Elem. – Fun STEM Challenges (Series Nonfiction)

Ventura, Marne. Fun STEM Challenges. Pebble, 2020. $20.49 ea. Set of 6 $122.94. 24 p. Grades K-3.

Building Boats that Float.  978-1-977-11297-2.
Building Marble Runs 978-1-977-11300-9.
Building Simple Traps. 
978-1-977-11298-9.
Building Strong Bridges. 978-1-977-11299-6.
Building Sunshades. 978-1-977-11301-6.
Building Tough Towers. 978-1-977-11296-5.

In this book, we learn all about Marble Runs! In text young readers can understand, this book informs us as to what a marble run is, why we can build them, how we make our own, and a review of what we learned! This book also contains a glossary for important key words, both text and Internet sites where we can obtain more information, and even some critical thinking questions. This informative book will have young readers creating their own marble runs out of a variety of materials!

THOUGHTS: This is a must have for any STEM/STEAM teacher who works with young grades! A simple book to allow students to begin thinking about his/her own marble run and how to make it work. (Title Reviewed: Building Marble Runs)

507.8 Inventions          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

MG – Unconventional Science

Unconventional Science. ABDO Books, 2020. $23.00 ea. $138.00 set of 6. 48 p. Grades 5-8. 

Burling, Alexis. Turning Poop Into Power. 978-1-532-11901-9.
Hand, Carol. Controlling Invasive Species with Goats. 978-1-532-11898-2.
Hustad, Douglas. Cleaning Up Plastic with Artificial Coastlines. 978-1-532-11897-5.
McCarthy, Cecilia Pinto. Capturing Carbon with Fake Trees. 978-1-532-11896-8.
—. Eating Bugs as Sustainable Food. 978-1-532-11899-9.
—. Harvesting Fog for Water. 978-1-532-11900-2

This series expertly presents new scientific ideas that many adults and students never may have considered, and aims to give some explanation about the pros and cons of each idea. In four chapters, readers learn about the environmental problem which led to the idea being considered, how well the idea could work, and problems with adopting the idea as a solution. The gross factor of Eating Bugs or Turning Poop into Power may turn off readers or prove irresistible to them.  Chapters end with either compelling deeper thinking questions, or segments linking other documents to the text, again with thoughtful questions. The end matter includes glossary, index, fast facts, and further resources, and is notable for the “Stop and Think” section and the ABDO Book Links website (readers scan QR code to access resources for each specific book).

THOUGHTS: This is a well-presented, engaging format with refreshing and unusual ideas, perfect for middle school learners. ABDO has paid attention to what young learners (and their teachers) need. Librarians may want to give more attention to the various series in ABDO’s Core Library (“nonfiction for grades 3-6”). Free teaching resources are available for download via Follett’s Titlewave. (Title reviewed: Eating Bugs as Sustainable Food.)

363; 628 Science, Engineering        Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

MG – Engineering Disasters

Engineering Disasters. ABDO Books, 2020. $23.00 ea. $138.00 set of 6. 48 p. Grades 5-8. 

Huddleston, Emma. Ford Pinto Fuel Tanks. 978-1-532-19-072-8.
—. The Johnstown Flood. 978-1-532-19073-5.
—. The New Orleans Levee Failure. 978-1-532-19074-2.
Kortemeier, Todd. Air France Flight 447. 978-1-532-19070-4
—. Chernobyl. 978-1-532-19071-1.
—.  The Space Shuttle Challenger. 978-1-532-19075-9.

This series looks at well-intentioned concepts which ultimately failed in some way. The solid format covers the disaster, the search for the cause, and the changes enacted to avoid further disasters. The text is clear and factual, with various sidebars and charts adding meaningful supplemental perspectives. A full-page “Straight to the Source” occurs twice in the book, linking another text with useful questions for further thinking and writing, while a “Stop and Think” segment is part of the well-rounded back matter of Fast Facts, glossary, index, and ABDO’s free online resources.

THOUGHTS: This is a well-presented series on major failures and how the engineering in question has changed. (Title reviewed: The Space Shuttle Challenger.)

363 Manmade Disasters            Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Elem. – Women Artists A to Z

LaBarge, Melanie. Women Artists A to Z. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-0-593-10827-7. 32 p. $19.99. Grades PreK-5.

A coffee-table art book for the youngest readers, Women Artists A to Z provides an overview of twenty-six diverse female artists. Deceptively simple at first, each vignette features illustrations inspired by a woman’s distinct style, a simple portrait, and a brief (two-to-three sentence) explanation of her art. Alphabetic titles are assigned to describe a method, medium, or element of the depicted work, making this book easy to devour in one sitting yet fun to page through multiple times. “B is for Box” headlines Betye Saar’s assemblage celebrations of Black history and culture while “H is for Horse” introduces Jaune Quick-To-See Smith, a Native American artist whose collage often incorporates horses. “W is for Wood” introduces Polish artist Ursula Von Rydingsvard, known for cedar sculpture. Authors notes at the back of the book include birth/death dates, associated city/country, a slightly extended biography, and a question to prompt discussion or creation. In this way, readers have the opportunity to form a basic association with each artist and her style for a diverse collection of international women in modern and classical art. Colorful computer generated illustrations fill the pages and end-pages with examples of the artists and tools highlighted. The simplicity of the text makes art accessible for elementary level students while also leaving the door open for incorporating STEAM connections, research opportunities, maker activities, and writing/drawing prompts. In addition to those mentioned in this review, artists discussed include: Mirka Mora, Helen Frankenthaler, Yayoi Kusama, Kay Sage, Georgia O’Keefe, Agnes Martin, Elizabeth Catlett, Judith Leysterm, Carmen Herrera, Edmonia Lewis, Maya Lin, Hilma Af Klint, Maria Martinez, Gee’s Bend Collective, Frida Kahlo, Louise Bourgeois, Lois Mailou Jones, Alice Neel, Helen Zughaib, Ursula von Rydingsvard, Dorthea Lange, Xenobia Bailey, and Maria Sibylla Meria.

THOUGHTS: Women Artists A to Z is not a stand-alone reference. Despite the A to Z arrangement, it also is not a traditional picture book. Still, I feel it would be a great addition to an elementary library, particularly as part of  interactive display or conversation starter. At first, describing a life’s work in only a few sentences deceptively oversimplifies the artists and left me wanting more information. Yet, I found myself returning to page-through again, jumping from Maya Lin (“N is for Nature) to “K is for Kitchen” (Lenora Carrington) each time soaking in new details. A great way to build curiosity and encourage research skills for students who seek  more in-depth information.

700.8 Women Artists          Jackie Fulton, PSLA Member 

Elem. – Sonny’s Bridge; Snail and Worm All Day; Tow Truck Joe; I Am Someone Else; Hum and Swish

Wittenstein, Barry. Sonny’s Bridge. Charlesbridge, 2019. 978-1-580-89881-2. 32 p. $21.99. Grades K-4. 

In the early 1960’s, if you were on the Williamsburg Bridge in New York City at night you might have heard the sounds of Sonny Rollins’ saxophone floating through the air. Sonny’s Bridge is a poetic biography of the jazz legend and his path to recording his third album ‘The Bridge.” Born during the Harlem Renaissance, Sonny is influenced by the jazz greats. When he starts playing the saxophone, Sonny is a teeneager living through WWII and the Jim Crow movement. He hits the music scene just in time for the bebop revolution. An overnight success, Sonny Rollins even plays at Carnegie Hall, but the fame is too much and Sonny takes a two-year sabbatical where he spends his nights practicing on the bridge to avoid waking his neighbors. On the bridge Sonny plays his own way until he finally feels ready to record his famous comeback album. An author’s note and timeline at the back of the book provide more insight into Sonny’s life and notable accomplishments through 2018. A bibliography along with a list of quotes and websites for more information are also included. The digitally created illustrations add to the historical significance of the story while also embracing the legendary status of Sonny Rollins. 

THOUGHTS: An excellent picture book biography with plenty of historical connections and an introduction to jazz. This book is versatile and can serve both as a read aloud for younger audiences while also allowing room to discuss deeper historical significance with older students.  A welcome addition to any school library.  

92; Picture Book          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD


Kugler, Tina. Snail and Worm All Day. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019. 978-0-358-06364-3. $16.99. 32 p. Grades K-2. 

Snail and Worm have three adventures to share in their second book together. Snail points out all the accomplishments of their friends when a little cheering up is needed for the day. Together the two friends barely escape a dragon (which turns out to be a turtle hiding in its shell) and then take a nap. When Snail is sleepy, Worm agrees to tell a bedtime story that isn’t too scary and includes both friends. The three short stories are excellent examples of friendship for young readers. Although the text is deceptively brief, there is plenty of humor and feeling packed into the stories. The bright acrylic, pastel and collage illustrations give the comfortable feeling of a picture book while the text is suitable for early readers. 

THOUGHTS: A lovely hybrid text for emerging readers who are ready to graduate to reading on their own. This picture book is a bridge in the gap to early readers while providing some opportunities to teach about friendship. 

Picture Book          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD


Sobel, June. Tow Truck Joe. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019. 978-0-358-05312-5. 32 p. $17.99. Grades Prek-1. 

A friendly red tow truck named Joe and his dog Patch spend a day in town helping their neighbors with flat tires and dead batteries. As they cruise around town Patch and Joe say hello to many other working vehicles including the grocery truck, cement mixer, and ice cream truck. When a rushing milk truck collides with the cookie cart causing a traffic jam, Patch and Joe help all of the vehicles work together and find a sweet solution to get everyone rolling again. The brightly colored illustrations of a busy small town filled with working vehicles will be a hit with very young readers. Rhyming text, lots of honking hellos, and a repeating red light/green light verse will make this a fun addition to storytime for a preschool crowd. 

THOUGHTS: Trucks are always a hit at storytime, and this is a good addition to any preschool collection. It’s a fun, engaging read aloud with many opportunities to incorporate movement. This book also can be used to teach young children about cooperation and community. 

Picture Book          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD


Hopkins, Lee Bennett. I Am Someone Else: Poems about Pretending. Charlesbrisdge, 2019. 978-1-580-89832-4. 32 p. $16.99. Grades K-4.

Playing pretend is universal among children, and this illustrated anthology of poetry about imagining embraces that commonality. A brief introduction reminds the reader that “there is nothing better than being yourself” then goes on to explain that it is fun to think about being someone else at times. Poetry is divided into three categories, each of which features a unique heading poem. “Wish! Be a Storybook Character” features poems about fantasy role play such as wizards, pirates, and even what it might be like to be a giant’s wife, courtesy of Lois Lowry. “Support! Be a Person who Helps” includes poems about career role play such as pilot, veterinarian, and police officer. “Invent! Be a Person Who’s a Maker” is a collection of poems related to STEAM professions featuring a builder, poet, and chef. Even video game designers get a poem in this section. Ethnically diverse illustrations with each poem depict children dressing up to match their imaginary scenario. Refreshingly, the illustrations also support imaginary play as an ungendered activity by depicting both boys and girls dressing up in various costumes such as a male nurse and a female video game designer. 

THOUGHTS: This anthology is a great contemporary way to incorporate poetry into STEAM lessons in the elementary library. I would definitely add this title to update a poetry collection. A table of contents would make this title more functional, but the lack of one doesn’t distract from the overall reading experience. 

811; Picture Book        Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD


Myers, Matt. Hum and Swish. Neal Porter Books, 2019. 978-0-823-44286-7. 32 p. $18.99. Grades K-3. 

Waves gently crash over the sand on a perfect beach day. Jamie sits quietly humming and playing in the sand as the wind tousles her hair. Here she finds some rocks. There is a puddle left by the waves. Jamie digs, crafts, and collects, content to be in her own world by the sea. People pass by and ask questions about her project. Uninterested in visitors, Jamie keeps her focus. It seems like only the ocean truly understands her. Eventually, another artist sets up shop nearby. The artist has no questions and no answers. The two work in parallel amongst their understanding of each other and the ocean. Museum quality acrylic and oil paintings frame the story, masterfully conveying the serenity and strength of the ocean. Hum and Swish has managed to create a time capsule of a few preciously perfect  hours spent playing next to the ocean. 

THOUGHTS: A fantastic addition to any school library collection. STEAM connections can be made using Jamie’s building with sand and found objects as inspiration. 

Picture Book          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD

Elementary series NF – Real Monsters; Our Renewable Earth; Olympic Biographies; Be an Engineer

Real Monsters (series). Abdo Publishing, 2017. $21.68 ea. 32p. Gr. 3 – 5.

Bernhardt, Carolyn. Gila Monster: Venomous Desert Dweller. 978-1-68078-420-6.

Harvey, Jillian L., Komodo Dragon: Toxic Lizard Titan. 978-1-68078-421-3.

Leusted,  Marcia Amidon. Tasmanian Devil: Savage Island Scavenger. 978-1-68078-423-7.

Polinsky, Paige V. Spotted Hyena: Cackling Carnivore of the Savanna. 978-1-68078-422-0.

Polinsky, Paige V. Giant Centipede: Colossal Creeper of the Night. 978-1-68078-418-3.

Polinsky, Paige V.  Giant Squid: Mysterious Monster of the Deep. 978-1-68078-419-0.

Spotted Hyena: Cackling Carnivore of the Savanna begins with a good table of contents, and has a very good introductory “Creature Feature” page with many of the basic facts (name, class, size , life span) as well as a world map showing the range and diet of the hyena. The book addresses legends, then moves on to educational facts. The cover and the series title are geared toward the more monstrous aspects of the species, and some of the contents reflect this. THOUGHTS: More recent books focusing on specific animals without a an agenda (biggest, scariest) are few and far between. This is not one of them, but it does have good information and the pictures are adequate.

Animals            Emily Woodward, The Baldwin School

 

Rivera, Andrea. Zoom In on Our Renewable Earth. ABDO Zoom, 2017. $18.95 ea. $113.70 set of 6. 24p. Gr. K-2.

Conservation. 9781680799385.

Plants. 9781680799392.

Recycling. 9781680799408.

Solar Power. 9781680799415.

Water. 9781680799422.

Wind Power. 9781680799439.

This series is geared toward the younger elementary set.  Wind Power looks at the basic ideas of wind and how it can be used to make electricity. The text is quite general with some keywords, such as “turbine,” that are explained in the glossary. It also covers a range of topics such as engineering, art, and math. THOUGHTS:  If your school is excited about renewable resources, this is a good series to introduce the concept to the youngest readers.

Science           Emily Woodward, The Baldwin School

 

Lajiness, Katie. Big Buddy Olympic Biographies (series). Abdo Publishing, 2017. $19.95 ea. Set of 6 $119.70.  32p. Gr. 2 – 5.

Ibtihaj Muhammad: Olympic Fencer. 9781680785548.

Katie Ledecky: Olympic Swimmer. 9781680785531.

Laurie Hernandez: Olympic Gymnast. 9781680785524.

Michael Phelps: Olympic Swimmer. 9781680785555.

Simone Biles: Olympic Gymnast. 9781680785500.

Usain Bolt: Olympic Sprinter. 9781680785517.

This series is notable not only for the quality information and the professional pictures, but also for highlighting women athletes. These biographies cover birthplace and training, as well as important milestones in the athlete’s career. It does focus on the Rio Olympics, and the further out they get the more dated this biographies will be. Yet some will be lasting because their Olympic careers are over. THOUGHTS: I love this series! It has the fastest runner (not from the US) as well as high profile women athletes. It’s great to expose young readers to success stories that are not just USA (Usain Bolt) and diverse females that don’t usually get coverage (Ibtihaj Muhammad).

Sports Biographies        Emily Woodward, The Baldwin School

 

Be An Engineer: Designing to Solve Problems (series). Crabtree, 2017. 24 pp. $17.95 each. Gr. 2-5.

Burns, Kylie. A Bridge Goes Over. 979-0-7787-2907-5.

Burns, Kylie. A Skyscraper Reaches Up. 979-0-7787-2904-4.

Sikkens, Crystal. A Dam Holds Back. 979-0-7787-2905-1.

Sikkens, Crystal. A Tunnel Runs Through. 979-0-7787-2903-7.

Engineers solve problems. It’s as simple as that, but much more complex is the process that gets them there. Whether building a bridge, a tunnel, a dam, or a building, each engineer uses science, math, and creative thinking to work out the problem. Each book in this series flows from an example problem to explaining the role of an engineer and the problem solving process. Then there are plenty of structure specific examples with photographs and captions to lead the reader to a model activity at the end. Also included are resource lists, online codes, glossaries, and indexes. Be an Engineer!: Designing to Solve Problems is a great way to open the eyes of young innovators to the structures that support us every day!  THOUGHTS: This series complements well with themes of STEAM and inquiry science and future careers. The predictable pattern of each book makes them comparable for small group projects, note taking or discussion. Visually they are a good blend of pictures, colors, and descriptions to hold the reader’s attention.

620, Engineering      Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

Elementary NF – Ready, Set…Baby!; Sea Otter Heroes; Beacon to Freedom; Bicycles

Rusch, Elizabeth. Ready, Set…Baby! Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017. 978-0-544-47272-3. Unpaged. $17.99. Gr. PreK-K.

Big siblings Anna and Oliver have a new baby at home, so they’re prepared to offer advice to any kid whose family has a new baby on the way. “Lots of people are probably telling you what to expect, but kids in the know can give you the real deal.” Author Elizabeth Rusch gives practical advice and information for new big siblings as Anna and Oliver tell the story of their sister’s arrival, along with a lot of advice on the days and months that followed. Sections detail “The Big Wait,” “Meet the Conehead”, “The Real Scoop on Baby Poop,” and more. Information is basic yet helpful. “At first, our baby got to stay up later than we did!” (“It’s all that napping…” says Oliver sullenly in a speech bubble, common throughout the story).  Colorful, cartoonish illustrations complement the information, and kids will love the family’s curious brown dog. Extra resources include “More Stuff About Life with a New Baby,” a list of helpful websites and books, and “Tips for Parents on Life with Big Kids and New Babies.” THOUGHTS: A funny and helpful book for new big brothers and sisters who are old enough to appreciate the humor and understand the information.

306.87; Family Structure      Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin School District

 

Newman, Patricia. Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators That Saved an Ecosystem. Millbrook Press, 2017.  978-1512426311  $25.95  56 pp. Grades 3-8.                        

“What does a playful sea otter have to do with flowering seagrass that grows underwater?”  In this book, Patricia Newman follows marine biologist Brent Hughes as he works in the intertidal area of Elkhorn Slough in Northern California.  Hughes observed that although the Slough is the recipient of heavy pollution from fertilizer and should be heavily polluted with dead or dying seagrass, the seagrass in the Elkhorn Slough is “healthy and lush and green” (7).  Hughes set out to discover what made this happen.  Newman tracks Hughes’ work and his thinking as Hughes eventually discovered it was: the sea otters.  The sea otters an apex predator reduce the number of sea crabs, which in turn leads to an increase in the sea crabs’ food of choice: the sea hares.  It is the sea hares which rid the seagrass of the algae which would otherwise smother and kill it.  Thus the presence of sea otter influenced the health of the entire Slough.  This book presents the scientific method and the work of marine biologist Hughes in an interesting ‘solve-the-mystery’ light.  The page spreads are colorful and accompanied by full-color photographs and sidebars illustrating important concepts.  Newman also spends a chapter focusing on the full range of Hughes’ education and work, and ends with a doable experiment and ways to positively impact the environment.  Source notes, glossary, bibliography, further reading, and index.  A positive read for middle and high schoolers interested in marine biology and science careers.  Teaching Guide available through Titlewave.  Readers may also be interested in Newman’s post Newman, Patricia. “Giving Readers a Front Row Seat.” Nerdy Book Club Blog.  15 May 2017.  nerdybookclub.wordpress.com/2017/05/15/giving-readers-a-front-row-seat-by-patricia-newman/.   THOUGHTS: Newman’s book is an accessible, realistic look at the work of current scientists, and is a fantastic addition to science, career, and STEM collections for middle and high school.         

599.769; Sea Otter    Melissa Scott, Shenango High School

 

Glatzer, Jenna. Beacon to Freedom: The Story of a Conductor on the Underground Railroad. Capstone, 2017. 978-15157-34963 $21.49  40 pp.   Gr. 3-6.

A short but impactful biography of John Rankin, a reverend and abolitionist who saved over 2,000 lives before the end of the American Civil War.  Raised by religious, abolitionist parents, John believed strongly that no human being should own another.  He set out to talk his Kentucky neighbors into setting their slaves free, but none wanted to let go of their free labor, and so Rankin, his family, and his unsettling talk were compelled to move.  When they settled in a house in Ohio (a free state) along the Ohio River, John placed a lamp in the window each night.  The lamp served as a beacon to tell slaves, “make it to this house—across the river into Ohio—and you will have help”.  Many did.  Many slave-holders suspected the Rankin family’s work, but raids and harsh treatment did not uncover anything nor frighten John and his family.  The digital illustrations show frantic, desperate slaves and often-angry slave owners.  Several stories of escaping slaves make their plight more personal.  The content is suitable for upper elementary.  Afterword, glossary, source notes, index.    THOUGHTS:  An inspiring biography of a man who stood up for others’ rights.

326 Abolitionists; Picture Book Biography     Melissa Scott, Shenango High School

 

Lakin, Patricia. Bicycles (Made by Hand series). Aladdin, 2017. 978-1-4814-7896-0. $17.99. 32 pp. Gr. 2-5.

With a voice that is conversational and relatable, Patricia Larkin grabs readers and takes them for a ride! Readers soon see not just the joy and history of bikes, but also the dreams of one maker who wanted to build his passion into a business. Along the way, we meet Aaron Dykstra, who has always loved bicycles and decided to start making them for a living. The bulk of the book shows the effort and process that he uses to create the frame of a new bike, including many close up photographs designed as a step-by-step scrapbook of sorts. The challenge at the end to explore STEM concepts and make your own inspirations, as well as the detailed timeline and resource list, should be enough to draw in scientists, makers, and bikers alike. Get ready to ride! THOUGHTS: This narrative nonfiction style is very approachable, and the photos help readers to connect to the text easily. This is part of a new series (Made by Hand) which also includes Skateboards and Steel Drums. I think this would be great for tinkerers and hands on readers to explore and get inspired.

629, Transportation    Dustin Brackbil, State College Area