Thursday, February 20, 2014

February STEAM Reads Roundup

One of the ways in which I plan to blog about books on this blog now that I'm post-Newbery is to focus on STEAM titles. That's books, both fiction and nonfiction, that have some sort of connection to science, technology, engineering, the arts, and math. Since I aim to read as many of these titles as I can in the time I've got, the plan is to share a roundup of my STEAM reads once every month or so. Reviews may be on the shorter side depending on the overall length of posts, but I hope they'll still give you the gist of how I'd use any particular STEAM title in my library.

STEAM Reads - February 2014

The Stats: Assorted titles from Bullfrog Books/Jump!, including Red (Glaser), Clownfish (Meister), Pumpkins in Fall (Schuh), Ants (Schuh), Lions (Lindeen), Bulldozers (Meister), Pigs (Dieker), and Fall (Dawson), copyright 2014
The Synopsis: Easy nonfiction series on topics including animals, colors, seasons, and trucks
The Review: These 8"x8" volumes are full of rich, high-quality color photographs that illustrate each books topic in a beautiful and interesting manner. Combining simple informative text with a touch of narrative, these titles are excellent for young children looking for information on and pictures of favorite or new topics. Titles include simple glossaries and indexes.
The Programming Connection: I'll be using these books to add nonfiction elements to story times, in preschool science programs, and as visual display elements in programs centered around relevant topics

The Stats: Dinosaurs #1: In the Beginning... story by Arnaud Plumeri, art by Bloz, color by Maƫla Cosson, released January 7 from Papercutz
The Synopsis: Indino Jones is a dinosaur expert, and he gets this graphic novel started by sharing some major dinosaur facts and records. The book touches on a range of dinosaur facts, exploring imagining the lives of a variety of different dinosaurs.
The Review: The storytelling style of this fact-based graphic novel is peppered with dinosaur factoids, action, and plenty of humor to keep readers enthralled. It's not all strictly lighthearted dino chat, though, as real information comes through in the panels as well as the index and glossary. The lettering is a bit on the small side, but I don't think that will deter many young readers interested in dinosaur graphic novels.
The Programming Connection: A great addition to displays of materials for check-out at dinosaur- and paleontology-themed programs

The Stats: Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen, released February 25 from Charlesbridge
The Synopsis: When we think of feathers, we tend to think only of flight and nothing more. In actuality, though, feathers serve many different purposes for the birds who have them, from providing protection and camouflage to acting as tools.
The Review: This beautifully-illustrated book is a treasure trove of information about feathers, a nature topic that never fails to captivate children. The field journal-style layout gives readers multiple ways to engage with this title: as an introduction to the myriad roles feathers play in the natural world, or as a leisurely exploration of the beauty, diversity, and function present in such a simple thing as a feather. This title is part informative, part invitation to explore, and the combination will serve readers well.
The Programming Connection: Offer a school-age program about birds and spend a good amount of time focused on feathers using this title. I'd pair it with high-resolution photographs from books about birds, and I'd include an open-ended craft utilizing feathers as an art medium.

The Stats: Aviary Wonders Inc. Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual by Kate Samworth, released March 4 from Clarion
The Synopsis: The year is 2031, and birds are extinct in the wild. Luckily for folks with some spending money, however, that Aviary Wonders Inc. can offer custom-made birds with any shape, color, or function desired.
The Review: For all the whimsy of the premise of this title, it's an extremely strong STEAM text. Samworth's illustrations are beautiful, but the value of this text extends far beyond aesthetics. Readers will chuckle upon reading the specifics of designing one's own bird--choose a beak! a tail! a style of wings!--but they'll really be learning plenty about birds along the way. Clever illustrations implore readers to consider the physical nature of birds with a critical eye, ultimately leading them to learn why different real-life birds look the way they do. Those short beaks or long legs serve a purpose, after all.
The Programming Connection: This is a great title to share as an inspirational text in a program about birds, or really about any type of animal. It begs for children to be able to assemble their own bird oddities. In fact, I'd love to see this title adapted into book app format to really allow kids the opportunity to order their birds from Aviary Wonders Inc.

The Stats: Behold the Beautiful Dung Beetle by Cheryl Bardoe, illustrated by Alan Marks, released March 11 from Charlesbridge
The Synopsis: Dung beetles are so much more than just bugs who hang around animal feces. In actuality, they are tiny creatures who take advantage of a readily-available resource in a variety of ways.
The Review: Who knew there were so many beetles vying for animal dung? That's exactly what young readers will discover in reading this book. There's a whole insect world focused around eating, moving, and utilizing animal dung, this title demonstrates that the small dung beetle has much to captivate us. The text is handled quite well, with larger font denoting the major facts and paragraphs in a smaller font adding more detail (these paragraphs could be left out in read-alouds without limiting the book's efficacy). With some particularly great turns of phrase ("Clad in splendor, dung beetles ascend into our world."), this book is surprisingly interesting and never stoops to using obvious poop jokes.
The Programming Connection: This title will make a fascinating, non-traditional addition to story times about bugs (move over, hungry caterpillar!), and it would be an attention-grabbing element of a school-age program on entomology.

The Stats: Wild About Bears by Jeannie Brett, released March 11 from Charlesbridge
The Synopsis: There are eight species of bears living on earth today, each with distinct attributes and habitats as well as a few commonalities.
The Review: After giving a basic introduction to bear physical traits and behavior, this title shares simple, fact-packed descriptions of the different types of bears that exist in the world. Sun bears and sloth bears get just as much page space as the more common polar and brown bears, and each illustration boasts a few additional pieces of interesting bear trivia. Each bear is identified by scientific name, common names, and size, making this title a strong starting resource for reports on bears. Back matter includes a world map showing where different bears live as well as a glossary of different habitats.
The Programming Connection: I'll make this title available for check-out after sharing Florence Minor's If You Were a Panda Bear as a read-aloud, as Brett's text goes into more detail and depth and can truly inspire interest in bears of all kinds.

Review copies provided by the publishers.

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