Deborah L. Thompson
As any early educator will attest, children love science. Worms, insects, seeds, weeds, rocks, and other natural objects make their way to classrooms via the hands, pockets and bookbags of budding young scientists, often providing teachers with topics for teachable moments. As the books reviewed in this column reflect, STEM topics are everywhere, whether in a story of a young child and her father taking a hike up a mountain, herds of animals migrating on the Serengeti, or scientists reintroducing wolves to the nation’s most remote national park, Isle Royale.
Blast Off! How Mary Sherman Morgan Fueled America into Space. Suzanne Slade. Illus. by Sally Wern Comport. (2022). Calkins Creek.
Suzanne Slade introduces readers to Mary Sherman Morgan (1921-2004) in her fictional biography of this underacknowledged scientist. Mary’s early life in North Dakota was a struggle. Her parents refused to send her to school because there were too many chores for her on the family farm. She finally began school at age eight (with the aid of a social worker and the county sheriff), and after graduating from high school, she worked and earned enough money to study chemistry in college for two years. World War II gave Mary the break she needed to work in a lab manufacturing explosives. Hired by North American Aviation at the end of the war, Mary experimented tirelessly and created hydyne, the fuel that powered America’s earliest rockets into space. Sally Wern Comport’s mixed-media artwork with clever overlays of mathematical and scientific symbols on selected pages of the biography adds to the feel of excitement about science in the 20th century. Back matter includes a chronology, selected bibliography, an author’s note, and archival images. (Gr 3 Up)
Climb On! Baptiste Paul. Illus. by Jacqueline Alcántara. (2022). NorthSouth.
A young girl eagerly anticipates a day’s hike to the “tippy top” of the local mountain. Although her dad had planned a day of looking at fútbol on television, he agrees to the hike. With their backpacks filled with snacks, water and a first aid kit, they enter the forest and begin their climb. They encounter swarms of insects and observe an array of flora (bird of paradise, hibiscus, vines, and other tropical plants) and fauna (colorful birds, iguanas, caterpillars, other small animals) as they make their strenuous trek. Once they reach the summit, father and daughter look down at their town— “a mosaic masterpiece” of colorful houses by the sea. Baptiste Paul’s rhythmic text with onomatopoeia (“Buzz, buzz, buzz. / Smack, smack, smack!”) and Creole terms (“Mouté. Climb on” and “Anlé, anlé, anlé. Up, up, up.”) is complemented by Jacqueline Alcántara’s richly detailed illustrations. The scene on the back endpaper provides achallenge—"Did you see these creatures? What else did you see?”—that invites the rereading of this adventure story. (PreK-Gr 2)
Hello, Puddle! Anita Sanchez. Illus. by Luisa Uribe. (2022). Clarion.
“Hello, puddle! Who’s here?” asks a young girl. The puddle supports a thriving ecosystem that changes with the seasons. In spring, toads lay eggs in the water and the puddle is soon filled with tadpoles and toadlets. Seedlings of grasses, wildflowers, and trees sprout, and a mother turtle digs holes and lays her eggs in the moist soil around the puddle. In summer, ducks and their ducklings, mosquitoes, snails, mud daubers, and other creatures make their appearance. As summer heats up, the puddle shrinks to just a few wet spots until rain makes it perfect for puddling by butterflies that suck nutrients from the moist soil. In fall, deer may drink from the puddle, and then winter rushes in to freeze it. “Goodbye, puddle. See you in the spring!” Luisa Uribe’s colorful, digital illustrations realistically evoke the changing seasons. Back matter includes an author’s note, information on how to make a puddle and observe wildlife, a chart of the “puddle lovers” in the book with their common and scientific names and brief descriptions, a glossary, a “Learn More” list of books and websites, and a bibliography. (PreK-Gr 2)
Honeybee Rescue: A Backyard Drama. Loree Griffin Burns. Photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz. (2022). Charlesbridge.
The author and photographer of The Hive Detectives: Chronicles of a Honey Bee Catastrophe (2010) team up to create another intriguing book about honeybees. Mr. Connery has a problem. His barn is buzzing. Some of his honeybees have swarmed from their overcrowded hive box and started a new colony in an old barn with a leaky roof and no protection from harsh weather. What does he do? Why call in a bee rescuer, of course. Mr. Nelson, a certified bee rescuer, surveys the new bee colony and then brings out his secret weapon—a bee vacuum cleaner he designed to suck up bees without harming them. The bees are safely ensconced in the vacuum until every wax comb has been transferred into a new hive box. Once the combs have been secured, Mr. Nelson gently releases the bees from the vacuum into the box. The bees quickly adapt to the new hive, and another bee rescue has ended successfully. Back matter includes an interview with bee rescuer Jon Nelson, a glossary, an author’s note, and books for further reading. (PreK Up)
The Longest Journey: An Arctic Tern’s Migration. Amy Hevron. (2022). Neal Porter.
With a simple, lyrical text and beautifully crafted illustrations rendered in acrylics and pencil on wood and digitally collaged, Amy Hevron tells the story of an arctic tern’s migration—"the longest migration of any living creature on Earth”—a 60,000 miles round trip between the North Pole and South Pole. The tern begins her first journey from her birthplace in Greenland in mid-August (Hevron includes locations and dates on several segments of the little tern and her flock’s trek). After feasting on krill and small fish in the mid-Atlantic, the terns cross over the Azores in mid-September and take a rest stop in the Canary Islands. They then fskirt the coast of Africa, take a break at the Cape of Good Hope, and reach the end of their migration at Antarctica’s Weddell Sea in late November. There the little tern will rest, molt, and recover until the fall equinox in March (Southern Hemisphere seasons are opposite from the Northern Hemisphere), when she will return to her birthplace in Greenland with a flock of about 20 terns. Back matter includes more about arctic terns, further reading, and a bibliography. (Gr 3 Up)
The Mystery of the Monarchs: How Kids, Teachers, and Butterfly Fans Helped Fred and Norah Urquhart Track the Great Monarch Migration. Barb Rosenstock. Illus. by Erika Meza. (2022). Knopf.
Canadian Fred Urquhart (1911-2002) loved insects, especially monarch butterflies. After becoming an entomologist, Fred focused on answering the “buggy” question of where monarch butterflies go in fall. He enlisted the help of his wife, teachers, students, and other volunteers in tracking the butterflies’ migration. They tagged thousands of monarchs’ wings (Erika Meza does an excellent job illustrating the fragility of a monarch’s wings). People began sending him tagged monarchs from all over North America, but the question of where the butterfly wintered remained unanswered until January 2, 1975, when two of Fred’s volunteers discovered millions of monarchs hanging onto tree limbs “like orange leaves” high in the mountains west of Mexico City. In 1976, Fred and Norah climbed to the summit to view the monarchs. Fred noticed one butterfly that had a tagged wing—it was one of his tags. After almost 50 years of searching, he had finally answered his childhood question about where the monarchs go in the fall. Back matter includes information on the monarch butterfly, a map featuring its migration patterns, and a list for further reading. (PreK Up)
One Day: By the Numbers (By the Numbers). Steve Jenkins. (2022). Clarion.
Steve Jenkins delivers to inquisitive readers a myriad of facts and figures focusing on what happens in our world in 24 hours. His meticulous research gives the reader such gems as humans travel 1,600,000 miles every 24 hours as planet Earth orbits the sun, or that we are second only to mosquitoes in killing people (1,300/day for humans and 2,500/day for mosquitoes). Jenkins fills the book with intriguing infographics (charts, graphs, diagrams), illustrations, and easy-to-understand explanatory text such as comparing the world’s daily trash production to a ten-story building (the trash dwarfs the ten-story building) or the daily per capita consumption of fresh water in different countries (the United States-1,009 gallons, China-308 gallons, and India-446 gallons). The book’s nonlinear format gives readers the choice to skip about within the book or to read it from beginning to end. The book features several reading tools: a table of contents, pagination, a glossary, and a bibliography. (PreK Up)
Serengeti: Plains of Grass. Leslie Bulion. Illus.by Becca Stadtlander. (2022). Peachtree.
Leslie Bulion’s interconnected verses and explanatory text (in smaller print) and Becca Stadtlander’s colorful, realistic gouache-and-pastel illustrations make this beautiful book an exciting exploration of one of the world's most spellbinding ecosystems—the Serengeti. Bulion calls it “an ecosystem in motion.” In early spring, large herds of wildebeests, zebras, gazelles, and other hoofed herbivores begin their northward migration seeking life-sustaining grasses and plants. Along their route, the herds pass giraffes, elephants, butterflies and grasshoppers, flowering plants, deadly mamba snakes, and tall clay-and-sand termite mounds. Cheetahs slink in the tall grasses waiting to pounce on the young or the weak among the migrating herds. Jackals, vultures, and hyenas scavenge the carrion. Animal scat makes a tasty meal for the dung beetle and a place to lay its eggs. By late spring, the migrating animals move westward seeking greener pastures before reaching the wooded hills in the north. As the seasons change, the herds venture back to the southern Serengeti before beginning the northward cycle again. Back matter includes Bulion’s explanation of her linked “half-rhyme” quatrains based on the utendi (a Swahili poetic form), a glossary, information on various Serengeti conservation projects, further reading, and a map. (Gr 3 Up)
The Wolves and Moose of Isle Royale: Restoring an Island Ecosystem (Scientists in the Field). Nancy F. Castaldo. Photographs by Morgan Heim. (2022). Clarion.
One would think that with their dastardly literary reputations in folk tales, wolves would be invincible, but they are not. Wolves are endangered and vulnerable species. Such is the case of the wolves on Isle Royale, an isolated national park located on islands on Lake Superior. Illnesses and other factors have decimated the wolf population on Isle Royale, allowing the moose population to grow out of control. Too many moose devour and trample the plants necessary for other island animals to survive. In another outstanding addition to the Scientists-in-the-Field series, Nancy F. Castaldo and Morgan Heim focus on this potential disaster by examining the attempt to reintroduce wolves to Isle Royale. They shadow the scientists and their support staff observing how well the reintroduction of wolves is progressing. It is not yet time to celebrate because the wolf-moose balance is still out of sync. Only time and the challenging work of scientists will determine if the rewilding of wolves on Isle Royale is successful in restoring the island ecosystem. Back matter includes an FYI page, source notes, glossary, and index. (Gr 3 Up)
Deborah L. Thompson is a Professor Emeritus at The College of New Jersey.
These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG).