March 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Take the Plunge: It’s time to start using audiobooks to support the STEM initiative | Listen In

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Illustration from Life in the Ocean ©Claire Nivola.
Courtesy of Frances Foster Bks./FSG BYR, an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Pub. Group

An initiative that has gained national attention is the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Education Coalition (, supported by major associations and corporations such as the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), and Microsoft, to name just a few. The coalition not only advocates for federal resources and interest for these critically important studies, but also works to heighten awareness for underrepresented and disadvantaged groups.

There are many good sources for STEM education initiatives. The Jason Project (, an education partnership between the Sea Research Foundation and National Geographic, and the PBS Teachers STEM Education Resource Center ( in particular offer excellent information for teachers and students.

This month’s audiobook titles feature specific STEM topics that can be integrated with Common Core Standards and instructional extensions. Listening to informational audiobooks adds support to these essential subjects and

also assists young listeners with transitioning from stories to nonfiction. Audiobook publishers have increased their selection lists to acquire excellent nonfiction titles, from beginning math concepts to read-along biographies. This column focuses on elementary STEM themes, with future columns noting STEM topics in secondary as well as elementary grade levels.

Five Creatures. Written by Emily Jenkins. Illustrated by Tomek Bogacki. Narrated by Kristen Hahn. CD. 4:50 min. with paperback book. Weston Woods. 2002. ISBN 978-0-439-80441-7. $18.95. K-Gr 2

A little girl classifies the important “creatures” in her life—herself, her mother, her father, and two cats—by number and category in this charming picture book read-along. Amusing, understated sound effects, a lively musical bed, and Hahn’s delightfully childlike narration allow listeners time to absorb Bogacki’s Venn diagram illustrations that provide additional applications for mathematical exploration.

Common Core Standard: 1.MD.4. Organize, represent, and interpret data with up to three categories; ask and answer questions about the total data points, how many in each category, and how many more or less are in one category than in another.

Instructional Extensions: Students can expand their skills by playing Cyberchase: Zoo Logic at PBS Kids (, where they categorize animals into their correct pens. The popular drawing program, Kid Pix, available in many school and public libraries, can also be used to create Venn diagrams.

Ivy and Bean: What’s the Big Idea? Written by Annie Barrows. Narrated by Cassandra Morris. CD. 1:15 hrs. Recorded Books. 2011. ISBN 978-1-4498-5098-2. $15.75. Gr 1-3

In this beginning chapter book, second graders Ivy and Bean are assigned a science fair project on global warming. Becoming junior science detectives and problem solvers, they try to think of an idea that will help. Their final solution is both realistic and heartwarming. Morris’s narration is paced for this listening audience, with good pauses between chapters and childishly appropriate voicing. An endnote gives information about global warming.

Common Core Standard: RL.1.5. Explain major differences between books that tell stories and books that give information, drawing on a wide reading of a range of text types.

Instructional Extension: Themes of problem solving and working together provide fertile ground for students to combine their science investigations with Bill Nye the Science Guy ( and Sid the Science Kid ( The list of episodes for both of these acclaimed series will provide numerous ideas for science fair projects.

Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot. Written by Sy Montgomery. Narrated by Andrea Gallo. CD. 2:15 hrs. Recorded Books. 2011. ISBN 978-1-4640-0227-4. $25.75. Gr 3-5

Science writer Montgomery spent ten days on Codfish Island off the coast of New Zealand to record the painstaking and tireless scientific efforts of rangers and volunteers attempting to restore the population of this large, whiskered, flightless parrot. Gallo’s confident, expressive reading makes listeners feel as if the author is speaking directly to them. Students will get more benefit from this entry in the “Scientists in the Field” series if they keep the print edition nearby to take advantage of Nic Bishop’s remarkable photographs.

Common Core Standard: RI.4.3. Explain events, procedures, ideas, or concepts in a historical, scientific, or technical text, including what happened and why, based on specific information in the text.

Instructional Extension: Students can investigate bird conservation at these websites, where the Kiwi Conservation Club has updated information for kids on the Kakapo Recovery Programme (, and the National Zoo website ( has a page filled with interesting information on bird conservation.

Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle. Written and illustrated by Claire Nivola. Narrated by Nicole Poole. CD. 30 min. with hardcover book. Recorded Books. 2012. ISBN 978-1-4703-0113-2. $38.75. Gr 2-4

Sylvia Earle fell in love with the ocean as a child in Florida, where the Gulf of Mexico was in her backyard. Nivola includes information in both text and illustrations that will not only spark students’ imaginations, but will also be useful for units on ocean life and conservation. Poole reads with enthusiasm and an obvious interest in Earle’s work. Track two, with page-turn signals, is best for allowing time to pore over the inviting, tiny images describing the text.

Common Core Standard: RI.3.7. Use information gained from illustrations (e.g., maps, photographs) and the words in a text to demonstrate understanding of the text (e.g., where, when, why, and how key events occur).

Instructional Extension: The movie Finding Nemo is a good discussion-starter for different types of sea creatures and “What Kind of Creature Is It? Finding Nemo—Cast of Characters” ( will help students identify the ocean-dwelling characters from the film. The Monterey Bay Aquarium website ( and an interview from National Geographic Kids ( provide more information on ocean life to round out student exploration of this topic.

Night Flight: Amelia Earhart Crosses the Atlantic. By Robert Burleigh. Illustrated by Wendell Minor. Narrated by Laura Hamilton. CD. 22:23 min. with hardcover book. Live Oak Media. 2012. ISBN 978-1-4301-1084-2. $29.95. Gr 3-5

History and drama combine to recount the 1932 Newfoundland-to-Ireland solo flight by Amelia Earhart. The long flight unfolded with heart-stopping weather and a display of courage and stamina, making Earhart the first woman to complete this feat. Hamilton performs with fine pacing and inflection, heightening the adventure and uncertainty of the trip, and the sound effects and music perfectly match the flow of the story. The pairing of Minor’s illustrations and Burleigh’s lyrical text makes this an excellent choice for a simple explanation of the aerodynamics of flight. Additional resources are narrated, including the endpaper quotes by Earhart. An excellent production featuring science and engineering information.

Pair Night Flight with the following title and use the same Common Core Standard and Instructional Extension for both to create an interesting comparison project.

The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santos-Dumont. Written by Victoria Griffith. Illustrated by Eva Montanari. Narrated by Jeff Woodman. CD. 25 min. with hardcover book. Recorded Books. 2012. ISBN 978-1-4640-3387-2. $37.75. Gr 3-5

The story of Brazilian aviation pioneer Alberto Santos-Dumont will surprise and interest young listeners. Set in Paris in 1901, Santos-Dumont attained one goal when he flew his airplane around the Eiffel Tower, a first that has been overlooked. Explanations of his flight engineering—his attempts to improve the design of the flying machine—and his achievements are blended nicely with Woodman’s well-paced narration. The read-along format is enriched by the colorful, whimsical illustrations. Listeners will learn unexpected facts in the author’s note (read by the author) that gives fuller information about the controversy between the Wright Brothers and Santos-Dumont.

Common Core Standard:Reading Standard for Informational Text—Grade 4

RI.4.9. Integrate information from two texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.

Instructional Extension: Compare and contrast important dates of the history of flight, including the “firsts” of Alberto Santos-Dumont and Amelia Earhart, using the Library of Congress’ Timeline of Flight (

Reaching for the Moon. Written and narrated by Buzz Aldrin. Illustrated by Wendell Minor. CD. 30:37 min. with paperback book. Live Oak Media. 2006. ISBN 978-1-5951-9584-5. $18.95. Gr 3-5

Aldrin narrates the story of his early passion for science—from space exploration to rock collecting—and how that led him to become an astronaut on the historic Apollo 11 mission. Children will be delighted to learn that one of Aldrin’s duties was to gather rocks on the moon, hearkening back to his childhood hobby. Aldrin’s steady pacing and quiet confidence, paired with music and actual NASA recordings from the mission, round out this excellent production.

Common Core Standard: RI.3.3. Describe the relationship between a series of historical events, scientific ideas or concepts, or steps in technical procedures in a text, using language that pertains to time, sequence, and cause/effect.

Instructional Extension: Starchild, a web-based project of the Goddard Space Flight Center, has child-friendly information, images, and video on the Apollo 11 mission ( Students can investigate information on the website to compare and expand on what they learned from listening to Aldrin’s account of the mission.

Seven Blind Mice. Written and illustrated by Ed Young. Narrated by B. D. Wong. CD. 9:34 min. with paperback book. Weston Woods, 2007. ISBN 978-0-439-02785-4. $18.95. K-Gr 2

Seven blind and variously colored mice discover something strange down at the pond. One says it is “supple,” while another calls it “sturdy” as each mouse tries to determine exactly what it is. Wong’s controlled narration, accompanied by a sound bed of exotic music and squeaking mice, builds excitement for listeners. Investigating ordinal numbers, differentiating between defining and non-defining attributes, and determining measurable characteristics are among the ways to use this in math units. Rich vocabulary makes it an excellent choice for inclusion in Common Core lesson plans.

Common Core Standard: 1.G.1. Distinguish between defining attributes (e.g., triangles are closed and three-sided) versus non-defining attributes (e.g., color, orientation, overall size); build and draw shapes to possess defining attributes.

Instructional Extension:Students will use geoblocks to build and describe structures and relate the attributes of the shapes used in construction.

Sharon Grover is Head of Youth Services at the Hedberg Public Library, Janesville, WI, Lizette (Liz) Hannegan was an elementary and middle school librarian and the district library supervisor for the Arlington (VA) Public Schools before her retirement. They are co-authors of the book, Listening to Learn: Audiobooks Supporting Literacy (ALA Editions, 2011)