Posted in Middle Grade, Non-fiction

Get Ready for STEM Summer!

Sure, many libraries are doing the “Libraries Rock!” theme for Summer Reading, but that’s no reason to leave science out of the fun! I’ve got a bunch of STEM books that you’ll want to get in front of (or create programs using) your readers to have fun with this summer. Careers, facts, bios, and, most fun of all, experiments, await!

Architecture: Cool Women Who Design Structures (Girls in Science series), by Elizabeth Schmermund/Illustrated by Lena Chandhok, (Aug. 2017, Nomad Press), $9.95, ISBN: 9781619305465

Recommended for readers 9-13

I’m always looking for good career books, because I weeded my current section when I first got to my library. I really liked this book, and I’m looking forward to reading and putting more of the Girls in Science series in my book cart for future purchases. Architecture is divided into four color-coded sections: the first, a general overview of architecture; the history, styles, what the profession is like today and how to prepare for study in architecture, and women in the profession. The next three sections are devoted to profiles of a diverse group of women architects: Patricia Galván, a Project Manager; Farida Abu-Bakare, an intern architect who’s in the process of writing her exams and works with science and technology; and Maia Small, who owns and operates her own small architecture firm. In addition to the profiled female architects, there are brief bios on other women in the field. Ask & Answer sections provide thought-provoking questions, many beyond the basic material, for readers to consider. QR codes in callout sections provide links to more information. The overall narrative, and each profiled professional, addresses the gender gap and even larger diversity gap in the industry. Back matter includes a timeline of the profession, all the Ask & Answer questions in one place, a glossary, further resources, including written-out links to the QR code sections, and an index.

Try This! Extreme: 50 Fun & Safe Experiments for the Mad Scientist in You, by Karen Romano Young/Photographs by Matthew Rakola, (Sept. 2017, National Geographic Kids), $16.99, ISBN: 9781426328633

Recommended for readers 8+

The best part about science, I tell the kids in my programs and class visits, is making a mess, yet, no one gets mad at you (mostly). What better time to be a mad scientist than in the summer, when it’s beautiful out and you can open those windows to offset any stinky experiements? The book starts off with safety instructions and photos of the kid (and dog) scientists who tested out the 50 experiments waiting to be discovered in Try This! Extreme. Each experiment has a safety rating, a who you need rating (i.e., an adult, just you, or maybe grab a friend), and supervision rating; each experiment also lays out concepts explored, approximately how long it will take, what you need, and a step-by-step guide through the process, accompanied by full-color photos. There are callout facts, questions to ask yourself, and key terms defined throughout. Conduct a bioblitz (exploration) in your yard or a park, learn physics using marshmallow Peeps, or check the weather forecast and aim for a game of masking tape hopscotch when there’s rain predicted. There are bonus mini-experiements, Science Fair experiment prompts and guidance, K-12 science standards and how each experiment corresponds to them, an index, and metric conversion tables. Enjoy!

The STEM Quest Series from Barron’s Educational is a brand new series broken out into four books, loaded with facts and experiments:

STEM Quest Science: Astonishing Atoms and Matter Mayhem, by Colin Stuart/Illustrated by Annika Brandow, (May 2018, Barron’s Educational), $10.99, ISBN: 9781438011363

Recommended for readers 8+

This volume looks at the organic side of things: biology, chemistry, physics, earth and space sciences, biochemistry, biomedicine, and biotechnology. Each section guides readers through full-color illustrated discussions on each area and includes experiments to ramp up the fun. Kids will LOVE the Marshmallow Molecules – you need a bag of marshmallows, a box of toothpicks or wooden skewers (me? I’d go with the toothpicks, but I’m in a public library), and some compound formulas. Let kids make their own formulas up and watch the fun begin! I’ll save you the search: this is where you can find the chemical compounds for farts. It’s the American Council on Science and Health’s website, so they did this for science. You’re welcome. Littler ones can make their own sundial, or spot a constellation. There are scientist profiles and fantastic facts throughout, plus a glossary and an index.

 

STEM Quest Technology: Tools, Robotics, and Gadgets Galore, by Nick Arnold/Illustrated by Kristyna Baczynski, (May 2018, Barron’s Educational), $10.99, ISBN: 9781438011370

Recommended for readers 8+

This volume looks at the techy side of life: construction, power and energy, agriculture and biotechnology, manufacturing, information and communication, medical and biomedical, and transportation. Learn about the evolution of tools, from the earliest hand tools to robots and space suits. Learn how a blast furnace works, and make your own plastic (adult helpers necessary), and learn how it works. Get your Project Runway on, with a section on textiles: you’ll learn to weave, tie dye, and ink print. For your more tech-inspired readers, there’s an easy Try This at Home experiment that teaches (with adult help) how to build a circuit, or how to magnetize a nail. There are great programming ideas in here: I think I’m going to look into building a planet and designing a space station, all of which can be done on a shoestring and with adult help. And since I’m the closest thing resembling an adult in the room… well, I guess that falls to me. The same format applies here (and to all of the STEM Quest books): bios on prominent scientists, loads of facts and illustrations, a glossary, and an index.

 

STEM Quest Engineering: Fantastic Forces and Incredible Machines, by Nick Arnold/Illustrated by Kristyna Baczynski, (May 2018, Barron’s Educational), $10.99, ISBN: 9781438011349

Recommended for readers 8+

Next up, engineering: systems and mechanics; materials and processes; biology, medical, agriculture and chemistry; structures; and sustainability engineering. Get the kids learning about forces and energy with experiments like Superhero Paper Clips, where they’ll make a paper clip float; a material scavenger hunt, inviting them to look around for everyday items made out of different materials; get out the old reliable straws and pipe cleaners and let them create 3-D shapes to see how they hold up under pressure, or that summer staple, the pinwheel. (The book suggests dowels; I’m here to tell you that chopsticks are a lot cheaper and just as easy to use.) There’s a great section on environmental engineering that will have you and your readers figuring out how to clean up our environment and a nuclear power lesson that has the simplest of experiments: use the sun’s nuclear energy to test your sunscreen on a piece of construction paper.

 

STEM Quest Math: Fabulous Figures and Cool Calcuations, by Colin Stuart/Illustrated by Annika Brandow, (May 2018, Barron’s Educational), $10.99, ISBN: 9781438011356

Recommended for readers 8+

I’m trying to get more math-related fun in front of my library kids, because it scares the bejesus out of me and I don’t want to pass that on. The parents love a good math program, too, so I know I’ll get buy-in from the community on this one. Here, we’ve got numbers and operations; measurement; problem-solving, logic and reasoning; geometry; algebra; advanced math; data, analysis and probability; and communication. I will admit that just looking at that section scared the life out of me, but once I started reading, I quickly warmed up. There are great explanations of each concept in here, addressing the quick and easy stuff like place value and column addition and subtraction, and heading all the way into bigger ideas like proofs and binary. Fun experiments and activities include a pirate treasure challenge, where, as a pirate captain, you need to use math to calculate the best place to bury your treasure; creating 3-D art and making pyramids, and averaging Olympic judge scores.

That’s a start for some STEM summer fun, but make sure to get your STEM sections and displays up and running to give readers readalikes and ways to expand on what they’re learning. The Secret Coders graphic novel series by Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes is great for Math and Tech fans, who want to play with coding. Science Comics has books about rockets and robots that will fit nicely with STEM displays, and I’m a big fan of the Junk Drawer Science series by Bobby Mercer. There are tons of fun STEM-related books out there!

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Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade

Fables from the Stables: Murray the Race Horse

Murray the Race Horse, by Gavin Puckett/Illustrated by Tor Freeman, (May 2018, Faber & Faber), $8.95, ISBN: 9780571334681

Recommended for readers 6-10

Murray is a sweet horse with big dreams: he wants to race, he wants a trophy, he wants the adulation of the fans, but there’s a big problem: Murray just can’t run that fast. He’s used as a service horse, and the other sleek, fast racing horses poke fun at him, but Murray gets his chance at greatness when Ned, one of the racing horses, is injured at the big Speed Saddle Cup race and Murray is pulled out of the crowd to compete in his place! Murray’s handed off to a stable boy for shoeing – but the stable boy puts the shoes on the wrong way, leaving Murray to run the race backwards! Is seeing things differently the key to Murray’s success?

Originally released in the UK in 2017, Murray is the first in author Gavin Puckett’s Fables from the Stables series, and is a short story, written in verse, and illustrated in full color. Murray is a sweet horse that kids will root for, and the storyline about seeing things differently, or trying a different strategy to change your luck, will appeal to parents, educators, and caregivers that may need some help explaining the concept. This can easily be a read-aloud or independent reading book. Give this to your horse story fans (get those Horse Diaries books on display) and your humor readers.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Humor, Intermediate, Middle Grade

Vivian French creates fun fairy tales!

The Cherry Pie Princess, by Vivian French/Illustrated by Marta Kissi, (March 2018, Kane Miller), $5.99, ISBN: 9781610677332

Recommended for readers 7-11

Peony is the youngest of her princess sisters. She’s also the one with manners, and who loves to read. When a baby brother is born, her parents are thrilled and demand a huge celebration, but Peony’s father – who may be a tyrant – only wants people who will give good gifts and who are the “right” kind of people at the party, which leaves out The Hag, a powerful witch who doesn’t take kindly to being ignored. It’s up to Peony to use her brains to save the town librarian and an aspiring court jester that her father locked in the dungeon, her baby brother, and the entire kingdom. No pressure!

Vivian French’s fairy tales are so much fun to read. They’ve got wonderful heroines and heroes, and a dramatis personae of dramatic foils that are generally (comically) awful people. In this case, Peony, who loves the library, borrows a cookbook and learns how to bake while her father has the librarian thrown in the dungeon for daring to speak directly to Peony. Who discovers this years later, when her own father locks her up for daring to talk back to him. It’s Peony’s book smarts and sense of decency that combine to help her take charge of the situation when The Hag shows up to cause trouble, and save the day. There’s humor, fun and diverse characters – the three good fairy godmothers appear to be African-American – and Marta Kissi’s entertaining black and white artwork make this a fun read for fantasy fans, princess fans, and readers who love a book with a message. Plus, there’s a talking cat and a librarian. So, bonus.

Props to Marta Kissi for nailing a picture of me at the end of a day at the library, without even knowing me:

 

The Adventures of Alfie Onion, by Vivian French/Illustrated by Marta Kissi, (March 2018, Kane Miller), $5.99, ISBN: 9781610677325

Recommended for readers 7-11

Alfie Onion could really have had a chip on his shoulder, and no one would blame him. He’s the eighth son of a seventh son, an inconvenience to his mother, who lavishes all her attentions on her seventh son of a seventh son, Magnifico. You see, his mother grew up obsessed with fairy tales, and was convinced that the seventh son of a seventh son was destined for greatness; Magnifico is his mother’s long-tail get-rich scheme. The thing is, Magnifico is a spoiled brat who pretty much knows how to eat. And that’s that. So when his mother pushes him off to start his great adventures, Magnifico takes Alfie (and his dog, Bowser) along to carry his luggage. Guess who the real hero is going to be?

I am so happy to read that these two books are the beginning of a new stand-alone series; they are so much fun to read and address modern-day problems in a fairy tale setting. Like The Cherry Pie Princess, Alfie Onion has a positive hero with overwrought, melodramatic antagonist foils. Alfie is always respectful and kind, where Magnifico is selfish and rude; when danger lurks, Magnifico expects Alfie to protect him: some hero! The humor is light and fun, with all the fantasy dressing: forests, trolls, talking birds and mice, a lovelorn ogress, a faithful dog, and a hero’s quest. Marta Kissi’s illustrations just add to the fun here, especially when the adventure takes a turn into an ogrish rubbish pit.

Do you have readers who love Whatever After? Grimmtastic Girls? Hand them these, and tell them to enjoy. Have boys who think fairy tales are for girls? First, tell them they’re clearly not reading the right fairy tales, and hand them these, too.

 

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

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl is wonderful!

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl, by Stacy McAnulty, (May 2018, Random House), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-5247-6757-0

Recommended for readers 8-12

I am so excited to talk up this book, because it is SO GOOD. I was lucky enough to be on author Stacy McAnulty’s “street team”, so I have evangelized this book to my library kiddos, bending the ear of everyone I talk to (including grownups) at the library and at home, and generally shoving this book at people to tell them that they need to read it immediately.

Lucy is a gifted tween, thanks to a lightning strike at age seven that left her with savant abilities in math. She loves math. She sees and smells the numbers and equations; they reveal themselves to her and tell them all their secrets, but social relationships have eluded her. She struggles with OCD behaviors and has been homeschooled by her grandmother, who finally decides that Lucy develop socially, and enrolls her in middle school, which doesn’t really go over so well with Lucy, who’s more ready for college applications. But Lucy promises her grandmother that she’ll make one friend, join one activity, and read one book that isn’t a math textbook. Lucy’s OCD automatically makes her a target to the local mean girl, but she persists, finding ways to use her talents in a class project, and making two pretty good friends, while she’s at it.

I can’t find enough great things to say about Lightning Girl. Stacy McAnulty gives us a strong, funny, sweet, and complex group of characters that reader will recognize bits of themselves in; supportive parental figures that are doing their best, and parents that need a bit more work. It’s a glimpse at everyday life with a touch of the extraordinary, and it’s a touching look at the power of caring about something bigger than oneself. Lucy goes through tremendous upheaval, but she rides it out, and grows through the course of the book. Before the events that form the narrative, she sees life as a series of problems that can be worked out, but learns that some of the toughest problems bring rewarding solutions. Even if the final answer isn’t correct, the work to get there makes a difference.

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl is compulsively readable, discussable, and perfect middle grade reading. Teachers, PLEASE put this on your Summer Reading lists, so I can hand this book to every middle grader I see this summer. Lightning Girl has starred reviews from School Library Journal, Kirkusand Publisher’s Weekly. Author Stacy McAnulty is on a book tour for Lightning Girl right now: head to her author webpage for a schedule!

 

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

Never That Far: They never really leave us

Never That Far, by Carol Lynch Williams, (Apr. 2018, Shadow Mountain), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-62972-409-6

Recommended for readers 9-12

Twelve-year-old Libby is devastated when her best friend, her grandfather, dies at home. Crippled by grief, her father can barely get out of bed to work in the family’s Florida orange groves. On the night of Grampa’s funeral, though, Libby has a visitor: Grampa’s spirit shows up in her room, telling her that “the dead ain’t never that far from the living”, and that she has to search the lake for something he left for her. Sadly, he tells her that her father can’t see him; he doesn’t believe. To him, “the Dead are dead”. Libby joins forces with her friend, Bobby, to discover the treasure at the lake, but her father spirals further into grief and depression and threatens to derail Libby’s entire mission.

Never That Far has a touch of the supernatural set into a realistic fiction about grief, loss, and family. The Sight, Libby’s family gift, allows her to see and speak with dead family members. Her father has been worn down by grief, enduring the deaths of his siblings, wife, mother, and now, father; he has spent years arguing with his family about their “gift”, refusing to accept it for what it is. Libby’s revelation is unbearable to him, threatening an even greater rift between father and daughter when he tries to stop her from her mission. Together, Libby and Grampa, with some help from Bobby, work to save Libby’s father, who’s in danger of becoming a shell of a person and leaving Libby alone in the world.

The characters are gently realized, revealing themselves to readers little by little over the course of the book and packing powerful emotional punches as they come. Libby witnesses her grandfather’s grief at not being able to connect with his son in a scene that will have readers reaching for tissues. Taking place in the late 1960s in rural Florida allows the plot to remain character-driven. This is a moving story of grief, loss, and renewal that will appeal to certain readers: it’s a good book to have handy for your tough times lists, and for comfort reading. It’s spiritual, rather than overtly religious, and is soothing for readers experiencing loss and moving on.

 

 

 

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

Join Elise Gravel’s Mushroom Fan Club!

The Mushroom Fan Club, by Elise Gravel, (May 2018, Drawn & Quarterly), $17.95, ISBN: 978-1-77046-322-6

Recommended for readers 6-12

Artist and author Elise Gravel’s newest book, The Mushroom Fan Club, is its own little science comic! Elise Gravel and her family love going mushroom hunting, and The Mushroom Fan Club shares that sense of fun and adventure with readers. Beginning with an illustration of Gravel, her daughters, and cats heading out to explore, Gravel narrates why she’s fascinated with mushrooms: they look like aliens from outer space! They come in all different sizes and shapes! She proceeds to teach readers what she’s learned about mushrooms, from biology (parts, reproduction, environment) to the different types of mushrooms. She exercises caution, exhorting readers NOT TO EAT mushrooms they may encounter on their own, as many are poisonous; even illustrating mushrooms warning readers that they can “make you very, very sick! And even worse!” The Mushroom Fan Club is loaded with fun facts, bright illustrations in Elise Gravel’s immediately recognizable style, and fun mushroom-related art activities.

I’m a big Elise Gravel fan, so if she illustrated a box of cereal, I’d eat it and suggest it for literary honors. I love this fun twist on earth science nonfiction; she makes graphic nonfiction interesting and memorable. If you haven’t read her biography on The Great Antonio, I highly recommend it. Check out an excerpt of The Mushroom Fan Club on the Drawn and Quarterly website, and visit Elise Gravel’s author webpage for free printables of all sorts. Read The Mushroom Fan Club in a science program, read it at dinner time, just read it and have fun with it!

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

The Battle of Junk Mountain is underway

The Battle of Junk Mountain, by Lauren Abbey Greenberg, (April 2018, Running Press), $16.99, ISBN: 978-0-7624-6295-7

Recommended for readers 8-12

Twelve-year-old Shayne is not having the summer she expected. Normally, she loves spending time with her grandparents and her “summer sister”, Poppy, in Maine, but things are different now. Her grandmother, Bea, hasn’t been quite the same since Shayne’s grandfather died in a fishing boat accident, and Poppy’s more interested in boys and makeup than she is in their summertime rituals. Shayne’s in Maine to help Bea get her home cleaned out: she’s always “collected” stuff, raiding yard sales and thrift stores, but she’s gotten a bit carried away since Grandpa died. Shayne refers to the pile of junk (“treasures”) on top of one table as Junk Mountain, but Bea just pooh-poohs any talk about there being a problem. But there are problems: Bea’s spending is out of control, and any attempts at getting the house cleaned up and selling her “treasures” off ends up getting Bea upset. Alone and conflicted, Shayne ends up befriending Linc (short for Lincoln), the Civil War-obsessed grandson of her grandmother’s next door neighbor. Shayne’s got to figure out a way to keep the peace in her shifting relationships this summer, or it will be the worst summer ever.

Told in the first person by Shayne, The Battle for Junk Mountain looks at how relationships shift over time; Poppy and Shayne’s friendship is going through its growing pains as the two start coming into themselves as tweens, but the big story here is the relationship between Bea and Shayne. What happens when that relationship changes? Shayne has some big ticket items to face in Junk Mountain: her grandmother’s collecting has turned into something bigger than she is, and she’s on her own for most of the novel while dealing with it. She also navigates two friendships: a changing longtime friendship and a new friendship with someone who doesn’t fit in with her usual summer traditions. It’s a gentle coming-of-age story that also has the ability to start a talk about big responsibilities kids face today.

There’s a free, downloadable study guide, with discussion questions and Common Core Standards, available through the author’s website. The Battle of Junk Mountain is good summer reading: easy to read, but filled with realistic, relatable characters that will leave readers thinking and talking.