November 18, 2017

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Robots, Rockets, Cool Cars: New High-Interest STEM Books | Series Made Simple

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Being strong in visual appeal, physically constructed to last approximately as long as the pyramids of Egypt, and focused on high interest topics—though all too often offering only bland generalizations about those topics or, conversely, indigestible barrages of facts without proper contexts—many of the titles below are more likely to rivet random browsers than engage serious students with an established interest in STEM subjects. Some of the series, though, are standout exceptions that support the Common Core K–5 Informational Reading Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards with systematic presentations of material, illustrations that effectively enhance the reader’s understanding, interactive features like hands-on projects or review quizzes, substantial leads to further sources of information, and unusual approaches or insights.

Preschool to Grade 4

Alinas, Marv. Bulldozers. ISBN 97816232 39626. LC 2013947248.

––––. Cranes. ISBN 9781623239657. LC 2013947251.

––––. Diggers. ISBN 9781623239664. LC 2013947252.

––––. Garbage Trucks. ISBN 9781623239695. LC 2013947255.

Amoroso, Cynthia. Airplanes. ISBN 9781 623239619. LC 2013947246.

––––. Dump Trucks. ISBN 9781623239671. LC 2013947253.

––––. Fire Trucks. ISBN 9781623239688. LC 2013947254.

––––. Tow Trucks. ISBN 9781623239701. LC 2013947256.

Eick, Jean. Concrete Mixers. ISBN 9781 623239640. LC 2013947250.

Rogers, Hal. Cherry Pickers. ISBN 9781 623239633. LC 2013947249.

––––. Tractors. ISBN 9781623239718. LC 2013947257.

––––. Trains. ISBN 9781623239725. LC 2013947258.

ea vol: 24p. (Big Machines at Work Series). diags. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. The Child’s World. 2014. lib. ed. $25.64.

K-Gr 2 –Offered as successors to the 1999 series of the same name (though not all of the volumes correspond), these pictorial surveys pair sharply reproduced photos of heavy-duty working vehicles with simply phrased commentary on the selected machine’s common main components and functions printed in large type. The chapter heads are framed as questions, such as “What are tractors?” and “How are trains used?” The final chapter in each volume explains how that type of vehicle is “important,” “useful” or some other positive quality–not that young fans of these mechanical behemoths will need any justification to pore over these big, bright images.

Bailer, Darice. Measuring Length. ISBN 9781624316470; ISBN 9781624316746; ISBN 9781624317286. LC 2013029071.

––––. Measuring Temperature. ISBN 9781 624316487; ISBN 9781624316753; ISBN 9781624317293. LC 2013029072.

––––. Measuring Time with a Calendar. ISBN 9781624316494; ISBN 9781624316760; ISBN 9781624317309. LC 2013029073.

Reinke, Beth Bence. Measuring Time with a Clock. ISBN 9781624316500; ISBN 9781624316777; ISBN 9781624317316. LC 2013029074.

––––. Measuring Volume. ISBN 9781 624316517; ISBN 9781624316784; ISBN 9781624317323. LC 2013029075.

ea vol: illus. by Kathleen Petelinsek. 24p. (Measuring Mania Series). further reading. glossary. illus. index. photos. websites. Cherry Lake. 2014. lib. ed. $28.50. pap. $8.95. ebk. $19.95.

Gr 1-3 –These hands-on guides urge young children to grab a ruler, a thermometer, some empty bottles, and other such useful items—and get measuring! Along with instructions for several safe, simple projects and activities, each volume introduces relevant units of measure in different systems such as Fahrenheit and Celsius. Calendar offers two ways of writing dates as well as practice in creating schedules, while Clock presents exercises using both digital and face clocks. Both Measuring Length and Measuring Volume confusingly insert parenthetical metric equivalents after U.S. Customary units but don’t get around to explaining the metric system until three quarters of the way through. Still, the bright, colorful design and overall enthusiasm make these appealing choices.

Clay, Kathryn. Battling for Victory: The Coolest Robot Competitions. ISBN 9781476539744; ISBN 9781476551142. LC 2013026492.

––––. Humanoid Robots: Running into the Future. ISBN 9781476539751; ISBN 9781476551159. LC 2013028204.

––––. Robots at Your Service: From the Factory to Your Home. ISBN 9781476539737; ISBN 9781476551135. LC 2013028205.

––––. Robots in Risky Jobs: On the Battlefield and Beyond. ISBN 9781476539720; ISBN 9781476551128. LC 2013028205.

ea vol: 32p. (The World of Robots Series). further reading. glossary. illus. index. photos. websites. Capstone. 2014. lib. ed. $25.99. pap. $7.95.

Gr 2-4 –These very quick looks at many of the tasks that robots have already or may soon take over from humans are likely to leave even emergent readers unsatisfied. Nearly every spread features an often vague “Robot Fact” (“Scientists are working on new robots that will plant and fertilize crops.”) and a simply phrased description or claim accompanying a large color photo. Unusual terms are helpfully defined in the adjacent margins and in an appended glossary. Though robots like Star Trek’s Data and The Jetsons’s Rosie are clearly designated as imaginary, no systematic distinctions are made between currently functioning robots and those that are experimental or even theoretical. Furthermore, many of the images are blurry or not shown from informative angles—and some of those in Humanoid Robots are downright creepy looking.

Furstinger, Nancy. Cones. ISBN 9781 623239817. LC 2013947240.

––––. Cubes. ISBN 9781623239824. LC 2013947241.

––––. Cylinders. ISBN 9781623239831. LC 2013947242.

––––. Prisms. ISBN 9781623239848. LC 2013947243.

––––. Pyramids. ISBN 9781623239855. LC 2013947244.

––––. Spheres. ISBN 9781623239862. LC 2013947245.

ea vol: 24p. (3-D Shapes Series). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. The Child’s World. 2014. lib. ed. $27.07.

Gr 2-4 –Though neatly designed and kitted out with big, bright color photos, these simplistic introductions to solid shapes are likely to sow more confusion than enlightenment. Along with factual errors (no, grave goods were not discovered inside the thoroughly looted Egyptian pyramids, and beach umbrellas are seldom if ever “shaped like a pyramid”), these definitions fail to mention that objects in nature only approximate ideal shapes. As a result, for “How many types of fruit that are spheres can you count in this picture?” the truly accurate answer, using the given definition, would be “none.” Also, the author notes that cubes are a type of prism only in Prisms, not Cubes. Furthermore, the illustrations don’t always measure up—graphic representations of a prism and a pyramid are drawn in a bewildering, semi-transparent way, and the activities in the back matter are often less than thrilling (Pyramids features an invitation to glue pennies to a pyramid shaped piece of Styrofoam).

Graham, Ian. Cars. illus. by Nick Hewetson. ISBN 9781908973948.

––––. Planes, Rockets—and Other—Flying Machines. ISBN 9781908973955.

––––. Super Bikes. illus. by Nick Hewetson. ISBN 9781908973962.

––––. Super Trucks. illus. by Mark Bergin & Nick Hewetson. ISBN 9781908973979.

ea vol: 32p. (Time Shift Series). chron. diag. glossary. illus. index. Black Rabbit/Book House. 2014. lib. ed. $28.50.

Gr 1-4 –Spreads crowded with galleries of painted vehicles lit with artificial evenness and a mix of renowned and generic pilots or drivers give these historical surveys a mildly antiquated look. Simply phrased overviews, identifying captions, and, in some cases, top speeds or other statistics are printed in relatively large type and often look shoehorned onto the pages. Four spreads in each volume feature split page flaps that conceal changes of vehicle or view or, sometimes, cutaway glimpses of interiors or oversize engines. Reinforcing the retro air of this series, each volume, with the exception of Super Trucks, includes a time line, which ends at 2008 or earlier. Though the split pages are largely just a gimmick, younger fans of everything fast and noisy may be diverted by these overviews.

Hanson, Anders. Detective’s Tools. ISBN 9781624030710. LC 2013022537.

––––. EMT’s Tools. ISBN 9781624030727. LC 2013022504.

––––. Firefighter’s Tools. ISBN 9781 624030734. LC 2013022517.

––––. Police Officer’s Tools. ISBN 9781624030741. LC 2013022594.

––––. Search & Rescue Tools. ISBN 9781624030758. LC 2013022538.

––––. Swat Team Tools. ISBN 9781624030765. LC 2013022423.

ea vol: 24p. (More Professional Tools Series). glossary. photos. ABDO. 2014. lib. ed. $25.65.

Gr 1-3 –Like 2008’s “Professional Tools” series, this continuation features galleries of adults in various skilled occupations and the gear they use. Here, the focus shifts from scientists to police and rescue workers, including forensic lab technicians, rescue dogs, and a SWAT team. All are shown at work and in roughly balanced mixes of men and women. Most of the full-page photos focus on equipment and vehicles, often with labels added and one-line “Fast Facts” at the top. The main captions run to short but pleasantly specific descriptive statements (“Jason’s heart has stopped. Alexa tries to revive him with a defibrillator”). Matching games and sets of quiz questions at the end provide reinforcement as well as tests of comprehension. Is it ever too early to start thinking about career choices?

Leavitt, Amie Jane. U.S. Navy by the Numbers. ISBN 9781476539188; ISBN 9781476551210. LC 2013035691.

Raum, Elizabeth. U.S. Marines by the Numbers. ISBN 9781476539195; ISBN 9781476551227. LC 2013032522.

Simons, Lisa M. B. U.S. Air Force by the Numbers. ISBN 9781476539201; ISBN 9781476551234. LC 2013032524.

––––. U.S. Army by the Numbers. ISBN 9781476539171; ISBN 9781476551203. LC 2013032521.

ea vol: 32p. (Military by the Numbers Series). bibliog. chron. glossary. index. photos. websites. Capstone. 2014. lib. ed. $27.32. pap. $7.95.

Gr 3-5 –Making excellent use of emphatic titling and well-designed infographics, these browser’s treasures offer abbreviated but eye-catching numerical profiles of the four service branches, including information on how many people are currently serving in each to the sizes, top speeds, and weaponry of selected ships and other conveyances. The data is unsourced, but gathered in consultation with military historians and claimed valid as of 2013. Readers will also enjoy introductions to historical high and low spots, such as Pearl Harbor and recent Marine Corps Disaster Relief missions in Haiti and Pakistan—not to mention, they’ll learn how many push-ups are required for graduation from Navy and Navy SEAL training, the average Army pay in 1949 vs. 2013, and, just for fun, sets of random facts about each branch. Color and period photos throughout add appropriately martial visual notes.

Osier, Dan. Backhoes. ISBN 9781477728604. LC 2013018990.

––––. Bulldozers. ISBN 9781477728598. LC 2013015809.

––––. Cement Mixers. ISBN 9781477728611. LC 2013019331.

––––. Cranes. ISBN 9781477728635. LC 2013023113.

––––. Dump Trucks. ISBN 9781477728628. LC 2013022428.

––––. Forklifts. ISBN 9781477732458. LC 2013022416.

ea vol: 24p. (Construction Site Series). ebook available. glossary. index. photos. websites. PowerKids. 2014. lib. ed. $22.60.

K-Gr 2 –As a natural expansion for single-volume visits to construction sites, this series has plenty to offer younger enthusiasts. Each book combines bright, full-page color photos of heavy-duty machines in a variety of sizes and designs with one or two very simply phrased descriptive notes on the facing pages. For the most part, the machines are somewhat cleaner than they would likely be in real life, but all are shown on site and at work. Except for Cement Mixers, each title ends with a discussion starting question. Some sentences (“The stick and boom connect the bucket to the tractor”) would be more informative combined with arrows or labels, and there is but one woman among the workers in the pictures. Still, despite these minor flaws, these books merit, and should see, immediate and substantial use.

Grades 5 & Up

Bailey, Diane. Suzuki: Built for Speed. ISBN 9781477718582. LC 2013023152.

––––. Yamaha: Sport Racing Legend. ISBN 9781477718599. LC 2013026210.

Barrington, Richard. BMW: Ultimate Riding Experience. ISBN 9781477718575. LC 2013013172.

––––. Ducati: High Performance Italian Racer. ISBN 9781477718568. LC 2013013201.

Kamberg, Mary-Lane. Kawasaki: World’s Fastest Bike. ISBN 9781477718605. LC 2013026250.

Roza, Greg. Harley Davidson: An All-American Legend. ISBN 9781477718551. LC 2013013198.

ea vol: 48p. (Motorcycles: A Guide to the World’s Best Bikes Series). bibliog. charts. ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Rosen Central. 2014. lib. ed. $29.95.

Gr 5-8 –Readers after more horsepower than the plethora of one-volume motorcycle galleries can deliver will really be revved up by these high-octane tributes to most of the more famous makes. Focusing mainly on racing and sport models, but bestowing at least nods to working and street machines, authors vary their approaches, mixing history with specs and records for some makes and zeroing in on particular models for others. The prose is souped up (“The M109R grumbles nicely on the low end, but rev up over 4,000 rpm and the [Suzuki] Boulevard really hits its stride.”); the photos, acceptable if not spectacular in quality, are a mix of action and display shots with occasional closeups or details. Each volume ends with a chart of specs and generous quantities of print and web resources.

Crum, Colin. Alfa Romeo vs. Maserati. ISBN 9781477790199.

––––. BMW vs. Mercedes. ISBN 9781477790113. LC 2013022174.

––––. Ferrari vs. Lamborghini. ISBN 9781615335022. LC 2013021163.

––––. Jaguar vs. Aston Martin. ISBN 9781477790151. LC 2013027497.

––––. Mustang vs. Corvette. ISBN 9781477790076. LC 2013021163.

––––. Porsche vs. Lotus. ISBN 9781477790038. LC 2013023516.

ea vol: 32p. (Ultimate Car Battles Series). ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Windmill. 2014. lib. ed. $25.25.

Gr 4-6 –Though the “head to head” approach and high-energy page design in these browsing items give them plenty of superficial flash, readers will quickly get bogged down in Crum’s dry recitations of dates and model designations. Moreover, the color photos of cars past and present are equally dull—being mostly display shots from auto shows with scarcely any peeks beneath the hoods or into the passenger compartments. Following a side-by-side fact chart that is likely to be the only feature here that sparks much interest (base price of the first Mustang convertible? $2,557), each volume closes with a jejune “You Decide!” challenge.


For a level of detail that easily overmatches other titles on this ever-hot topic, “Motorcycles: A Guide to the World’s Best Bikes” merits particular attention, as does “More Professional Tools” for its spot on audience appropriate presentation. “Military by the Numbers” takes an unusual slant that will tempt casual browsers to linger over the texts as well as the pictures. Both “Big Machines at Work” and “Construction Site” offer plenty of tasty eye candy as well as information that will enhance the delight that many emergent readers take in this high-interest subject. “Measuring Mania” is worth consideration for its enthusiastic, hands-on approach. The rest of these offerings may be less useful for instructional purposes but have plenty of kid appeal; even reluctant or disinterested readers will be hard put to resist taking closer looks at them.

This article was published in School Library Journal's April 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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