STEM Friday

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Books

Ultimate Oceanpedia

Ultimate Oceanpedia
written by Christina Wilsdon
2016 (National Geographic Kids)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Close your eyes and imagine that you are deep in the sea. It is dark and cold, and you hear the sound of whales coming from miles away. 

Chapters: Oceans, Ocean Life, Ocean in Motion, Wild Weather, Underwater Exploration, Along the Coast, When People and Oceans Meet

Dear Ultimate Oceanpedia,

You complete me. You took me on a trip to all of the oceans, introducing me to wild places like the Seychelles Islands which are made of granite. I met your wild friends, such as the Bathykorus Bouilloni or as you lovingly called it, the Darth Vader jellyfish since it has the helmet look of the bad man from space. You had me at the detailed diagram on page 41 that shows the layers of the ocean. In the Midnight Zone, you told me that only the female anglerfish has the lighted lure on its head and beard to go with it. Why use a razor to shave when you have razor sharp teeth? I felt a wave of emotion in Chapter 3 as you explained how waves work and the powerful energy that they contain. I learned about Mont-Saint-Michel, which is an island off the coast of France. Or is it? Depends on the tides as they go back and forth, covering and exposing a land bridge that connects the island to the coast.

Show me the ocean!! And you did, with beautiful photographs and diagrams that explain what goes on underneath. Continents shifting and tsunamis blitzing. A mountain range that is almost nine times longer than the above ground Andes Mountains of South America. Around twenty thousand underwater volcanoes exist, but we are just learning about many of them so that number will increase. Our journey finishes with brave explorers combing the depths of the ocean and other scientists who are fighting to keep our seas in good shape. You leave with good advice about how I can care for our saltwater superstars.

Thank you for taking me around the seven seas and back again.

Yours Truly,

The Reader

Seed to Sunflower

Seed to Sunflower
written by Camilla de la Bedoyere
2016 (QEB Publishing)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

When spring comes, the seeds that are in good soil begin to germinate. They will grow into new plants, and the whole life cycle will begin again. 

There may not be a flower that is more fun to grow than the sunflower. They are a no fuss bloomer that can grow to twice your height. It’s also one of the easiest seeds to use with young children who love to fill a plastic bag with dirt and wait for the magic to happen. My previous class planted seeds on Earth Day and now the plants are ten feet tall! Now if you’re going to do this, you should have a literacy tie-in. Seed to Sunflower tells the story of the humble sunflower as it sheds its seed coat and climbs to greatness. Three things stand out about this informational text. First, it’s loaded with text features that are just right for the K-1 crowd. Lots of labels here with diagrams that illustrate the process of the life cycle. Second, the photographs are dazzling and huge which makes it perfect for the primary crowd. Third, it’s loaded with science vocabulary. Young readers, with the proper scaffolding, will enjoy using these words to impress their parents and friends.

Seed to Sunflower, besides being a good science book, would be a great source for teaching sequence. You can take one of several two page spreads and use it for a mini-lesson. Students can also use this book to compare the plant life cycle to other life cycles such as animals and humans.

*Check out more of Jeff’s ramblings at NC Teacher Stuff

Jump! Books

Jump! Books
(Review copies provided by the publisher.)

I like Minnesota. My favorite band, the Jayhawks, hails from Minneapolis. You may be familiar with a couple of other local musicians named Dylan and Prince.  I’ve always thought that the Vikings uniforms were some of the best in the NFL. So I’m not surprised that I am enthusiastic about a couple of imprints from the Star of the North. Jump! (Is David Lee Roththe editor?) has been around since 2012. They aim to provide high interest nonfiction books for readers in the K-2 range. This is like the best chocolate in that you can’t have enough of these kinds of books. The first imprint, Bullfrog Books, is for K-1 readers. I have a copy of Painting, from the Artist’s Studio series, next to me. My first impressions come from the photographs. Bold colors in the pictures and background catch my eye. There is very little white space here as opposed to the books of my youth that sometimes looked like a snowstorm broke out. You can see the brush strokes on the canvas because the views are up close. The people in this book don’t all look the same. That’s great! I want my students to be able to see themselves in these photographs. So what about the text? A mix of short sentences with challenging Tier Two words sprinkled throughout. You’ll want to review a few words before reading with K-1 students, but that’s a good thing. Beginning readers love to learn new words and try to connect them to their world.

The second and newer imprint is Pogo. These books are STEM related and written at a second grade level. In Paper Airplanes and other titles from the Early Physics Fun series, you get the text features that you expect. Bold print, diagrams, fun facts, labels, and procedural text all take a bow. What I really like about this particular title is that it explains the science behind why a paper airplane is able to fly and in second grade language. That’s not easy! Like Bullfrog Books, the photography is spot on. The books are the right size too. Easy for smaller hands to grip with the right amount of text to read. If Goldilocks reviewed nonfiction, she would say the text is just right.

You need these kinds of titles in your public and school libraries. They play a big part in getting kids excited about their world and serve as a gateway for learning how to do research. With many attractive features, you might as well Jump! and find these books for your students.

Too Many Tomatoes


Too Many Tomatoes
written by Eric Ode; illustrated by Kent Culotta
2016 (Kane Miller)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

It’s bursting with berries and beans and potatoes
and tall, twining vines of too many tomatoes.

Somebody bring me some bread, salt and pepper, and mayonnaise quick! A young grandson celebrates the bounty of his grandparents’s garden in this charming ballad to a favorite food source. When sprouts appear above ground, the boy dances with delight. Soon, vines are all over the place hanging with tasty treats both red and yellow. As the family heads to the farmer’s market, tomatoes are spotted on trains and the back of a tow truck. After selling at the market, it’s time for a whirlwind of tomato gifting. The teacher, the tailor, the scientist, and the sailor all receive a tomato. With a seemingly never ending supply, why not have a parade? A marching band in, what else, tomato red uniforms, celebrates the fruition of garden labors. The grandparents and the boy tote tomatoes while the band plays on.

Mater mania running wild will make for an enjoyable read aloud in your classroom. With the rhymes, you can touch on phonemic awareness. Too Many Tomatoes is also full of rich parts of speech. Vivid verbs and abundant adjectives will invigorate the pencils of young writers. If you have a plant and/or foods unit, this book needs to be a part of it. Spring is just around the corner, so celebrate the joy of keeping a garden with Too Many Tomatoes.

You can find more reviews at NC Teacher Stuff.

National Geographic Puzzle Explorer

National Geographic Puzzle Explorer
created by Fingerprint Digital Inc.
Part of the app is free; $2.99 for the rest of the app

According to the website MineMum, a sandbox game is one where players create a game themselves by manipulating the world within it.

National Geographic’s Puzzle Explorer is a new app where players can create mazes in different geographic settings. You can download it here. My daughter and I created mazes and played on already built mazes in the Yucatan Peninsula and Antarctica. I will warn you that this is addictive. In Antarctica, the goal is to collect three cameras located in different places in the maze. You travel across ice blocks (see below). The tricky part is not all of the maze is connected. Players have to manipulate blocks of ice and giant snowballs to create new pieces of the maze that can be crossed. Each camera contains informational text with a photograph background. When you have collected the cameras, you win the game.

Using this app was a lot of fun! You have to really think to develop a strategy to meet your goal. I like the combination of informational text and game-playing. Mazes can be shared between players which brings a social aspect to the game. Try out the free version and if you like it, you can complete your app for $2.99 with settings for the Himalayas, the Nile River Valley, and the Australian Outback. If your child/student is going to have screen time, give them something that will make them think and create. As they are creating, players will be learning facts about each of these places in the world. This makes the app a way to introduce these geographic locations. Speaking of geography, you could also use this app to talk about land forms. I think this app would be good for ages 6-12.

Does the Sun Sleep?

Does the Sun Sleep?
written by Martha E.H. Rustad; illustrated by Holli Conger
2016 (Millbrook Press)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

“I get it!” says Deon. “When it’s day on one side of Earth, it’s night on the other side.”

If you want the sun, the moon, and the stars, you should go to Mr. Cruz’s classroom. His class is working on making observations and noticing patterns in nature. The first pattern they notice is day and night. Mr. Cruz leads a discussion of the movement of the Earth which makes it look like the Sun is moving. Using a flashlight and a globe, he explains how the sun shines on only part of the planet at a time. Blue boxes on each spread add facts to the narrative. On this spread, readers learn that it takes the Earth 24 hours to spin around once, which is another pattern. Moving on to the moon, the class views a monthly chart of the phases of the moon. Stocked up on AA batteries, Mr. Cruz uses his flashlight, the globe, and a small model of the moon to explain how light from the Sun shines on the moon. Finally, the class discusses stars, why we can’t see them in the daylight (Except for the Sun.), and how they have patterns as well.

Does the Sun Sleep? does a great job of explaining information about space in simple language, but also doesn’t shy away from using vocabulary like horizon, waxing, and waning.  This is a good text to share with first graders who study patterns and cycles in space. The illustrations are terrific visuals that help explain the facts given in the text. First graders will especially like the phases of the moon chart. Grab your flashlight and follow Mr. Cruz’s lead!

Check out other reviews at NC Teacher Stuff.

Alphabet Trains

Alphabet Trains
written by Samantha R. Vamos; illustrated by Ryan O’Rourke
2015 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Around the world, from land to sea,
trains work hard from A to Z.

Quick question. How many different trains can you name? Not companies, but actual trains. I know freight trains, monorails, and passenger trains. I should have named elevated train as well but I had to look in the book to be reminded. That’s it. Now, after readingAlphabet Trains, my knowledge has quadrupled. I like that kind of return when reading a nonfiction book. There are so many cool trains here. One of my favorites is the Hurricane Turn. That should be located in a warm weather climate, right? Well, you will actually find it in Alaska. In the back matter (terrific information!), I read that riders have to wave a white flag to stop the train. When they want to get off the train, they tell the conductor the milepost where they need to leave. I was interested enough to research this and learn more about the Hurricane Turn. That’s one of the beauties of this book. It’s going to lead to extra research by young readers and their families. Did you know there was a snow plow train? I never considered how snow would be removed from a train track. They have special blades that carve the snow, sends it through a chute, and blows it to one side of the track. After reading Alphabet Trains, readers will also ask questions that will lead to further research. As a kid, I lived off of nonfiction books with bite-sized information that led me to read other books.

Other than prompting further research, you could use this book for quick shared reading sessions with a reading group. Leave off the last word in the second sentence and see if students can provide it. They can use the last word in the previous sentence and context clues (the illustration) to try and come up with the missing word. This will help build vocabulary and prompt readers to practice using the tools they have to figure out new words. I think creating an alphabet book would also be a fun nonfiction writing challenge for 2nd-4th grade writers too. Punch your ticket now and join the Alphabet Trains!

Check out more posts about new books at NC Teacher Stuff.

A Tower of Giraffes

A Tower of Giraffes:Animals in Groups
written and illustrated by Anna Wright
2015 (Charlesbridge)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher
Available starting September 8th

A Drove of Pigs
Pigs like to spend time with other pigs-they are very social. Groups, called droves, are led by females, called sows. Within a drove, some pigs sleep beside the same companion for many years. 

Is that wallpaper? That was my first reaction when I saw the striking cover of A Tower of Giraffes. Then I went into full blast teacher craft mode (Can I trademark that phrase?) and thought about how cool it would be to use wallpaper samples to create animal pictures with second graders. When I opened the book and looked through the illustrations, I also saw watercolors, fabric, and feathers used to illustrate other groups of animals. My eyes feasted on these beautiful and original illustrations. After recovering from near craft hyperventilation (NCH), I began to pay attention to the text and notice all the new facts that I was learning. Look at the paragraph highlighted above. Did you know that the sows led groups of pigs? I didn’t. I also wasn’t aware of how social they were. That’s two new pieces of information in a small paragraph. There’s a lot of animal information that your students will collect from A Tower of Giraffes. Furthermore, you can use this book to teach collective nouns. Check out the vocabulary below:

How great is it to learn the word flamboyance? After reading A Tower of Giraffes, I would challenge students to research and find more collective nouns related to animals. You can create a chart in your classroom. Kids will be flying to their computers at home to add to the list. If excellent illustrations, new animal information, and fun grammar lessons weren’t enough, then might I suggest main idea and supporting details? The first sentence of these paragraphs gives the name of the group and the following sentences are supporting details. This informational text is the total package! It can score, make assists and gather rebounds. A Tower of Giraffes is to informational text as LeBron James is to basketball. If you think I’m bathing in hyperbole with that analogy, check out this book and decide for yourself.
You can find more book posts at NC Teacher Stuff.

Leaflets Three, Let It Be!

Leaflets Three, Let It Be!
written by Anita Sanchez; illustrated by Robin Brickman
2015 (Boyds Mills Press)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Hate, hate, hate, hate, hate having poison ivy. I remember having just graduated from college and interviewing for jobs while having red splotches on my arms and legs. So I’m not inclined to be sympathetic to this vile vine. But if I take the point of view of a woodland creature, I might think differently. Guess who provides a meal for rabbits and bears that are hungry after a tough winter? Poison ivy. Only humans are allergic. Protection for baby cardinals who are hungrily waiting in the nest? Courtesy of your friendly neighborhood poison ivy. Nectar that is used by bees to make tasty honey? Believe it or not, p.i. The leaves provide food for beetles, caterpillars and other insects. Tiny berries are a feast for birds. The big picture for Leaflets Three, Let It Be! is that poison ivy has been getting bad publicity from hacks like me. It is a valuable food and survival source for many animals. Sounds like a great nonfiction point of view lesson! Opinion papers could abound with this book. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the terrific cut paper illustrations from Robin Brickman. I’m delighted that I was able to meet her last month at the 21st Century Children’s Nonfiction Conference.

From now on, I will be more favorable toward poor ol’ poison ivy. I’ll just try hard not to embrace it. Check out more nonsense from Jeff at NC Teacher Stuff

Migration Nation

Migration Nation

written by Joanne O’Sullivan

2015 (Imagine Publishing)

Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

It’s a wild trip through rushing rivers, across frozen ice floes, 

and through stormy skies.

Going to the grocery store that is three minutes down the road from my house is my version of migrating to find food. I would be a lousy polar bear. They travel up to 1,000 miles from the Arctic ice to the southernmost tip of the Hudson Bay. Migration Nation tells the tale of twelve different North American animals (e.g. bison, cranes, gray whales) that set off on journeys each year in order to survive. As opposed to me hopping in the car because we’re low on milk.

One of the strengths of this book is the variety of ways that information is presented. You get interesting narratives that take a few paragraphs to explain why the animals migrate and what goes into making their journeys. There’s also a map with additional “quick facts” that add information that might not fit into the narrative. The author also points out the hazards that the animals face in traveling and how humans are trying to help improve these journeys. Check out this link to get a great preview of the style of the book. With the Ranger Rick brand, you’re getting eye-catching photographs as well.

Migration Nation is the nonfiction report after which you would want older students (4th-12th grade) to model their writing. In addition, you could show a section and talk about the text features that you see. Don’t hate me for saying this but the narratives are also the perfect size for practicing reading for a standardized test. You should migrate to your local book store or library and find a copy.