Elem. – Alexander von Humboldt: Explorer, Naturalist & Environmental Pioneer

Novgorodoff, Danica. Alexander von Humboldt: Explorer, Naturalist & Environmental Pioneer. Crown Books for Young Readers, 2022.  978-1-524-77308-3. 39 p. $17.99. Grades K-3.

As a young boy growing up in eighteenth century Germany, Alexander von Humboldt was very curious about the natural world. He was full of questions and wanted to be an explorer like Captain James Cook. Alexander spent many hours outdoors and his observations led him to understand that animals, plants, and the weather are all connected to each other. So he studied science and prepared himself to travel to faraway lands. Von Humboldt’s first voyage was to South America, where he found towering mountains, lush vegetation and unfamiliar animals and people. He soon realized that this New World was not all that different from his home and that he shared a lot in common with the indigenous people. The German explorer recognized that the volcanoes here were situated in a chain and he developed theories about why they erupt. He later wrote and lectured on his findings, thus earning the title of “Father of Ecology.”  The author-illustrator includes a detailed author’s note, maps, and a timeline in the back matter. Novgorodoff uses pencil and watercolor to create engaging illustrations and the text placement creates added interest.

THOUGHTS: This picture book biography is a great choice for ecology units or Earth Day storytimes. It may inspire young explorers to pursue a career in ecology. A must have for elementary collections.

921 Biography          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member
509.2 Natural Science-Biography

Elem. – The Leaf Detective: How Margaret Lowman Uncovered Secrets in the Rainforest

Lang, Heather. The Leaf Detective: How Margaret Lowman Uncovered Secrets in the Rainforest. Calkins Creek, 2021. 978-1-68437-177-8. Unpaged. $18.99 Grades 2-5.

From childhood Meg was always interested in nature, opting to spend time outside studying plants. As an adult she moved from her Elmira, New York hometown to Australia where she pioneered rainforest studies. In 1979, she invented a slingshot harness allowing her to study trees from the canopy of branches sitting up to one hundred and fifty feet tall. From dizzying heights Meg studied the rainforest in ways scientists had not previously attempted prior to her invention. Nearly a decade later, Meg was instrumental in developing plans for the first canopy walkway making rainforest ecology accessible to more people and fostering an understanding of its importance to Australian citizens. In her quest to learn even more about rainforests,  Meg joined a team in Cameroon who launched a hot air balloon permitting the scientists a view from the top of the canopy. It was here that Meg realized conservation as her next calling. She began traveling the world, pioneering conservation preservation projects in Cameroon, Western Samoa, and Ethiopia. Mesmerizing full color digital illustrations saturate every page with rainforest scenery. Animals, plants, trees, insects and birds emphasize the biodiversity of the rainforest. Leaf-shaped text boxes nearly blend into the scenery, rewarding a close reading with  additional facts about the rainforest.

577.34 Rain Forest Ecology          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD
Biography
Picture Book

Elem. – A Life Electric: The Story of Nikola Tesla

Westergaard, Azadeh. A Life Electric: The Story of Nikola Tesla. Viking, 2021. Unpaged. 978-0-593-11460-5.  Grades 1-4. $17.99.

In this picture book biography, the author tells readers how much more Nikola Tesla contributed to science than his hair-raising Tesla coil. Born during a thunderstorm in modern day Croatia, the future scientist was interested in animals, books, and electricity as a young boy. He even designed his own inventions, like a “rotating motor powered by the fast, flapping wings of sixteen June bugs.” Tesla was a good student, excelling in many subjects, but electrical engineering was his passion. Soon he came up with an innovative way to transmit electricity over long distances by sending electric currents back and forth on a wire. Tesla traveled to the United States to share his discovery. There he met businessman George Westinghouse and they worked together to develop the electric motor. This invention was presented at the 1893 Chicago World Fair to much acclaim. Sadly, the Wizard of Electricity did not profit much from his creation due to unfortunate business decisions. Although Nikola died alone and poor in New York in 1943, over two thousand prominent scientists, businessmen, and artists attended his funeral. As one friend observed, “So far reaching is his work… should Tesla’s work be suddenly withdrawn-darkness would prevail.”  The back matter provides more biographical details, vintage photographs, and suggested readings.  Sarda’s illustrations are rendered digitally and have a folk art quality.

THOUGHTS: This is an intriguing life story of this important, but underappreciated, inventor, whose electrical discoveries are so crucial to the modern world. By revealing Tesla’s non-technical interests such as poetry and caring for hungry or injured pigeons, the author has presented a unique portrait of the man. This text works as a good introduction to electricity units and is a worthwhile purchase for elementary collections.

Biography  92, 921          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member
621.3092 Electrical Engineering

Elem. – Dr. Fauci: How a Boy From Brooklyn Became America’s Doctor

Messner, Kate. Dr. Fauci: How a Boy From Brooklyn Became America’s Doctor. Illustrated by Alexandra Bye. Simon & Schuster, 2021. 978-1-665-90243-4. 48 p. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

Due to the Covid 19 pandemic, the name Dr. Fauci is a name that we have heard so many times over the last two years. Dr. Fauci is best known as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a face and voice we have heard in our homes and in the news as we navigated the current health crisis. However, Dr. Fauci has worked with seven U.S presidents to tackle the largest public health challenges within the last 50 years! Kate Messner, author of Dr. Fauci: How a Boy From Brooklyn Became America’s Doctor, examines the doctor’s life as a young boy, his time in medical school, and the challenges he faced in his personal and medical career. Dr. Fauci learned early in his life to ask questions, consider all aspects and research, and strive for perseverance and communication to tackle the most difficult challenges. This picture book also contains a timeline, accurate information about vaccines, and recommended further readings to better understand how vaccines work. Through the author, Dr. Fauci offers his own tips for future scientists! There is a little bit of everything in this well-written (and beautifully illustrated by Alexandra Bye) picture book about the life and career of Dr. Anthony Fauci and the impact he has made on our country. 

THOUGHTS: It is obvious that author Kate Messner did her research! Messner completed an extensive interview with Dr. Fauci to write this book, and the product is a thoughtful narrative with important information. Not only is this picture book presented as a biography, but it also serves as a science read as well! Timely, important, informational. Bravo! 

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

MG – Build It Yourself Science Biographies (Series NF)

Build It Yourself Science Biographies. Nomad Press, 2021. 128 p. $22.95 (HC) $17.95 (paper). Grades 5-8.

Klepeis, Alicia Z. The Science & Technology of Ben Franklin. 978-1-647-41018-6.
Knutson, Julie.The Science & Technology of Marie Curie. 978-1-647-41022-3.
Pagel-Hogan, Elizabeth. The Science & Technology of Leonardo da Vinci. 978-1-647-41014-8.

Knutson’s book on Marie Curie showcases Curie’s intelligence and scientific contributions, while encouraging readers to try their own scientific experiments. Despite social and economic restrictions on women, Curie persevered in her scientific endeavors, working with her husband Pierre, and continuing their work after his death. Her work earned her a Nobel Prize.  When World War I began soon thereafter, Curie easily could have worked to build better weapons to win the war, but instead she decided to use her knowledge to promote health and peace. When she learned that doctors at the front were often amputating injured soldiers’ limbs simply because they could not pinpoint the location of shrapnel, she used all her clout and contacts to get small X-ray machines to the front. These ‘petit Curies’ were small vehicles staffed by three medical persons, and their x-rays saved untold lives. A later affair with a married man brought disgrace upon Curie (but not the man), but she continued throughout her life to work for greater scientific knowledge for peace. This book includes black and white photos, humorous comic style sidebars, and frequent experiments for readers to try.

THOUGHTS: This is an engaging look at Marie Curie’s life and scientific work. This book is part of the many popular “Build It Yourself” biographies by Nomad Press, and the most recent three focus on Marie Curie, Ben Franklin, and Leonardo da Vinci.      

540 Chemistry          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD
Biography

Elem. – The Great Bear Rescue: Saving the Gobi Bears

Markle, Sandra. The Great Bear Rescue: Saving the Gobi Bears. Millbrook Press, 2020. 978-1-541-58125-8. 40 p. $25.59. Grades 3-6. 

Gobi bears are the only species of bear to live entirely in a desert–the Gobi Desert, which means harsh, dry landscape in summer and bitter cold in winter. They eat mainly plants that they dig up with their claws, but the lack of availability of food and water has caused their numbers to dwindle to an estimated 31 (only 8 are female). What can conservationists do? Mongolians consider the Gobi bear to be a national treasure, and the Mongolian government has set aside large tracts of the desert as protected space for the bear, being sure to include areas with natural springs. They also established the Gobi Bear Project, which has led to tracking and accurate numbering of the remaining bears. Still, climate and humans threaten the bears.  Increasingly common droughts, as well as illegal gold mining of the desert (including protected areas) hurts the species’ chances of survival. But researchers are encouraged that the government is protecting the species, the Mongolian people are supportive, the tracked bears appear healthy, and the number of bears has increased slightly (from 22 to 31). Markle presents information about the bear and conservation efforts in a readable manner, made more accessible by numerous photos of the bears, the desert, and the people who would help or harm the future of the bears.

THOUGHTS: This book is a top example of nonfiction for young people, complete with timeline, glossary, source notes, further research, index, and note from the author. Markle has published 12 titles in the series “Sandra Markle’s Science Discoveries,” most recently The Great Penguin Rescue (2018), The Great Rhino Rescue (2019), and Follow Those Zebras (2020). Each title is expertly researched and presented for upper elementary and middle school students.

333.95 Endangered Species          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD
Bear

Elem. – Ocean Speaks: How Marie Tharp Revealed the Ocean’s Biggest Secret

Keating, Jess. Ocean Speaks: How Marie Tharp Revealed the Ocean’s Biggest Secret. Tundra Books, 2020. 978-0-735-26508-0. 32 p. $17.99. Grades K-3.

From the time she was a young girl, Marie loved being outdoors. From feeling waves splash on her toes to discovering boulders, trees, and bird calls, she was fascinated by the world around her. But, girls were not supposed to have outdoor jobs involving rocks, mountains, and sunshine, and they weren’t supposed to dream of becoming explorers or scientists. When men enlisted during World War I, women like Marie had their chance to study science. Marie learned as much as she could about earth science and geology, and she secured a job in a New York laboratory. When men returned from War, they were sent on ocean research trips, but Marie had to stay behind. As her male colleagues sent back box after box of measurements, Marie used the data to create a map of the ocean floor. She’d found a way to be an explorer, even if she had to stay in her small office. After weeks of plotting data, Marie discovered a giant rift valley on the bottom of the ocean floor: a long crack with mountains on both sides. Her colleagues made her redo the map, and even then, no one believed her work was accurate. Jacques Cousteau sent cameras to the bottom of the ocean to prove her wrong, but instead, the cameras captured the evidence revealing Marie was actually correct. Today, she’s credited with mapping the mid-Atlantic ocean ridge, and her maps have been displayed at the Library of Congress. Katie Hickey’s watercolor and pencil illustrations, featuring a palette of primarily blues, yellows, and greens, gorgeously capture the spirit and perseverance of this unsung scientist. Two pages of Author’s Notes and Questions and Answers provide further insights about Marie Tharp and her legacy.

THOUGHTS: Share this story of female resilience and determination as part of STEM units or during elementary morning meetings. Also a great choice to recommend to girls who are interested in outdoor pursuits such as rock collecting, bird watching, and exploring.

526 Mathematical Geography          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD