A Shell is Cozy, by Dianna Hutts Aston/Illustrated by Sylvia Long, (May 2023, Chronicle Books), $18.99, ISBN: 9781797212470
Enjoy a study on the world of shells in the newest entry in Aston and Long’s Nature Books series. Ink and watercolor illustrations bring the many types of shells to life; Aston moves between brief and meaningful observations – “A shell is cozy”; “A shell is everywhere”; “A shell is athletic” – and more informative explanations to explain her observations. Cursive font poses the initial observations; smaller, print text the explanations. Each shell is labeled, helping facilitate understanding and knowledge. Aston writes to educate and to delight, including facts like jazz musician Steve Turre using “the same shell instrument… as his Aztec ancestors did…”, or that sea scallops “clap” their shells to swim away from predators. A great addition to a long-standing, popular natural world series.
Create an activity pack with a seek and find sheet from Education.com, a set of seashell identification cards from Cara Ratner on TeachersPayTeachers, and this field journal from the American Museum of Natural History.
A Beetle is Shy, by Dianna Hutts Aston/Illustrated by Sylvia Long, (May 2023, Chronicle Books), $7.99, ISBN: 9781797215877
The softcover edition of the 2016 book, A Beetle is Shy, hits shelves this week and is a good choice for libraries that need a backup or whose budgets are facing some challenges. Here, Aston and Long introduce readers to the many types of beetles: their life cycles, their sizes, where and how they live. They touch on the beetle’s prehistoric origins, with a beautiful rendering of beetles preserved in amber, and discuss the many areas of the world where beetles are on the menu! The ink and watercolor art is breathtaking, with vibrant colors truly showing off beetle’s jewel-like appearances. Scripted verse observations, like “A beetle is tasty”; “A beetle is prehistoric”; “A beetle is a digger… a runner… a hopper… or a swimmer” lead to brief informational text to explain. A great addition to your nature, STEM, and insect collection.
Do you have bug fans, or want to do a program on insects? You can put together a fun learning activity pack with this Beetle Mania activity from Education.com, a beetle coloring sheet, also from Education.com, a Build a Stag Beetle activity from Teaching Resources by AJ, and a beetle lifecycle activity sheet from itsMamaMiller, both from TeachersPayTeachers. DK has a good Beetle Facts for Kids webpage, and NatGeo Kids has fact pages on both the stag beetle and the dung beetle.
The Hitherto Secret Experiments of Marie Curie, edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt, (March 2023, Blackstone Publishing), $18.99, ISBN: 9781665047036
An anthology that puts the science in science fiction, The Hitherto Secret Experiments of Marie Curie brings together 20 stories by standout names – Jane Yolen, Scott Sigler, and Jonathan Maberry, to name a few – who spin dark stories about Nobel Prize winning physicist Marie Curie. Driven largely by the childhood losses of her mother and sister, the stories and poetry in Hitherto dream of scenarios that formed Curie. Set in her young adolescence, there are dark tales, supernatural tales, and straight-up unnerving tales, with several mainstays: Curie’s break with religion, the Russian occupation of her beloved Poland, and her dedication to science and learning. Stories are rooted in science, and many include Science Notes to clarify the divergence of fact and fiction. Run from the whimsical, like Alethea Kontis’s “Marya’s Monster”, where Curie confronts the literal monster under her bed with level-headedness, to the bittersweet, as with Seanan McGuire’s “Uncrowned Kings”, where Curie battles the disease-carrying beast that’s infected her town. Stories like Henry Herz’s “Cheating Death” take a turn into horror, where Curie’s obsession with halting Death leads her to disturbing experimentation, and Christine Taylor-Butler’s “Retribution” is a science murder mystery (minus the mystery).
Every single story here is an excellent read, with something for dark fantasy, horror, and thriller fans alike. Science fans will rejoice at having Marie Curie front and center in her own adventures (I know I did), and resources for further reading keeps the momentum going, with books about Curie, women in STEM, and websites to explore. An excellent choice for YA collections.
We all have our TBRs. I’ve got an impressive or terrifying one, depending on how you look at it. I have such wonderful folx sending me their books, and even if it takes me a while, I do want to talk these books up; hence, the Tales from the TBR feature I’ve been running. There are some truly outstanding books here, and deserve some more face time. When you’re freshening up your backlist, consider adding some of these to your carts, or, if you already have them, put them up. Let’s rock.
I Am Smoke, by Henry Herz/Illustrated by Mercè López, (Sept. 2021, Tilbury House Publishers), $18.95, ISBN: 9780884487883
Henry Herz has been putting out some great stories over the years, but his 2021 book, I Am Smoke, is in a class by itself. Written in verse from the point of view of smoke, the story is part anthropological study, part scientific study. Smoke begins with a declaration: “I am Smoke. / I twirl in dark dance from every campfire”, alongside early Native Americans dancing by firelight. The thoughtful verse wanders through time, imparting wisdom and caution in equal amounts: “Even fearless firefighters dare not breathe me when battling flames”; “I cannot touch, but I can help ease pain”. Mercè López’s illustration is breathtaking; created by smoke, watercolor, and Photoshop to create haunting and ethereal images. Copious back matter provides deeper context and resources for further reading. A brilliant book on every level: if you haven’t added this one to your collections yet, you may want to look again.
I Am Smoke has a starred review from Kirkus and has been named to Evanston Public Library’s Blueberry List: Kids’ Book that Inspire Love of Nature and Action for Planet Earth; it was named to the ALA Children’s Notable Children’s Books of 2022 list, and selected for Notable Social Studies 2022 booklist. It also made Kirkus’s List of 150 Most Anticipated Fall 2021 Books.
It’s time for the latest board book bonanza! These books are great for collections and for stocking stuffers: let’s take a look.
The Pop-Up Guide: Animals, by Maud Poulain/Illustrated by Peggy Nille, (Sept. 2022, Twirl Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9791036345166
Twirl’s Pop-Up Guides are so much fun for toddlers and preschoolers. The fourth in this series is all about animals and their environments, with spotlights on nine areas: the African Savanna, the forest, the Far North, the rain forest, the backyard, the ocean, the desert, the river and the mountains. A brief factual paragraph gives kids introductory information to each area, and each spread folds out into a 3-D landscape. Animals are clearly labeled, as are environmental objects like pine cones, ice floes, and water lilies. The Pop-Up Guide are great ways to introduce new vocabulary and new ideas, with colorful illustration and sturdy pages that hold up to multiple reads. If you’re putting these into circulation, keep a reference copy on hand for storytimes. Great for a STEM storytime!
Pop-Up Topics: Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Creatures, by Arnaud Roi, (Oct. 2022, Twirl Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9782408037512
Twirl has another pop-up series for young learners now! Pop-Up Topics has slightly more informational text and a more refined topic range for growing minds, while keeping the same exciting and eye-catching 3-D pop-ups that exploring fingers enjoy. Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric features includes 10 pop-up spreads on dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures with a short, informational paragraph on each, and at-a-glance statistics like region, size and weight, and time period. Fan favorites like Tyrannosaurus Rex Stegosaurus are here alongside the lesser-known Sarcosuchus, a prehistoric relative to the modern-day crocodile, and flying reptile Quetzalcoatlus. If your budget permits, pick up a back-up copy or two, or keep this in storytime reference; while sturdy, the flaps may not hold up to the beating that dino books take (at least, in my library!).
Happy Little Pets: I Take Care of My Puppy, Illustrated by Michael Slack, (Jan. 2023, Chronicle Books), $14.99, ISBN: 9781797205267
Happy Little Pets is an adorable new board book series from Chronicle! Combining pet care with learning, the books are a sweet introduction to having a pet. I Take Care of My Puppy has 15 interactive elements that let kids fill the puppy’s bowl, brush their fur, and trace their finger through a walk around the block. Moving parts, bold fonts, and a cheery, expressive puppy will appeal to readers. The final spread invites readers to take care of their own puppy for a week, with sliding panels to check off every day after they feed, walk, play, and take their puppy out for a potty run. It’s a great way to introduce responsibility into a conversation, and for preschoolers who may not have a pet, a chance to try a puppy on for size – accompany with a stuffed animal for a test run! Sliding panels can be a little fiddly with new books, but the pages are sturdy and will hold up.
Happy Little Pets: I Take Care of My Kitten, Illustrated by Michael Stack, (Jan. 2023, Chronicle Books), $14.99, ISBN: 9781797205274
I Take Care of My Kitten is the companion to I Take Care of My Puppy, with an adorable black and white kitten that readers can name, feed, brush, and pet. There are 15 interactive elements for toddlers and preschoolers to explore, and they can spend a week caring for their own kitten (Can be a toy! Get creative!) and marking off their progress at the end of the book. Kids can learn about the responsibility involved in having a kitten, including cleaning the litter box and helping them find a scratching post to sharpen their claws. Kid-friendly artwork and sturdy panels engage readers from the get-go.
Hello, Opportunity: The Story of Our Friend on Mars, by Shaelyn McDaniel/Illustrated by Cornelia Li, (Sept. 2022, Page Street Kids), $18.99, ISBN: 9781645674696
The true story of Opportunity, the Mars rover who captivated watchers on Earth, is the star of this picture book biography. Author Shaelyn McDaniel begins with a story of how humans set and achieved exploration goals: humans wanted to go to the sky, so we did. We wanted to go to the moon, so we did. But when we wanted to go to Mars, it was a little too far away, “so we sent a friend instead”. Opportunity , built by scientists, went into space and spent 15 years on what was originally 3 month mission, but a storm hit the planet, draining the rover’s batteries and shutting her down. McDaniel humanizes Opportunity with phrases like “Oppy called home often” and “she sent selfies so we would know she was okay”; as Opportunity shuts down, scientists sent a lullaby – “a kiss from her friends on Earth”. It’s an emotional moment, made more poignant by Cornelia Li’s digital illustration of a satellite broadcasting colorful musical notes into space. Much of the illustration is orange-red tinged, with and there are genuinely breathtaking moments as Opportunity roves the Red planet, groves digging into the ground and layered dunes. Endpapers show Mars from the Earth’s point of view and Earth from Mars’s point of view, and back matter includes more information about Opportunity. A bibliography is available via QR code. Hello, Opportunity will endear the rover to a new generation of sky-watchers who may be inspired to find her on Mars one day. A sweet storytime addition to your space collections. A downloadable activity kit includes games and the opportunity to send a postcard to Opportunity.
If you have tinkerers or a robotics league in your community, you may already be familiar with No Starch Press and their solid LEGO Mindstorms catalog. I’m a No Starch fan and regularly buy their computing books for both my kids and adult collections, but their Mindstorms books really are worthy of their own shout-out. I’ve used them in my own library when I had a robotics league, and they were a tremendous help to me and my team as we navigated getting the machines built and running. There are two new Mindstorms books coming out that are worth a look for your shelves.
Getting Started with LEGO® MINDSTORMS: Learn the Basics of Building and Programming Robots, by Barbara Bratzel & Rob Torok, (Oct. 2022, No Starch Press), $19.99, ISBN: 9781718502420
Anyone embarking on LEGO Mindstorms robotics will find Getting Started with LEGO Mindstorms an essential reference to have on hand. Written with a friendly, easy-to-follow voice, the book provides information you and your readers will need to build your first robot, work with the Mindstorms app, and troubleshoot and refine your robots as you go. The book covers sensors, remote control, sound, light, and movement. Are you new to programming? The book introduces readers to Word Blocks, a visual programming language based on Scratch and is very user-friendly. If you’ve never delved into robotics, DON’T PANIC: this is a supremely intuitive guide that’s meant to foster an interest in programming, building, and working with LEGO Mindstorms robots. You and your readers are safe in Barbara Bratzel’s and Rob Torok’s capable hands.
Mastering LEGO® MINDSTORMS: Build Better Robots with Python and Word Blocks, by Barbara Bratzel & Rob Torok, (Oct. 2022, No Starch Press), $19.99, ISBN: 9781718503144
You want your readers to expand their expertise on LEGO Mindstorms. Mastering LEGO Mindstorms will get them there. Moving up from basic Word Blocks programming, Mastering LEGO Mindstorms expands robotics builders’ skills by introducing Python language programming, letting users write text-based code. There’s still how-tos on designing and building, with expanded programming techniques to encourage the casual builder to grow their schools and move toward more sophisticated robotics engineering. There are chapters on gears and mechanisms, moving gyro sensors, and games and “Ultimate Challenges” to test your engineers’ mettle. Photos are incredibly helpful and the informative text is as supportive as it is educational. Bratzel is an elementary school STEM educator and Torok is a secondary STEM educator; both are Mindstorms educators who explain robotics in a way that respects the reader while challenging them.
Getting Started with LEGO® MINDSTORMS and Mastering LEGO® MINDSTORMS are excellent additions to your STEM/STEAM collections. If you have robotics leagues or maker labs in your community, they are essential.
Over and Under the Waves, by Kate Messner/Illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal, (Sept. 2022, Chronicle Kids), $18.99, ISBN: 9781797203478
Kate Messner and Christopher Silas Neal’s latest Over and Under story explores the ocean ecosystem. Narrated in the first person by a child while out rowing with their family, we encounter sea lions sunning on the rocks, birds soaring overhead, and a mother and baby otter cuddling among the kelp. A glimpse below the water reveals an entirely different, bustling world: shimmering fish and bristly urchins; lurking eels and drifting jellies, and a giant surprise! There’s a sense of wonder in Messner’s storytelling, beautifully translated by Neal, who creates spread after spread of mixed media realistic ocean life. The family is present only to help place the reader in the story; nature takes center stage, with the human characters occasionally appearing from the side of the spread, or from far above to provide perspective. Endpapers show sea stars, fish, and shells in white silhouette across a field of deep blue. An author’s note describes Messner’s inspiration for the tale, and an “About the Animals” section provides a brief informational paragraph on each animal in the story. Recommended books and websites direct readers to further reading. A thoughtful meditation on the ocean, and an excellent addition to both this series and STEM/STEAM and nature collections.
Jo Bright and the Seven Bots, by Deborah Underwood/Illustrated by Meg Hunt, (Sept. 2022, Chronicle Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9781452171302
The creators of fun flipped fairy tales Interstellar Cinderella and Reading Beauty are back with a fun tinkering tale that will be popular in STEM/STEAM storytimes, fairy tale storytimes, and any time. Jo Bright is a tinkerer with a talent for building bots despite the selfish queen not sharing her supplies. Even Mirror-bot knows the score, telling the queen that “your bots are great, ’tis true, / but Jo Bright has become / a better bot-builder than you”, sending the queen into a tizzy and getting Jo dropped off by a dragon’s lair. Turns out, the vegetarian dragon took to the woods to escape the queen, too, and bonds with Jo, who creates seven bots to keep the lonely dragon company. When the queen discovers that Jo is still the superior bot-maker, she takes things even further! Mixed media illustrations are just plain fun, with adorable robots, diverse and interesting background characters, and a likable blue-haired heroine with a talent for creating. Endpapers add a little extra fun to the story. The rhyming verse is easy to read and makes for a lively readaloud. Pair this one with Ashley Spires’s The Most Magnificent Thing (2014) for a fun STEAM story, and leave out some LEGOs for post-storytime play.
Bling! 100 Fun Facts About Rocks and Gems, by Emma Carlson Berne, (Jan. 2022, National Geographic Kids), $4.99, ISBN: 9781426338908
Bling!, Nat Geo’s Level 3 Reader on rocks and gems is chock-full of fun facts and incredible photos. The 100 Fun Facts series is another one of those NatGeo Kids home runs for my library shelves; the Easy Reader format is familiar to kids, and the layout that pairs photos with quick, easy-to-digest information attracts my library kids to these books. These are great for booktalking trivia, too: Did you know that silver is used in medical bandages to prevent infection? Or that you could buy a jelly bean-sized bar of gold for about $50? Little facts like that while I’m booktalking grab kids’ attention, and NatGeo Kids makes it easy for me to grab those fast facts. Bling! makes the STEM connection with facts about the Egyptian pyramids, erosion and rock formations, and a section on plate tectonics. Phonetic spelling throughout helps readers with new vocabulary words. All 100 facts get a roundup at the end of the book, and there is an index. Display this with NatGeo’s The Book of Bling (2019) and some callout facts for an eye-catching display.
I’m a Neutrino: Tiny Particles in a Big Universe, by Dr. Eve M. Vavagiakis/Illustrated by Ilze Lemesis, (March 2022, MIT Kids Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781536222074
If you enjoy Chris Ferrie’s Baby University books, and Ruth Spiro and Irene Chan’s Baby Loves Science board books, you’re going to flip for I’m a Neutrino, a rhyming science tale by a Cornell physicist and her illustrator mother. I’m a Neutrino introduces burgeoning young scientists to the neutrino: “I am a particle, like electrons and light / I can pass through you without stopping my flight!” The neutrinos, depicted as bright, colorful, spiky-headed little beings, adventure throughout the story, dancing and playing across the cosmos as a diverse group of kids and adults try to unlock their mysteries. The rhyming text informs with a playful tone, and the accompanying illustrations make science exciting and fun while adding new science terms to readers’ vocabularies. A “Know Your Neutrinos” section in the back matter identifies and gives a little more factual information about the neutrinos we encounter in the story.
There isn’t a glossary of new words in this volume, so consider making some flash cards to hand out, to help readers navigate these new words. You can find more about neutrinos at Kiddle and Academic Kids.
This is the first collaboration between Dr. Vavagiakis and MIT Kids and a natural progression for readers who started reading science board books like Chris Ferrie’s and Ruth Spiro and Irene Chan’s series as toddlers and preschoolers. Great for a science storytime, Junior Discovery Club, or STEM class.
Visit Eve Vavagiakis’s webpage for more about her research and mentoring.