• Childrens & YA Literature

Science All Around Us! Book Reviews

August 15, 2012

Science is all around us! Children’s questions ask why and how and often it is science that holds the key to those answers.  Keeping up with the dynamics of all that is happening through science in today’s world can be a challenge, especially for busy teachers in today’s classrooms. This week’s column from the International Reading Association Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) presents books about science, from dinosaurs to early experiments of Galileo to the science behind magic and more. As one book on our list this week suggests, Science Rocks!


Bang, Molly, & Chisholm, Penny. (2012). Ocean sunlight: How tiny plants feed the seas. Illus. by Molly Bang. New York: Scholastic/The Blue Sky Press. 

Ocean SunlightSome important science topics such as photosynthesis often seem too complicated to be introduced to young readers. But this terrific duo relies on engaging, easy-to-grasp text and color-drenched illustrations to explain the link between photosynthesis and the world’s seas “where the billion billion billion phytoplankton pull those nutrients in again” (unpaged). As in the case of their earlier title, Living Sunlight (Scholastic, 2009), the two make clear just how dependent life forms are on the relationship between the sun and the oceans. Addressing readers directly, the book begins with a dive into the sea and after introducing the sun, reviews the interconnected nature of life on our planet. Back matter includes six pages of thumbnail sketches that expand on the information provided in the narrative. Readers can’t miss the message that there is plenty of green, even in the world’s waters, and that without the sun, there would be no life as we know it on Earth. This is science writing for children at its best.

- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

Davies, Nicola. (2012). Dolphin baby! Illus. by Brita Granstrom. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

Dolphin Baby!This picture book follows the journey of a young bottle-nosed dolphin from birth to maturity, a four-year cycle. As soon as the baby dolphin is born (tail first, head last), he begins to swim to the surface. Once reaches the surface and senses air, his blowhole opens, allowing the calf to takes his first breath. Magical! The dolphin learns a lot by following his mother wherever she goes. For a long time, he feeds on his mother’s milk, and even finding the hidden nipples from which to nurse requires some skill. The mother and calf communicate in various ways: touching, rubbing, and whistling. As the dolphin calf grows, he begins to swim under his and plays with his friends. The calf learns to locate food by clicking and listens to the echoes to ‘hear’ the shape of his mother first. The calf learns to fish and eventually, sends out his own unique whistle. Now, he is old enough to finally go out on his own. The lively and engaging text and clear blue-toned pictures will capture the imagination of readers. The sidebars with information about this always-fascinating creature are provided in different text font. More dolphin-related words are indicated in different font in the text. The text and pictures will provide many hours of exploration for students interested in marine life.

- Rani Iyer, Washington State University, Pullman

Phillips, Dee. (2012). Fox’s den. New York: Bearport Publishing. 

Fox's DenDid you know that parent foxes bring live mice to their cubs to practice hunting? This nonfiction book will help young children learn more about furry red foxes. The full-page photographs with numerous labels, headings, and captions are informative and interesting. For example, children will learn about the fox’s hideaway, the den, that has two tunnels and holes for going in and out. At the bottom of the tunnels, a large nest room holds grass and leaves for baby foxes. In addition, readers will learn about where foxes live in the world, how they dig their den, how many cubs they have, what they eat and how they hunt. The author asks questions throughout which will cause readers to critically think and use the text and/or pictures to answer them.  In addition, a table of contents, vocabulary words, an index and more information are included. This book is part of a Science series that includes titles on chipmunks, groundhogs and prairie dogs. 

- Deanna Day, Washington State University Vancouver

Sweet, Melissa. (2012). A place for bats. Atlanta: Peachtree Publishers. 

A Place for BatsWhile there are those who only think of bats during Halloween or during spooky movies, there are others who are concerned about their survival on a daily basis and take actions to help them. With simple yet engaging language, the author describes the appearance, habits and characteristics of bats while repeatedly reminding readers about some of the ways humans can work to insure that bats have a place to call home. Accompanied by detailed and fascinating acrylic illustrations of several different types of bats, the text points out how humans in the past often killed bats through ignorance. However, more aware humans now often provide resting places such as bat boxes or dead palm fronds for the creatures. Young readers will be surprised that even wind turbines can spell death for hoary bats. Back matter includes interesting bat facts and a bibliography for those who want to know more, making it an essential science addition for a classroom library. Even the endpapers contain tiny illustrations of bats found in North America as well as showing their range. 

- Barbara A. Ward. Washington State University Pullman


Adams, Tom. (2012). Super science: Matter matters! Illus. by Thomas Flintman. Somerville, MA: Candlewick/Templar Books.

Super Science: Matter MattersWith pull-tabs, pop-ups, and cartoonish illustrations as well as easy-to-understand text, this book is sure to have wide kid appeal while making chemistry intriguing and easy to understand. The opening pages contain notes explaining chemistry’s practical side while later pages put the lie to any assumptions a reader might have that all chemical reactions are noisy. The author explains how even a cake baking in an oven is a simple example of chemistry. Lessons on the three states of matter—solid, liquid, and gas—explain and illustrate the process of evaporation, showing the difference in molecules in those three different states. Since the book is likely to inspire curious minds to experiment, luckily, it also includes seven different experiments using easy-to-find materials to help readers understand the chemistry being described on its pages. This title won’t stay on the bookshelves for long.

- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

Bonner, Hannah.(2012) When dinos dawned, mammals got munched, and pterosaurs took flight; a cartoon pre-history of life in the Triassic. National Geographic.

When Dinos DawnedThis book presents a humorous and cartoon-like look at the Triassic Era and the beginning information about dinosaurs young readers usually devour with enthusiasm. The author, Hannah Bonner, wrote the text and drew the illustrations and added the right amount of detail and humorous language to present a colorful and lively look at the development of the early dinosaurs. Starting with explanations about the earlier extinctions of life on earth, she explains how prehistoric animal life developed and evolved. Humorous puns, clever raps and cartoons give this book an appeal for young lovers of dinosaurs. It concludes with a timeline of prehistoric events and appendices that give further information. Thinkfinity offers a bank of lesson ideas on the dinosaurs and early fossils.  

- Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant

Carey, Benedict. (2012). Poison most vial: A mystery. New York: Harry N. Abrams. Fiction.

Poison Most VialRuby Rose must get her father out of trouble when Dr. Ramachandran, a famous forensic scientist, dies at the lab where he works as a janitor. Although he had no motive to kill the scientist, police find vials of deadly poisons in his locker. Ruby forms an allegiance with Rex, another resident of the housing projects where she now lives, and Mrs. Whitmore, a reclusive elderly woman with a few secrets of her own that prove helpful in solving the crime and finding the real murderer. There are a few red herrings thrown as the children climb through hidden portions of buildings, and the number of times the victim went to the bathroom is noted. Then, too, there are several suspicious graduate students who might be the guilty parties. Adult readers will smile at the notion of the academic world, known to be deadly, but never as murderous as it is depicted here, being the scene of a crime. The interviews with Mrs. Whitmore that bookend this scientific mystery are highly appealing, and show that there is often much more to someone than may be detected at first glance. Middle graders will enjoy trying to solve the mystery for themselves. 

- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University, Pullman

Christensen, Bonnie. (2012) I, Galileo. Knopf/Random House.

I, GalileoStarting with beautifully illustrated endpapers that set the tone for Galileo’s star gazing in addition to a map of Italy, the book is opened with a Preface that gives the reader a context within world history to place the life of Galileo. The story begins with Galileo as an old man sitting in his home and garden prison where he has been sentenced as a result of his lifelong search for truth. The first person narrative told by Galileo himself begins with his life as child in Pisa where his father taught music. He continues his life story to explain how his father wanted him to become a doctor but Galileo was drawn to science and mathematics. He continues his life reflection and discusses his inventions and accomplishments including the telescope, the microscope, the pendulum clock and the theory he supported that the sun was the center of the solar system. It was this last piece of science that got him into trouble with the Catholic Church where he was tried and convicted of being a heretic and sentenced to house arrest in his home in Arcetri where he lived out his life. An afterword goes on to praise the work of Galileo and explain how many of his discoveries have had long-lasting effects on the world. In 1992, the Catholic Church admitted they were wrong in persecuting Galileo and agreed that the sun was, in fact, the center of the solar system. Years later Albert Einstein labeled Galileo as “the father of modern science.” Discovery Education has created an extensive lesson plan on the ideas of Galileo, or visit Teacher’s Domain for videos on many of Galileo’s inventions.

- Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant

Person, Stephen. (2012). Saving animals from oil spills. New York: Bearport Publishing.

Saving Animals from Oil SpillsBiologist, Kayla DiBenedetto, rescued pelicans that were covered in brown sticky oil off of the coast of Louisiana after the largest oil spill in U.S. Waters in 2010. In colorful photographs, maps and captions this book describes how a pipe on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig cracked. Workers tried to seal the leak but the oil continued gushing out for nearly three months. Almost a half million gallons of oil flowed from the pipe into the Gulf of Mexico every single day. Scientists, like Kayla, rescued pelicans and other animals to clean and rinse the oil off their bodies so that they wouldn’t die. Photographs depicting pelicans covered in oil before they were cleaned and after they were cleaned are very telling. The book also discusses other oil disasters such as the Exxon Valdez spill. The book also includes a glossary, bibliography and more information. Thankfully scientists, rescue workers and volunteers respond quickly to oil spills helping animals survive. 

- Deanna Day, Washington State University


Bortz, Fred. (2012) Meltdown! The nuclear disaster in Japan and our energy future. Lerner/ Twenty-First Century Books.

Meltdown“Earthquake! Tsunami! Meltdown!” is the chapter heading that opens this book written by physicist, Fred Bortz. On March 11, 2011, the biggest earthquake ever to hit Japan struck at 2:46 in the afternoon. The tsunami was soon to follow killing tens of thousands of people and destroying over a hundred thousand buildings. As a result of this disastrous weather, three nuclear reactors at the Fukushima power plant became unstable and were on meltdown alert. The author discusses what causes earthquakes and goes on to explain the development of nuclear power plants and other forms of alternative energy such as geothermal, wind and hydroelectric. Other nuclear disasters like Chernobyl and Three Mile Island are compared to the recent Japanese plant, and explanations are given to present some of the long-term after effects. Given all this, the author does not present an anti-nuclear position but gives readers the opportunity to research and think about energy choices for the future. Several appendices at the back of the book provide many additional resources for further study. The publisher has provided additional resources including classroom activities, supplemental reading and additional websites.

- Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant

Jarrow, Gail. (2012) The amazing Harry Kellar; great American magician. Calkins Creek/Boyds Mill Press.

The Amazing Harry KellarMagic or science? Readers will enjoy learning not only the facts on the life of Harry Kellar, known as the first international magician, but will also learn about the science behind his magic tricks. He started his career as a magician’s assistant traveling across the country during the 1860’s until his own career and fame as an illusionist was established. He performed for the royalty of Europe and four other continents to gain his international status. Seances, magic, escape artist, illusion, and spiritualism were all part of his “magic”. Sidebars place his career in historical context. Illustrations add to the story but the actual reproductions of the posters used to advertise his performances are the highlight of the book as the real Harry Kellar is presented as the showman he was. Most young readers have heard of Harry Houdini so this biography sheds light on the forerunner and role model/mentor for Houdini who had great respect for Kellar’s work. It has been suggested that Harry Kellar was the model for the Wizard in the Wizard of Oz.  The author’s website offers more background information on Harry Kellar in addition to magic tricks. An interesting lesson on the science in science fiction can be found at ReadWriteThink.

- Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant

Winston, Robert. (2012) Life as we know it. Dorling Kindersley.

Life as We Know ItTargeted for middle school readers, this book offers a look at life on earth divided into five sections: The meaning of LIFE; The VARIETY of life; Living TOGETHER; Secrets of SURVIVAL; The OTHER SIDE of life. Using a plethora of colorful illustrations including diagrams, speech bubbles, sidebars, drawings, charts, and photographs the visual appeal of this book will attract a wide range of readers. Though the subtopics are not in-depth but more an overview, some of the topics included are cells, species and evolution, predator-prey relationships, photosynthesis, ecosystems, and life in other possible universes. A helpful index and glossary make this more accessible for further research.

- Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant

Graham, Ian. (2011) Science Rocks! Additional text by Mike Goldsmith. Dorling Kindersley.

Science RocksLoaded with ideas for experiments that can be put together from everyday items found in most households, Science Rocks will provide not only fun and entertainment but also serious science for young scientists and experimenters. Clearly written step-by-step instructions are given for each experiment accompanied by double-page spreads containing colorful illustrations, diagrams, sidebars, charts and photographs. The book is divided into five sections: The Material World; Force and Motion; Energy in Action; Electricity and Magnetism; and The Natural World. Lists of needed items for each experiment are on each page in addition to safety warnings when needed. If students are getting ready for science fair, teachers might like to check out the lesson on “Exploring Plagiarism, Copyright and Paraphrasing” at ReadWriteThink.

- Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant

Woodward, John. (2012) 3-D Earth. Dorling Kindersley.

3-D EarthTo prepare for the 3D aspects of this book, readers should being with this note from the publisher: "Online links are available to download the plug-in software to a computer so that when the reader finds the augmented reality logo and holds the open book to the webcam, the images spring to life. A comprehensive exploration of planet Earth with digital pop-out images that can be accessed with a computer and a webcam."  The fascination for this book with the interactive augmented-reality technology creates an interesting way to present information on the earth. Students who enjoy playing with apps, holograms, and computer graphics will enjoy playing around with this book as volcanoes comes to life or tornadoes whirl into formation to create the 3D effect. Weather and climate, rock formations, water cycles and many other aspects of the how the earth is formed is the subject matter of this book.

- Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant


Barnes, John. (2012). Losers in space. New York: Viking.

Losers in SpaceThe future has arrived in 2129, and hardly anyone has to work. Instead, it seems that almost everyone is trying to capture their five seconds of fame through staged actions. The plot revolves around sixteen-year-old Susan Tervaille, the daughter of a famous actor, and a cast of other self-dubbed “losers” with too much time on their hands and enormous cravings for celebrity. Susan and her friends are determined to become well known on their own merits by hiding on a spacecraft bound for Mars while supposedly visiting Susan's aunt. Things go wrong quickly, and Susan realizes that she cannot trust her ruthless new boyfriend, Derlock, who will stop at nothing to gain the world’s notice. The chapters containing the storyline alternate with science-related “Notes for the Interested” explaining the science behind what’s happening in this science fiction title. For instance, once the characters are in orbit, they only have a limited window of opportunity in which someone from Earth can rescue them, and the author includes diagrams and text explaining why. As friendships unravel and some members of the crew die, some behave in courageous ways as they sustain themselves growing crops and realizing what really matters, which turns out not to be fame, after all. Barnes handles his characters and their plight deftly while making observations about the obsession with fame and celebrity that may typify life in the future.

- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

Murphy, Jim, & Blank, Alison. (2012). Invincible microbe: Tuberculosis and the never-ending search for a cure. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Clarion.

Invincible MicrobeDespite recent medical advances, tuberculosis is still with us. This nonfiction title provides an engaging account of the microbe that seems unwilling to die, detailing the history of tuberculosis, including the various ways TB has been treated over the centuries. Seemingly vanquished a few years ago, TB is still present in certain parts of the world. The authors make the continuous search for a cure quite exciting as well as taking care to point out the romanticizing of consumption and the inequity in treatment of those with TB. An entire industry sprang up around the cures for TB, many of which weren't particularly effective or science-based. The book even contains quotes from some TB survivors about their treatments. While a retrospective on tuberculosis, this title also provides evidence of how much the medical community has changed. The black-and-white photographs of TB sufferers swaddled in blankets and coats and taken out into the cold air for a cure add immeasurably to this intriguing text, reminding readers how far we’ve come and how far we have to go in solving this mystery. Since science has yet to reveal all the answers to eradicating tuberculosis or other plagues on humankind, the authors force readers to ponder a puzzle that seems insoluble.

- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

Newquist, HP. (2012). The book of blood: From legends and leeches to vampires and veins. New York: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children.

The Book of BloodThis is a bloody great book, as the British might say. It’s filled with great photographs and illustrations and an attractive design in which drops of blood appear to have dripped onto the book's pages and then flooded onto the chapter introductory sections. One of the very first photographs shows a hand covered with blood. Because of the drops of blood and the author’s evident enjoyment of the topic, this title is certainly not for the squeamish or anyone who faints at the sight of blood. The pun-filled writing describes the fluid's place in various cultures and languages. The author provides historical perspective on blood in the book's eleven chapters, describing the medical innovations associated with blood, from the time when barbers--and later physicians--cut their patients in order to release blood, to experiments in transfusing blood from an animal to a human. One chapter explains how blood moves through our bodies, and another one identifies living things whose blood is quite different from humans’. For instance, the ice fish’s clear blood behaves as a sort of antifreeze; the horned lizard uses its blood as a defense mechanism. Interestingly, the blood of the horseshoe crab is highly prized because it can detect the sterility of instruments used in hospitals. Not surprisingly, the book even explores legends and lore associated with blood, providing perspectives on stories about those blood-sucking vampires, and attempting to explain the origin of those tales. Everything about this title is impressive--the language, the layout, the topic, and the blending of fact and fantasy. Not only is it informative, but also the title will amuse readers because of the author’s wry voice and delicious descriptions.

- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman

Rusch, Elizabeth. (2012). The mighty Mars rovers: The incredible adventures of Spirit and Opportunity. New York: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children.

The Mighty Mars RoversBack in 2003, two rovers were sent to Mars to capture images of the planet. In the eleven chapters in this book (part of the Scientists in the Field series), readers follow the mission of Spirit and Opportunity from its inception through lift-off and then beyond as the two rovers, launched a month apart, explore Martian terrain, boldly traveling where humans cannot go. Although the rovers were expected to last only three months, both vehicles navigated Mars’ terrain for six years in search of clues as to whether life could have existed on Mars. The author relates their missions in an edge-of-the-seat style, making readers care about Spirit's broken wheel and Opportunity's months spent trapped in the sand. Amazingly, the rovers were "driven" by someone on Earth, and readers can feel how frustrating it must have been to wait for signals indicating the vehicles were okay. Although readers hear from many of those involved in the project, the words of Steven Squyres, an astronomy professor at Cornell, capture vividly how the team felt about this mission. The book’s photographs make it seem as though readers went along on the trip to Mars. Fascinating, inspiring, and ultimately humbling, this book will intrigue anyone with a sense of curiosity. Although machines clearly are not humans, it's hard not to internalize lessons from these vehicles that seemed unwilling to quit, continuing to move against all odds while those on the ground tried to come up with solutions to the problems they faced on Mars. 

- Barbara A. Ward, Washington State University Pullman


Vorderman, Carol. (2012) Help your kids with science; a unique step-by-step visual guide. Dorling Kindersley.

Help Your Kids with ScienceAs the title suggests, this is a compendium of detailed information about the sciences of biology, chemistry and physics. Color illustrations, charts, diagrams and photographs are used extensively through out and instructions for experiments are found within the book. Each of the three sections begins with the basic concept of What is biology? What is chemistry? What is physics? Each section gets increasing more complex as aspects of each science are explained. A detailed index and glossary are found at the end of the book.

- Karen Hildebrand, Ohio Library and Reading Consultant



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