STEM Friday

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Books

Galileo’s Leaning Tower Experiment

What I love about science is that it is accessible to anyone. Any interested student can observe the world around them, create theories and test those ideas. Wendy Macdonald’s Galileo’s Leaning Tower Experiment, illustrated by Paolo Rui, is a picture book that invites readers into that world of observation. Here, learning science is not some foreign, exclusive club that only a chosen few get to study, rather, readers, both young and old, can participate.

Galileo’s Leaning Tower Experiment is about a young, fictional, boy name Massimo, who is interested in the speed at which things fall. He meets Galileo, a professor at the University of Pisa in 1589, and the two work to figure out if Aristotle’s previous theory was wrong.

Legend has it that Galileo dropped things off the Leaning Tower of Pisa to prove his new theory, which displaced Aristotle’s old theory. It is this event that the picture book centers on. But throughout the book, as Massimo and Galileo theorize, experiment, and make deductions, they show the reader how science works. It’s this progression of deductive thinking that makes this book resonate as more than just a recounting of an old story.

This is what a nonfiction picture book should do, engage children (or us older readers) so that they feel they are not being preached to, or lectured, or bored by irrelevant historical information. Macdonald is highly successful with that. In the course of 32 pages, the characters drop many things to compare their speed. By the end, I got up and started dropping things. Just so I could participate too.

STEM Friday

It’s STEM Friday! (STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)

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Mr. Ferris and His Wheel


Mr. Ferris and his Wheel by Kathryn Gibbs Davis, Illustrated by Gilbert Ford (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014)

Though written in a fully illustrated, engaging and narrative nonfiction style,  Mr. Ferris and his Wheel is nevertheless, a well-sourced and researched picture book for older readers.

The story of the 1863, Chicago World’s Fair debut of the world’s first Ferris wheel (or Monster Wheel, as Mr. Ferris originally named it),  is told in a flowing and entertaining style,

     George arrived in Chicago and made his case to the construction chief of the fair.

     The chief stared at George’s drawings.  No one had ever created a fair attraction that huge and complicated.  The chief told George that his structure was “so flimsy it would collapse.”

     George had heard enough.  He rolled up his drawings and said, “You are an architect, sir. I am an engineer.”

     George knew something the chief did not.  His invention would be delicate-looking and strong.  It would be both stronger and lighter than the Eiffel Tower because it would be built with an amazing new metal—steel.


it contains sidebars that impart more technical information that might otherwise interrupt the flow of the story,

George was a steel expert, and his structure would be made of a steel alloy.  Alloys combine a super-strong mix of a hard metal with two or more chemical elements.

George Ferris’ determination is a story in itself, but it is the engineering genius of his wheel that steals the show.  A “must-have” for any school or public library.

Some facts about the original “Ferris” wheel:

  • 834′ in circumference
  • 265′ above the ground
  • 3,000 electric lightbulbs (this itself was a marvel in 1893!)
  • forty velvet seats per car

Ferris wheel at the Chicago World’s Fair c1893. Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

See all of my reviews at Shelf-employed.

STEM Friday

It’s STEM Friday! (STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)

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The Next Wave

SITF Next WaveThe Next Wave: The Quest to Harness the Power of the Ocean (Scientists in the Field)
by Elizabeth Rusch
80 pages; ages 10-14
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014

Elizabeth Rusch takes us to Oregon’s wave-battered coast to check out the newest technological research in renewable energy. In this book we find surfer scientists and engineers working to transform the energy in ocean waves into electricity. We meet the Mikes and Annette von Jouanne, the AquaBuOY, and a team of Columbia Power engineers.

The pages are jam-packed with photos of waves, boats, surfers, bigger waves, and turbines of all types and sizes – including the Mikes’ prototype turbine constructed of plastic spoons from a fast-food joint. There are diagrams and graphs that help explain wave motion and watts, and plenty of sidebars that delve more deeply into the issues surrounding wave energy technology.

One question is what happens to sea life when you harness waves for energy. Rusch notes that because the technology is so new, “no one really knows how it will affect marine animals or the environment.” Buoys and other machinery could introduce new sounds and electromagnetic fields into the sea and set cables to thrumming, like guitar strings. Devices that capture wave energy will remove that energy from the waves, and reduced wave power could affect sand movements, water temperature, and water mixing near the shore. Scientists don’t think they’ll increase beach eroion, but they might affect the lives of tiny creatures. If you are interested in learning more about potential environmental impacts, check out the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the US Department of Energy Report to Congress (downloadable pdf).

Rusch does a good job of taking us behind the scenes in a growing energy technology field. Some countries are beginning to use wave energy – in small experimental situations. So if you’ve got kids who are interested in renewable energy, waves are the next big thing to watch. And that calls for a field trip to the ocean, right?

STEM Friday

It’s STEM Friday! (STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)

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the Prairie that Nature Built

prairie nature built

Dawn Publications, 2014. ages 4-10.

The Prairie that Nature Built

by Marybeth Lorbiecki; illus. by Cathy Morrison

 “This is the prairie that nature built.” Continuing in a house-that-jack-built mode, this book highlights the critters that worm and squirm under the prairie, the diggers that burrow, the plants and insects, birds and beasts. All of them, it turns out, play an essential role in maintaining the prairie.

I like the detailed illustrations, and the way Cathy Morrison uses the page. Sometimes you need to turn the book to get the full length of it all, from root to sky. I also like how, in the end, author Marybeth Lorbiecki brings the prairie home to us, as a place where a child and her dog could roam and explore.

As with all Dawn books, there is great back matter. This book ends with a “Prairie Primer” and some more detailed notes about the soil partners, grazers, flowers and other life essential to the prairie ecology. There’s a page full of Prairie Fun activities, and some resources: books, websites and more.

Head over to Sally’s Bookshelf for some hands-on activities related to the book.

STEM Friday

It’s STEM Friday! (STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)

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A Trip into Space: An Adventure to the International Space Station

A Trip into Space: An Adventure to the International Space Station
by Lori Haskins Houran (Author) and Francisca Marquez (Illustrator)

Booktalk: Visit the International Space Station, where astronauts work, sleep, and walk in space!

Tasting a drink
That may float around
Sipping in space

Taking a walk
Without any ground
Flipping in space

Two in One!

This week’s Poetry Friday Round-up will be hosted by Today’s Little Ditty.

It’s STEM Friday! (STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)

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Saving Cheetahs

SITF CheetahChasing Cheetahs: The Race to Save Africa’s Fastest Cats (Scientists in the Field)
by Sy Montgomery; photos by Nic Bishop
80 pages; ages 10- 14
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014

A full-grown cheetah weighs about 90 pounds and can run 70 miles per hour – as fast as a car driving on a highway. It can go from zero to 40 in three steps, but after a few hundred yards it has to stop for a rest, or it will overheat.

These fast cats live in one place: Africa. But they are endangered and, without help, may go extinct. This book shows how Laurie Marker – and other scientists working with the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia – is working to preserve remaining cheetah populations. Saving cheetahs, she says, is about more than saving the big cats. “It’s about antelopes and birds, leopards and giraffes, soil and trees, dogs and goats.” That’s because, if you save the cheetahs you end up saving all of the other plants and animals in that ecosystem.

One strategy is to use dogs to save cats. Farmers shoot cheetahs because the big cats take goats from their herds. But in cases where herds are protected by large dogs, cheetahs don’t bother the livestock. Instead, they chase down wild game. So Laurie’s strategy: give a dog to every farmer, and teach them how to protect their flocks so both wild and domestic animals can share the landscape.

In one chapter Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop take us on a forensic expedition to determine which cheetahs have been in an area, and what those cheetahs are eating. Using DNA from scat and hairs left behind, scientists can figure out whether cheetahs are dining on gazelles or goats. They also check in with a wildlife vet for some hands-on lessons on cheetah health.

I particularly like how the book ends with Laurie’s “advice for saving the world”. Her first (and most important) bit of wisdom: “Don’t wait for ‘somebody’ to do it.” If you’re ever thinking that “somebody should do something”, then that somebody might be you. Her last and just-as-important words of advice: “We can save the world. There’s no reason we can’t. But we have to actively do it.” Everyone- even kids- can do something to make this world a better place.

STEM Friday

It’s STEM Friday! (STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)

Site Meter Copyright © 2014 Sue Heavenrich All Rights Reserved.

Vibrations Make Sound

Vibrations Make Sound
by Jennifer Boothroyd (Author)

Booktalk: Young readers will learn how vibrations make sound that we can hear with simple text for beginning readers.

Snippet: Sound is what we hear.

It’s STEM Friday! (STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)

Site Meter Copyright © 2014 Anastasia Suen All Rights Reserved.


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