Using Picture Books to Teach Science & Literacy

This week’s haul of STEM books from the library contained three that caught our particular attention. Each of them creates a bridge to curriculum in both science and language arts. This is the first of a three part series.

MOTH & BUTTERFLY

by Dev Petty and Ana Aranda

This packs so much into a few pages!

It’s about the friendship between a butterfly and moth, focusing on what they have in common as caterpillars. They even build their cocoon/chrysalis next to each other. But, when they emerge, their differences become apparent. Even with their big changes, the two manage to stay friends. Bright and happy artwork make this engaging to look at.

How might you use this in a classroom or learning setting?

Language Arts Use: Comparison Writing — The language in this book is pretty sparse, which makes it a fun, quick way to introduce compare/contrast skills. Students will do this type of writing all through their K-12 experience, which makes it a valuable book to introduce a lesson or simply set out in a middle or high school classroom, also.

Science Use: Metamorphosis — This book keeps readers focused on one big scientific word: metamorphosis. Studies show how important prior knowledge is to academic achievement. This takes a complex term, breaks down the definition, and provides a fun visual to seal the deal!

There’s also a bit of backmatter that explains how to tell the difference between a moth or a butterfly. It challenges the kids to pay attention the next time they see one of these critters flit by.

The simple text includes speech bubbles that add to the excitement and fun, and the author’s choice to focus on one big word and concept (metamorphosis) rather than a hefty vocabulary or the full life cycle (eggs are unmentioned) makes this a great choice for the very young.

–From Kirkus Reviews

Iowa Author Linda Skeers Inspires with DINOSAUR LADY

Stay curious and keep asking questions — you never know what you might discover! If you have a passion for something — pursue it.

–Linda Skeers, Iowa Author
Check out Amazon for reviews & buying info: Dinosaur Lady.

Imagine exploring sand and shore, finding amazing fossils, and fearlessly standing your ground. Those are all elements of Linda Skeers new picture book: Dinosaur Lady: The Daring Discoveries of Mary Anning, the First Paleontologist. (Illustrated by Marta Alvarez Miguens.) It was recently named an NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book for 2021.

Who is Mary Anning?
While few people may have heard of Mary Anning, her contributions to the field of paleontology were ground-breaking. She was the first to find Plesiosaurus and pterosaur bones, to study fossilized poop, to learn that early cephalopods squirted ink, and to discover the evolutionary link between sharks and rays. All the while, many of the men in her field discounted her work because she was a woman. And she did all of this within her short 48 years of life.

Skeers manages to pack all of this information and much more into 40 pages, packed with action verbs, bouncy description, engaging narrative, and insightful backmatter. It’s a perfect nonfiction picture book for readers of all ages.

You’re never too old (or too furry) to read a great picture book!

For Skeers, the hours of research and writing were a labor of love. “Mary Anning was an incredible woman who spent her life looking for answers about the world around her,” said Skeers. “No matter what obstacles she faced, she persevered in her quest for knowledge. When she realized most scientific books about fossils were written in French, she simply taught herself to read French!”

*****

We sat down with Skeers to ask three questions about the book.

Did you find any elements of STEM in Anning’s work?     
Mary Anning had an insatiable curiosity to find the answers to questions she had about the fossils she uncovered. She made intricate and detailed scientific drawings and took copious notes — which she studied and discussed with others who were also fascinated by fossils. She almost single-handedly created the scientific field of paleontology through sheer perseverance!

What do you hope readers take away from this book?     
Stay curious and keep asking questions — you never know what you might discover! If you have a passion for something — pursue it.

“When she realized most scientific books about fossils were written in French, she simply taught herself to read French!”

–Linda Skeers

How could teachers incorporate this book into their curriculum?     
There’s an Educator’s Guide to go along with the book with ideas and activities for teachers, parents and students. Here’s a link to the free PDF.

This might be our favorite page because we wish we could join Mary as she explores.

*****

To find out more about Skeers’ books, visit her website: lindaskeers.com.

*****

Find Skeers online at:
–Facebook: search Linda Skeers
–Twitter:  @skeerswriter
–Amazon: Dinosaur Lady
–Want to write for kids? Check out her summer workshop.

Weekend Activity: Identify Trees!

So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
“Birches” by Robert Frost

Spring is the perfect time of year to appreciate the trees! Dr. Jeff Weld, Executive Director of Iowa STEM, authored an article on the ABC’s of parent-kid interaction called “Time to Talk STEM with Your Kids.” We’re taking a cue from his letter-I: “Identify the trees in your yard and neighborhood.”

We went looking for tree identification resources and found an awesome online resource by ISU Outreach and Extension. Check out this link: https://naturalresources.extension.iastate.edu/forestry/iowa_trees/tree_id.html NOTE: There’s a maple leaf that marks START–click there.

When you wear out from your walk, snuggle up with these great tree reads!

FINDING THE MOTHER TREE by Susanne Simard.
My NEW favorite! This nonfiction book from the adult best seller list will change the way you look at forests and trees. Simard studies how trees interact and communicate via microbiology. Not only do trees have a complicated, independent life cycle, but they are also social and interconnected. For example, when a pest attacks one tree, it sends out a message to other trees. Those trees then begin to produce their own defenses, protecting themselves and looking out for one another. Forests have long seemed magical, and now Simard has the science to support that.

A TREE NAMED STEVE by Alan Zweibel and David Catrow

This is a family favorite! You may have a tree like Steve in your yard. If not, you’re going to want to plant one. After the family spares him from the builders, Steve the tree quickly works his way into their lives. He holds their underwear when the dryer breaks down, he’s there for first crushes and heartbreaks, and he soaks up the storm water. The three kids who live there fall in love with this tree, and I’m pretty sure you will, too.

STRETCH TO THE SUN by Carrie Pearson and Susan Swan

Nonfiction you can’t put down! Midwest author Carrie Pearson shares her love of nature through books. This narrative nonfiction picture book is about the tallest tree on earth! Meet the giant coastal redwood that has survived for over 1200 years. Scientists can tell its past and study it in the present. For all of the natural disasters it has faced and survived, people may be its most challenging. But see how tree lovers, including a past president, have come to its rescue. It’s a story of conservation and hope.

THE SECRET TREE by Natalie Standtford

Why love middle grade? It always ends happy! This clever book is about an important neighborhood tree that holds everyone’s secrets. Tucked into a suburban forest, a hallow hole holds notes on which neighbors have written their secrets. Minty and Raymond team up to match the secret to the person and help in anyway they can. It asks the age-old ethical question that we teach kids to sort out in life: Which secrets should be kept versus which secrets should be told?

If you have other great tree books, please let us know. We love when students, parents, librarians, and teachers take over the blog!

To see the rest of Dr. Jeff Weld’s alphabet ideas, please visit the Iowa STEM website: https://iowastem.gov/parent

In addition, there’s a Teachable Moments page that will keep your kids busy all spring! Click: https://iowastem.org/teachablemoment

Great Books for Earth Day (or any day!)

The past few years have brought a non-fiction renaissance to readers everywhere, and environmental topics are hot! To celebrate EARTH DAY, we decided to share a few of our favorite books in this category. Four of these books are marketed toward a preK-5 audience, but we guarantee you’ll learn something from each of them.

HERE WE ARE by Oliver Jeffers

We’re kicking the list off with this bestseller because it explains environmental science in kid-friendly terms. Jeffers is a fine artist turned kid-lit guru, so his images draw in readers of all ages. All of the concepts are tied together with a common theme: connect to your environment and inspire compassion for nature.

THE WATER PROTECTORS by Carle Lindstrom and Michaela Goade

Inspired by an indigenous movement that has sparked change throughout the country, this award-winning book communicates an important message. It combines the lyrical language of Native American mythology with science and modern messaging, and it serves as a call of action for all of us.

ONE PLASTIC BAG by Miranda Paul and Elizabeth Zunon

You’ll never look at plastic shopping bags in the same way after reading this book! It’s based on a true story about one African woman, Isatou Ceesay, who noticed how badly plastic bags were polluting her community. She sets out to clean up and recycle them, sparking change in people everywhere. Whenever you can, decline a bag or go in with a reusable one.

THE TREE LADY by H Joseph Hopkins and Jill McElmerry

Learn how one teacher, Kate Sessions, helped turn San Diego from a dry desert to a green, leafy oasis known for nature. It’s full of illustrations that will make you want to plant something green. Even if you just add one helpful pollinator plant to your window sill garden, it is a start.

THE PHOTO ARK by Joel Sartore

This is a National Geographic book of love put together by one man who set out to photograph every animal BEFORE IT GOES EXTINCT! Kids and adults alike will spend hours thumbing through the exquisite pictures. Many have short captions that make them even more endearing. If you set this book on a coffee table, everyone who comes into your house will pick it up.

Building SPATIAL Skills Through Literacy + Maps

Maps promise adventure! They not only provide a way to understand geography, but also history, politics, and self-awareness. In a 2013 study, National Geographic concluded: “A student who has acquired robust spatial thinking skills is at an advantage in our increasingly global and technical society.” White it’s easy to ask Siri for directions, learning how to map read builds important spatial skills. The same skills that help build confidence in geometry, engineering, construction, design, art, and more.

The following picture books offer a way to introduce map skills via story, which is the very best way to learn everything.

MAPPING PENNY’S WORLD by Loreen Leedy

For core map concepts, this is a great place to start! When Lisa’s class is tasked to make a map, she starts with her room. Then Lisa begins mapping from her dog Penny’s perspective. Readers learn some basics about map reading, like how to incorporate scale and how to use a key to the symbols. Best of all, the inviting illustrations provide a simple, colorful model for students to create their own maps.

IDEA: Take a moment to map your corner of the world. Include a scale measurement and a key to the symbols. You may find it easier to include details if you start with a more immediate space.

A MAP INTO WORLD by Kao Kalia Yang & Seo Kim

This story chronicles a year of changes in the life of a Hmong girl named Paj Ntaub and her family. It hints at their journey to America and focuses on a special relationship they develop with an older neighbor. Based on a true story, it’s a heartfelt fictional tale about change, place, and loss. But it also contains interesting visual elements that offer the reader to consider their own sense of place. There’s a story cloth that tells an immigration story, and, at the close of the book, there’s a sidewalk drawing that timelines the year. (Youtube read-aloud: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cgPEZcfAcY4)

IDEA: Have students create a story cloth, map or timeline noting their own geographical journey or their family’s history and immigration.

HAVE YOU SEEN MY DRAGON? by Steve Light

This whimsical book engages directional skills when a boy searches the city for his special dragon. Along with a wonderful map in the end pages, readers can also practice counting to 20 through spot-color illustrations. Use it for a quick introduction to a mapping concept or offer a longer study of the pictures. Author/illustrator Steve Light provides insights into illustration details as he reads via this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6OFBI1KM8Bs, so it’s almost like having him visit your storytime.

IDEA: Make or find a map of your city/town and invite students to mark their own path or a path they’d like to follow. Try www.openstreetmap.org to find your neighborhood.

OCEAN SPEAKS by Jess Keating and Katie Hickley

Meet Maria Tharp! This trailblazing female scientist mapped the ocean floor. Find out how her childhood passion became a successful career at a time when women were not encouraged to study science. Plus, you’ll see a map of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. What I love about this Youtube read aloud by Dr. Maureen Raymo is that she’s an oceanographer; Jess Keating, the author, is a zoologist; and they’re all celebrating Maria Tharp, who was a geologist: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=387SowEp18w.

IDEA: Take a moment to map a place you love in nature. It might be drawing your own backyard garden, local park, or maybe you’ll take a field trip to special place in nature.

FOLLOW THAT MAP by Scot Ritchie

We’ll end with another great, general picture book that talks about mapping skills, including a compass rose, landmarks, scale bar, routes, keys, and legends. In the story, friends set out on an adventure close to home, and then the adventure grows to include a map of the world and outer space. Full of colorful illustrations, there’s even a set of directions at the close to help readers draw a simple map, making it a great book to use in a station or to read as a class.

IDEA: Send your kiddos on a treasure hunt with a map you make just for this occasion. Or have students create treasure maps for each other. Need some treasure? Try making your own map necklaces with cardboard, maps, glue, and yarn: https://www.littlepassports.com/craft-diy/map-landmark-pendant-craft/.

More Ideas…

If you have a favorite mapping book, please do send it our way (lisa.morlock@drake.edu). We’d love to share your ideas with readers. And if you need more on mapping, try the organization that has sponsored a number of the world’s explorers and map makers: National Geographic’s classroom resource site: https://www.nationalgeographic.org/education/map-skills-elementary-students/.

If you’re seeking more STEM resources, please visit Iowa STEM’s Teachable Moment page: https://iowastem.gov/teachablemoment

Stories that Sequence Events

If you’re seeking some extra activities for the holidays, consider having your elf write a sequencing story. Sequencing is an important learning concept, as it helps a child understand the value of directions and order of operations. Most things work better in a sequence — from math problems to science experiments to making your bed (oh, you’ve never made it) to riding a bike.

To begin, check out some fun reads:

IT’S ALL ABOUT ME-OW by Hudson Talbott

This book, narrated by a cat, helps kittens understand how to grow up successfully and train their humans. There’s a little cat history, a cat family tree, engaging illustrations, and witty cat banter throughout. Even if you’re a dog person by nature, this picture book is a winner.

ALL YOU NEED FOR A SNOWMAN by Alice Schertle and Barbara Lavallee

Perfect for December, this book takes readers on a lyrical how-to for building a snowman, complete with meter and internal rhyme. Check out the language: “Billions of snowflakes piled in a mound/pat them and pack them and roll them around/into one big ball.” There’s a clever repeat with the concept of EXCEPT that creates page turn intrique.

HOW TO SURVIVE AS A FIREFLY by Kristin Foote and Erica Salcedo

For the bug hunter in your house! This story is a mix of nonfiction and fiction, with a veteran firefly telling the larvae how to survive in a bug-eat-bug world. He’s funny and gruff at the same time. Kids will learn about metamorphsis, bioluminesence, an insect anatomy–with clever speech bubbles and cartoonish illustrations.

HOW TO CODE A SAND CASTLE by Josh Fund and Sarah Palacios

Perhaps you’ve read this title before–it’s been a big hit in the STEM picture book world, and for good reason. Successful coding is based on sequencing language. It combines coding language with great storytelling for a how-to on building a sand castle. If you haven’t introduced programming concepts to your tike, this is a fun way to do it.

CREATING YOUR OWN HOW-TO

Encourage your kiddos to find a topic they enjoy. Maybe it’s making a food item; maybe it’s a look at how to survive virtual. Whatever it is, look for major points of the process, consider sequences, and finally, seek out the joy or humor in the topic. What could go wrong? Finally, add illustrations.

EXTENSION

Show your kids how you use how-to and sequencing in your life. Where to look:
–Did you get an electronic device for the holidays and need to set it up–there’s likely a set of directions.
–Did you buy an IKEA bookcase? It comes with a set of directions (good luck with those, by the way).
–Are you doing any new training for work? There’s probably a procedure you’re following.

And, if anyone out there creates a manual of how to survive the holidays in the house, with your family, while following Covid-19 advice and restrictions, please send it our way. We could use a few tips!

Review + STEM Activity: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

Leo, one of our favorite young readers, stopped by the blog today. He’s in 4th grade and loves Legos, playing outside, and reading. Right now, he’s respecting the quarantine request, but his days aren’t so bad. They begin with recess and end with a field trip. This post is about what he does in between. This week, he read The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind and completed a STEM activity related to the book.

Book Overview

Born in Malawi, William Kamkwamba lived in a country overwhelmed by drought and hunger. But he loved learning about science. He read about windmills and dreamed of building one that would benefit his village. Only 2 percent of the nation had running water and electricity. His neighbors called him crazy, but William held fast to his goal. With a small pile of old science books, some scrap metal, tractor pieces, and bicycle parts, he worked doggedly to create an invention that would change the lives of everyone he knew.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is based on a true story about one boy, his incredible invention, and inspiring look at overcoming obstacles. His story proves that one person really can change everything.

If you have a younger reader at home who is anxious to do the project, please note that a picture book version exists. Here’s a YouTube reading of that story: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sDXAf_p5FjU

In Leo’s Words

Q: What is this book about?

A: William Kamkwamba built a windmill. He couldn’t go to school because his family didn’t have money. He built a windmill from junk and brought electricity to his house. Then he helped his whole community get electricity.

Q: What three important things did you learn about?

A: First, I learned about famine. Second, I learned how he built the windmill. Third, I learned he became famous for it.

Q: Who should read this book?

A: Leo thinks this would be a good book for a person of any age to read. “I wish I could have been there when the windmill was complete,” he said, “because it would have been cool to see it.”

“Whatever you want to do, if you do it with all your heart, it will happen.”

–William Kamkwamba

Book-Inspired STEM Activity

After reading the book, Leo studied how windmills generate electricity. Then he made a windmill of his own out of recycled items from home. The activity calls for 1 (1/2 gallon) OJ carton, 2-3 Styrofoam balls, some masking tape, a roll of string, 1 (3 oz.) paper cup, 1 (12″ x 1/4″) dowel, and 1 (3/8″) washer. For more information and directions on how to do this activity at your house, please watch the following YouTube Video.
Hands On: Engineering is Elementary Windmill assembly video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oeCfR78u9ao

Above: Leo makes and attaches the blades.

In case you need substitution ideas for materials, here are other things that could be used in a pinch:

MaterialSubstitution
OJ ContainerOatmeal canister, soda can box, Bota box
Wooden dowelKabob skewers, knitting needles, straw
Styrofoam ballsPlaydoh (too heavy and soft, but clay might work), Leo ended up using masking tape and pipe cleaners after a lot of trial and error
WashersOmitted from windmill design.  Used coins as weights for cups
StringYarn, ribbon
Paper cupPlastic cup, small box, make a cup out of foil
TapeMasking, scotch, painters, duct, etc
Water (to weigh down the base of the windmill)Unopened can of soda, soup, bag of rice

In addition to this activity, several other videos may be of interest.

  1. The 2007 TED Talk: Kamkwamba describes in the book: https://www.ted.com/talks/william_kamkwamba_how_i_built_a_windmill?language=en
  2. 2017 TED Talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5KMfunb5Klk
  3. Trailer for The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind on Netflix: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nPkr9HmglG0
  4. Watch the full 4 lesson unit in a real classroom: search “EiE catching the wind designing windmills” on the EiE – Museum of Science Boston’s youtube channel. https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=EiE+catching+the+wind+designing+windmills

For more STEM-inspired ideas, please check out Iowa STEM’s #TeachableMoment webpage: https://iowastem.gov/teachablemoment.

Librarian Jennifer Leveck: 7 Great New STEM Middle Grade Fiction Books

Youth Services Librarian Jennifer Leveck (pictured above) knows kids and books. She works at the Franklin Avenue Branch of the Des Moines Public Library System. From preK to teen, she’s in charge of bringing the best youth programming and books to the community. We asked her to recommend some great middle grade titles with STEM elements for kids in grades 2nd-7th. Best of all, the library has copies (often multiple) of all these books.

“There are a lot more books coming out where the main character has a STEM interest–coding, gaming, scientific ways of thinking–and kids are checking them out,” Leveck noted. “Kids get excited to read about characters who like the same things they like.”

Galaxy of Sea Stars by Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo

Overview from the Publisher: A heartwarming story about family, loyalty, and the hard choices we face in the name of friendship. Eleven-year-old Izzy feels as though her whole world is shifting, and she doesn’t like it. She wants her dad to act like he did before he was deployed to Afghanistan. She wants her mom to live with them at the marina where they’ve moved instead of spending all her time on Block Island. Most of all, she wants Piper, Zelda, and herself—the Sea Stars—to stay best friends, as they start sixth grade in a new school.

Everything changes when Izzy’s father invites his former interpreter’s family, including eleven-year-old Sitara, to move into the marina’s upstairs apartment. Izzy doesn’t know what to make of Sitara―with her hijab and refusal to eat cafeteria food―and her presence disrupts the Sea Stars. But in Sitara Izzy finds someone brave, someone daring, someone who isn’t as afraid as Izzy is to use her voice and speak up for herself. As Izzy and Sitara grow closer, Izzy must make a choice: stay in her comfort zone and risk betraying her new friend, or speak up and lose the Sea Stars forever.

What Jen loves about it: “This book is about the ocean and family dynamics. Placed in a coastal town, I love that the main character’s passion is mapping the ocean floor. It’s while she is measuring depths along the coast that the story develops. This book deals with big issues: friendship, divorce, mental health issues, bullying–but the plot and STEM elements are incorporated together so well that it’s never clunky.”

The Acadia Files series by Katie Coppens and Holly Hatam

Overview from the Publisher: The book presents five summer stories, each one followed by Acadia’s science notebook pages with her simple explanations and lively, whimsical drawings of natural phenomena. The Acadia Files is a fun introduction to the wonders of science, using real-world scenarios to make scientific inquiry relatable and understandable. Parents and educators can use The Acadia Files to let kids discover for themselves what it’s like to be curious about the world and to satisfy that curiosity with scientific thinking.  

What Jen loves about it: “The design of this book is really clever. It’s set up like a scientific notebook. The main character takes an issue in life and applies the scientific method to solve problems around her. The author incorporates complex topics, like genetics, and breaks it down into little tidbits that readers understand. We’re seeing more and more visual books like this, complete with graphs and illustrations. When kids graduate from picture books or early graphic chapter books, this format makes an easy transition.”

Cog by Greg van Eekhout and Beatrice Blue

Overview from the Publisher: Five robots. One unforgettable journey. Their programming will never be the same. Wall-E meets The Wild Robot in this middle grade instant classic about five robots on a mission to rescue their inventor from the corporation that controls them all.

Cog looks like a normal twelve-year-old boy. But his name is short for “cognitive development,” and he was built to learn. But after an accident leaves him damaged, Cog wakes up in an unknown lab—and Gina, the scientist who created and cared for him, is nowhere to be found. Surrounded by scientists who want to study him and remove his brain, Cog recruits four robot accomplices for a mission to find her. Cog, ADA, Proto, Trashbot, and Car’s journey will likely involve much cognitive development in the form of mistakes, but Cog is willing to risk everything to find his way back to Gina.

What Jen loves about it: “The main character is a robot, as are most of the characters. The author does such a good job of developing characters, including one named Trashbot. As they try to escape the evil corporation holding them prisoner, you really become invested in their lives.”


Emmy in the Key of Code by Aimee Lucido

Overview from the Publisher: In this innovative middle grade novel, coding and music take center stage as new girl Emmy tries to find her place in a new school. Perfect for fans of the Girls Who Code series and The Crossover.

In a new city, at a new school, twelve-year-old Emmy has never felt more out of tune. Things start to look up when she takes her first coding class, unexpectedly connecting with the material—and Abigail, a new friend—through a shared language: music. But when Emmy gets bad news about their computer teacher, and finds out Abigail isn’t being entirely honest about their friendship, she feels like her new life is screeching to a halt. Despite these obstacles, Emmy is determined to prove one thing: that, for the first time ever, she isn’t a wrong note, but a musician in the world’s most beautiful symphony.

What Jen loves about it: “This novel is in verse, so each chapter is a short poem. Both of Emmy’s parents are musicians, so the novel starts out incorporating musical words into the story. For example, the author writes about an “allegro smile.” But Emmy doesn’t love music as much as her parents do. She likes to code. By the end of the story, the musical words transition, and she takes on a coding mindset. In addition to being a good story, it’s really helpful to follow along with someone just beginning to learn code.”


Strange Birds: A Field Guide to Ruffling Feathers by Celia C. Perez

Overview from the Publisher: From the award-winning author of The First Rule of Punk comes the story of four kids who form an alternative Scout troop that shakes up their sleepy Florida town.

When three very different girls find a mysterious invitation to a lavish mansion, the promise of adventure and mischief is too intriguing to pass up. Ofelia Castillo (a budding journalist), Aster Douglas (a bookish foodie), and Cat Garcia (a rule-abiding birdwatcher) meet the kid behind the invite, Lane DiSanti, and it isn’t love at first sight. But they soon bond over a shared mission to get the Floras, their local Scouts, to ditch an outdated tradition. In their quest for justice, independence, and an unforgettable summer, the girls form their own troop and find something they didn’t know they needed: sisterhood.

What Jen loves about this book: “This book is relevant to today’s climate. It deals with a friendship based on social activism. An eclectic group of girls come together to protest the unnecessary use of a feathered hat in one of their town’s ceremonies. I really liked all of the girls. They makes mistakes along the way, but that just strengthens their friendships.”


Nikki Tesla and the Ferret Proof Death Ray by Jess Keating

Overview from the Publisher: Ocean’s 11 meets Spy School in this hilarious illustrated middle-grade series featuring the world’s greatest minds. “Let the official record show that, I, Nikki Tesla, did not intend to destroy the world.”

There are only so many times a kid can invent an instrument of global destruction without getting grounded. So when Nikki’s death ray accidentally blows up her bedroom, she’s sent to the only place that can handle her. Genius Academy is a school for history’s greatest brains. Nikki feels like an outsider thanks to a terrible secret she can’t let anyone discover. But when her death ray is stolen, Nikki must stop worrying about fitting in and learn to play nice with her new classmates.

What Jen loves about the book: This is one of those action-packed boarding school books. Nikki gets sent away because she accidentally blows up part of her house. She creates tech inventions that always go wrong in some way. I like that the kids are on their own and have to ban together to save the world. In addition, all of the characters are named after famous geniuses throughout history, and they go on to inhabit the main qualities of each.”

Click’d by Tamara Ireland Stone

Overview from the Publisher: Click’d is a thrilling book about a seventh-grade girl named Allie Navarro, who creates an app that goes unexpectedly viral, turning Allie into a school celebrity.

Unfortunately, the glow of her fame starts to fade as an unanticipated bug threatens the privacy of her peers, causing embarrassment and havoc for those closest to her. Will Allie choose to shut down her game, knowing that her place in the Games for Good competition is on the line, or will she try to hide the problems in her application in hopes of being declared the big winner?

What Jen loves about the book: “I love that the main character makes an app that gets away from her. She has the best of intentions, but things still go wrong. It’s about creating technology and then realizing there are issues and problems with it. What happens if it hurts someone? Who is responsible for that? It’s very relevant to technology development today.”

THANK YOU!
To Jen Leveck for your spring STEM recommendations. If you find yourself with some extra time over spring break, head on over to the library for these titles and scads more! If you have trouble finding the perfect book, just ask one of the librarians in the children’s area. They’ll work some book magic and come up with an idea list.

If you do read one of these books (or another STEM-oriented title), please consider being interviewed for this blog. We’d love to hear from more readers! Email the Hub if you’re interested.

Happy reading and have a healthy spring break,
The SC STEM Hub

COVID-19 Library Updates

Located in Des Moines, Franklin and Forest Avenue are our closest libraries. We inquired as to what practices they were enacting to keep us all safe. Click HERE to learn more about the city’s plan. Or visit your local library’s website and learn how to safely use the library during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Meet STEM Author Kourtney LaFavre

IF SUN COULD SPEAK will be available March 13, 2020. You can preorder here: https://kourtneylafavre.com/book/

The Hub met author and former elementary teacher Kourtney LaFavre via Twitter when she sent out an all-call for author visit ideas. So we knew she loved kids, classrooms, and teachers! Next, one of our favorite Iowa STEM festival presenters, NASA Ambassador Dan Hoy, connected and shared some thoughts.

Then we decided, during these cold winter days, doing a blog on a STEM book about the warm and lovely SUN would be a perfect addition. Her book, If Sun Could Speak, is published by Clear Fork Publishing and available for pre-order now with a March 13 release.

In it, Sun takes on a larger-than life voice to guide us through a day, a year, the history, and the solar system. Most page turns also serve as a two-level read. The narrative voice is quick and spunky, but Kourtney adds another layer for readers who want to study the pages and take time for a deeper dive. Comic-book type frames add details in fun ways. When science terms are used, she takes care to add an explanation in simple terms.

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Kourtney was gracious enough to to stop by the blog and tell us more about her book in her own words.

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OVERVIEW

If Sun Could Speak is a first-person account that sheds light on the facts, history, and myths about its existence. Sun is out to impress and inspire readers to wonder and search for discovery. It’s a witty STEM-infused exploration of the center of our solar system.

INSPIRATION

The inspiration for this book idea came from my childhood. I think I was about five or six when I first discovered that the sun doesn’t actually rise and set. I had assumed that the sun was moving up and down in the sky, because the word RISE means to move upward.

That was the definition that my five year old self understood, and five year old brains are very literal. It totally blew my mind that it was the earth’s movement that created sunrises and sunsets. And I felt upset that I was mislead to believe inaccurate information.

I was frustrated whenever I heard people say anything about the sun RISING. That’s where the concept of a book told from the sun’s perspective began, to clear up any misunderstandings about the sun.

The character of the Sun has two goals when talking to readers. One is to share information about who Sun is and what Sun does. And the second is to inspire readers to wonder and search for discoveries.

RESEARCH

Some of the most interesting things I learned while researching for this book were the different myths from other cultures about how the sun came to be. The most challenging was trying to take such large ideas and put them into words in a way that would make the ideas accessible to children. I enjoyed reading and learning about some of the people throughout history whose ideas influenced what we think and know about the sun.

FROM A TEACHER’S PERSPECTIVE

As a former elementary teacher, I’m very excited about how this book can be used as a teaching tool. It’s jam packed with not only science information, but history and myths as well.

I hope that the biggest take away from “If Sun Could Speak” is to plant the seed that there are remarkable things happening all around you.

I hope that it encourages readers to look around and ask themselves, “Why is this happening? How did it come to be?” The search for truth never ends as long as you keep seeking. Science isn’t just what you know, it’s also a way to think. So while this book can be used as a tool to teach facts about science, history, and myths, it’s also a catalyst for scientific thinking. There will be a downloadable educator’s guide and Pinterest board available on my website. “If Sun Could Speak” provides opportunities to connect with the Disciplinary Core Idea of Next Generation Science Standards for grade K-4 including earth’s systems, earth’s place in the universe, and energy.

LITERACY PAIRINGS

Some of my favorite STEM books for kids that I recommend as a companion:

  • The Planet Gods: Myths and Facts About the Solar System. Jacqueline Mitton and Christina Balit 
  • The Solar System: Out of This World With Science Activities for Kids. Delano Lopez and Jason Slater
  • Ada Twist, Scientist. Andrea Beaty and David Roberts
  • Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space, Dr. Dominic Walkman and Ben Newman.
  • Comets, Stars, the Moon, and Mars: Space Poems and Paintings. Douglas Florian
  • What Do You Do With An Idea? Kobe Yamada and Mae Besom
  • Here We Are: Notes For Living On Planet Earth. Oliver Jeffers.

ORDER THE BOOK:

IF SUN COULD SPEAK will be available March 13, 2020. You can preorder here: https://kourtneylafavre.com/book/

AUTHOR CONNECTION:

I’d love to connect with readers! Here’s where you can virtually find me:
Twitter: @KourtneyLafavre
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kourtneylafavre.writer/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kourtneylafavre/
Website printables: https://kourtneylafavre.com/printables/

Dr. Renee Horton: Scientist-Author Extraordinaire

Dr. Renee Horton’s visit celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon walk.

Author, scientist, role-model: Dr. Renee Horton is whip-smart, hardworking, good-natured, and caring. She visited Des Moines in August. In a trip hosted by the Des Moines Public Library, she stopped by Drake University for a reception in her honor. She shared her book, her experiences with NASA, and her message on STEM and kids.

Horton’s life is the inspiration behind her book series Dr. H Explores. Currently, there are two books out, From Mercury to Mars and From Jupiter to Uranus, with two more forthcoming. Readers can also get Dr. H dogtags and a Dr. H stuffed toy.

What makes this author special is that she lives what she writes. Horton specializes in Materials Science and holds degrees in engineering, math, and physics. She works full-time at NASA as the Space Launch System (SLS) Lead Metallic/Weld Engineer and has won numerous awards for her professional work and community advocacy. And while you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to write books, it sure makes book talks interesting!

After her Des Moines visit, she took to a moment to talk with us about her incredible adventure into STEM literacy.

Visit Dr. Renee Horton’s website to learn more or purchase her books and merchandise.

Q. What inspired you to write for children?

A. I believe that every child is born curious with an active imagination, and we should allow them to explore to find themselves. The books are my way to impact their lives early, to help them stay curious, and create a desire to explore in a creative way.  It’s my way of letting the kid in me have fun. 

Q. What message do you hope to share with kids through your books?

A. First, I hope to provide a positive representation of inclusion of all in STEM while helping kids learn that everyone is different. The second thing I want them to walk away with is that STEM is fun. 

Q. What writing projects are you or will you be working on next?

A. The next writing project for Dr H Explores is Trip to the Moon coming out at the beginning August. Next, Dr H finally gets to meet Pluto in the book scheduled to release in October.  For a personal writing project, I am currently working with Kay Fenton Smith on writing my memoir that will detail my pain, my growth, and my happiness in life. 

For more information or to contact Dr. Renee Horton, please visit her website: https://www.reneehortonphd.com/about.html. We love her opening quote: “When you find your intersection between your talent and your passion, you find your true happiness.” It’s clear that Horton has found that intersection, and her enthusiasm helps pave the way for others on a similar path.

Thanks to the Des Moines Public library for sharing Dr. Horton’s visit with Drake University.

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