STEM Friday

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Books


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The Story of Stars by Neal Layton

storyofstarsfrontcoverA book four years in the making, with the grand aim of squeezing the entire cosmos into 10 pop up pages, The Story of Stars by Neal Layton (@LaytonNeal) doesn’t disappoint: It is exciting, funny and eyepopping.

Opening by placing the reader at the heart of the book (“Each night as the sun goes down, the sky grows dark and the stars come out, you might look up at the stars and wonder, ‘What are they? Where are they?’“) Layton uses a historical narrative to explore how our knowledge and understanding of the night sky has developed.

As arguably the most important star for human beings, a couple of spreads are then dedicated to the sun (what it is like and what impact it has on us) before moving on to thinking about what else you can see in the night sky and how it is being explored. A very satisfying ending suggests that young readers themselves may be the ones to further add to our knowledge about the universe when they grow up, once again locating the young reader centrally in the story of the stars, making it relevant and exciting to them.

Layton has illustrated many non fiction books for children. I think some of what makes them so successful is his unstuffy, slightly scribbly, loose style. Not only do kids find this accessible, his characters and cameos are often funny with their big noses and wonky faces. Hand written annotations on his illustrations look almost like a child could have added them, (subconsciously) bringing the reader yet closer to the subject matter of book. Click here to see some interior spreads from the book.

Whilst pop up books are generally not loved by libraries and schools, children simply adore opening flaps, turning wheels, seeing cut-outs leap off the pages, and the paper engineering (by Richard Ferguson) in The Story of Stars is great fun. Surprises for the reader start on the very first page, with the most engaging colophon I’ve ever seen in a book (for once children will naturally find themselves reading the brief description of publication notes) ! Particularly effective is the simple but stunning opening of the skies to show the location, names and stories behind a selection of constellations, thought children will also love the elements which are a little more well hidden; there’s nothing like playing “spot the secret flap”, especially if adult readers haven’t noticed it!

A highly engaging and humorous introduction perhaps particularly appropriate for for 4-8 year olds, I can whole heartedly recommend The Story of Stars.

The Story of Stars by Neal Layton, published by Hodder (published Oct 2013 in the UK, forthcoming Feburary 2014 in the USA)
ISBN-10: 1444901125
ISBN-13: 978-1444901122

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A starry first book about maths: Dog Loves Counting by Louise Yates

doglovescounting_frontcover

Dog cannot sleep. Whatever he tries, he just can’t drift off. He’s counted sheep but without success. Perhaps there are other animals he could all upon to help him on his way to the land of nod?

Thus starts Dog’s journey through the numbers from one to ten helped along each step of the way by various animals, including a three-toed sloth, a five-lined skink, and a nine-banded armadillo. Dog and the animals make a merry band of friends as they count their way up to ten, with plenty of opportunity for repetition of the numbers by young listeners.

After reaching 10, the concept of infinity is cleverly introduced, along with a sense of awe at the vastness of deserts and night skies; one of the strengths of this lovely book is how it weaves together not only maths and biology for the youngest of children, it also opens the door to geography and astronomy.

A satisfying ending with clever wordplay wraps up this charming book, as perfect for bedtime (you’ll have to read it yourself to see if Dog does manage to end up in dreamland) as for consolidating early maths knowledge.

Yates’ pencil and watercolour illustrations ooze warmth and happiness; her characters are funny and loveable. A regular renaissance pup, loving not only literature (cf Dog’s first – and award winning – appearance in Dog Loves Books,), art (cf his second outing, in Dog loves Drawing) but also natural history and maths, if you haven’t already met Louis Yates’ dear Dog, now is most definitely the time to do so!

Dog Loves Counting by Louise Yates
Published by Random House (March 2013) / Knopf Books for Young Readers (September 2013)
978-0857550156 / 978-0449813423

Today’s post is part of STEM Friday, a weekly round-up of children’s science, engineering, math and technology books.

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123 Little Donkey – a maths book for the very youngest

123littledonkey123 Little Donkey by Rindert Kromhout, illustrated by Annemarie van Haeringen, translated by Bill Nagelkerke is the loveliest counting book I’ve come across in a long time.

It takes a concept that can be rather well worn and uninspiring and not only encourages genuine engagement with the illustrations, through choosing slightly unusual objects to count, but creates a heartwarming, reassuring and funny story to lead readers and listeners through their numbers. Whilst this a delight for young learners, it’s also refreshing and humerous for the adults sharing this book with the children in their lives.

Little Donkey’s determination to snaffle some of the goodies his mother has brought back from her shopping trip provides the starting point for this numerical story; “1 shopping bag” is rummaged through by “2 nosy friends” who find “3 bags of treats”. Mama puts the treats up high out of reach, but Donkey and his friend are not to be put off their plan to secure some sweets. Precarious balancing results in an mishap inducing “9 fat tears” and “10 soft kisses” from the forgiving Mama.

Delight, drama, a soupçon of naughtiness, reassuring parental love AND the opportunity to practice your numbers are all bundled up in this charming book from an author and illustrator who have won many awards in their native Netherlands and deserve to be much better known around the world.

Gecko Press USA (Lerner, dist.), $14.95 (20p) ISBN 978-1-877579-34-9
Also available in the UK, distributed by Bounce, and in New Zealand, where Gecko Press are based.

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STEM Friday: Science Experiments

The Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize is the UK’s only award solely for books about science for children and young people. One of the book’s on this year’s shortlist is Science Experiments by Robert Winston and Ian Graham.

Essentially a book of recipes for experiments which kids and families can do at home, this book makes for a tantalising read. Divided into 5 sections covering “The Material World”, “Forces and Motion”, Energy in Action”, Electricity and Magnetism” and “The Natural World” there are 85 experiments, ranging from the very simple, requiring only things to hand in any kitchen (for example exploring changes of state, and how to avoid clouds in ice), to those which are more complicated, need time to prepare or specialist resources (like making your own metal detector, or creating bubbles with dry ice).

With nearly every page turn my 7 year old was pulling on my sleeve; “Can we do this? Can we do this one? Please, Mummy, pleeaaase?”. You can’t ask for a better response than that, if your aim is to get kids excited about science.

But just as you can’t review a cookery book without putting some recipes to the test, the most important way to find out what an experiments’ books is really like is to try out some of the activities.

We’ve done a good dozen of them by the time of writing this review and all the instructions have been very clear and easy to follow, with excellent results in all cases. The text is easy enough for my 7 year old to read herself, and the illustrations (a mixture of drawings and photographs) are clear and helpful, as well as inspiring.

However, quite a number of the experiments need either a fair amount of time in preparation (mostly in saving up junk that might otherwise have been thrown out) or for you to purchase materials which may not be cheap (e.g. powdered alum or phenolphthalein). It would be great if this book came with a list of suggested equipment and suppliers at the back (or linked online) so you could start stocking up and looking around for everything before handing over this book to your kids; it’s very demotivating if they read an experiment which they want to try but then can’t follow up their enthusiasm because the resources aren’t available.

I was also frustrated by the index. Having leafed through the entire book to get an idea of what we wanted to try, we couldn’t easily find the experiments on our mental check list using the index (for example, one activity involved eggs but the only experiment indexed under eggs was a different one entirely).

Despite these concerns, Science Experiments is a good book. It’s designed with elegance and clarity and simply looks much more appealing than other experiments-to-do-at-home type books we’ve read in the past.

We’ve learned lots together as a family as well as having fun, directly as a result of reading this book. My eldest has been very keen to both read the book and try out everything described inside its covers. But… I can’t call this a great book. Whilst Science Experiments by Robert Winston and Ian Graham probably does deserve to be on the shortlist for the Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize, I don’t think it will ultimately be the winner.

NB. In the US this book is sold under a different title and with a different cover: in the US: Science Rocks!

Science Experiments
Robert Winston
Dorling Kindersley
Hardback : 01 Feb 2011
8 – 11 years
£14.99

My copy came from my bookshelves.




Claire Eamer at Sci/Why joins this week’s STEM Friday with a post about the 50th anniversary of the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.

Shirley at Simply Science offers us a review of I, Galileo by Bonnie Christensen

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STEM Friday: Plagues, pox and pestilence

The Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize is the UK’s only award solely for books about science for children and young people. The books which have made this year’s shortlist are:

5 of the shortlisted books for the Royal Society Young People’s Book Award

The winner will be announced on 15 November 2012.

I’ve started reviewing them all (my review of the Usborne book, my review of the Dawkins book), and today it’s the turn of the most stomach churning one of the lot – Plagues, pox and pestilence by Richard Platt, illustrated by John Kelly.

Warning: If you’re of a nervous or squeamish disposition, you may wish to look away now.

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Ok. I did warn you!

Ebola, HIV, the Black Death, Leprosy, Malaria, Tuberculosis – you want a grim, deadly disease? This book has them by the bucketful. Hand wipes or a sick bowl? Unfortunately not, but don’t let this stop you picking up Plagues, pox and pestilence for it presents a truly fascinating history of some of the world’s most horrible diseases, what causes them and what we can do to stop the spread of them.

Readers are invited into the Pox Lab where Dr Scratch (a flea), Professor Ratticus (a rat) and Lab assistant Mozzy (a mosquito) guide us through a richly and entertainingly illustrated discussion of germs and how germs work and spread, introducing us to different protists, bacteria and viruses. Lots of case studies follow, each describing a certain disease, its known history and the scientists involved in the discovery of its causes, preventions and cures (where they exist). The irony of having three of the biggest spreaders of disease teach us about germs is just one of the fun aspects of this book which keeps it utterly readable, despite any stomach flips you may experience as you turn the pages.

Along the way you’ll learn why we don’t all die when there’s a pandemic, how flying corpses were used as germ warfare in the the 14th century, the benefits of catching tuberculosis (let’s just say, in a funny twist of fate, you won’t need to worry about catching leprosy) and what may have been behind the behaviour of the “witches” of Salem, Massachusetts in the 17th century.

This is a fascinating and fabulous book. The topic is utterly engaging in a slightly terrifying way, and whilst the book will score highly with readers who like a little bit of “grossness”, author Platt never veers into gratuity or scaremongering. It’s a stylish looking book, brilliantly designed and produced – it couldn’t look less like a textbook, packed as it is with amusing and detailed full-page cartoon images (supplemented with several photos). The book has been produced in association with London’s Science Museum, and the use throughout of Common Era dates, and the inclusion of a glossary and index all add up to create a very well thought-out, serious contender for the Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize.

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Stem Friday: The Lion’s Share

Frontcover of The Lion's ShareWhen I was a kid my family would have icecream cake for dessert on special occasions. To avoid fighting with my sister over who got the biggest slice, we’d always slice up the cake on the same basis: “You Cut, I Choose“. As you can imagine, we took a LOT of care making sure our slices were each the same size!

If we’d have known the sleight of hand employed by the animals in The Lion’s Share: A Tale of Halving cake and Eating it, Too by Matthew McElligott meals might not have ended so harmoniously…

Once a year, the king of the jungle invites a select group of animals to join him for a banquet. Towards the end of the evening a large cake is laid on the table, and the lion’s guests each take half of the cake in front of them, before passing on the cake to the next guest. Everyone has a “half”… that’s fair, isn’t it?

Little Ant, a first-time guest at the feast trembles when all she has to pass on to the lion, her host (and last in line round the table), is less than a few crumbs. How can she make good the rude manners exhibited by the other guests? How can she make up for their greediness?

Ant offers to bake lion a special cake by way of recompense. Lion is delighted, but the other animals present do not wish to be outwitted by an ant, the smallest creature present. Soon each one is promising to bake twice as many cakes as the last animal to profess their baking skills. 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32…. Can a king have too many cakes?

A book about fractions, multiplication, and division as well as good manners, greed and CAKE, this is a wonderfully exciting, funny book for introducing and consolidating some at-time challenging mathematical concepts. The maths and the morals are approached with humour, and the beautiful, bold, fantastical illustrations (256 peanut butter pound cakes, anyone?) ensure that this is a STEM book that kids will read with a giggle, “accidentally” learning as they enjoy the trick of the cake slicing and the outrageousness of the cake baking.

A cake inspired by The Lion's Share

The Lion’s Share: A Tale of Halving cake and Eating it, Too
by Matthew McElligott
Walker Books (2009, 1st paperback edition July 2012)
0802797687 (HBk) / 0802723608 (PBk)
Source: Own copy

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