STEM Friday

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Books


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The Elephant Whisperer

The Elephant Whisperer

by Lawrence Anthony with Graham Spence

256 pages; ages 10-14

Henry Holt & Co, 2017

I love nonfiction that reads like an adventure novel! Lawrence Anthony ran the Thula Thula reserve – 5,000 acres of undeveloped bush in the heart of Zululand, South Africa. It was home to white rhinos, cape buffalo, giraffes, zebras, lynx, antelope, and other animals, but no elephants. Anthony never thought to have elephants, until he hears of a small group of elephants being given away.

They’re “troublesome”, he’s warned. But he decides to take a chance on them and reinforces the fencing. They get out – many times – and Anthony decides he’ll have to sleep with them to let them know that they are safe and this is their home.

In between the adventures of tracking down escaped elephants and capturing poachers, Anthony tells about elephant social groups. He describes each of the animals in the herd, their personalities, and a whole lot about animal behavior. One thing he emphasizes: elephants are smart. They are tenacious problem-solvers.

Eventually the herd starts visiting his house – especially after he’s been away and is returning to the reserve. When they have babies, the females bring them to the house and “introduce” the babies to the human who is now an adopted member of the herd. Woven throughout the book is Anthony’s life on the reserve – including some tips for gardening in elephant territory.

“These elephants taught me that all life-forms are imporant to one another in our common quests for survival and happiness,” writes Anthony. “… there is more to life than just yourself, your own family, or your own kind.”

STEM Friday

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

Site Meter Copyright © 2018 Sue Heavenrich All Rights Reserved.

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How to Be an Elephant

How to Be an Elephant, by Katherine Roy

48 pages; ages 7 – 11. Roaring Brook Press, 2017

With flapping ears and whiffling trunks, the herd quickly relays the news. After 22 months of growing, a new baby is on her way.

There are so many things this young elephant needs to learn. She’ll learn about the importance of family. She’ll learn that her feet were made for walking. She’ll learn about all the ways to use her trunk and how to communicate with distant families.

What I like about this book: It’s info-packed, but so fun to read. Katherine Roy puts us right in the midst of a herd, so we get an intimate look at how young elephants grow up and the education they receive. I enjoyed learning more about the social groups of elephants, headed by a matriarch who protects them and leads them to water and food. Also the comparisons of young elephants to other youngsters who learn through play. Elephant children play games like “chase the enemy” with egrets, baboons, and other smaller neighbors; our children play tag and king of the hill. We need books like this to help our children understand how all life is connected, and how some species, like elephants, are keystone species for their ecosystems

More books about elephants, links, and elephant-related math and science over at Archimedes Notebook.

STEM Friday

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

Site Meter Copyright © 2018 Sue Heavenrich All Rights Reserved.


Scuba Diving Spiders and More

There are so many cool animals living on our planet, and so many ways to introduce their stories to children. Here are a couple released last fall that I really enjoyed.

The Secret of the Scuba Diving Spider … and more! by Ana Maria Rodriguez

48 pages; ages 8 – 11. Enslow, 2017

Roger Seymour and Stefan Hetz, animal biologists, are scouting Germany’s northern countryside for the one-of-a-kind diving bell spider, the only spider that lives underwater.

It’s not an easy job: the spiders are only as long as one to three grains of rice; they’re hard to find in the water; and they are becoming rare because of habitat loss and pollution.  But the scientists find their spiders and we learn how the spiders build their diving bells.

What I like about this book: It’s got more than diving bell spiders. There are whistling caterpillars – they whistle warning calls to their buddies- as well as bats that jam signals from other bats, and zombie ladybugs. Yes! Zombie Ladybugs! And cockroaches because if you’re talking extreme bugs, you can’t leave the roaches out.

Informative, fun, filled with unexpected surprises about weird creatures – this book’s all that plus a hands-on activity at the end. And it’s filled with photos that will engage kids and draw them into the strange lives of these critters.

How Many Hugs? by Heather Swain; illus. by Steven Henry

32 pages; ages 4-8. Feiwel & Friends, 2017

From critters with no legs to those with hundreds, Heather Swain counts hugs. Using rhyme, she answers questions every kid has asked: how many legs does a millipede have?

What I like about this book: It’s fun. It’s imaginative. And it’s filled with math, especially division. For example, if you have two arms how many hugs can you give at one time? Just one – which is half of two.  As the number of  legs/arms increases, the math gets a bit harder. But the concept remains the same: H = L/2 (the number of hugs equals the number of legs divided by two). So…. that millipede with 750 legs? I’ll leave the math to you. And there’s back matter – a spread of facts about each animal and its leggy relatives.

Head over to Archimedes Notebook for some Beyond-the-Book activities.

STEM Friday

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

Site Meter Copyright © 2018 Sue Heavenrich All Rights Reserved.


Coder Academy

Coder Academy, by Steve McManus; illus. by Rosan Magar

64 pages; ages 7 & up. Kane Miller, 2017

This week is Computer Science Education Week, a perfect time to dive into some computer coding. Part activity book, part “training manual”, Coder Academy introduces young readers to the basics of computer code. You won’t be a programmer by the end of the book, but you will have a good idea of what kinds of jobs are available in computer technology. And you’ll get some hands-on practical coding experience.

I like how Steve McManus introduces the topic: Imagine an alien came to visit. If you wanted to tell it what to do, you’s have to learn its language first. It’s similar with computers.

The first section challenges kids (and any adults reading the book) to think like a coder. There’s a great activity on binary basics – learning it is as easy as 1, 10, 11 – and a quick introduction to different kinds of programming languages.

One way to use this book is to read through, doing paper-and-pencil (aka “offscreen”) activities. Another is to get started with Scratch – a programming language available free from MIT. Following along in the book (and with a laptop or computer of some sort) you explore animation, character design, music, and even dabble around with HTML and building a website. There are some punch-out-and-build robots on the end flaps and a game at the end.

For some hands-on coding activities, head over to Archimedes Notebook.

STEM Friday

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

Site Meter Copyright © 2017 Sue Heavenrich All Rights Reserved.


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Tree-mendous Books about Trees

Tall Tall Tree, by Anthony D. Fredericks; illus. by Chad Wallace

32 pages; ages 3-8. Dawn Publications, 2017

Waaaay up, high in the world’s tallest trees is an entire world teeming with life. Most people don’t get to see the animals who live in those tall, tall trees – but this book takes you on a field trip into that world.

There are lots of animals up there, living at skyscraper heights: eagles, bats, owls, salamanders. From one to ten, the author introduces us to some of the residents of the redwood tree.

What I like about this book: There are “hidden” animals on each page. For example, when our attention is directed to the slimy banana slugs, will we see the other animal up there in the tree? There’s even a “find the hidden animals” challenge in the back matter – Yes! there is back matter! There is also additional information about the redwoods and some STEAM activities in the back matter.

Ultimate Explorer Field Guide: Trees, by Patricia Daniels

160 pages; ages 8-12. National Geographic Children’s Books, 2017

This is a tree-mendous field guide, perfect for tree-huggers of any age. Introductory pages include “what is a tree?” and give a quick lesson on how to get to know leaves – as well as a warning about poison ivy so you don’t accidentally pick any of those leaves for your collection. There are plenty of tree entries, each with a photo of the entire tree and close-up of leaf or needle, flowers, nuts, cones, or fruit. In addition to general information there are some fun facts.

Every so often there’s a special feature that gives you a closer look at trees growth patters, flowers, seeds, or some other cool thing. One thing I wish they had included: photos of bark for each tree described – for those of us who go out tree-watching in winter.

Head over to Archimedes Notebook for some Beyond-the-Book activities.

STEM Friday

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

Site Meter Copyright © 2017 Sue Heavenrich All Rights Reserved.


Books that celebrate a changing season

Fall is such a season of change. We go from brilliant leaves splashed against blue sky to bare limbs – sometimes covered with snow. Here are two books that celebrate the changing season.

Goodbye Autumn, Hello Winter, by Kenard Pak

32 pages; ages 3-6. Henry Holt BYR, 2017

Two children walk through field and farm and town, as the season changes from fall to winter. They greet animals, trees, and birds as they pass. Cardinals and robins reply that they are ready to fly south. Clouds cover the sky; icicles reply that their job is to decorate the eaves of houses.

What I like about this book: it is a quiet, gentle passage from one season to the next. We see the children walking through different neighborhoods: a hillside, a rural road, the city street. Everywhere they go, they observe how the season is changing, and how the animals and plants are adapting to the coming cold. I admit to saying hello to woolly bears I come across while raking leaves – but unlike the tree frogs, my woolly bears don’t seem to say much. Or if they are, I am not attuned to hearing their language. I like that the children are observing nature in the town and in a city. This reinforces that nature is everywhere, not something “out there”. And I like Ken’s artwork. It is full of texture and you can “see” the leaves blowing across the page.

Winter Dance, by Marion Dane Bauer; illus. by Richard Jones

40 pages; ages 4-7. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017

“Winter is coming,” says the fox. “What should I do?” To figure it out, fox sets off to see what other animals do to survive winter. Birds fly south (I can’t do that, says fox); turtles dive to the bottom of a pond and dig into the mud.  (Definitely Not For Fox!).

What I like about this book: It’s a fun quest, because who doesn’t want to know what other people/animals do when snow is on its way. I like seeing the world through the point of view of a fox. And I like the idea of foxes dancing to celebrate winter.

Note from the bug girl (me): As fun as this book is, curious young naturalists will want to further investigate behavior of “woolly caterpillars” they come across. In our area, the woolly caterpillars people see most are “Woolly Bears”, larvae of the Isabella moth. Woolly bear caterpillars find a cozy place under leaves or hay mulch where they curl up and hibernate until spring. You can read more about them here and at Naturally Curious. White “woolly” caterpillars (tussock moths) overwinter in the egg stage.

Head over to Archimedes Notebook for some Beyond-the-Book activities.

STEM Friday

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

Site Meter Copyright © 2017 Sue Heavenrich All Rights Reserved.


Explore the night with these books

My kids loved going outside at night. We’d watch meteors, listen to insects, and go on moon-lit walks to look for nightlife. Here’s a couple of new releases to inspire the night scientists in your house.

Night Sky (NGK Readers series), by Laura March

32 pages; ages 5-8. National Geographic Children’s Books, 2017

When the sun goes down, dots of light fill the night sky. Some of them move. Others are still. Some twinkle. Others don’t. Have you ever wondered what they are?

Short chapters focus on the moon, stars, planets, and “flying objects” – meteors and comets. Simple text is accompanied by gorgeous photos of earth, sky, and other heavenly objects.

In addition to the text, a reader can gain information from photo captions, text boxes, and side bars. I like the “Sky Word” boxes; each explains one term. And I like the occasional jokes along the tops of the pages: Why did the moon stop eating? There’s a wonderful graphic showing how an eclipse works, tips for stargazing, and “7 Cool Facts About Space!” A quiz at the end, photo glossary, and table of contents add value for curious kids.

Night Creepers, by Linda Stanek; illus by Shennen Bersani

32 pages; ages 3-8. Arbordale, 2017

Waking up. Most of us will read that and think, “morning”. But no, these are red foxes and they’re just shaking off sleep for a night busy with adventures.

Each spread in this book introduces young readers to a nocturnal or crepuscular (active dawn and dusk) creature. We meet wolves, bats, flying squirrels. raccoons, owls, frogs, and fireflies. The left side of each spread features large text with animal actions: gliding, washing, preening. A column down the right side gives more detail about the animal’s behavior, what they eat, how they hunt, and where they live. Back matter includes four pages of activities for creative minds.

Head over to Archimedes Notebook for some beyond-the-book activities.

STEM Friday

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

Site Meter Copyright © 2017 Sue Heavenrich All Rights Reserved.