Tiffany F. Watson
Including the reading of trade books as part of the curriculum can arouse interest and enhance understanding. The books reviewed here allow students to explore important literary concepts and use a variety of comprehension skills to think critically about STEM-related topics.
Beaver and Otter Get Along . . . Sort of: A Story of Grit and Patience Between Neighbors. Sneed B. Collard III. Illus. by Meg Sodano. (2021). Sourcebooks eXplore.
This engaging picture book story opens with Beaver building a dam in a stream to create a pond that is the perfect place to build a lodge. When otters arrive at the pond, Beaver sees them as a nuisance, damaging his dam and creating lots of noisy, splashing chaos in the thriving pond ecosystem. As the year goes on, Beaver’s and Otter’s families grow, and while they never become the best of friends, they learn to accept one another and coexist in their shared community. Realistic illustrations allow readers to explore ancillary information about plants and animals in a beaver pond ecosystem. Back matter includes facts about the adaptations and behaviors of beavers and river otters and their commensal relationship in pond ecosystems. Additionally, there are specific teaching points outlined for literacy, social-emotional learning, and STEAM activities. (PreK-Gr 2)
Bird Show. Susan Stockdale. (2021). Peachtree.
This story of feather fashion features exquisite portraits of eighteen birds and a descriptive rhyming text. “All of us dress / in our own special way, / and put on a fashion show every day!” Readers will learn about the variety of colors, shapes, and patterns of the feathers of birds from around the world. Susan Stockdale’s vibrant acrylic paintings provide detailed visuals of each bird’s plumage, while the minimal text on each page lends itself well to reading the book aloud in early grades and offers an opportunity to study vocabulary in addition to the obvious relation to studies about bird species. Back matter includes thumbnails of each bird in the book along with its common name, a descriptive note, and its native range and a quiz inviting readers to look back through the book to find the birds that display the colors and patterns shown. (PreK-Gr 2)
Blue Floats Away. Travis Jonker. Illus. by Grant Snider. (2021). Abrams.
Through the personification of an iceberg, Travis Jonker introduces young readers to the water cycle. In the story, Blue, a young iceberg, is unexpectedly separated from his parents and undergoes significant changes. Floating in the ocean, Blue makes friends with sharks and sailboats, and he finds their company comforting. As the weather gets warmer, Blue gets smaller and smaller, evaporates, condenses, and sees the world from a cloud’s perspective, discovering airplanes and birds along his journey. As the weather gets cooler, Blue takes on a new form, snow. In this precipitation stage of the water cycle, he finds his parents once again. Grant Snider’s colorful, child-pleasing illustrations, created with cut paper, colored pencil, and white ink, help readers to understand both character development and the water cycle. The story ends with a visual representation of the water cycle featuring Blue in each of his states of matter. A discussion of the effects of climate change on polar ice can be started through the use of the author’s note, which includes information on what we can do to help. (PreK-Gr 2)
Bots and Bods: How Robots and Humans Work, From the Inside Out. John Andrews. (2021). Andrews McMeel.
Writing in a conversational tone, John Andrews compares human bodies to robots. The detailed comparison begins with the features of the human body and moves on to its functions. In addition to the engaging, relatable narrative, the book includes diagrams; “Fantastic Facts,” “Think About This . . .,” and “Try This . . .” text boxes to inspire critical thinking; and interest-catching captioned illustrations. Organized in four chapters, “Body Basics,” “Get Moving,” “Seeing and Sensing,” and “Thinking and Feeling,” the book provides information on how the structure and function of the human body relates to that of various types of robots, like buddy robots, robot cars, and space probes. Appropriate headings within the chapters and an index guide readers in finding information related to specific topics. Overall, this book provides an out-of-the-box look at the human body with a powerful, natural connection to technology. (Gr 3 Up)
Dr. Fauci: How A Boy from Brooklyn Became America’s Doctor. Kate Messner. Illus.by Alexandra Bye. (2021). Simon & Schuster.
This picture book biography tells the inspiring life story of Dr. Anthony Fauci (b. 1940), a curious boy from Brooklyn who became a doctor specializing in infectious diseases and gained recognition as “America’s Doctor” during the Covid-19 pandemic. Kate Messner’s succinct style of storytelling paired with Alexandra Bye’s cartoonlike, digitally-rendered illustrations make this book a good read-aloud choice on a timely topic. The book offers a valuable message for young people, which is repeated throughout the book when Fauci faces specific challenges in life: “Don’t get discouraged. Think about it carefully. Try to work it out.” This message also connects student thinking to the scientific method, which is reflected in the portion of the story recounting Fauci’s studies of COVID-19, and how overcoming challenges may lead to success in both scientific research and life. Back matter includes a timeline, recommendations for further reading, facts on the purpose of vaccines and how they work, and “Dr. Fauci’s Five Tips for Future Scientists.” (PreK Up)
Except Antarctica! Todd Sturgell. (2021). Sourcebooks eXplore.
A turtle’s “We’ll see about that!” response on the title page to the statement “Turtles are found on every continent . . . EXCEPT ANTARCTICA!” introduces this engaging picture book in which the narrator’s attempt to provide factual information about where animals are found in the world goes awry as the turtle invites various animals known by scientists not to inhabit Antarctica (owl, dung beetle, snake, mouse, bee, and frog) to join him on a trek to the frozen continent, despite the narrator’s insistence they will not like it. When they arrive at the coldest continent, the animals realize it is not a suitable habitat for them, and they begin a return journey home. But wait! Where’s that emperor penguin going? Back matter includes a double-page spread with four interesting factoids about each animal in the story, information on some other animals found on every continent except Antarctica, four factoids about the emperor penguin found only on Antarctica with a note on other animals of Antarctica, information on the continent of Antarctica, notes on the effects of climate change on Antarctica and the world, and a glossary. Reading aloud Except Antarctica! may lead to a lively discussion that encourages students to do further research on the continent and environmental issues. (PreK-Gr 2)
How to Talk to a Tiger...and Other Animals: How Critters Communicate in the Wild. Jason Bittel. Illus. by Kelsey Buzzell. (2021). Magic Cat.
Jason Bittel shares a plethora of information on animals from some most young people will be familiar with, like dogs and bees, to less well-known animals, like jackdaws and tarsiers. Some of the animals are large animals (elephants and tigers) and others small (ants and spiders). Keeping the focus on communication, the book is organized into four sections by senses: sight, sound, taste and smell, and electrosensory and touch. For example, in the sight section, readers discover behaviors of different animals related to protection and dominance or submission, including how they communicate using their eyes. The format of the book with its interest catching headings; text boxes of concise explanations and rich vocabulary; Kelsey Buzzell’s colorful digitally-rendered illustrations; a table of contents; and an index makes it a good addition to text sets for students researching behaviors of animals. (Gr 3 Up)
Mars Is: Stark Slopes, Silvery Snow, and Startling Surprises. Suzanne Slade. (2021). Peachtree.
In this exploration of the planet Mars, Suzanne Slade shares spectacular photographs of HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment), an incredible camera which has been transmitting Mars photos to Earth since March 2006. She connects photos and scientific facts with relatable comparisons and explanations. The beautifully crafted book pairs a series of close-up photos of Mars with two sets of text. The first is printed in various colors in large, bold fonts and reads like poetry. The second includes blocks of text in small, black italics with details about each of the photos. In addition to direct links to space science standards in the STEM curriculum, this book is also relatable to Earth science through the discussion of landforms and to physical science through a discussion of states of matter. Back matter provides additional information and photos on NASA’s launching of the mission to Mars in August 2005 and the HiRISE camera, a “More about Mars” section, and a timeline of the exploration of Mars. (PreK Up)
Space Explorers: 25 Extraordinary Stories of Space Exploration and Adventure. Libby Jackson. Illus. by Léonard Dupond. (2021). Beyond Words.
A resource for teaching space in middle school and beyond, this anthology shares twenty-five engaging true stories of people, events, and discoveries from the beginning of space travel to present-day explorations. The book opens with the Soviet Union’s spacecraft Sputnik’s 96-minute orbiting of Earth in 1957 and the story of Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin—the first space traveler—who made one orbit of the Earth on the Vostok 1 mission on April 12, 1961. Additional stories present the important contributions to space exploration of others including Katherine Johnson, a “human computer” at NASA; Chris Hadfield on the International Space Station; and Burt Rutan’s SpaceShipOne. The book concludes with “Going to Mars,” a story that has yet to be written—the story of when astronauts first travel to Mars. The book includes a brief glossary to assist readers with vocabulary found in the stories. These engaging stories of space explorers could lead readers to further research on space exploration. (Gr 6 Up)
I Like Space . . . What Jobs Are There? (That’s a Job?). Steve Martin. Illus. by Tom Wooley. (2021). Kane Miller.
In an interesting infographic-like format, Steve Martin presents a day in the life of twenty-five individuals in space-related jobs. The introduction engages readers by telling them about the team of people needed to send an astronaut into space before Martin and Wooley describe each team member’s job through a step-by-step, numbered account of what a day might look like for each position. Within the description of duties, text bubbles share what the person does, as well as insight into why or how they do it. The best and worst parts of all twenty-five jobs are also presented in text boxes. The book includes a set of graphics to help students identify which space job might best suite them based on their skills, qualities, goals, and interests. I Like Space . . . What Jobs Are There?, part of the That’s a Job? series, would be a good resource for beginning a cross-curricular project on space-related occupations. (Gr 3-5)
Tiffany F. Watson is an Assistant Professor in the Elementary & Special Education Program at University of North Georgia.
These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG).