Elem. – Franz’s Phantasmagorical Machine

Anderson, Beth. Franz’s Phantasmagorical Machine. Kids Can Press, 2022. 978-1-525-30325-8. 32 p. $18.99. Grades K-3. 

“Imagine. Discover. Create.” Throughout his childhood, these whispers call to Franz Gsellmann. The words run through his mind even as his parents rely on him to do the more practical work of helping out on the family farm. As Franz busies himself milking cows, gathering eggs, and picking apples, the whispers continue calling to him. One night, many years later, he wakes from a dream with an idea for a fantastical, magical, phantasmagorical machine. Unsure about how to make his dream machine a reality, he draws inspiration from the World’s Fair in Belgium. For the next 23 years, he visits flea markets and junkyards, filling bags and carts with odds and ends of all kinds. He hauls everything back to his workshop where he tinkers in secrecy. When he finally reveals his creation to his family and neighbors, he’s crushed when they don’t understand his vision. They want to know what the machine does, but they miss the point that sometimes, a creation doesn’t need a practical purpose. Some things can be appreciated simply for their artistic beauty, ingenuity, and creativity. Backmatter pages include a brief biography of Franz Gsellmann as well as black and white photos of him with his machine. 

THOUGHTS: This title will be a thought-provoking addition to STEAM lessons as it highlights the ideas of perseverance, experimentation, creativity, and optimism. It also draws connections between science and art and shows the value of thinking outside the box. Share this with art teachers too to kickstart units about recycled art or self-taught artists. 

621 Applied Physics          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD
Picture Book

Elem. – The Astronomer Who Questioned Everything: The Story of Maria Mitchell

Alary, Laura. The Astronomer Who Questioned Everything: The Story of Maria Mitchell. Kids Can Press, 2022. Unpaged.  978-1-525-30348-7. $18.99.  Grades K-3.

This picture book biography is the story of a female pioneer in the fields of both astronomy and education. Maria Mitchell was born on Nantucket Island in 1818. Her father was an astronomer/mathematician and her mother a librarian. As Quakers, they believed in the equality of all people and so they encouraged their daughter’s quest for knowledge.  Maria’s father taught the young girl how to use and repair a telescope and nautical instruments. She recorded all her observations in a notebook. As a young woman, she opened a school for the island children and then became a librarian. One day Maria learned that the King of Denmark was offering a prize for the first person to find a new comet. The young astronomer spent hours on the roof searching the skies with her telescope and her perseverance paid off when she sighted one. Maria left for Europe, where she received many accolades and gave lectures to scientific societies. Vassar, a new women’s college, offered her the position of Professor of Astronomy and she accepted. At that time, some opposed college education for women, but Maria was not deterred. She took her students outside to observe the stars and encouraged them to question everything. In the author’s note, Alary provides more details about Mitchell’s life and points out that she was a “woman of firsts”- first female astronomer, scientific consultant hired by the US government, and among the first college professors. Rooney’s artwork is done in collage and has amazing detail.

THOUGHTS: Young inquiring minds will enjoy reading about this scientist who faced challenges and never stopped asking questions. Perfect as a read aloud and for STEM units. This is a must-have for elementary collections.

Biography          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member
92, 921, 520.92

Elem. – In Our Garden

Miller, Pat Zietlow. In Our Garden. G.P. Putnam’s Sons. 978-1-9848-1210-0. 32 p. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

Millie is homesick for her old apartment, now an ocean away, where she and her family tended a rooftop garden and grew fresh vegetables with their neighbors. Her new apartment building doesn’t have the right kind of roof for a garden, but her school has a large flat one! When she shares her idea about a garden in the sky with her classmates, they are initially hesitant, but soon everyone has ideas about how the garden might look. Over the course of a few months, the students plan, measure, build, plant, and wait to see if their hard work pays off. Vibrant illustrations, composed from both traditional and digital mediums, change with Millie’s mood. Initially, the grays and tans reflect a rainy morning, the city’s cold hardscape, and Millie’s homesickness. However, once she starts believing in her urban garden idea and her classmates and teacher buy in too, the colors shift to shades of green, blue, and yellow. Millie’s classmates and neighbors reflect racial diversity as well as a variety of physical abilities. 

THOUGHTS: This title will be a welcome addition to science curriculum centering on gardening since it presents a nontraditional option that some students may not be familiar with. Additionally, it will fit well with units about neighborhoods working together and with lessons about immigrants settling into a new community. 

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Elem./MG – Explaining How Things Work (Series NF)

Higgins, Nadia. Explaining How Things Work. The Child’s World, 2022. 32 p. $24.00 ea. $240.00 Set of 10.  Grades 3-5.

How Do Airplanes Work? 978-1-503-85589-2.
How Do Cell Phones Work?
978-1-503-85591-5.
How Do Hybrid Cars Work? 978-1-503-85593-9.
How Do Lasers Work?
978-1-503-85595-3.
How Do Submarines Work?
978-1-503-85597-7.
How Do Telescopes, Binoculars, and Microscopes Work?
978-1-503-85590-8.
How Do Wind Turbines Work?
978-1-503-85598-4.
How Does Electricity Work?
978-1-503-85592-2.
How Does Solar Energy Work?
978-1-503-85596-0.
How Does the Internet Work?
978-1-503-85594-6.

There are more than 5 billion cell phones in the world today, and many people can’t imagine living without one. This nonfiction title details the history of cell phones and also explains the science behind their operation. It explains how sound waves work, why frequency is important, and how base stations and switching centers operate. Text features such as a table of contents, glossary, index, timeline, headings, captions, and spotlight boxes help readers navigate and understand the information. Colorful illustrations as well as real primary source photographs are interspersed throughout the book. This title is one in a 10-book series about how things work. The series also features books about airplanes; electricity; hybrid cars; the Internet; lasers; solar energy; submarines; wind turbines; and telescopes, binoculars, and microscopes.

THOUGHTS: Although the science of how cell phones work is complex, this title makes the information easily accessible for middle grade readers. Large, colorful pictures, lots of captions, and chunked information ensures the facts aren’t too overwhelming. Share this book with science and technology teachers to jumpstart conversations about how technology impacts our lives today and where it might be heading in the future.

384.5 Wireless Communication          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Elem./MG – Classic Graphic Remix (Series Fiction)

Classic Graphic Remix. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2019-2022. $45.62 (Set of 3), $12.25 (individual pbk. titles). 256 p. Grades 3-8.

Weir, Ivy Noelle. Anne of West Philly. A Modern Graphic Retelling of Anne of Green Gables. 2022. 978-0-316-45978-5.
Terciero, Rey. Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy: A Modern Graphic Retelling of Little Women. 2019. 978-0-316-52286-1.
Weir, Ivy Noelle. The Secret Garden on 81st Street: A Modern Graphic Retelling of The Secret Garden. 2021. 978-0-316-45970-9. 

Fans of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s classic girl coming of age novel, Anne of Green Gables, will appreciate this 21st century graphic novel spin off set in West Philadelphia. Anne Shirley has brown skin paired with the characteristic red hair. The basic plot follows the original with brother and sister, Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, fostering teenage Anne. Like that book, Anne makes friends with Diana and Gilbert; Marilla accuses her of stealing her prized broach; Anne inadvertently gets Diana tipsy. Other parts of the story display the same unflagitable, optimistic Anne in modern times enthusiastically interested in science and robotics, experiencing a glimmer of first romance with another girl, and finding her place in the world. The mention of familiar places like Clark Park and the typical Victorian twins make this graphic retelling illustrated with appealing and colorful drawings a special treat for native Philadelphians in particular, but the urban setting is mostly generic. There is no in-depth story or involved character development here, but reluctant readers may grasp on to this oldie but goodie in its new packaging.

THOUGHTS: An attractive way to introduce students to the classic book, Anne of West Philly is a fun book that is part of a series of classic retellings in different American cities. One is Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy [Little Women] by Rey Terciero and The Secret Garden on 81st Street by Ivy Noelle Weir.

Graphic Novel          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia
Realistic Fiction

Elem. – Mimic Makers: Biomimicry Inventors Inspired by Nature

Nordstrom, Kristen. Mimic Makers: Biomimicry Inventors Inspired by Nature. Charlesbridge, 2021. 978-1-580-89947-5. 44 p. $17.99. Grades 2-5.

This book describes eight inventions that were inspired by natural phenomena. From solar cells that absorb sunlight like leaves to trains that move silently and efficiently through the landscape like kingfishers, this book explains how ten scientists incorporated ideas from nature to solve various real-world problems. With end matter that includes brief biographies of each inventor, suggestions for becoming a mimic maker, and a bibliography and additional resources, this intriguing book is a solid addition to any elementary collection.

THOUGHTS: I was really impressed by the curricular connections between the natural sciences and the applied sciences presented in this book. I also think the book presents a wonderful opportunity to spark creative thinking in students. It would be interesting to have students research a plant or animal of their choice and see if they can identify any unique structures that perform specific functions for the plant or animal. Then, they could brainstorm inventions of their own using this newfound knowledge. The book is definitely thought-provoking and full of potential for classroom applications!

610.28 Biomimicry           Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

Elem./MG – The Science of Song: How and Why We Make Music

Cross, Alan, Emme Cross, and Nicole Mortillaro. The Science of Song: How and Why We Make Music. Kids Can Press, 2021. 978-1-771-38787-3. 48 p. $17.99. Grades 4-8.

A concise and colorful historical and psychological foundation of sound that starts with the origin of music over 40,000 years ago and how we hear to digital and artificial music makes this book a great addition to intermediate and middle school libraries. The content is broken into 19 one page chapters that summarizes the topic at hand. Each section also has engaging images and a three song playlist to accompany it. The book ends with a timeline, glossary, and index that can be helpful for curious young minds. 

THOUGHTS: A fun and low stakes way to introduce younger minds to the psychology and importance behind the music we all hear on a daily basis. This title would be a great addition to an elementary, intermediate, or middle school library looking to refresh their nonfiction collection.

780 Music          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

Elem. – Over and Under the Canyon

Messner, Kate. Over and Under the Canyon. Chronicle Books, 2021. 978-1-452-16939-2. 56 p. $18.99. Grades K-3. 

Discover the wonders of a desert ecosystem in the newest edition of Kate Messner’s ecology-based Over and Under series. This story is about one family’s hike through a real-world desert habitat. Messner’s book Over and Under the Canyon aligns perfectly with national science standards with excellent and amazing facts about the animals, wildlife, and wonders that inhabit the desert world. With colorful and vivid illustrations by award-winning artist Christopher Silas Neal, this picture book is undoubtedly driven by an engaging narrative packed with STEM content. In addition, the content within the story provides many opportunities to discuss the importance of natural habitats and ecosystems and how to preserve our natural wonders. As a result, readers will be engaged in every page turn. 

THOUGHTS: Science-loving readers will want to explore this fact-filled story about animals and wildlife. Curiosity may grow with each page, and educators will be able to dive into the well-researched content. Messner’s other books in this series include: Over and Under the Pond and Over and Under the Rainforest. Add this gorgeous book to your science collection! 

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

Elem. – Usha and the Big Digger

Knight, Amitha Jagannath. Usha and the Big Digger. Charlesbridge, 2021. 978-1-623-54202-3. Unpaged. $15.99. Grades K-2.

Usha loves trucks of all shapes and sizes, so when her big sister shows her the Big Dipper constellation in the sky one night, Usha has a different point of view. She sees a Big Digger, a front loader ready to scoop up the sky. This leads to a fight between the girls, who cannot see the other’s vision. Then cousin Gloria sees the constellation as a kite. Who’s right? Well, it literally depends on your point of view – where each girl is laying on the ground. As Usha rotates through the various positions, she sees a dipper and a kite, before finally finding her Big Digger again. Additional activities at the back of the book discuss how cultures in different parts of the world have a variety of names for the same set of stars, while “Exploring the Math” encourages adults and children to further explore rotation, orientation, and perspective. While the literal interpretation of the book deals with perspective in space, it will also work as a discussion starter on individual point of view and how we should work to understand another’s vision. Usha and her family are Black.

THOUGHTS: A cute, visual introduction to the constellations, as well as talking about point-of-view. Usha, as a young girl who loves trucks, delightfully breaks stereotype.

Picture Book          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – 13 Ways to Eat a Fly

Heavenrich, Sue. 13 Ways to Eat a Fly. Charlesbridge. 2021. 978-1-58089-890-4. $16.99. Grades K-4.

Science and math combine to make an icky, yummy, tasty counting book filled with insects and ways they can be consumed! As a swarm of flies go by, one-by-one they are consumed in a variety of ways by a variety of animals. Don’t be sad, however, as the flies are consumed, for more will be born and the process will continue! You will laugh and be shocked at the icky ways these bugs are consumed, in ways humans may not want to know about!

THOUGHTS: This is a very fun book all about how insects are consumed! This book is filled with great details, scientific facts, and fun pictures.

595.77 Other Invertebrates            Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD