STEM Friday

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Books

the Mystery of the Vanishing Little Brown Bats

vanishing batsThe Case of the Vanishing Brown Bats
By Sandra Markle
48 pages; ages 9-12
Millbrook Press, 2014

Little brown bats were once among the most common kinds of bats in North America. But by 2013, their population had dropped so low that scientists wondered whether they should be listed as endangered species.

This story begins in 2007, when a team of scientists from the NY State Dept. of Environmental Conservation goes to a cave near Albany. Their job: to count hibernating bats. What they found were lots of dead bats, some with fuzzy white noses. The following year they found even more dead bats.

What was killing the bats? Was it climate change? Pesticides? A virus?

In this book, Sandra Markle follows a team of scientists working on the bat-killer mystery. She follows them into caves and into their labs. The scientists determine that the killer is a fungus – but they still have more questions: what will happen to the populations of other animals that depend on the bats? Some animals rely on bats for their suppers, and farmers rely in bats to control crop-munching insects in the ecosystem.

Markle provides amazing bat facts and lists ways people can help their local bats. She’s also got a long list of books and other resources for folks who want to explore bats more deeply.

STEM Friday

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

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The Prairie That Nature Built

The Prairie That Nature Built
by Marybeth Lorbiecki (Author) and Cathy Morrison (Illustrator)

Booktalk: A wild prairie is a lively place in this rhythmic romp with munchers and crunchers above and below the grasses so thick, and fires that flare, and rains that quench—and always the prairie grows green. Back matter offers information and activities for a fuller appreciation of this marvelous, disappearing habitat.

These are the roots that plunge so deep,
Long and strong, holding water to keep,
Down past the burrows where the prairie pups sleep,
Alongside the critters that worm and squirm
Alive in the dirt so dark and deep
Under the prairie that nature built.
Such long, strong roots can save the day
When rain you want still stays away.

See the book in 3-D by downloading the app.

Two in One!

This week’s Poetry Friday Round-up is hosted by TeacherDance.

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

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Sydney and Simon: Full STEAM Ahead

Sydney and Simon: Full Steam Ahead!
written by Paul A. Reynolds; illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
2014 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Sydney and Simon are an intrepid pair of twin mice who are preparing for a flower show. They have a high hopes for first place but a big problem blooms when a heat wave dries up the soil in their window box. Why can’t they just pour water in the box? Their apartment window is stuck and not budging. Time for the wonder twins to get STEAMed (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, Arts, and Math) up. Sydney starts by drawing pictures of the wilting flowers and concentrating on creating a hypothesis for the stuck window. Simon has his tablet focused on finding solutions. With the help of their mom, the twins start thinking about water vapor and an investigation is launched. In the process of trying to create a watering device for a small space, Sydney and Simon discover a leaky faucet that leads to an investigation of water use. The mice use many resources including their science teacher and Uncle Rusty, who works for the water department, to learn more about wasted water.

One of the great things about this book is how readers get to see two characters constantly thinking and being determined to solve problems. There’s no giving up with these two mice. Sydney and Simon’s actions will ring true with young readers because they are excited about every discovery and this is how kids react as well. Watching kids at recess or with a science experiment will teach you this. I love how all of STEAM is woven into the story without it becoming stilted and boring. The artwork is full of bright colors which makes this a fun read. I hope the Reynolds brothers will bring us more Sydney and Simon adventures because we need kids to get STEAMed up!

AAAS/Subaru SB&F 2015 Science Book Nominees

This week the AAAS/Subaru SB&F announced their 2015 nominations Prize for Excellence in Science Books in the children’s, middle grade, and hands-on categories. Here are some of the nominated titles that have been featured at STEM Friday.


Sue (Archimedes Notebook) reviewed Handled with Care by Loree Griffin Burns and with photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz in May.


Shelf-employed highlighted Parrots Over Puerto Rico by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore in January, and Louise featured it in November, 2013.

There are some wonderful titles this year. See a complete list of the nominated books and my reviews at Growing with Science blog.

STEM Friday

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

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Beetle Busters

SITF Beetle BusterBeetle Busters: A Rogue Insect and the People who Track It
by Loree Griffin Burns; photos by Ellen Harasimonwicz
64 pages; ages 10 – 14
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014

This is a book about one gorgeous beetle (look at the beautiful antennae), the damage it does to forests, and the scientists and citizens who are trying to save their trees. The Asian Longhorn Beetle, also known as the ALB, came from China tucked into wood used to ship products to the US. Now it’s infesting trees from Massachusetts to New York and into Canada, and foresters are in a race to control its spread. But is cutting thousands of trees the answer?

In this book Loree Burns takes a close look at the beetle – its life cycle inside and outside the trees – and the scientists tracking the insect. She talks trees: bark, tree rings, leaves and buds. She takes us into the woods with the beetle busting team for some surveying and a bit of tree climbing (don’t worry; we’re roped in), then into the lab. Beetle busting is hard work, and the scientists need help. That means we – yes, just ordinary citizens – need to help track and report beetle break-outs. Even if it means losing a tree we love.

Burns includes diagrams, sidebars, author’s notes and resources for curious beetle naturalists. Ellen Harasimonwicz’s photographs are integral to this book. She traipsed from field to lab and her photos of beetles, trees, and scientists in action help us understand the complexity of the problem.

Head over to Archimedes Notebook for an interview with Loree. She talks about her research and what kids can do to help scientists bust these beetles.

STEM Friday

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

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The Next Wave: The Quest to Harness the Power of the Oceans

The Next Wave: The Quest to Harness the Power of the Oceans (Scientists in the Field Series)
by Elizabeth Rusch (Author)

Booktalk: Journey to the wave-battered coast of the Pacific Northwest to meet some of the engineers and scientists working to harness the punishing force of our oceans, one of the nature’s powerful and renewable energy sources. With an array of amazing devices that cling to the bottom of the sea floor and surf on the crests of waves, these explorers are using a combination of science, imagination, and innovation to try to capture wave energy in the hopes of someday powering our lives in a cleaner, more sustainable way.

A great deal of energy generated around the world is lost from resistance in wires when transported long distances. One of the benefits of ocean energy is that electricity can be generated–and used–near where people live. More than half the U.S. population lives near the coast and more than half the world’s population lives within 125 miles (200 kilometers) of the ocean.

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

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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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