Call me superficial, but I love a really pretty book. This is especially true for children’s books. What better way to lure young readers in than an eye-catching cover or page after page of cool illustrations? Of course, in order to truly live up to my exacting standards, it must have some substance too. I've recently become obsessed with Flying Eye Books, an imprint of Nobrow Press because they never disappoint me. They are always stylishly composed and fun to read.
Smart About Sharks by Owen Davey is an amazing example of nonfiction for children. It presents readers with weird and fascinating facts as well as lots of practical information on things like shark anatomy, social habits and even some of the mythology surrounding this mysterious predator. The author includes a section on species endangerment and simple ways to keep their habitats safe. However, the illustrations really steal the spotlight. Each page is like a print I would hang in my house, featuring underwater scenes and infographics that are as useful as they are nice to look at. They are especially useful for helping young readers make sense of all the information. My favorite panel shows a kayaker paddling at the top of the page with an assortment of sharks in the water beneath, all drawn to scale. It is a great way to begin to imagine how many differences there can be in one species.
One Day on Our Blue Planet…in the Antarctic is a picture book that introduces kids to a day in the life of a penguin named Adélie, also the name of a common species of penguin living on the Antarctic coast. Through her adventures, author Ella Bailey teaches us about the other animals in Adélie's habitat, like seals, whales, squids and krill. The sentences are simple and sparse, but children will discover a ton of information about life in Antarctica through the illustrations. While they are stylistically simple, there is so much cool stuff happening on each page, it's sure to pique young readers’ interest. The end pages also feature each of the species making an appearance along with its name.
These two stylish books are great for kids interested in the natural world, and they are sure to prompt further investigation. Both are part of a series, so be sure to check out other works from these authors.
We have been celebrating Earth Day since 1970. Many things have changed in the past 46 years, but the message remains the same: Take care of the Earth, it’s the only one we have. Diane Z. Shore and Jessica Alexander’s new picture book This Is the Earth is unique because its message is not only how to take care of the Earth, but why it is so important to do so.
This Is the Earth is written in rhythmic, rhyming verse that becomes soothing and engaging as you read. Vibrant, full-page color illustrations by Wendell Minor take the reader through the vast and varying landscapes of Earth — from an African safari to a bustling river to the endless blue sky “speckled with birds.” As the book continues, the reader travels both geographically across Earth and over spans of time. The illustrations smoothly transition from Native Americans harvesting crops to homesteading pioneers, from the Industrial Revolution up to the present day.
At first, the story is positive: We are slowly learning to make the most of our land and resources over time, which helps us raise our standard of living. However, the book quickly takes a darker turn as the illustrations venture beyond shiny cities and productive workers. The once-lush green farmland is now an overflowing landfill, and the bustling river of fish is now a dumping ground for bright orange toxic waste. The book looks at our treatment of the Earth almost as too much of a good thing. Our lives and industrialization may be improving, but at the dire cost of our natural resources and habitat. If we take away from the Earth, we must also give back.
The book gives simple suggestions at the end, such as recycling or using less water. The overall takeaway message, though, is much more resonant and memorable: We share this Earth with other people and living things, and we should keep that in mind with the decisions we make.
Women have been working in the field of computer science for a long time, but their accomplishments are rarely as recognized as the accomplishments of their male counterparts. In reality, many women have been integral to the development of computer science as we know it today. These two nonfiction books begin teaching children at an early age that the field of computer science has grown very quickly and the future is bright for anyone who is interested in becoming a part of it.
When were the first computers invented? Your child might be surprised to find that people have been working on developing computers and computer programs since the 1800s. Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine by Laurie Wallmark is a beautifully illustrated biography. Ada is credited for writing the world’s first computer program. She was so advanced in her field that modern-day computer scientists found Ada’s program was nearly perfect and still useable to this day, even though it was published in 1843. In addition to her compelling narrative, Wallmark includes a timeline and author’s note at the end that highlights the significance of Ada’s life in context. The illustrations by April Chu complement Ada’s life story well, using warm colors and soft lines to capture the time period in this historical biography for young children perfectly.
Technology: Cool Women Who Code by Andi Diehn offers a more modern-day perspective on women in computer science, targeted for children ages 9 to 12. The book introduces how computer science and programming languages work and different types of careers for people who are interested in technology. There are three great female role models highlighted in the book: Grace Hopper, a computer programmer for the U.S. Navy; Shaunda Bryant Daily, who explored the connection between computers and human emotion; and Jean Yang, an aspiring computer science professor. The book is graphically engaging and interactive, including text boxes with social and historical context, information about technology-related careers and thought-provoking questions such as, “What does innovation mean to you?” and “What will the computer industry be like 20 or 30 years from now if one gender continues to work in it the most?” The book also provides a magnum of resources for those who want to explore computer science careers even further, including primary resources from the women featured, different websites and books. This book is unique because it highlights issues of gender inequality alongside the excitement of the growing technology industry, which provides a great perspective for any aspiring young computer scientist.
Learning a new language is challenging, fun and rewarding. Some of the most useful languages a person can learn today are computer coding languages. Many people would be surprised to find that coding languages are not privy only to the extremely tech-savvy or even those who are math geniuses. In fact, even children can learn programming languages, and there are many great books to help introduce them to it. Children today are growing up intuitively knowing how to use technology. Take it a step further by introducing kids (or yourself) to the rewarding aspects of creating or making technology. Creating technology is the best way to fully understand how it works and how it affects our everyday lives. Each of these books explains how coding can be creative, artistic, exciting and engaging. Although they are targeted for children, these books can easily be read by adults who want a true beginner’s approach to computer science. The only materials needed to learn each of these languages are a computer with a working Internet browser and an eagerness to start coding!
Ruby is a programming language that is very easy for people to understand. Ruby Wizardry by Eric Weinstein explains how coding languages are like the translator between human language and computer language. Sometimes languages are very easy for a computer to understand, but difficult for humans to understand and vice versa. With Ruby, each line of code is easy for both humans and computers to understand. Weinstein explains that Ruby is so easy to read, writing Ruby code is just like writing a story. He formats his book into a story about two kids helping a king organize his kingdom through the magical power of code. The analogies in his story help explain more complicated computer science theories and concepts. For example, he uses a story about a broken pipe in the king’s castle to explain how computers can be coded with conditional statements to respond to various outcomes. The book is entertaining to work through because of the storylines and a great introduction to coding in general.
Similarly to Ruby, Python is also good for kids to learn because it is easy to read. It can be used for creating games, building websites, analyzing data and more. Craig Richardson’s book Adventures in Python is organized more like a textbook for slightly older kids. Each project in this book is arranged by adventure, and each adventure covers a different aspect of the Python language. The projects get steadily more difficult as you work through the book, with each adventure building on concepts covered in the previous section. To begin, you use Python coding to create text and drawings that use Python’s built-in turtle module. Eventually, you use these skills in another module called PyGame, and the book concludes with building an interactive, two-player game. It definitely takes time and patience to work through, but Python is an exceedingly useful language and the book’s “adventure” structure makes it approachable and fun.
No matter which language or book you choose, you will gain a better perspective on how technology and computers work. Computer science can be a daunting topic, but these colorful, youth-oriented books make it approachable for anyone!
As the weather gets colder and the snow days start piling up, you may find yourself wondering what to do with your children now that they are stuck indoors more than usual. No need to sit them down in front of the television or computer — here are some great activity books for kids that are sure to alleviate their boredom and inspire their creativity.
The Curious Kid’s Science Book by Asia Citro encourages children to develop a scientific curiosity about the world around them. Citro points out that children are naturally inclined to ask questions about the way things work, making them “born scientists.” A science teacher herself, Citro reassures parents that the experiments in the book aren’t complicated and don’t need to be executed perfectly in order to have value — the main purpose of the experiments is to show kids how to use the scientific method and develop scientific skills. The book is divided into simple topics such as “plants and seeds,” “water and ice” and other concepts that introduce children to the basics of biology, chemistry, physics and even engineering. This book is great for parents of 4-7 year olds who want their children to start developing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills early in their education.
Do you have a budding chef or a young Martha Stewart on your hands? In Good Taste by Mari Bolte is filled with fun recipes that kids can put together and package with style to give as great holiday gifts. Bolte encourages kids to be creative with their presentation and packaging as that is often what makes a gift go from being ordinary to extraordinary. Some of the gifts include pickles in decorated mason jars, homemade marshmallows wrapped in colorful cellophane and ribbon and bouquets of fruit cut into decorative shapes. She also includes a section at the end where multiple gifts from the book can be combined into themed gift baskets. This book is best for slightly older children in middle grades with an aptitude for cooking and an eye for aesthetic appeal.
For parents whose children are more interested in arts and crafts, Paper Mania by Amanda Formaro has a variety of projects for kids of all ages and skill levels. The projects include everything paper: from simple paper airplanes to magazine collages and mosaics, from toilet paper tube marble racetracks to papier-mâché masks and decoupage. Children will develop their skills with cutting, weaving, pasting, measuring, folding, coloring and more. Formaro is a mother and blogger who has been crafting with children for years. Her blog, CraftsbyAmanda.com, includes projects for both adults and kids — so parents can join in on the crafting fun too!
Three new books take on the perennial favorite topic of dinosaurs, but with new information being discovered all the time, adults as well as kids will find themselves learning – or relearning – about these fascinating creatures from the past.
Scaly Spotted Feathered Frilled: How Do We Know What Dinosaurs Really Looked Like? by Catherine Thimmesh focuses on the new developments in paleontology with regard to the outward appearance of dinosaurs. She teams with a group of six acclaimed paleoartists who have worked with museums, movie studios and magazines to properly depict dinosaurs based on the latest research. This includes the discoveries made in the past two decades of the existence of feathers on many dinosaurs. The author, a Sibert medalist, explains in kid-friendly terminology how scientists have come to current conclusions, and how each future discovery could change their minds.
In Tracking Tyrannosaurs: Meet T. rex’s Fascinating Family, from Tiny Terrors to Feathered Giants, Christopher Sloan discusses the many other tyrannosaurs that lived in the Mesozoic Era among their more well-known cousin Tyrannosaurus rex. This National Geographic production features the publisher’s usual excellent art. Graphs and timelines help explain when each of these tyrannosaurs lived, and sidebars discuss the theories that paleontologists have regarding their close relationship to the birds of today. Particularly clear is the explanation of the simultaneous eras of the dinosaurs and the breakup of supercontinent Pangaea resulting in the continents that now exist.
For younger readers deciding on a favorite, The Greatest Dinosaur Ever by Brenda Z. Guiberson contains many options. Gennady Spirin’s double-page oil paint on paper illustrations are in soft but clear colors. Each dinosaur explains the reasons (huge claws, best parent, club-like tail, etc.) as to why it is the greatest dinosaur ever. Sure to spark debate among dino-loving youngsters, there is really no right or wrong selection. The author also focuses on a number of bird-like dinosaurs, again showing the relationship between the “terrible lizards” of long ago and the feathered creatures of today.
Clever photography and appealing foot facts make Best Foot Forward: Exploring Feet, Flippers, and Claws, by German author Ingo Arndt, a pleasure to read. Using the structure of a two-page spread close-up of an animal foot and the question “Whose foot is this?, the answer appears on the next page along with other animals’ feet that have similar purposes or capabilities. Some of the categories include feet that are best suited to digging (tortoises), climbing (chimpanzees) and swimming (seals). Facts about each of the featured appendages are included to whet the interest of young readers to further explore the lives of the animal.
The close-up photography of the feet is the most fascinating aspect of the book. Whether it be counting the individual tortoise scales and claws, or seeing a mole foot up close, many of these are feet that people rarely notice. The more commonly seen webbed feet of ducks and gripping toes of a gecko are enlarged to see all the detail that make those feet perfect for the animals’ habitats. The most amazing foot featured is that of the kangaroo. Modified for jumping, this long, spring-loaded lever is a sight to behold when shown out of context. This book encourages animal-lovers to look beyond faces and other more obvious features to examine all facets of the creatures who share our environment. A final whimsy is the author’s biography photo – of his foot!
An orphaned koala takes center stage in this real-life tale from Australia. In Jimmy the Joey: the True Story of an Amazing Koala Rescue, noted naturalist and author Deborah Lee Rose and photographer and filmmaker Susan Kelly take the reader on a journey from the moment Jimmy is found and rescued to his eventual release back into the wild. Likely the survivor of a koala-auto collision that took his mother's life, Jimmy is quickly whisked to the Koala Hospital, a one-of-its-kind rehabilitation center and sanctuary located in Port Macquarie, Australia. There, only estimated to be six weeks old, Jimmy is wrapped in a wool pouch mimicking his mother's, fed koala formula, and gently rocked to sleep. Which koalas do a lot - in the wild, more than 18 hours a day is spent sleeping. As small as a jellybean when first born, koalas need intense care for the first year of their lives. The Koala Hospital has been able to create as close to natural surroundings and nurture for young koalas who must grow and thrive before being released into the wild.
Susan Kelly's photographs of the impossibly cute Jimmy are spellbinding. As he grows at first on formula and then on an adult koala's main food source, eucalyptus leaves, Jimmy's bright shiny eyes, grasping claws, and soft grey fur are evident in each stage. Jimmy meets another recovering koala, Twinkles, who is further along in her rehabilitation. He quickly learns to climb trees, eats leaves on his own, and eventually grows stronger. Excellent resources are included for further information on the Koala Hospital and koalas in general. Interesting facts about the teddy bear-like creatures, such as their unique ability to consume eucalyptus leaves which are poisonous to most animals, and the meaning of the word koala (which means "little drink" in an Australian aboriginal language, as they get most if not all of their water from the leaves), fill out this exceptional introduction to a singular animal. A reminder of the need for continued conservation of the koalas' habitat is also featured, along with a map of where koalas are found in their native Australia.
In Look Up: Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard, Annette LeBlanc Cate uses witty text, hand-drawn lettering, and pleasant, approachable colored-pencil art to encourage readers to notice the birds that share our environment. The author/illustrator covers a bevy of concepts relating to our feathered friends, and describes how she became an avian enthusiast and the simple ways that anyone can become one, too. In a casual, friendly style, the author advises beginners to start with a simple list of the birds that they see in their own surroundings. She is also an advocate for sketching and journaling. Easy-to-follow tips for better bird-watching, including useful ideas such as looking in the margins of a line of sight, and searching at dawn and dusk, allows the novice to spot birds that may otherwise be missed.
Identifying birds is covered at length, but not in the same style as a general field guide (which she highly recommends using as well). Instead, common birds are separated by color palette, shape, detail, and song. Throughout the book, familiar birds are introduced, and each page builds upon the previous until more involved concepts such as habitat, migration and classification are touched upon. Cate also stresses the value of keeping a sketchbook and encourages those who don’t believe they can draw to start with the basics and go from there. Even the endpapers are full of good information and funny quips. A useful bibliography and index, which also include bird commentary, completes the irreverent but highly informational package.
Pluto’s Secret, an Icy World’s Tale of Discovery by Margaret A. Weitekamp with David DeVorkin lets the cat out of the bag. Dancing around with its moon and other small worlds on the outer edges of the solar system, it watches as the people on Earth try to figure it out. Discovered in 1930 after years of searching, astronomers thought they had found the ninth planet around the sun. Pluto plays in its orbit, laughing at the astronomers. As more powerful telescopes are developed, scientists realize that Pluto is not only different than the other planets; it’s also not alone in its orbit. In 2006, this discovery led astronomers to vote on a definition of a planet, something which had never been done before. Pluto’s secret is revealed. It is not a planet, but the "first example of something new" --and it’s not the only one. Scientists have discovered an entire band of icy worlds around the sun (called the Kuiper Belt), as well as around other stars. As technology evolves, so does our ability to learn more about the Universe.
This children’s book, put out in association with the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, does an extraordinary job of piquing the reader’s interest in the solar system. Children will enjoy learning that an 11-year-old girl suggested the name for Pluto. Coupled with Diane Kidd’s charming illustrations, the story will entertain readers of all ages. Facts and photographs follow the story and gives those interested more resources. In 2006 NASA launched the New Horizons spacecraft to conduct a flyby study of Pluto and its moon, Charon. It’s halfway there, and should reach Pluto in 2015. Follow its progress here!