Today I’m reading four STEM picture books published in 2017. They vary widely, but I enjoyed all of them.
The Hidden Life of a Toad is a straightforward account of the life cycle of a toad, from egg to tadpole to toadlet to adult toad capable of reproduction. Every spread is headed by a date stamp: “Day 1″… “Day 41″… “Day 1099.” The photography in the book is clear and fascinating to examine (and I love that the title page is a portrait of Doug Wechsler, the author/photographer, in the process of taking a portrait of a toad!). I learned so much from this book. Did you know, for example, that there are special holes in the tadpole’s body for the arms to grow out of? Or that the toad’s body recycles its tadpole tail? The book has 3 1/2 spreads of back matter, including more photos. I especially loved the essay called “Getting the Photos” where Wechsler talks about how he managed to shoot the photos for the book. “Getting wet was part of the job.”
The Hidden Life of a Toad by Doug Wechsler. (Charlesbridge: 2017).
I found a different perspective on biology in Karl, Get Out of the Garden! This is a picture book biography of Carolus Linnaeus, who devised the system of taxonomy that we still use today to classify living things. He was born in 1707, so it was a very different world, and I was very impressed with the way the author, Anita Sanchez, built scaffolds of knowledge to help her young reader imagine that different world. For example, she needed to help kids see why it mattered to have consistent names for things. To do that, she shows them a world where people don’t even degree on the name for “dandelion.”
Doctors, gardeners, farmers–everybody!–argued about the names of plants. Dandelions might be called blowball, swine’s snout, or yellow daisy
Her examples and explanations made it easy to understand why his brilliant theories of classification mattered. The hefty back matter describes the system he developed, discusses how it has changed over time, and includes a timeline.
Karl, Get Out of the Garden! by Anita Sanchez, illustrated by Catherine Stock. (Charlesbridge: 2017).
Lines, Bars, and Circles is another picture book biography set in the 1700s. It tells the story of William Playfair, who invented line graphs, bar charts, and pie charts. It had never before occurred to me that they had to be invented! But of course someone had to come up with the idea of visually representing information in graph and chart form. And it was William Playfair! The book includes sidebars to explain big concepts not dealt with in the main text (“Industrial Revolution,” “French Revolution”). The art is playful and cartoon-y. And, of course, it includes graphs and charts.
Lines, Bars, and Circles by Helaine Becker, illustrated by Marie-Eve Tremblay. (Kids Can Press: 2017).
I expected How the Cookie Crumbled to be a straightforward picture book biography of the inventor of the chocolate chip cookie. It did give a lot of biographical information, but the heart is an examination of three different theories of how the chocolate chip cookie was invented. Each theory has a fully-illustrated spread, showing how it might have happened, followed by a page headed, “So, which version do you believe?” Here, the author walks the kids through an assessment of the strength of each argument. It’s such a great way to invite and model for kids how to analyze arguments! And in such a yummy context!
How the Cookie Crumbled: The True (and Not-So-True) Stories of the Invention of the Chocolate Chip Cookie by Gilbert Ford. (Atheneum: 2017).