Picture Books for Science-Loving Kids

Lynn: Our focus group loves science and I think they share that love with lots of kids.  We’re always looking for great new science-related books for the younger set and this week we have something a little unusual – picture books that are fiction yet also present scientific topics.  These two are ideal for common core standards!

First up is Charlie and Kiwi:  An Evolutionary Adventure by Peter Reynolds and the New York Hall of Science (S&S/Atheneum 2011).  Charlie has to do a report on birds and he wants to do something unusual so he chooses the kiwi.  The other kids are highly skeptical that the kiwi is actually a bird and when the bell rings at the end of the day before Charlie has finished his presentation, he gets an overnight to marshal his facts for the next day.  His toy kiwi comes to life and takes Charlie on a time-travel journey, first to visit his many-greats-grandfather in 1860 and then on jumps much further back in time.  Charlie and his namesake relative examine the facts of how birds in general evolved and how the kiwi in particular is perfectly suited to his environment.  Evolution is a complex subject but this book presents it in a wonderfully understandable way that children can grasp and get excited about.  Reynolds’ cartoon illustrations are fun and each page has a spacious feel with lots of white space and crisp text.

Our focus group are eight now and although they didn’t get the inference that Charlie’s grandfather might be Charles Darwin, they were aware of the current thinking on birds evolving from dinosaurs.  They were delighted with this book and easily tracked the time-travel jumps and followed the explanation of the theory.  The book led to some wonderful discussion at our house and to an immediate hunt for some non-fiction books on the subject.  My only complaint is that there wasn’t a bibliography included as the book is a great jumping off point for further exploration.  The back-jacket flap does includes a website link to the exhibit associated with the book:  http://www.nysci.org/explore/ontour/charlieandkiwi.  The website includes a game and links to a video of the exhibit and online resources.

Cindy: I work with middle school students for a reason. I share their warped senses of humor. 11 Experiments That Failed by Jenny Offill and Nancy Carpenter (Random/Schwartz & Wade 2011) certainly works with younger students but it appeals to my inner middle school student as well. Those of you who remember the earlier collaboration 17 Things I’m Not Allowed to Do Anymore! will have an idea of the slant for this book. Our young female scientist is out to prove her hypotheses using her rudimentary scientific process…all to disastrous results.

Question: Would gerbils like bigger wheels?

Hypothesis: Gerbils would like bigger wheels.

What You Need: *Gerbil *Ferris wheel

Those steps are followed by “What to Do” and “What Happened.” The mixed media illustrations add to the fun as does the girl’s indefatigable ability to move from one failed experiment to a hopeful test of another hypothesis. Readers will have fun anticipating the impending trouble. None of these experiments will win you a ribbon at the science fair, but you have to admire the ingenuity. Oh, I know, there are some who will balk at the suggestion to test the ability to fly a piece of bologna like a Frisbee in the school cafeteria, but …work with me, it’s all in good fun.

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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