STEM Friday

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Books

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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)

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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)

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John Muir: America’s First Environmentalist

One of my all time favorite quotes comes from John Muir- “People need beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.” It’s weird to think a person like John Muir can be reduced to a quote, but you’ve got to admit, it’s a good one. The quote comes up in John Muir: America’s First Environmentalist by Kathryn Lasky, illustrated by Stan Fellows, as Muir falls in love with the California Mountains in the 1860’s.

This picture book from 2006 is a comprehensive look at John Muir’s life. It includes the requisite flash over his childhood that writing for children must have these days, his long walk to Florida, his days herding sheep in the Sierras, and his love of ice and storms. The book is arranged chronologically, and attempts to show how Muir’s love and respect for nature grew throughout his life experiences.

Most striking about this book are the illustrations. They balance between painting and sketchbook, vibrant color and pencil scratchings, and close detail and pictures fading to blurs. Fellows did a remarkable job capturing moments of Muir’s life in a truly beautiful way.

It’s always interesting to me how those on the forefront of the environmental movement are generally discounted as “quacks,” “ignorant,” or “unscientific.” Muir was captivated by glaciers, and conducted studies and made observations to show that glaciers actually move in Yosemite Valley. Yet, the scientists of the time called him a “mere sheepherder.” Were those scientists so bent on maintaining power over the science that they could not concede someone else might have unearthed some truth? Were they that scared of admitting their own mistakes? Or were they simply ignorant quacks themselves?

Hard to say, but I can see that we humans have a strong resistance to change, and an even stronger resistance to accepting our place in the nature of the earth. Thankfully, John Muir didn’t seem to have this problem. His work altered the course of so many natural places in this country; he caused thousands of acres of land to be preserved. And I for one, am so thankful to have those places where nature may heal and cheer and give me strength.

STEM Friday

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

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