Archive for 2017

Children’s Librarian Erica Eis on Great STEM Books–Part II

Erica Eis, Forest Avenue’s Children’s Librarian is back today to share some great STEM book picks for older readers. With an expertise in literacy and a special interest in STEM, Eis has chosen a few of the best titles to share with you this holiday season. They are all available through the DM Public Library check-out system.

If you’re looking for the perfect gift, Eis suggests considering a STEM book. Find out what the child is passionate about: dinosaurs, space, the ocean. Look for curated lists that are created by librarians, teacher organizations, schools, or universities.

“Whenever a kid tells me she or he can’t find a good STEM book,” says Eis, “I say, ‘Challenge accepted!’ Whatever their interest, there’s a book that fits. STEM books provide an entry to school curriculum and get kids to think critically. If you’re curious about the world, there’s a STEM book for you!”

Grades 3-6

The Octopus Scientists by Sy Montgomery

from Goodreads: With three hearts and blue blood, its gelatinous body unconstrained by jointed limbs or gravity, the octopus seems to be an alien, an inhabitant of another world. It’s baggy, boneless body sprouts eight arms covered with thousands of suckers—suckers that can taste as well as feel. The octopus also has the powers of a superhero: it can shape-shift, change color, squirt ink, pour itself through the tiniest of openings, or jet away through the sea faster than a swimmer can follow…These thinking, feeling creatures can help readers experience and understand our world (and perhaps even life itself) in a new way.

Erica says: “What makes this book interesting is that it features a scientist that studies a particular animal. The author spends time with the scientist. The format of this book introduces young readers to the textbook format, with chapters and picture captions.”

Besides being full of great photos and information, this book helps kids navigate scientific reading.


The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacquiline Kelly

from Goodreads: Calpurnia Virginia Tate is eleven years old in 1899 when she wonders why the yellow grasshoppers in her Texas backyard are so much bigger than the green ones. With a little help from her notoriously cantankerous grandfather, an avid naturalist, she figures out that the green grasshoppers are easier to see against the yellow grass, so they are eaten before they can get any larger. As Callie explores the natural world around her, she develops a close relationship with her grandfather, navigates the dangers of living with six brothers, and comes up against just what it means to be a girl at the turn of the century.

Erica says: “This is a great book for those who like Little House and American Girl books. With references to Origin of the Species, this book shows that, even at the turn of the century, girls in STEM can’t be stopped.”

The use of scientific methods and universal themes in this book bridges the gap between Calpurnia’s era and ours.

Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream
by Tanya Lee Stone

from Goodreads: What does it take to be an astronaut? Excellence at flying, courage, intelligence, resistance to stress, top physical shape — any checklist would include these. But when America created NASA in 1958, there was another unspoken rule: you had to be a man. Here is the tale of thirteen women who proved that they were not only as tough as the toughest man but also brave enough to challenge the government. They were blocked by prejudice, jealousy, and the scrawled note of one of the most powerful men in Washington. But even though the Mercury 13 women did not make it into space, they did not lose, for their example empowered young women to take their place in the sky, piloting jets and commanding space capsules.

Erica says: “With storytelling parallels to the space race, the author pulls from primary sources, interviewing those women who are still alive. In addition, photographs are paired really well with the information.”

This is a great introduction to high school textbooks and use of primary sources. The book contains magazine articles, photos, cartoons, telegrams (left), letters, interviews and more. Yet, it’s interesting enough to pull in younger readers with a high interest in space.


For more great STEM book ideas, check out these lists:

National Science Teachers Association

Children’s Book Council

New York Public Library

Children’s Librarian Erica Eis’ Best PreK-3 STEM Books for Holidays

What happens when curious kids take a trip to the library? Magic! Especially if children’s librarian and STEM enthusiast, Erica Eis, is there!

“The reason I love STEM books is because they support school curriculum in fun, engaging ways. And, if you can figure out a person’s interest area, STEM books always pull in the non-readers.”

The Hub took a trip to the Forest Avenue Library to get Erica’s recommendation for great STEM reads and holiday gifts. Erica’s expertise in children’s literature, along with her lifelong interest in science and passion for STEM, makes her the perfect person to recommend titles. Beginning with Pre-K through 3rd grade, this is the first in a two-part blog series.


Something’s Fishy by Kevin McCloskey

from Goodreads: Some fish breathe air and some fish fly, but the most wonderful fish of all turns out to be the one you’ve got at home. In another offering of the beloved Giggle and Learn series, Kevin McCloskey blends science, art, and comedy to reveal the true story behind the common goldfish.

Erica says: “I really like this book because it’s structured like a graphic novel. It’s a great source of information and introduces scientific vocabulary in the areas of ichthyology and marine biology.”

Mix in a little humor, add beautiful illustrations, and find out what makes this book a favorite.

Billions of Bricks: A Counting Book About Building
by Kurt Cyrus

from Goodreads: Grab a hard hat and all your tools, and get ready for a construction adventure in counting! This clever, rhyming picture book leads readers through a day in the life of a construction crew building with bricks. A brick may seem like just a simple block, but in groupings of ten, twenty, and more, it can create many impressive structures, from hotels to schools to skyscrapers. This is a terrific introduction to counting in quantities for children.

Erica says: “What’s great about this book is that it introduces kids to counting in sequence, like in 2s and 10s, which is the start to teaching multiplication. The book talks about how bricks are used to build, plus it’s in rhyme and meter.”

This is a great introduction to math and engineering.

Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty

from Goodreads: Scientist Ada has a boundless imagination and has always been hopelessly curious. Why are there pointy things stuck to a rose? Why are there hairs growing inside your nose? When her house fills with a horrific, toe-curling smell, Ada knows it’s up to her to find the source. What would you do with a problem like this? Not afraid of failure, Ada embarks on a fact-finding mission and conducts scientific experiments, all in the name of discovery. But, this time, her experiments lead to even more stink and get her into trouble!

Erica says: “This book is ever better than Rosie for little ones. Ada is 3 or 4 years old, and it introduces the scientific method. Kids will love it, and parents will relate to the humor.”

This book makes a great bedtime story.

Grades K-3

Grace Hopper Queen of Computer Code by Laurie Wallmark

from Goodreads: Who was Grace Hopper? A software tester, workplace jester, cherished mentor, ace inventor, avid reader, naval leader—AND rule breaker, chance taker, and troublemaker. Grace Hopper coined the term “computer bug” and taught computers to “speak English,” and throughout her life succeeded in doing what no one had ever done before. Delighting in difficult ideas and in defying expectations, the insatiably curious Hopper truly is “Amazing Grace” . . . and a role model for science- and math-minded girls and boys.

Erica says: “This book gives a voice to a scientist who has been erased from history. Younger readers will be intrigued about someone who takes things apart and fixes them. Older readers will recognize the sexism and gender bias.”

The book also has informative back matter, including a timeline and list of other resources.


Secret Coders by Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes

from Goodreads: Welcome to Stately Academy, a school which is just crawling with mysteries to be solved! The founder of the school left many clues and puzzles to challenge his enterprising students. Using their wits and their growing prowess with coding, Hopper and her friend Eni are going to solve the mystery of Stately Academy no matter what it takes!

Erica says: “This is a great graphic novel, featuring both a girl and person of color, that introduces basic coding. There are puzzles that readers can solve using binary code, or they can wait for the characters to do it.” (Check out the book’s illustration above.)

This book is readable for an elementary kid, but interesting enough to hold a middle-schooler’s attention.


Zoey and Sassafras: Dragons and Marshmallows by Asia Citro

from Goodreads: With magical animals, science, mystery, and adventure — the brand new series Zoey and Sassafras has something for everyone! Easy-to-read language and illustrations on nearly every page make this series perfect for a wide range of ages. In the first book of this series, Zoey discovers a glowing photo and learns an amazing secret. Injured magical animals come to their backyard barn for help! When a sick baby dragon appears, it’s up to Zoey and Sassafras to figure out what’s wrong. Will they be able to help little Marshmallow before it’s too late?

Erica says: “This chapter book is unique because it’s a mix of science and fantasy. The main character uses the scientific method to help each mythological creature. Readers can apply the strategy as they solve their own problems.”

Chapter books like this do a great job of introducing a longer story that’s divided in shorter chapters with lots of illustrations. That gives kids an easy place to stop if they need a reading break.


These book suggestions are just the very top of the STEM literary peak! Visit Erica and the other librarians at the Forest Avenue location to see their extensive and growing mountain of STEM books. And tune-in next week when Erica recommends books for grades 3-8.




Book Review: The Triumph of Seeds

“I have great faith in a seed,” writes Henry David Thoreau.
“Convince that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”  

Growing up during the Great Depression, Mary Alice Drossel saw first-hand how America depended upon seeds. (Pictured in center with her brothers) From dust storms to grasshoppers to harsh winters, somehow the heartiest seeds survived. As a teenager, she began teaching in a country school. Planting and harvesting impacted the entire community—everything depended on the success of those seeds.

At 92, she’s spent her entire life teaching and farming. “All living things are dependent upon seeds for their existence,” said Drossel. She recently read Thor Hanson’s book The Triumph of Seeds and stopped by the Hub to share her thoughts about the book with us.

Q: What message is the author sharing through this book?

A: The author is sharing the importance of seeds. We are alive because of grains, fruits and vegetables. We depend upon seeds for nourishment.

Q: What’s one interesting thing that you learning?

A: I learned that seeds can lay dormant for many years in the ground, until conditions are right for them to grow.

Q: What stuck with you after you finished the book?

A: Here’s a few things she found of most interest:

  • I was surprised to learn that, during the war, Hitler gave instructions to save Russian scientist Vavilov’s seed bank during the siege of Leningrad. And that, even today, people risk their lives to protect seeds and their stories. Pages 104-105
  • The Stealth Bomber, also known as the Northrup Grumman B2 Spirit, took inspiration from the wing design of Javan cucumber seeds. Page 208: “Like the seed that inspired it, the B-2’s high-life, no-drag shape is extremely efficient, making it possible for the plane to fly nearly 7,000 miles without refueling…still considered a cornerstone of the US arsenal.”
  • As a coffee lover, Drossel was happy to learn of the bean’s benefits. Page 152: “Coffee beans contain at least 800 other compounds, in addition to caffeine. Making that daily cup, by some accounts, the most chemically complex food in the human diet…coffee drinkers enjoy reduced risk of type II diabetes, liver cancer, and Parkinson’s disease. Nobody has any clear idea of why.”

Q: Who should read this book?

A: Everyone. Because our existence is dependent on seeds.

So go pour yourself a cup of coffee and find a copy of this book.

Book Review: Track that Scat!

Due to popular demand, the subject of poop is back! You may remember when we featured Poop Detectives. This time, the picture book Track that Scat! by Iowa writer Lisa Morlock takes readers on a journey to learn more about animals through tracking their footprints and scat (the scientific word for poop). Along with the rhyming text, non-fiction side bars feature lively facts about each animal.

These charming two-year old twins, James and Oren, are big fans of the outdoors. Besides books, they love camping, hiking and getting dirty whenever possible. The twins sat down with their mom to read this book. Check out what they remember most.

Q: What is this book about?
Oren’s A: Poop
James’ A: Scat

Q: What was the best part about this book?
Both A: When she steps in poop

Q: What part of this book made you smile?
Both A: The pooping

Q: What part of the book surprised you most?
Both A: The rabbit’s “eek eek!”

Q: What part of the book worried or concerned you?
Both A: The fox’s “snort-snarl”

Q: What did you learn from reading this book?
James’ A: About poop and the skunk
Oren’s A: About the fox and raccoon

Q: List three words that best describe this book.
Both A: Dog, poop, song

Q: What was your favorite line or phrase from the book?
Both A: The raccoon page

Q: Who else should read this book AND why?
Both A: Daddy and Mom

Among other awards, the book was named one of National Science Teacher’s of America (NSTA) 2013 Honor Books. If you’re an educator, naturalist, scout leader, or care provider looking for educational ideas and activities to use in conjunction with the book, please download this PDF by Sleeping Bear Press.

If you’re looking for more books recommended by the National Science Teacher’s Association, look for this seal of approval. Visit their website for a complete list.

Book Review: The Hidden Life of Trees

“Walkers who visit one of the ancient deciduous preserves in the forest I manage always report that their heart feels lighter and they feel right at home,” writes Peter Wohlleben about his favorite place. And this sense of peace is why people are drawn to the woods.

Once you read Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees, you’ll never look at a forest in the same way. At least that’s what 14-year-old Will discovered. When not reading, Will enjoys being outside, running, and science.

Wohlleben, a forest ranger in Germany, spent his career studying trees. He then found a way to communicate that research in a way that every reader could relate to–within the metaphor of a family. Will stopped by the blog to share his insights about the book.

Q: What message is the author trying to share through this book?
A: Trees have a complex social system in which they provide each other nutrients, warn each other of danger, and share knowledge with each other.

Q: What’s one interesting thing you learning?
A: Trees have distinct personalities that affect how they grow. While some prefer to use more energy in order to grow faster, others save energy in case of danger, such as insects.

Q: Did anything surprise you about the research?
A: In commercial forests, trees are not as healthy and do not share the bonds that natural forests do. This is detrimental to the trees as well as the wood produced by them.

Q: Who should read this book?
A: Anyone who needs Oxygen to live should read this book because it helps us better understand trees and what we can do to help forests grow.



This book is applicable to STEM because it focuses on Peter Wohlleben’s observations and studies as a forester in Europe. His findings lead him to several interesting conclusions that might change how people view the woods.

Learn more about Peter Wohlleben in this New York Times article or listen to this National Public Radio feature.

Book Review – Poop Detectives: Working Dogs in the Field

You’ve probably heard of rescue dogs, therapy dogs and service dogs, but there’s a new working dog in town! The book Poop Detectives: Working Dogs in the Field introduces readers to dogs who use their super-smelling abilities to help field scientists detect which animals are in the area.

The book was written by Ginger Wadsworth and published by Charlesbridge.  This 80-page book is full of interesting facts and cool photos.

We’re fortunate that Lynnea, age 7, stopped by the blog to share her thoughts on the book. When not reading, she enjoys drawing and playing with her own dog, Audrey. Both are pictured above. Here’s what she had to say about Poop Detectives.

Q: What is this book about?
A: Dogs finding different kinds of poop from different animals. The poop told the scientists the location of the animal because they could tell what the animal had eaten.

Q: What was the best part about this book?
A: The dogs and humans worked together.

Q: What part of this book made you smile?
A: The dogs in the book.

Q: What part of the book surprised you most?
A: The dogs didn’t eat the poop!

Q: What part of the book worried or concerned you?
A: When the Center for Conservation Biology searched for bear poop because there could have been a bear.

Q: What did you learn from reading this book?
A: You can find the location of an animal just by its poop.

Q: List three words that best describe this book.
A: Cool, poopy, cute (because of the dogs)

Q: What was your favorite line or phrase from the book?
A: “Detection dogs are all heart!”

Q: Who else should read this book AND why?
A: My dog, Audrey, because she likes to eat poop!

Check out Kid Lit Reviews feature of the book, complete with three internal spreads.







Book Review: What Do Wheels Do All Day?

Growing Readers blog logo 11

With simple text and cut-paper illustrations, younger readers will love What Do Wheels Do All Day? by April Jones Prince and Giles LaRoche. To answer the question posed by the title—wheels do STEM jobs! Students learn all the important things wheels do through energetic verb choices and pictures.

We’re so glad that 4-year-old Kenlee stopped by the blog to talk with us. When not reading, Kenlee likes to ride her pony. While her favorite mode of transportation might not have wheels, check our her great insights about this book.

Kenlee 2Q:  What is this book about?
A: It is about all the different kinds of wheels, colorful wheels, and what wheels do.

Q:  What was the best part about this book?
A: I liked looking at all the pictures of the different wheels.

Q:  What part of this book made you smile?
A: The wheels that twirls.

Q:  What part of the book surprised you the most?
A: That there were planes in this book.

Q:  What part of the book worried or concerned you?
A: The big carnival ride with people upside-down.

Q:  What did you learn from reading this book?
A: I learned that there are more wheels than what I thought.

what do wheels do all dayQ:  List three words that best describe this book.
A: Surprised, worried, and happy

Q:  What was your favorite line or phrase from the book?
A: “wheels that play”

Q:  Who else should read this book and why?
A: My teacher, Ms. Johnson, should read this book, because she would like it.

Watch the story, as featured on Between the Lions.

wheels image

Additional Resources:

From the author’s website:
Download this wheels-related preschool lesson plan developed
by the Santa Monica Pier Restoration Corporation and featuring
What Do Wheels Do All Day?.

Curious about the paper-relief technique illustrator Giles LaRoche uses in his books? Check out his website.

For K-6 teachers who are interested in learning more about wheels, the Hub lending-library has kits for AWIM’s Motorized Toy Cars. Inquire about checkout at

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