Citizen Scientists

July 18, 2012

Citizen Scientists

By Loree Griffin Burns

Photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz

Henry Holt, 2012

ISBN #9780805095173

Grades 3-7


“It’s not a phrase you hear every day, and it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. But citizen science is the beating heart of this book, so we’d better start by defining it.”

“Citizen science, then, is the study of our world by the people who live in it.”

Swing a net to catch a monarch butterfly. Count birds in the winter. Identify frog calls in the spring. Sweep a net to identify ladybugs in the summer. You’ll be a scientist, too.

Citizen Scientist is a fascinating narrative combined with carefully explained sets of procedures that sweeps readers into the world of science that they can do. Their participation becomes a significant part of real life scientific research and teaches young people the skills and values of science in their lives.

Burns’s book takes readers on an adventure that leads them directly into the world of science that is found in their own neighborhood. It gives kids the power to contribute to the body of knowledge about the four animals discussed in the book: monarch butterflies, birds, frogs, and ladybugs. Her second person narrative is friendly and encouraging, giving the reader the sense she’s talking directly to them. Each section has a checklist for the equipment and gear needed to study that animal. Additional information is included about the specifics of each of the animals’ studies. This information is enhanced by the lovely photographs by Harasimowicz.

A “Now What?” section give resources for each animal about books and sources for more facts and the groups that organize the information presented in the book. More resources, quiz answers, a bibliography, and glossary round out the back matter.

 I heard Loree talking about this book last year and wondered what it would be like. She’s hit on a terrific format that puts kids directly into science in a fun, meaningful way. This book hits the Common Core Standards perfectly and is likely to inspire budding scientists and novices alike to be involved. It’s a book for everyone—kids, parents, teachers, and librarians. Who knows what future scientist will get her or his start by reading this book?


Choose one of the animals and look up the organizations that work with studying it. Find out more about how you can become involved. Make a model of the butterfly or ladybug, or learn two or three frog calls. Check out a bird book and identify three birds in your backyard. Then maybe you’ll participate in one of the events talked about in the book.

Resources: Check out the extensive list Burns added to the back matter for more information.

Read Loree’s article about involving kids in science at an early age.

Here’s a review from 100 Scope Notes. 

National Science Standards: biodiversity and humans; applied science

Book provided by Henry Holt and Company BFYR

Secret of the Bloody Hippo…and More!

July 27, 2011

Secret of the Bloody Hippo…and More!

By Ana Maria Rodriguez

Enslow, 2009

Animal Secrets Revealed! series

ISBN #978-0-7660-2958-3

Grades 5-9

“Peyton West was hooked. It was a wonderful idea! People had been wondering about why lions have manes for more than two hundred years. But nobody had the answer. Nobody had gone where lions live in the wild to do the experiments that would answer the question. Now she had decided to find the answer herself.”

In Secret of the Bloody Hippo, the scientific method is employed to find the answer to five animal mysteries in this fascinating book for middle school aged young people. Rodriguez takes the reader through the investigation of different scientists as they explore the reasons for specific animal behaviors. The studies include why lions have manes, the purpose of the guttural pouch in horses, the reason for giraffe scents, why hippos appear to sweat blood, and how animals can see in the dark.

The information in the book isn’t something readers run across every day and it made for an interesting read. It provides straightforward science and shows how questions are answered in a scientific manner. It’s a solid nonfiction book for that aged student and should appeal to boys, girls, animal enthusiasts, and reluctant readers. Sidebars, photographs, and experiments liven up and support the text. Back matter includes chapter notes, glossary, further reading, internet sites, and an index. Rodriguez’s book would make a terrific addition to middle school and public libraries. See more about her at her website.


Find out more about interesting animal behaviors. Look up tartigrades to find out how durable they are, explore why starfish can regenerate arms, why bees dance, why primates groom one another, or why some frogs swallow their own eggs.

These sites can help find answers to the topics.






National Science Standards: structure and function in living systems; diversity and adaptations of organisms

 Book provided by author


Why Is Snot Green?

July 22, 2009


US                                                          UK









Why is Snot Green? And Other Extremely Important Questions (and Answers)

by Glenn Murphy

Roaring Brook Press, Flashpoint, 2009 (US printing, UK, 2007) MacMillan

ISBN #978-1-59643-500-1

NF paperback grades 4-7

How big is the universe?

Big. Really big. Crazy big. Billions of times bigger than the biggest thing you can imagine.

The book goes on to say: If you drove a tunneling car straight through the middle [of the Earth], you’d get to the other side in about 5 1/2  days, going nonstop at an average highway speeof 60 mph.

I’ll admit it. This title alone made me pick up the book. Not knowing exactly what to expect, I looked at the first page and “The Lost in Space” chapter got me started reading. No snot here and I still couldn’t put it down! Formatted in a conversational question and answer style, the questions read like the ones sharp-witted kids keep asking when they go on and on. The answers come in a witty, knowledgeable tone, as if a big brother or sister were answering them, except for providing the high quality scientific answers. By the time I got to the “Why is snot green” question, I was already hooked.

Then came the belly laughs. Gas always provides humor and this time was no different. I stopped reading to eat lunch and my 23 year old strolled by, picked up the book, and erupted into laughter, reading the page where I had stopped at this question” “Where does diarrhea come from?”

While a bit graphic in the middle section, the book provides highly accurate, kid-friendly answers to numerous questions and readable explanations concerning physical, earth, and life science. Questions include information about space, gravity, black holes, and planets; hurricanes, tornadoes, tides, and water currents; burps, digestion, and gas; viruses, animals, robotics, and environment; and solar power, lasers, and schools of the future.

This fun-to-read book invites kids to learn more and dig deeper, and it’s one that they’ll remember, for sure. Glenn Murphy has written other books on similar topics in this style.

Activity 1

Read about colorblindness on pages 146-148. Then use this online test to check yourself.

Look at colors as if you had different versions of colorblindness here.

Activity 2

Research the different types of colorblindness to learn more about this genetic condition.

Other books along this same theme:

Oh, Yuck!: The Encyclopedia of Everything Nasty by Joy Masoff

How Loud Can You Burp? by Glen Murphy

Really Weird Science!

June 24, 2009


How Weird Is It?

A Freaky Book All About Strangeness

Ben Hillman

Scholastic, 2009

ISBN# 0-439-91868-5






You think some of your relatives are weird? You have no idea.

Well, for a start, let’s talk about your Cousin Toadstool and Aunt Puffball. Yes, you are related to the whole Fungus Family!

Huge, bizarre photographs illustrating the unusual or odd facts of various scientific principles dominate each spread in this book. The doctored photos vividly and literally present the idea behind the well-explained information on the narrow column of text along the right side of the spread. Ranging from mummy kitties to superposition to our relationship to fungus, this book covers a wide-ranging set of oddities in science.

Difficult concepts such as dark energy or neutrinos are explained in lay terms and the text provides fascinating reading about each subject. The book will appeal to budding scientists or those in search of a wow factor. The layout, with its informative text and large pictures, should attract even reluctant readers. The electric green family on the cover, including the pug, positioned against the orange Martian landscape will make any kid pick this one up for a look.

Activity 1

Use a topic from the book to look up additional information about that subject.

Suggested topics: See details about the plague of locusts that even Laura Ingalls Wilder described in her book, On the Banks of Plum Creek

Maybe you’d like to try scorpions or other tasty morsels in China.

Get the idea? Keep looking!

Other books about weird science:

Weird Science: 40 Strange-Acting, Bizarre-Looking, and Barely Believable Activities for Kids by Jim Wiese and Ed Shems

Weird Science (Ripley’s Believe It or Not!) by Mary Packard and Leanne Franson

National Science Standards: Each section relates to a different standard, but there are many physical science standards covered in the book.


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