Posted in Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Non-Fiction

Physics for Everyone! Professor Astro Cat’s on the Case!

astrocat_1Professor Astro Cat’s Atomic Adventure, by Dominic Walliman/Illustrated by Ben Newman (May 2016, Nobrow Press), $24.00, ISBN: 9781909263604

Recommended for ages 7-12

Think you’re too young to understand physics? Professor Astro Cat is here to show you how awesome the science of matter and energy is. Using language and examples that beginning learners will understand, with retro-futuristic illustrations that will catch kids’ eyes, this is a great start for kids who want to go a little bit beyond the basic states of matter and find out more.

This is the second Professor Astro Cat book – the first, Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space, looked at our planets, solar system, gravity, and extraterrestrial life – and is a great addition to libraries that want STEM books available to all readers. I’ve got maker books, I’ve got robotics books and LEGO books, but physics was an area I’ve typically shied away from for the children’s room (mainly, because most of my personal physics knowledge comes from Big Bang Theory episodes). Professor Astro Cat and his friends are patient, though, and never talk down to their audience. With direct language and discussions on subjects like why snowshoes help you walk on snow, rather than sink into it, and why rainbows appear when it rains during the daytime, kids will be excited about science – and that’s what we want!

Author Dr. Dominic Walliman has a Ph.D. in Quantum Device Physics, and has taught physics to all levels of students – and has even taught at festivals. Ben Newman is an award-winning illustrator who also did the artwork on Astro Cat’s app. Newman’s website is loaded with his amazing retro art and book trailers – go check it out! And check out some more of Professor Astro Cat’s Atomic Adventure, right here!





Posted in Fiction

Eerie Elementary: The School is Alive, and the Hall Monitor is Your Only Hope!

eerie elementaryEerie Elementary #1: The School is Alive! (A Branch Book), by Jack Chabert (Scholastic, June 2014). $4.99, ISBN: 9780545623926

Recommended for ages 7-10

Scholastic is great for putting out affordable series that keep kids reading, and Eerie Elementary is firmly in that camp. The first book in their new Eerie Elementary series, The School is Alive! introduces us to elementary school student, Sam Graves, and his friends, Antonio and Lucy. The school year is starting, and Sam is bemoaning the fact that he’s been named a Hall Monitor. On his first day of duty, he almost sinks into quicksand on school property and hears strange noises coming from the school itself. He finds out pretty quickly that the school is alive, and it’s evil – and that the Hall Monitor is the last line of defense in keeping the students safe. Naturally, his friends think he’s crazy, but he’s determined to see his job through and keep his friends and fellow students out of the clutches of the evil school building.

The series is part of Scholastic’s new Branches line of books – chapter books aimed at newly independent readers. The books feature illustrations on every page, easy-to-read text, and fast-paced stories. I liked seeing main characters of elementary school age; many characters in series books are in middle school or older, relegating elementary school characters often to the role of annoying younger sibling. Establishing these characters early on will connect with readers new to chapter books and give them some exciting reading. I can’t wait to get these on my shelves for my younger patrons who are ready for a thriller, but have a hard time finding them at their reading level.

Posted in Non-Fiction, Tween Reads

Helaine Becker’s Zoobots – The Future is Now, and there are robot snakes!

zoobotsZoobots: Wild Robots Inspired by Real Animals, by Helaine Becker/illustrated by Alex Ries. Kids Can Press (2014), $17.95, ISBN: 9781554539710

Recommended for ages 8-12

Robot Snakes. That’s the first thing that jumped out at me when I saw the cover of this book on NetGalley, and I knew that not only would my 10 year-old love this book, but so would every 10 year-old in the several library sites I oversee. That is the kind of book Zoobots is – it’s a win-win situation. You have robot animals, complete with facts about the functions and statistics on the robotic creatures, plus profiles on the animals influencing them; you also have the nonfiction aspect, which makes it compatible with Common Core focus on nonfiction texts, with the extra STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) appeal that will hopefully inspire a reader or 3 to become a scientist and actually work with these robots.

Helaine Becker’s text is chunked into a dossier-type format, complete with futuristic fonts. We get the name of the robot – some include the Shrewbot, the Octobot, the Ghostbot, and the Nanobot – and what class of animal its influence belongs to (i.e., mammalia, reptilia). There are skills, specifications, and applications: the growing number of robotics dedicated to the medical industry alone is amazing, as is the idea of using pill bug-inspired robots to help prevent raging forest fires. Special Ops describes special talents these robots can use while in the field; my favorite is the Uncle Sam snake robot, who can actually assemble itself!

There is no science fiction here – all of the 12 robot animals profiled are in some sort of prototype stage, whether being developed or in existence. A section on the future wonders what further robots future minds will create, which I hope spurs some readers to start sketching and joining robotics teams. There is a glossary of terms and a full index.

I loved this book, and think it belongs in libraries and science classes throughout elementary and middle schools. The illustrations, by concept artist and illustrator Alex Ries, give life to the robotics, spotlighting their flexibility and their features. The book is only 36 pages, but the number of lesson plans and ideas that can come out of this? Boundless.