October 17, 2012


Ocean Sunlight

How Tiny Plants Feed the Seas

By Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm

The Blue Sky Press, 2012

ISBN #978-0545273220

Grades K-5

Nonfiction picture book

“Dive into the sea! Now flip over slowly, and look up. The water is shimmering with light—my light. I am your sun, your golden star. All ocean life depends on me; so does all life on land.”

I love books about the food chain, and this one delivers on a grand scale. Ocean Sunlight begins with an  explanation of photosynthesis and its value, and then goes on to relate that ocean plant life is part of the food chain. Seaweed is obvious, but the explanation of the food-producing phytoplankton is one of the best I’ve seen.

The book continues with the photic levels, explaining the amounts of light at the different divisions of the world’s oceans and shows the food chains in them. It continues to the deepest levels and discusses adaptations that the life has there to survive, including marine snow, the detritus that falls to the sea floor. The cycle concludes with the sun’s heat causing the water to move upward and bring the nutrients and CO2 back around.

This book can be read with many different grade levels and matched to the level of the children’s understanding. The art is bright and inviting and adds details to the informational text. It’s a lovely book and could lead to many discussions about food chains and webs while making a perfect introduction to the concept.

Several pages of back matter give much more detail, but as a science teacher, I’d love to have seen sources, a glossary, and more reading included in the back matter. Nonetheless, it’s a terrific book and one that every science teacher should know and introduce.

Activity 1 (younger)

List the plant and animal life in one of the food chains depicted in the book. Create a diagram or flow chart to show the different levels. Label and illustrate the food chain.

National Geographic has good information.

Here’s a fun food chain e-game.

Activity 2 (older)

Look up the word chemosynthesis. Compare and contrast the food production by chemosynthesis with photosynthesis. Identify what hydrothermal vents are. Then explain how tube worms and clams at deep sea vents use the hydrogen sulfide to make food.

This site has good information, but you might want to enlarge it so it doesn’t look so intimidating.

National Geographic has good information.

This site has a comparison of photosynthesis and chemosynthesis.

Author website with information

This review was a good one.

National Science Standard: LS2: Ecosystems: Interactions, energy, and dynamics

Common Core: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.4.5 Describe the overall structure (e.g., chronology, comparison, cause/effect, problem/solution) of events, ideas, concepts, or information in a text or part of a text.

Book provided by Scholastic for Librarians’ Choices Book Reviews

Step Gently Out

October 10, 2012

Step Gently Out

By Helen Frost

Photos by Rick Lieder

Candlewick Press, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-7636-5601-0

Grades PreK and up

Nonfiction poetry

“Step gently out,

be still,

and watch

a single blade

of grass.”

Gentle words carry the reader through a rhyming poem celebrating the beauty of insects and arachnids who share our world, if only you’ll look around. The words glide across the pages of up-close, beautiful photographs and it brings the reader along, too.

The praying mantis photograph is one of my favorites. The back matter includes a paragraph of information about each of the insects and orb spider mentioned in the poem. This lovely book will bring a hush to the listeners and provides an intimate, close-up view of the life hiding right under our eyes.


Make a chart showing the differences between an insect and a spider. Illustrate or use words to show the differences.

Then write words that help describe insects and spiders and the ways in which they are alike and different

This site has an excellent explanation of the differences for young children.

This site has information and a lesson about spiders and insects.

This site has an explanation of the differences.

A Fuse Eight Production has a more comprehensive review for Step Gently Out

100 Scope Notes has a lovely review and a suggestion for Step Gently Out. Great idea!

National Science Standards: LS2: Ecosystems: Interactions, energy, and dynamics

Common Core:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.1.4 Describe people, places, things, and events with relevant details, expressing ideas and feelings clearly.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.1.5 Add drawings or other visual displays to descriptions when appropriate to clarify ideas, thoughts, and feelings.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.2.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases in a text relevant to a grade 2 topic or subject area.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.2.6 Identify the main purpose of a text, including what the author wants to answer, explain, or describe.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.2.7 Explain how specific images (e.g., a diagram showing how a machine works) contribute to and clarify a text.

Desert Baths

October 3, 2012

Darcy Pattison is a guest blogger for today’s book, Desert Baths. Read on to to discover the fascinating way this fun nonfiction book about ways desert animals stay cleam came about.

Desert Baths started when I read an article about anting. Anting is when birds walk onto an ant mound and spread their wings, allowing the ants to crawl over their wings and clean off parasites. Alternately, some birds will pick up an ant in their beaks, crush the ant and then use the ant like a washcloth to brush parasites off their wings. Scientists believe the formic acid from the ant functions as an antiseptic.

After reading about this remarkable method of hygiene, I started searching for other ways that animals take a bath, however odd: spit, rolling in something like dirt or grass, and using dew or mud wallows. The Western Gecko, with its long tongue darting out to lick its eyeball, was just the sort of odd fact that turned up. Slowly, I started to focus on desert animals because the contrast between deserts with no water and the expectation of a water bath was funny.

One problem I faced in writing this was balancing the types of animals. Mammals and birds used a variety of ways to bathe, but reptiles, amphibians and arachnids rarely do what we would call a bath because their skin doesn’t need the same sort of regular hygiene. I wanted to include a tarantula in the book, but they just molt their exoskeleton—not exactly a bath. Instead, the illustrator Kathleen Rietz  kindly included this desert dweller in the illustrations. I squeezed in a diamondback rattler shedding his skin and a desert tortoise looking at a sky empty of cloud. But mostly, the animals had to be mammals and birds.

I also needed to find a variety of animals, from nocturnal to diurnal, or those awake at night and those awake during the day. That would allow me to use a 24-hour day to structure the story.

After I decided to balance nocturnal – diurnal and mammal/bird/reptile/amphibian, it was simply a matter of research, looking for the best possible combination of desert animals. I talked to scientists and studied scientific journals. Finally, I wrote, this time, paying attention to the sounds of the words, to the literary aspects of the story. I always work hard to create stories that are easy to read-aloud.

Desert Baths is a companion book to last year’s Prairie Storms, a book about how prairie animals survive a year of storms. Sylvan Dell Publishing has 50+ page teacher/parent guides available as an pdf download on its site for Desert Baths and Prairie Storms. Desert Baths is also available in Spanish, Las duchas en el desierto.

See all Darcy Pattison’s books here.

Activity 1

Do one of the activities in the book. Compare your answers with a friend.

Activity 2

Do the “Food For Thought” activity. Write a paragraph to demonstrate your knowledge.

National Science Standard: organisms and their environment

Book provided by author.

I, Galileo

September 26, 2012

Nonfiction Monday is at Shelf-employed.

I, Galileo

By Bonnie Christensen

Illustrated by author

Alfred A. Knopf, 2012

ISBN #078037586753

Grades 3-5

Nonfiction picture book

“Imagine a world with no clocks, thermometers, or telescopes. A world where everyone believes the earth stands still as the enormous sun travels around it once each day.”

Written in the voice of Galileo Galilei, the famous “father of modern science,” I, Galileo shows the brilliant yet human side of this radical thinker who was considered a heretic and imprisoned at the end of his life. The book traces Galileo’s work with his father to his interest in mathematics rather than medicine, as his father wished, to his studies that revolutionized astronomy.

Over time, people began to distrust Galileo and he went before the Inquisition, well-handled for young readers by Christensen in the lovely narrative text. Initially I was concerned at using first person to tell this story, but Christensen’s voice as Galileo’s manages to convey the information while keeping it authentic but readable for this age.

Back matter includes an afterward, chronology, Galileo’s experiments, inventions, and discoveries, along with a glossary, bibliography, and websites.

This is a wonderful book toread to introduce science to elementary aged readers and provides an insight into a world long past. It would be a good way to introduce standing up for your beliefs as well as promoting interest in science. This book is one that should be in every library.

Activity 1

Choose an invention or experiment and look it up to learn more about that invention. You may have to look up the individual inventions as you research.

Activity 2

Read about the phases of the moon and draw and label each phase.

This site has good information and diagrams.

This site gives some general information about Galileo.

This site has background on Galileo.

National science standards: forces and motion; influence of engineering, technology, and science on society and the natural world

Book provided by publisher for Librarians’ Choices Committee

Exploring Fall

September 19, 2012


Exploring Fall

By Terri DeGezelle

Capstone, 2012

Exploring the Seasons Series

ISBN #9781429676960

Grades PreK-2


“Fall is the season of change. Everything gets ready for winter. In the Northern Hemisphere, the first day of fall, or autumn, is September 22 or 23.”

Exploring Fall includes information about the seasons and where fall fits in, light, water, trees, animals, people, and fall in the different hemispheres. The short narrative text introduces the photograph on the opposite spread.

The book has a glossary, a read more section, internet sites, and an index. It holds 225 words and is at a grade 1 reading level. This series is a perfect way to introduce the seasons, especially with school having started. It works well with the Common Core by extending fall facts to how other things in their world relate to fall. It’s a lovely book and a great way to kick off autumn, a study of the seasons, or predictable changes in the environment.

Activity 1

Make a list of all the topics from the book that are connected to fall. Discuss how each kind of life or event is affected by fall. Illustrate the list to show the changes that take place.

Activity 2

Before reading the book, introduce the title. Then show the pictures without revealing the text. Discuss what kinds of information each picture provides. Make a list on the board or chart for each picture. Then read the text. Talk about what each part of the book gave in the way of information.

National Science Standard: weather and climate

Common Core: grade 1 – Reading Standards for Informational Text

3. Describe the connection between two individuals, events, ideas, or pieces of information in a text.

6. Distinguish between information provided by pictures or other illustrations and information provided by the words in a text.

Book provided by Capstone.

African Animal Alphabet

September 12, 2012

Visit STEM Friday to see all the posts on great STEM books.

African Animal Alphabet

By Beverly and Dereck Joubert

National Geographic, 2011

ISBN #978-1426307812

Grades PreK-3


“As we lie in our tent at night in the African bush listening to the barks, chirps, twitters, and roars of the animals around us, we understand that all these animals have their own way of talking. We’ve filmed and photographed these creatures for many years and have come to know them very well. Each animal is different, just like you and me.”

This alphabet book is filled with short fact blurbs and large, exquisite photographs of African animals centered on the alphabet theme by the authors, who have spent more than 25 years in Africa. Familiar and not-so-familiar animals are presented in the spreads and come following a map of Africa showing the terrain and a short introduction about finding more words in the text that begin with that letter.

Readers and listeners will find the pictures appealing and the layouts draw the reader’s attention to some of the “Did You Know” text boxes. Back matter includes more short facts about each animal presented, a glossary, and more information and web sites.

The appeal of this book is that it appeals to a wider age range than most alphabet books and would be a fun read, reference, introduction to animals, or an excellent way to introduce Africa. From pictures to facts, this is a terrific book and would make a great gift, too.


Make an alphabet book of animals from your state, region, or country. Look up animals and make a book as a group of individually. If you are working with young children, assign each child a letter of the alphabet to research. Write 2-4 facts about the animal, draw a picture, put it in a category, and try to use alliterative words in the animal facts.

National Geographic has animal information for kids.

This site has child-friendly information.

National Science Standard: structure and function; growth and development

Book provided by publisher.

ANIMALS a visual encyclopedia

September 5, 2012

ANIMALS  a visual encyclopedia

Edited by Carrie Lowe and Caroline Stamps

Dorling Kindersley, 2008

ISBN #9780756640279

Ages 5 – 9 years


What is an Animal?

The animal kingdom is a vast collection of weird and wonderful creatures. Members of this group come in many different shapes and sizes, but they are all made up of cells, and they all have nerves and muscles to move and respond to the world around them. Most important, all animals eat food to make energy.”

This visual encyclopedia first defines animals and then begins with a chart showing the relationship of life as it is divided into various categories. From this introduction, filled with charts, photos, and sidebars explaining animal relationships, the book continues with information about behavior, life cycles, habitats, and endangered animals.

Following this introduction, each group of animals is defined and detailed in sections about vertebrates and invertebrates. The information is excellent and a good way to introduce any study of animals and how they interact. Bold and large photographs make the wide range of text narrative appealing and will draw in the reader. The representative animals are both familiar and unfamiliar. For example, the water bird heading in the bird section includes the Black swan, the Mallard, and the Muscovy duck.

I can see readers picking up the book to browse or using it for the information. It does not read like a typical encyclopedia and invites children to read and explore the world of animals. This book is perfect for the library, classroom, or home and it would be a wonderful gift for any child.

Activity 1

Choose an animal and read about its habitat. Identify why it lives in that particular habitat. Look up more information about the animal and read about it. Make a list of adaptations the animal has that allows it to live and thrive. Illustrate the adaptations or write an explanation of those adaptations.

Activity 2

Choose an animal from the book. Read about its life cycle. Then create your own chart to illustrate the life cycle. Don’t overlook the wide number of interesting invertebrates!

Find animal information at National Geographic Kids.

The San Diego Zoo has good animal information.

See more animal information here.

National Science Standard: growth and development of organisms; interdependent relationships in ecosystems; adaptation

Book provided by publisher


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