Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

The Tornado takes on a tough question about bullies

The Tornado, by Jake Burt, (Oct. 2019, Feiwel & Friends), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-250-16864-1

Ages 10-14

Fifth grader Bell Kirby loves systems and structure. He uses them to excel in his school’s Creator’s Club, he creates an enviable habitat for his pet chincilla, Fuzzgig, and he stays under the radar, away from the school bully, Parker Hellickson – who also happens to be the principal’s son. When Daelynn Gower shows up – a new kid in town, straight out of homeschool, with rainbow-colored hair and a personality to match – and befriends Bell, she puts all of his hard work and systems at risk. Because Daelynn can’t help but be noticed. But when Daelynn finds herself in the bully’s sights, Bell finds himself at a crossroads: back in Parker’s good graces if he stands by and lets the next kid take the abuse, or stand up for himself and his new friend.

This is a strong story about bullying, looking at it from a less examined point of view. What happens when your bully moves on to another kid? Bell struggles with this because he’s relieved, but he knows that even standing by, pretending not to see the bullying, is wrong. When he learns that he was another kid’s relief from being in Parker’s sights, he knows, even more, that he has to take a stand. It’s a topic that can contribute to a meaningful class discussion. Jake Burt gives us fully realized characters here. Bell loves building and creating things to order his world, likely influenced by his military parents, who pass that love for structure onto him: he messages with his father, who’s stationed overseas and sends him engineering puzzles to figure out; his mother, a major in the US Army, is working on her Ph.D. and is referred to as a “mad scientist” by Parker. Parker is an unrepentant bully who uses the fact that his father has his own blind spot when it comes to his son’s bullying, brushing aside repeated complaints and believing the thinnest of excuses while letting readers glimpse into a home life that may not be ideal for Parker, either. His father talks down to Bell’s mother on several occasions, and she needs to correct him about her rank in the Army on at least one occasion, noting that she outranks her husband.

Woven into this story is Bell’s interest in systems and creating, and bringing a great STEAM challenge into the plot. The Creator Club challenge for this school year is to recreate one of Leonardo DaVinci’s creations, DaVinci-era style. No Internet. No electricity. Working by candlelight and looking up information in books. It’s a great subplot about friendship, teamwork, and cooperation. There’s also some great references to The Wizard of Oz throughout the book – see how many you can find, and challenge your readers. The one question that came up for me multiple times throughout the reading: Who is the Tornado here? I don’t know about you, but I got a different answer each time I considered it.

Author Jake Burt’s website offers updates and more information about his books. John Schu has an interview with Jake Burt available at Watch.Connect.Read, and The Tornado has a starred review from School Library Journal.

 

Posted in Middle Grade, Tween Reads

STEAM project fun: Super Robot

Super Robot, by Arnaud Roi, (Oct. 2019, Schiffer Kids), $12.99, ISBN: 9780764358302

Ages 6-12

This is one of those books that makes me think back to when I had punch-out paper doll books. They’re still around, albeit a little tougher to find, so I was really excited to get a copy of Super Robot in the mail from Schiffer Kids! Artist Arnaud Roi uses his love of the 1950s aesthetic to create a vintage-looking robot that kids can punch out and put together, creating a 2-foot-high paper structure.

Assembly instructions are detailed and take readers, step-by-step, through assembly; the assembly process is helpfully illustrated so you don’t get too turned around in the building process. The paper is sturdy and scored where necessary, to help with folding and assembling. The robot is a bright, bold combination of primary colors.

Younger scientists and paper artists will need a helping hand, but bigger creators should be able to work on this, no problem. It’s a fun idea for a Discovery Club activity, and small groups can work on one robot at a time, if your budget permits you to buy a few copies. Create a robot army, or an army of one – either way, Super Robot is a fun build that get kids working with their hands.

Pair with Adam Rubin’s Robo-Sauce, one of my favorite robot books: the book transforms into a Robo-Book. Have some Legos, and some robotics books around for your readers who are ready to explore more. I recommend NatGeo Kids’ Everything Robotics and National Geographics Readers: Robots.

 

Posted in Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Maker Comics: DIY your life!

First Second has a new line of nonfiction graphic novels debuting in February: Maker Comics is a perfect DIY companion to their Science Comics series, adding a more hands-on component to the science behind everyday things. The first two titles to hit shelves are Bake Like a Pro! and Fix a Car! With the tag line, “Who Can? You Can!”, these books are ready to take readers step-by-step into the world of making and hands-on STEAM.

Maker Comics: Bake Like a Pro!, by Falynn Koch, (Feb. 2019, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250150066

Ages 10-14

Written and illustrated by Science Comics alum Falynn Koch, Bake Like a Pro! follows a young wizard in training, Sage, as she’s apprenticed to baking master mage Korian. Sage is not thrilled with this turn of events, because she thinks baking is boring. Where’s the pyromancy? Where’s the transfiguration? But what Sage doesn’t realize yet is that baking is a magic and science all its own: it’s a delicious form of alchemy! Korian and a group of enchanted ingredients teach Sage all about the science behind baking: how to combine different proteins, fats, and liquids to craft incredible pies, cookies, breads, cookies, dough, and more.

At once a science lesson, a fantasy tale, and a recipe book for new bakers, Bake Like a Pro! is perfect for middle schoolers and upper elementary readers who are ready to take on some next-level making. There are step-by-step explanations of how ingredients come together – and what happens when ingredients go wrong (always sift the flour!), plus an illustrated walk-through for 8 different recipes, including chocolate chip cookies, cheesy biscuits, pizza dough, and sponge cake with buttercream frosting. At the end of the story, Sage proudly serves up her delicious treats to her fellow novice mages, proudly proclaiming, “Every step in baking is magic!”

Like Science Comics, there’s a quick reference at the end that puts all the major info in one place. Here, we get some helpful reminders on the six baking methods, effects of ingredients and conversion tables, bread techniques, and continued reading (including one of my favorites, I’m Just Here for the Food, by Alton Brown).

Maker Comics: Fix a Car!, by Chris Schweizer, (Feb. 2019, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250150042

Ages 10-14

Next up is Fix a Car! by Crogan’s Adventures and The Creeps author and illustrator Chris Schweizer. A group of tweens and teens meet up when they join Car Club, overseen by auto whiz Ms. Gritt. Lena, Mason, and Abner are teens with their own wheels, and twin siblings Rocky and Esther are seventh graders who  love cards and want to learn all they need to know so they can be ready when they are old enough to drive. They’re different kids with different lives and circumstances, but the one thing they have in common is a love for automobiles, and Ms. Gritt is happy to show them all they need to know.

The story smoothly moves between each character’s life outside of car club, building a relationship between characters and readers and giving kids background that they can relate to, from a stressed out teen determined to excel in all the things, to the kids working through grief over a parent. Car Club gives them all a landing place, a place to belong, and place to come together and get their hands dirty.

Fix a Car! is incredible in its detail: Ms. Gritt teaches her group how to check the oil and how often to check it; how to check the pressure in their tires, and how to change a tire; how to investigate a squeaky noise. Full-color diagrams introduce readers to the complex systems and inner workings of autos, and safety is paramount, with Ms. Gritt providing smart advice on how to be safe while changing a tire including how to locate a spare tire in your car and the difference between spare tires and donuts (not of the Dunkin’ variety). There are instructions on 10 different parts of auto care, including creating a portable tool kit, changing the oil, replacing a drive belt or pulley, and washing and detailing a car (bonus: adding a racing stripe). There’s a wealth of resources at the end of the book, including an author’s note on how Chris Schweizer learned to take care of his car and some further reading.

Because of the hands-on subject matter, I’d definitely include Maker Comics in my middle school collections, but the reading level works for middle grade as well. With adult supervision, I’m all for teaching younger kids to bake and learn their way around a car, so I’d consider it for either collection in a public library – many of the middle schoolers in my library go between Juvenile and YA collections – and a solid choice for middle school libraries. Create a solid graphic novel nonfiction section, and the kids will love you for it.

Posted in professional development

Professional Development Reading: Exploring the Science of Sounds

My latest professional development read is Exploring the Science of Sounds: 100 Music Activities for Young Children, by Abigail Flesch Connors. Since I enjoy singing songs and teaching my storytime kids fingerplays, I wanted to see how else I could bring music into my programs. Two of my colleagues have done great programs with musical instruments and musical play, so I want to get in on the fun!

Exploring the Science of Sounds: 100 Musical Activities for Young Children, by Abigail Flesch Connors,
(October 2017, Gryphon House), $16.95, ISBN: 9780876597316

Although aimed at professionals that work with kids from preschool to age 7, many of these activities are easily adaptable to toddlers. We get an explanation of the science behind sounds – pitch, tempo, musical instruments and how they make the sounds they make – and activities that translate to teachable moments for kids (and caregivers!). Teach kids to make their own guitar/harp/stringed instruments using a tissue box and rubber bands! Use different surfaces to understand how sound travels with different thicknesses! Every single activity in here will enrich a storytime or form the groundwork for a STEAM/STEM music program that kids will love. I’m putting this one in my professional development budget; I can see myself referring to this book again and again.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

Ellie, Engineer: a little MacGyver, a little Rosie Revere, for intermediate/middle graders

Ellie, Engineer, by Jackson Pearce, (Jan. 2018, Bloomsbury USA), $15.99, ISBN: 9781681195193

Recommended for readers 7-10

Ellie is a 9 year-old engineer: she can take darn near anything apart and make it something even cooler. Most of the time. When she sets out to make an amazing birthday gift for her best friend, Kit, she finds herself in the middle of a friendship mess: the girls normally don’t like the “jerk boys”, but Ellie’s discovered that they’re not so bad after all. So she works with each group in secret, hoping to avoid drama. Oops. Ellie has to get both groups talking to her again, and to each other, to finish Kit’s birthday present on time!

This is such a fun story about a positive female character who wears what she wants and does what she wants: she rocks a tool belt over her skirts and matches outfits with her best friend. She draws up her own blueprints and can make anything, from a water balloon launcher to a security system that will keep annoying little brother’s out of her friend’s room. Her best friend, Kit, is a pageant girl and ballet dancer who works right alongside Ellie, and the boys in the neighborhood enjoy a good tea party as much as they do a soccer game. Get it? They’re kids. They like to play. This whole story is about bringing boys and girls together under common interests, and it does so nicely. Girls will see themselves in Ellie, especially those who find themselves confused about whether or not girls *can* be friends with boys, or wonder if it’s okay to still like pretty dresses if they can rock a screwdriver. There are some laughs: Ellie’s got a few backfires, and a few successes that will make kids laugh, and the heart of the story – cooperation and friendship – is a gratifying message. Black and white illustrations showcase Ellie’s sketches for different projects, and a section at the end provides illustrations and a guide to basic tools for burgeoning builders and engineers. Give this to the kids who have grown out of Andrea Beaty’s Rosie Revere, Engineer; Iggy Peck, Architect; and Ada Twist, Scientist. Display and booktalk with the Girls Who Code and the Lucy’s Lab chapter books. Put out paper and ask kids to come up with their own plans – what do they want to make? Leave straws, pipe cleaners, cardboard, toothpicks, glue, marshmallows – anything the kids can build with – out and let the room have at it.

Posted in Middle School, Non-Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Summer of STEAM: Making Simple Robots

Making Simple Robots: Exploring Cutting-Edge Robotics with Everyday Stuff, by Kathy Ceceri, (March 2015, Maker Media), $24.99, ISBN: 9781457183638
Recommended for readers 11-17
If you haven’t gotten into robotics because you think it’s too expensive to lay down the money for a LEGO Mindstorms set, this is the book for you. Combining plain-English engineering explanations with household materials (and a short list of goodies you can usually get online or at Home Depot), Making Simple Robots walks readers through making robots using paper, balloons (think Baymax, from Big Hero 6, but smaller and less sentient), drinking straws and rubber bands. Projects become more involved as the book progresses, and use more complex materials like Little Bits and 3-D printers. Each project walks readers through the design, building and testing a prototype, helpful troubleshooting suggestions, and ways to adapt and expand on the robots.
You know I love my “program in a book”, and this is another one. I could pull together a beginning robotics program, no sweat, with a small budget and some time to play around. My go-to project from this book? The Gliding Vibrobot, which is a tiny robot you can make for $10 or less, with a motor from an old cell phone or electric toothbrush, 1.5 to 3 volt batteries, foam tape, and gumball machine toy capsules. For a public librarian’s budget, this is a dream project! Have a coding program? Work that into the mix with a Chatbot, where you use Scratch to program your sprite to use a script to carry on a conversation with another user.
There are loads of helpful hints and “cheat sheets” to refer to throughout the book, and an index makes for handy, quick reference.

Every Make book that I’ve read so far has included such a broad range of projects, allowing all skill levels and wallets a chance to make something really cool. Making Simple Robots combines a maker guide with an intro to modern robotics that middle schoolers and older will love.

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Middle School, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Summer of STEAM: Girls Who Code Two-Fer!

I love coding and playing around with computer science-y type stuff. In my mind, I look like this:

When I create this.  (This is actually mine! I created it using Scratch.)

I do my best to get science in front of my own kids, and my library kids, at every opportunity. The kids here at my library are Minecrafters, so I feel like I’ve got an in and am working on building a nice, tech-friendly nonfiction section; the next additions on my list are from the organization, Girls Who Code.  If you aren’t familiar with Girls Who Code, they are a New York-based organization on a mission to close the gender gap in the tech industry and the classroom. They teach girls to embrace tech and to code, to create, and most importantly, not to fear science and math. Andrea Gonzalez and Sophie Hauser, two GWC grads, wrote Girl Code: Gaming, Going Viral, and Getting It Done, where they talk about their GWC experience.

Now, Reshma Saujani, Girls Who Code founder, is releasing her own book, Girls Who Code: Learn to Code and Change the World (Aug. 2017, Viking, $17.99, ISBN: 978-0425287538). It’s a coding beginner’s guide, a spotlight on women in the computer science industry, an empowering career guide, and introduction to STEM for girls, all rolled up into one volume. It’s fun and easy to read, with Reshma speaking to readers in a comfortable, friendly voice; she gets some help from a group of illustrated, diverse girls: Lucy, Erin, Sophia, Leila, and Maya. The illustrated group of friends (more on them later) explain concepts and act as a step-by-step example of different stages of coding and creating.

What sets Girls Who Code: Learn to Code and Change the World apart from all the other coding books out there? Glad you asked. The tone, for starters, is fun, light, and personal. Reshma and her group of illustrated friends are talking straight to readers. The two-color illustrations are fun, like those you’d find in a middle grade novel, and feature characters from different ethnicities; Leila rocks a hijab, Maya is an Asian fashionista with a sleek bob; Lucy is African-American, Sophia is Latina, and Erin is a blonde. The group of friends come together to create apps and problem solve their coding; we’re invited along for the ride. Not sure you want to go into computer science? That’s no problem, either: GWC points out how many careers and hobbies incorporate coding these days, from baking, to politics, to social justice, sports, and art.  You’ll learn new terms, like pseudocode – that’s when you write out the steps of your program in plain language, to brainstorm and go over your program before starting to code. There are further Web resources and a glossary to complete this trusty guide to STEM life. Trust me, you’ll never look at the mere making of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich again after you read this.

Also arriving the same day as Girls Who Code: Learn to Code and Change the World is the first in a new GWC series of fiction chapter books, starring the Girls Who Code we met in the previous book: Lucy, Erin, Sophia, and Maya (Leila’s arriving in the next book) come together thanks to a coding club in the new adventure, The Friendship Code, by Stacia Deutsch.

Girls Who Code: The Friendship Code, by Stacia Deutsch, (Aug. 2017, $12.99, ISBN: 9780399542510)

 

We get some background on each character: there’s been some past drama between Lucy and Sophia; Erin is an army brat who’s new in town; Maya is the fashionista who has a fashion column in the school newspaper; Sophia’s an athlete, and Lucy is fixated on learning to code so she can create an app to help her sick uncle remember to take his medicine. Thanks to the Coding Club, the girls learn that coding is more than just banging out numbers on computers (sometimes, to Lucy’s chagrin). With a fun mystery thrown in, the GWC series is like a Babysitter’s Club for a new group of tech-savvy kids. The series is great for intermediate-level readers; black and white illustrations and a quick pace make this novel a fun read that introduces younger middle graders to beginning coding terms and STEM. The mystery is even written in pseudocode – maybe a fun thing to introduce to your kids! Slip a pseudocode note into a lunchbox here, introduce a pseudocode scavenger hunt there… the possibilities stretch far and wide. Where Girls Who Code: Learn to Code, Change the World is best for your middle schoolers and upper middle graders, Girls Who Code: The Friendship Code is a great way to get younger middle graders familiar with the characters, the language of coding, and the fun of STEM.

In October, we’re getting another nonfiction/fiction GWC combo, when Code It! Create It! and Team BFF: Race to the Rescue! hit shelves. I’ll be waiting!

 

Posted in Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

Like science news with a fun spin? Check out Brain Bug Mag!

I’m always trying to get kids to read. It’s a librarian, it’s what I do. I’m also constantly on the lookout for fun ways to get them creating and learning about science – yes, I’m one of those STEM/STEAM wannabe librarians. When Brain Bug Magazine got in touch with me and asked me to check out an issue of their “gross science magazine”, I jumped at the chance. Come on, gross science? Those two words are gold to a children’s librarian!

ISSUE 5 COVER

This fifth issue of Brain Bug is their 3-D issue, and comes with a nifty pair of 3-D glasses! No old school red and blue, though – these are clear, chromadepth glasses that you can use to make images in the magazine pop, and use them for cool stuff like checking out the night sky, or a picture with cooler colors in the background (like, blue) and warmer colors in the foreground (like, red). Other great features in this issue include articles on the origins of 3-D, an profile on 3-D printing, an interview with two chemists, and comics galore.

3d printing sample

The magazine is aimed at middle schoolers; I’d also suggest 4th and 5th graders. There’s a real ‘zine spirit to it, which I love; a really independent spirit, and the artwork is largely comics illustration, to appeal to all learners, especially visual learners that may be turned off by a chunks of intimidating science-y text. The interview with the two chemists, for instance, is illustrated – such a great spin on publishing a traditional interview! Brain Bug doesn’t dumb down information, either: there’s technical terms used and explained, in language that treats the kids as intelligent learners.

There are some fun comics in here – regular features, I’m pretty sure – including a group of Super Foods that are fighting the good fight against junk and processed foods; Grillboy, chronicling the adventures of a grill cook who’s less than enthusiastic about his job, and the Pun Police, who patrol the magazine in search of awful puns.

grillboy

I really enjoyed the magazine, but I know mine would be wrecked in circulation. I’d consider getting one subscription for myself to keep as a reference copy and let the kids look at it and pull projects and ideas from it, for sure, and I think it would be a good addition to classroom or school libraries. It’s $50 for six issues, $35 for four issues, and they offer reduced rates to librarians and educators. Check out their online store for back issues and subscription info.