STEM Friday

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Books


Up! Up! Up! Skyscraper

Up! Up! Up! Skyscraper
written by Anastasia Suen; illustrated by Ryan O’Rourke
2017 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Down, down, down!
Bars of steel.
A building’s bones 
Make it real.

From the ground up, this is a terrific book. It explains, in sequence, how skyscrapers are built. On each spread, there are two sets of explanations of each step. The big bold print in the upper half is a quatrain with the second and fourth lines rhyming. This will be great for shared reading for a whole K-1 class or a small group. On the bottom half, there is a smaller print that is more like an informational text for older readers.

I like how the different texts target a wide range of readers. Plus, there are labels and inserts that add details and show how pieces fit. These touches show that author Anastasia Suen is well aware of the needs of her audience. Ryan O’Rourke’s art work is eye catching with bright colors and sharp lines that add to the reader’s understanding. I love the end piece which is a foldout of the skyscraper. In addition, if you click this link, you can print pages to make a flip book of the building of the skyscraper.

Up! Up! Up! Skyscraper takes a subject that is intriguing to students yet difficult to explain and makes the explanation engaging and simple to understand. That is not easy. Did you know how skyscrapers are built? I had a general idea, but this book helped me fill in a lot of missing pieces. Kids will love sharing the details they learn with their friends and parents. For very young readers who like buildings and transportation (and there are many!), I can see the quatrains being repeated often as a bedtime read aloud. This book is also good for a social studies unit on cities and comparing them to rural areas. For the students that I work with, this is a valuable resource as most of them have never seen a skyscraper. Up! Up! Up! Skyscraper is floors and floors of fun informational text.

Find more stuff from Jeff Barger at NC Teacher Stuff.


Swimming with Sharks

Swimming with Sharks

written by Heather Lang; illustrated by Jordi Solano

2016 (Albert Whitman)

Source: Orange County Public Library

Genie knew the more she discovered about sharks, the less people would fear them.

Eugenie “Genie” Clark saw the world of sharks differently than most people. They looked with fear while she looked with wonder. As a young girl, she dreamed of swimming with them. Later, Genie got a master’s degree in zoology and an opportunity to research in the Pacific Ocean. She was hired by the US Navy to study poisonous fish in the South Seas in 1949. It was here that she encountered a large shark. This close rendezvous increased her love of these mysterious creatures. Six years later, Genie opened a lab in Florida and added a shark pen where she was the first to study sharks in their natural habitat. She even went so far as to train a pair of lemon sharks. As her work continued, she earned the nickname of “Shark Lady”. Her extensive research underwater led her to discover that shark numbers were decreasing. Genie made of mission of reaching out to the public and educating people about these glorious animals in order to save them. She continued her research until her death at age 92. In the Author’s Note, readers learn that Genie “published over 175 articles about fish and made seventy-two submersible dives.”

What a fascinating life and book! If I were introducing the scientific method (and we all should be), I would use Swimming with Sharks as one of my resources. Genie Clark is shown always observing and taking notes. I like how pieces of Genie’s notebooks are included in the illustrations. In this world of hot takes and snap judgments, I love that we have a heroine who thoughtfully studied her subject. We need to encourage this more and more. And what a great figure for a class wax museum! A student could wear a mask and flippers as they talk about Eugenie Clark’s research. Swimming with Sharks is an excellent picture book biography.


Animals on the Move

Animals on the Move

written by Dorothea DePrisco

2017 (Animal Planet)

Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

The globe skimmer makes an 11,000-mile journey from India to Africa-the longest migration in the insect world. 


The next time I THINK I’m too tired to get up and grab the TV remote, I need to read this book and remind myself that I’m being a slacker. It’s a celebration of animal movement that will enthrall elementary animal lovers. Color tabs guide readers through the pages. Categories that are tabbed include how animals move, why they move, and animal similarities and differences. When reading this, I’m reminded of the reference books that I loved as a child of the early ’70s. Beautiful bold photographs with intriguing text that keeps you engaged for hours. Except now I can take this book home and not have to leave it in the reference section before I exit the library.  For example, on page 17 is a fabulous photo of a gnu (wildebeest) with its hind legs high in the air. Surrounding it are labels that not only point out body parts but also tell their purpose. There’s a box with size facts on the left that explains how the gnu g-not its name from the sound they call out when they are busting each other with their horns. Another fun spread is on pages 54-55 where the movement of animals, that do not have legs, are featured. Walruses use their fins to move them along the ice and their tusks to pull up out of the water. Earthworms squeeze their muscles to move along. I’d make a lousy earthworm if I had to do crunches just to move. Perhaps the coolest is the sea urchin that uses its teeth to move on the coral. Those same teeth can cut out a hole to make a place to hide. That’s a pretty boss move. In the back matter, you’ll find activities that teach you how to build a snake snack and an in-flight snack for birds.

One of the ways I would use this book in the classroom is to teach main idea and supporting details. There are so many different paragraphs that are perfect for a J-M level reader to pull out a main idea or a supporting detail. It’s also pretty good for modeling text features such as labels. You’ll want to move this title to the animal section of your classroom library.


Karl, Get Out of the Garden!

Karl, Get Out of the Garden!
written by Anita Sanchez; illustrated by Catherine Stock
2017 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Karl decided to get things organized. He planned to bring order to the chaos and give everything a clear and simple name. 

Karl’s parents wanted his nose in a book. He’d rather have it in a flower or near a striped insect. How to compromise? With plants being an important part of medicine, Karl begged to attend medical school, and pass on being a lawyer or a minister, so he could spend plenty of time outdoors. As he tried to cure ailments, Karl ran into the same problem again and again. There was no consistent agreement on the names of plants. People would have several different names for the same plant. He also noticed that this conundrum applied to animals as well, so Karl set out to develop a more organized system. Dividing the plant and animal kingdoms, he created classes for plants and gave each plant and animal a name with only two parts. An important aspect of Karl’s research was observation. He traveled north to Lapland to find wildflowers. Whether climbing high to gather pine cones or checking the mouth of a bat, Karl thought, “Truth ought to be confirmed by observation.” In addition to his work in classification, Karl also was a teacher. The outdoors was a classroom where discoveries would literally be trumpeted in celebration. This paid off as his students went out into the world. With the help of specimens sent to him from his students, he “created a new language of science.”

If you told me, “Hey, I have a picture book about the history of taxonomy”, I might be classified as bloggerus runtheotherwayis. But this is a really interesting picture book biography about the father of taxonomy. I like how it’s framed as a story of someone who thought differently and went against the grain. Karl is a problem solver and eager to take up challenges. I also like the extra information attached to the lovely watercolor illustrations. It could be a quote from Karl or examples of his classification work. That’s like finding an extra flavor in a delicious dish of food. Karl, Get Out of the Garden would be a terrific addition to a biography or science unit.


Sir Cumference and the Fracton Faire

Sir Cumference and the Fracton Faire
written by Cindy Neuschwander; illustrated by Wayne Geehan
2017 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

“They’re Fracton numbers, my lady,” the woman answered. “They are used to measure equal pieces of something, such as this beautiful cloth.”

Lady Di of Ameter and Sir Cumference are visiting a fair with their friend the Earl of Fracton. In Fracton, you can buy a whole item or pieces of it. Lady Di spies a bolt of red fabric, but while she is getting a lesson on numerators and denominators from the seller, the fabric disappears. Meanwhile, Sir Cumference and the Earl are craving a snack so they chat up the cheese monger. He provides a lesson on equivalent fractions, which disappoints Sir Cumference because he, like an overeager second grader, thought choosing a large number for the denominator would guarantee more cheese. When the cheese monger turns to cut from the cheddar wheel, it’s missing too! In fact, all of the vendors are missing items. Momentarily flummoxed, the Earl decides to think like a thief which allows him to devise a fracton-like plan to catch the stealing stinkers. Through the medium of a puppet show, a reward of one valuable gold coin is offered to the customer that can find the largest fraction written on pieces of paper distributed throughout the fair. The Earl surmises that only a visitor to Fracton would be delighted with a low numerator and a high denominator. Sure enough, a motley crew leader boasts of having found 1/32 and is outwardly annoyed when his fraction is not declared the winner. Case closed.

Fractions are one of the hardest topics for math students in grades 2-5. So when an engaging resource can be found to propel their learning, there is mathematical mirth to be had. The concepts are explained in an enlightening way both textually and visually. You also get the added bonus of fun wordplay, which is a hallmark of the Sir Cumference book series. All hail this new addition to a venerable math series!


Plants Can’t Sit Still

Plants Can’t Sit Still
written by Rebecca E. Hirsch; illustrated by Mia Posada
2016 (Millbrook Press)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Some plants sleep at night, leaves nodding, flowers folding.

With apologies to R.E.M.

That’s great, plants start with a wiggle, squirm and reaching for the light.
I think this book is out of sight.
Creeping and slithering underground
Crawling through grass all around.
Up a fence, up a wall
Opening up as night falls.
Rolling around as a tumbleweed
Erupting in the air with its seeds.
Ride a bear, ride a fox,
Sticking on your dad’s socks.
Whirl like a copter,
Float as a seed,
Here are the origins of a tree.

It shows plants can’t sit still and now I know it.
It shows plants can’t sit still and now I know it.
It shows plants can’t sit still and now I know it.
And I feel fine!

Option #1 – I ask students to predict and talk/write in pairs about why this is the title of the book before reading.
Option #2 – Pull out a big ol’ piece of chart paper and ask K-1 students how plants can move. Then I revisit the chart paper after reading the book.
Option #3 – A P.E. or classroom teacher can do a brain break by having students move like a plant in the different ways shown in the book. “Float like seed!” “Now, tumble, tumble, tumble like a weed.”
Option #4 – Use four or six pages and identify the vivid verbs.

This is a terrific book that marries science and vivid verbs better than a Vegas chapel full of Elvis impersonators. And the back matter rocks with in-depth information about each of the plants in the book. Plant this book in your read-aloud collection.


Super Gear

Super Gear: Nanotechnology and Sports Team Up
written by Jennifer Swanson
2016 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Nanotechnology is the science of things at the nanoscale. It deals with microscopic particles called nanoparticles. Nano- means “one-billionth,” so a nanometer is one-billionth of a meter.

Bigger is not always better. With nanotechnology, the little guy is the winner. Two key quotes from page four of the fascinating book Super Gear explain why. Smaller particles fit more tightly together than large particles, increasing the strength of the material and Atoms within a smaller particle also attract one another with greater force, resulting in stronger atom-to-atom bonds. The tighter bonds make for a much more durable substance. The manipulation of these nanoparticles has created gear in the sports world that puts Pierre de Coubertin’s quote, Swifter, higher, stronger, on its head. But you can’t talk about the super suits in swimming before you understand the why. Author Jennifer Swanson gets this so she explains in the first chapter how all of it works. Scientists are able to move nanoparticles with the use of a laser beam from an optical nanotweezer. What are the results of this work? Swimsuits that produced such fast times in the pool that the technology had to be curbed. The nanotech suits cut down on the drag from the water. This also works in track and field, cutting down times by as much as two hundredths of a second. That’s enough to separate winners and losers. Other sports equipment that has been enhanced by nanotechnology includes baseball bats, golf clubs, and tennis racquets. Think about the changes in what we wear to play our games. It’s no longer enough to slap on a sport gray t-shirt. Your 5K time will be slower than the runner who has the cool sweat-resistant shirt. Before you talk about sports “back in my day” and chase kids off your lawn, it’s not just the reduction of time or increase in distance that nanotechnology has affected. It’s also making sports safer with better helmets and running tracks that cut down on injury.

Speaking of little spaces, it’s almost impossible to include all of the cool details from Super Gear in this blog rectangle. It will change the way you look at your favorite sport. I’m watching Chiefs-Raiders right now and thinking about helmets and uniforms instead of my beloved fantasy team. Wonder why we have so many highlights of great catches by receivers? Is it the gloves, money? In children’s literature, we have a lot of biographies of sports figures, but not very much in the way of sports science. This interesting mix of science and sports will hopefully lead to more texts like Super Gear in the near future.