo Online resources on days when classes are not meeting in-person. 

591.564 Animals          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Elem. – What Was It? (Series NF)

McCurry, Kristen. What Was It? Pebble, 2020. Unpaged (32). $21.99 ea. Pre-K.

What Was It Before It Got Wet? 978-1-9771-1334-4.
What Was It Before Melted? 978-1-9771-1332-0.
What Was It Before It Was Cut? 978-1-9771-1331-3.
What Was It Before It Was Smashed? 978-1-9771-1333-7.

These “turn and see” books encourage critical thinking in the very young. What Was It Before It Got Wet presents readers with vibrant close-up photographs of a wet substance, and challenges them to identify what the substance was in its dry state. Many of the illustrations are of familiar items – soapy lather, hot chocolate – but some are more challenging to recognize, including a drenched koala. A photo of a seedling may really stretch young minds to determine the answer. The graphic design of the volume is gorgeous, with bright “what was it?” photos set off by wide margins, and answer photos on the reverse side full-page images.

THOUGHTS: This book begs to be read one-to-one, with enthusiastic discussion to ensue. 

530.02 Physics and Matter          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem./MG – Accidental Archaeologists

Albee, Sarah. Accidental Archaeologists. Scholastic Press, 2020. 978-1-338-57579-8. 210p. $23.31. Grades 3-6.

Pompeii and Herculaneum, the Rosetta Stone, the cave paintings of Lascaux, the Dead Sea Scrolls. All incredible archaeological finds. And all found by ordinary people. Author Sarah Albee starts in 1709 with workmen digging a well and discovering some cut marble that leads to the excavation of Herculaneum and Pompeii, and works her way through the centuries to 2013 and two cavers in South Africa who navigate some tight quarters to discover bones belonging to a previously unknown species of early human. The last chapter speculates about what is still out there to be uncovered, including the final resting place of Genghis Khan. Each chapter details the find, its place in history, and also why it matters today. Readers will also appreciate the photographs that accompany the text.    

THOUGHTS: Students will enjoy reading the story behind some of the important archaeological finds they hear about in social studies class, as well as learning about previously unknown discoveries. A great addition to any elementary or middle school library. 

560 Paleontology          Melissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD

Elem. – Polar Animals (Series NF)

Jaycox, Jaclyn. Polar Animals. Pebble, 2020. $20.99 ea. $167.92 set of 8. 32 p. Grades K-3. 

Arctic Foxes Are Awesome. 978-1-977-10814-2.
Caribou Are Awesome. 978-1-977-10819-7.
Killer Whales Are Awesome. 978-1-977-10816-6.
Narwhals Are Awesome. 978-1-977-10817-3.
Penguins Are Awesome. 978-1-977-10815-9.
Polar Bears Are Awesome. 978-1-977-10818-0.
Seals Are Awesome. 978-1-977-10820-3.
Snowy Owls Are Awesome. 978-1-977-10821-0.

Narwhals Are Awesome gives readers a glimpse inside the life of a narwhal, one of the Arctic Ocean’s most interesting creatures. Known as the unicorns of the sea, these animals have a long tooth that sprouts through its lip and looks similar to a unicorn’s horn. People hunt narwhals for this exact reason: their tusks are often sold or used to make jewelry. Like dolphins and other whales, narwhals use echolocation to search for their food which they find on the ocean floor. Narwhals can stay underwater for twenty-five minutes before having to return to the surface to breathe air. This means that climate change can be harmful to them; as rising temperatures cause ice to melt, the ice moves while narwhals swim underneath. Sometimes, they can become trapped under the ice and drown. Currently, there are about 75,000 narwhals in the ocean, but they are hard to study given the very chilly climate of their habitats. But one thing is for sure – no other animal is quite like them.

THOUGHTS: As narwhals become more prominent in books and graphic novels (such as the Narwhal and Jelly series by Ben Clanton), younger students have shown an increased interest in these creatures. Full of facts and written in kid-friendly language, this book shows readers what a narwhal’s life is like in the Arctic Ocean while also addressing current event issues like climate change. Students also will enjoy up close and personal photographs of these creatures. Although the critical thinking questions in the back of the book are lacking, other features, such as the list of other nonfiction narwhal books and websites to explore, are valuable. There is even a website focused on STEM-inspired narwhal activities. This book is a perfect nonfiction addition to any elementary library. 

599.5 Narwhals          Danielle Corrao, Ephrata Area SD

Elem. – The Bug Girl: A True Story

Spencer, Sophia, & Margaret McNamara. The Bug Girl: A True Story. Schwartz & Wade Books, 2020. 978-0-525-64593-1. 44 p. $17.99. Grades K-3.

Sophia Spencer describes herself in three words: “The Bug Girl.” Sophia falls in love with bugs at the young age of two-and-a-half when a butterfly lands on her shoulder and stays there for her entire visit while she is visiting a butterfly conservatory. She starts learning all she can about every type of bug and because of that, Sophia notices them everywhere she goes. She has a strict no-kill policy with any bugs, a rule her mother respects, even when Sophia brings unwanted critters inside the house. When Sophia is in kindergarten, all of her classmates are entranced by her stories and facts about bugs. But as she grows up and moves through elementary school, she notices that her classmates, once intrigued by her unique hobby, are now making fun of her. Crushed by the criticism and ridicule of her peers, Sophia gives up bugs for a bit… until her mother reaches out to other bug scientists. The responses she receives change her life forever. Beautiful illustrations by the husband and wife team Kerascoët (illustrators of Malala’s Magic Pencil) show how full of color Sophia’s life really is.

THOUGHTS: What makes this picture book biography unique, besides showcasing the much under-represented topic of women in science, is that it is written by The Bug Girl herself. This is quite an accomplishment for a fourth grader. There is even a section of bug facts in the back of the book, written by Sophia in kid-friendly language. Her inspirational story shows that elementary students are quite capable of pursuing their interests even when others do not understand them, although it may not be easy. Young female readers who are interested in science will connect to Sophia’s story.

921 SPE          Danielle Corrao, Ephrata Area SD

MG – Tracking Pythons: The Quest to Catch an Invasive Predator and Save an Ecosystem

Messner, Kate. Tracking Pythons: The Quest to Catch an Invasive Predator and Save an Ecosystem. Millbrook Press, 2020. 64 p. $24.04 978-1-541-55706-2 Grades 4-8.

Once native only to Asia, Burmese pythons have invaded Florida!  Researchers speculate that animals kept as pets were released and quietly flourished undetected in the lush, protected swamps of Florida. Native animals such as alligators and mink, herons, deer, possums and more, are being affected by the insatiable appetite of the pythons. “People will ask me what pythons eat. The question should be, What don’t they eat?” says Bartoszek (44). Kate Messner follows researchers Ian Bartoszek and his colleagues from the Conservancy of Southwest Florida as they explain the scope of the problem and their efforts to control it. Scientists can respond to an invasive species in four ways: prevention, eradication, containment, or control. The burmese python population in Florida, estimated to be in the tens if not hundreds of thousands, is well beyond the first three responses, and even controlling the population is proving difficult.  Bartoszek and colleagues track the pythons using radio telemetry, capture them for analysis and transmitter implantation, and try to better control the population. “Another big goal is to advance snake science in general. We kind of owe it to the pythons. We have tremendous respect for this animal, so we try to gather as much scientific information as possible” (44).  Each chapter includes segments on “How to Catch a Python” (some surprising stories and methods) as Messner shares lessons learned, “python CSI,” and the wonder of the undetectable python, even when standing atop one! The book includes QR codes showing python releases and telemetry flights, and extensive back matter.

THOUGHTS: A compelling look at an amazing animal and its effects on an ecosystem, this book will engage readers with an interest in animals, the environment, and scientific careers.  A top example of narrative nonfiction.

597.96 Burmese Pythons        Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Elem. – Rating Your Bunkmates and Other Camp Crimes

Orr, Jennifer. Rating Your Bunkmates and Other Camp Crimes. Capstone Editions, 2020. 978-1-68446-077-9. 239 p. $16.95. Grades 3-6.

Abigail Hensley is a twelve-year old genius who knows a lot about everything – anthropology, criminal trials, even the French language. Skipping two grades in school means she knows a lot more than other girls her age. Abigail also knows herself – she doesn’t like others intruding on her personal space and she has a definite aversion to germs. The one topic Abigail doesn’t know much about is how to make real friends. All of that is going to change, however, when she arrives at Camp Hollyhock, determined to make a real friend for the first time in her life. Like any good anthropologist, Abigail uses scientific research methods and writes detailed notes as she studies her cabinmates for their sidekick potential. Although her observations are off to a good start, she is thrown off from her meticulous plans when a crime is committed in her own cabin – and she becomes the prime suspect. Abigail has to use her research methods and observations so she can clear her name and hopefully make a friend before her time at camp is done, even if the answers she seeks may be the opposite of what she thinks.

THOUGHTS: Although author Jennifer Orr doesn’t make it clear in the book, Abigail could be on the autism spectrum, which is evident as she hates invasion of her personal space and struggles to understand social norms. However, Abigail’s journey to make a friend can ring true for any middle grade reader, genius or not. Her scientific commentary on the nuances of young female friendships are humorous yet relatable. All readers can understand that friendship may not be an exact science, but when the elements align, it can be quite wonderful.

Mystery Fiction          Danielle Corrao, Ephrata Area SD

Elem. – Old Rock (Is Not Boring)

Pilutti, Deb. Old Rock (Is Not Boring). G.B. Putnam’s Sons, 2020. 978-0-525-51818-1. 32 p. $17.99. Grades K-4. 

Old Rock happily sat at the edge of the forest “for as long as anyone could remember. And even before that” until one day friends begin to brag about their many adventures. Hummingbird’s stories of flight remind Old Rock about what it was like to sit in darkness before erupting from a volcano. Spotted Beetle’s tales of scaling trees to watch animals and ships remind Old Rock of times when dinosaurs roamed before giant glaciers covered the land. Tall Pine’s dancing in the wind inspires rock to recant what it was like to tumble down a ridge and land in a vast grassland full of mastodon. Old Rock’s friends are finally convinced that staying in one place for as long as anyone can remember might not be that bad when Old Rock shares what it has been like to watch seedlings grow into tall pine forests while listening to stories of adventure and travel from good friends. Anthropomorphic flora, fauna, and rock illustrations paired with occasional conversation bubbles add whimsy to the story. The final page consists of an illustrated timeline spanning from 18 million years ago to present day providing additional facts about Old Rock’s journey.

THOUGHTS: Connect this book to a science lesson about the rock cycle, geology, earth history, or just read it aloud for fun. I think students will enjoy the humor of this book while also appreciating the geological facts rooted in Old Rock’s stories. SEL connections can also be made with Old Rock’s contentedness to be still and live in the present.

Picture Book          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD

Elem. – Genius of the Ancients (Series Nonfiction)

Genius of the Ancients. Crabtree, 2020. $20.75 ea. $166.00 set of 8. 32 p. Grades 3-6.

Howell, Izzi. The Genius of the Ancient Greeks.  978-0-778-76572-1.
—. The Genius of the Anglo-Saxons. 978-0-778-76573-8
—. The Genius of the Maya. 978-0-778-76575-2.
—. The Genius of the Romans. 978-0-778-76576-9.
—. The Genius of the Stone, Bronze, and Iron Ages. 978-0-778-76577-6.
Newland, Sonya. The Genius of the Ancient Egyptians. 978-0-778-76571-4.
—. The Genius of the Benin Kingdom. 978-0-778-76574-5.
—. The Genius of the Vikings. 978-0-778-76590-5.

In the July 10, 2020, issue of School Library Journal article entitled, “Teaching Nonfiction? What You Need To Know About the Differences Between Expository and Narrative Styles,” author Melissa Stewart notes that a high percentage of children prefer books that deliver facts. Crabtree Publishers has mastered presenting expository writing in an appealing and accessible way, and this series is no exception. With the focus on the talents of ancient civilizations, the authors deliver interesting, fast facts on various aspects of those societies, particularly their discoveries or inventions. Some topics explored are architecture, government, inventions, weapons, transportation, and more. Highlighting each subject in well-designed, double-page spreads, the picture books lay out chunks of information in short, readable paragraphs punctuated with colorful graphics. Good use of text features enliven the pages. Quick pieces of information range from fun trivia (Vikings kept decorated, deer antler combs hanging from their belts for swift grooming) to sophisticated information (The Antikythera mechanism found in a Greek shipwreck is sometimes considered the first computer). Each of these slim volumes includes an extensive glossary, a timeline, a table of contents, and an index.

THOUGHTS: This format of fact and pictures enhanced by text features enables struggling readers as well as fluent ones to gain information independently. Valuable additions for beginning research projects or just for students curious about the contributions of different civilizations. (Titles Reviewed: The Genius of the Ancient Greeks and The Genius of the Vikings)

900s Ancient Civilizations          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia