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?

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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

Not a Box Book Review

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not a boxNot a Box is an educational philosophy as much as it is a picture book, and it’s the perfect way to promote imaginative play and creative thinking. From the youngest reader to a corporate team-building activity, this book encourages everyone to step outside (inside, on top of, under, around) the box!

Written and illustrated by Antoinette Portis, this book has a built-in activity that could be completely student-driven, as long as the educator or parent supplies the boxes. Google for more classroom ideas, like this one from Teach Preschool.

We were so happy when Lily, age 4, stopped by to share her thoughts on the book. When not reading, Lily enjoys playing, so she’s the perfect reviewer for this story.

Q:  What is this book about?
A: It is about a bunny who makes a box into a bunch of stuff.  He makes it into a boat, a rocket, and a car.

Q:  What is the best part of the book?not a box book 2
A: I liked the bunny.

Q:  What part of this book made you smile?
A: When the bunny went to the moon.

Q:  What part of the book surprised you the most?
A: That he could make so many things out of a box.

Q: What did you learn from reading this book?
A: That I can make a bunch of stuff out of a box, too.

Q: List three words that describe this book.
A: Funny, creative, happy

box2Q: What was your favorite line or phrase from the book?
A: “It’s not a box!”

Q:  Who else should read this book AND why?
A: Mya, my older cousin, should read this book, because she likes to play with me.

Looking for a quick overview? Check out this Youtube video: Not a Box Read Aloud

Also, checkout Portis’ Not a Stick and more of her books.


Whose Nest is This?

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kateWith chillier weather hitting Iowa, it’s the perfect time to think about cuddling up for fall. But what about the animals outside? How do they stay safe and warm? Nests!

We are fortunate that Kate stopped by to recommend the perfect nest book to us: Whose Nest is This?, written by Heidi Bee Roemer and illustrated by Connie McLennan. When not reading and playing outside, Kate enjoys life as a first grader. She’s also active in 4-H.

Here’s a little insight to why she recommended this book.

What is this book about?
All about nests – including turtles, Baltimore Oriole, Owl, Mouse and more!

What was the best  part about this book?
Seeing all of the different kinds of next [in the artwork].whose nest

What part of the book made you smile?

How alligators do their nest.  

What did you learn from reading this book?
A lot!

Three words that best describe this book:
Nature, Nests, Animals

What was your favorite line or phrase from the book?
I liked that the ends of each line rhyme.

Who else should read the book and why?

4-H STEM 4382330388_32450a897b_o2_0

Did you notice that green shirt on Kate? It’s from 4-H!

With an emphasis on STEM learning, 4-H is one of Iowa’s premier after-school STEM education forces. Some of their projects include Scale-Up programming and hosting First Lego League Robotics teams and tournaments.

For more information, please visit the 4-H website.

4-H Logo





The Thing About Jellyfish

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This week’s book to review, The Thing about Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin, is a best-seller that’s won critical acclaim and starred-reviews. What makes this middle grade novel so special? It’s a great mix of STEM, with jellyfish facts and other useful science facts, but it also tells a great story and may even help a reader deal with grief.


Emma stopped by the blog to talk about it. She’s 8-years-old and enjoys gymnastics, reading and hanging out with friends. When she gets older, she hopes to be a wild-animal vet, specializing in sloths. To the left, she’s dressed for career day. Here’s what she had to say about this story.


Q: What is this book about?

A: This book is about a girl named Suzy. Her friend, Franny, died while swimming. Suzy is sad and wants to figure out what really happened.


Q: What was the best part about this book? 
A: The best part of the book was when Sarah, a new friend, asked if Suzy wanted to come over.


Q: What part of this book made you smile? 
A: When she tried to fly to Australia and she used her dad’s credit card to buy plane tickets. As I read this, I thought oh no, this is not going to work. Also, I smiled when Justin kept on trying to be her friend and communicate with her. He could tell that she really needed a friend, and he needed a friend, too.jellyfish


Q: What part of the book surprised you most?

A: That she used her dad’s credit card to buy a ticket to Australia. She got so close but didn’t make it. I was also surprised by all that research and planning she did, but it did not go the way she expected in the end.


Q: What part of the book worried or concerned you?

A: When she was sneaking around and her parents didn’t know about her trip to Australia. She stopped talking to everyone. Also, when she stole money from her whole family.


Q: What did you learn from reading this book?

A: I learned a LOT of facts about Jellyfish.


Q: List three words that best describe this book.

A: Tense, Grief, Relief.


Q: What was your favorite line or phrase from the book?

A: “Maybe instead of feeling like a mote of dust, we can remember that all the creatures on this earth are made from stardust. And we are the only ones who get to know it. That’s the thing about jellyfish: They’ll never understand that. All they can do is drift along unaware.” (I liked knowing how the book got its name.)


Q: Who else should read this book AND why?

A: Everyone! Especially the people who are dealing with the loss of a friend or family member.



(NOTE: The book features Irukandji jellyfish facts. Take a look at them, compared to the tip of a matchstick.)


Do you know young scientists who love learning about animals? If so, please check out the following kits from the Hub’s inventory:

* PSS’s Animal Classification
* PSS’s Insectigations
* EiE’s Water, Water Everywhere
* EiE’s Invasive Species

Email us at!

Leaf Man Inspires Outdoor Exploration

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Kyle Leaf Man

If you’re looking for the ideal book to kick-off an outdoor adventure, 8-year-old Kyle has a suggestion for you! It’s Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert.

Take a poetic journey with Lean Man as he travels wherever the wind may lead. Lois Ehlert engages her classic illustration style by using leaves and die-cuts to create the pictures. This is the great addition to any fall reading list.

Thanks to 8-year-old Kyle, who recommended this book! Kyle loves 4-H, being outside and reading. He took a moment to tell us why it’s so great.

What is this book about?
Leaf Man blew away – where did he go and what did he see?

What was the best part about this book?
The pictures/drawings (illustrations)

What part of the book made you smile?
Leaves made into a Butterfly

What part of the book worried or concerned you?Leaf Man Cover Art (2)
When Leaf Man went missing (blew away)

What did you learn from reading this book?
How leaves are different shapes, sizes, and colors – and can be used to make other things in nature.

Three words that best describe this book:
Creativity, Leaves, Ability

What was your favorite line or phrase from the book?
My family made up our own Leaf Man song to go with the book.  Also have fun going on hikes to gather different kinds of leaves and twigs to make our own Leaf Man/Leaf Creatures.

Who else should read the book and why?
Anybody – it’s cool!

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Challenge: Make your own Leaf Man or leaf creature and send us a picture of it. We’ll feature your creation on the Hub’s Facebook and Instagram #leafSTEM. (Above images from the internet.) Send anytime between now and October 15.


The Hub has several nature-themed curriculum kits, including: Carolina’s Plant Growth and Development, AWIM’s Inspired by Nature, EiE’s Animal Sounds, Pint-Size Science’s Insectigations, and more. Contact us at for check out or additional information!

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