March 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

On the Radar: Top Picks from the Editors at Junior Library Guild: Award-Winning Science Books for Elementary Readers

The National Science Teachers Association annually creates a best science trade books list. This year their list has broadened to include titles about stories of human achievement, mathematics, and engineering. Winning selections include outstanding art, lyrical poetry, and ideas for hands-on science experiments. If you are looking for books that will both inspire your students and inform them about the natural world, look no further than the Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12: 2013. Here is a sampling.

ARNOLD, Caroline. A Warmer World: From Polar Bears to Butterflies, How Climate Change Affects Wildlife. illus. by Jamie Hogan. Charlesbridge. 2012. ISBN 9781580892667. JLG Level: SCE : Science Nonfiction Elementary (Grades 2-6)

The average annual temperature is warmer by just over one degree. Though it sounds very small, just a small rise in the temperature impacts the way nature adapts and survives. Arnold informs readers that with rising temperatures, ice melts. If it melts, then polar bears have less time to build up fat that helps them survive the winter, resulting in fewer cubs being born. Higher temperatures mean lower male loggerhead turtle eggs, making it more difficult for females to find a mate.

Using a color palette in collage and facts on note paper, Hogan and Arnold provide interesting details on important ecological factors without being alarmists. This nonfiction text also includes a glossary and bibliography of books and websites for further research.

FERN, Tracey. Barnum’s Bones: How Barnum Brown Discovered the Most Famous Dinosaur in the World. illus. by Boris Kulikov. Farrar. 2012. ISBN 9780374305161. JLG Level: I+ : Independent Readers (Grades 2-4)

From his early years on his family’s farm, Barnum had a knack for fossil finding. His training as a paleontologist and his work for the American Museum of Natural History (along with great determination) lead to the most exciting dinosaur discovery of our time―the tyrannosaurus rex. Often clothed in a beaverskin coat, Barnum’s archaeological digs take him into Montana where his team finds a partial skeleton. It will be years later before the full specimen is completed. Fern’s narrative brings this dedicated, eccentric scientist to life while Kulikov’s illustrations provide an excellent backdrop and support for the storytelling of this informative, entertaining picture book biography.

There can never be enough dinosaur books in an elementary school library, and this must-have title won’t remain on the shelf for long.

KAMKWAMBA, William and Bryan Mealer. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. illus. by Elizabeth Zunon. Dial. 2012. ISBN 9780803735118. JLG Level: NE : Nonfiction Elementary (Grades 2-6)

In 2001, Malawi experienced a drought, which resulted in a famine. With fewer crops to sell, children dropped out instead of paying fees to attend high school. To conserve their food, families ate once a day. Just as they began to despair, one teen boy went to the library and read about an invention that could solve his town’s problems: a windmill. Using junk from the scrapyard, William and his friends built a windmill that would bring water to his mother’s garden, allowing it to grow all year. Another windmill brought well water for his father’s crops. “Magesti a mphepo―electric wind―can feed my country, William thought. And that’s the strongest magic of all.”

William Kamkwamba’s powerful picture book biography is beautifully told through collage illustrations and lyrical text. African phrases punctuate the story. An inspiring author’s note shares further details on “this boy who harnessed the wind,” and saved his village.

JENKINS, Steve. The Beetle Book. Houghton Harcourt. 2012. ISBN 9780547680842. JLG Level: SCE : Science Nonfiction Elementary (Grades 2-6)

“Line up every kind of plant and animal on Earth and one of every four will be a beetle.” Jenkins produces another winner in his latest solo science book about beetles of all shapes, and sizes. Cut-paper collage illustrations are often enlarged to allow readers the opportunity to see the details in their structure. Though beetles come in many different forms, they all have the same basic structure―two antennae, six legs, and three main body parts. Jenkins shares amazing facts: the fire beetle has heat-sensing spots that can feel a fire from more than 20 miles away, the six-spotted green tiger beetle hunts down its prey and tears it to pieces; the Fijian long-horn beetle is seven inches long, and squeezes air from beneath its wings to make a hissing noise.

Readers will pore over the gorgeous illustrations and spout facts just like an entomologist.

JENKINS, Steve and Robin Page. My First Day: What Animals Do on Day One. Houghton Harcourt. Jan. 2013. ISBN 9780547738512. JLG Level: NEK : Nonfiction Early Elementary (Grades K-2)

From the team that brought us What Do You Do with a Tail Like This? (Houghton Harcourt, 2003) comes another award-winning science title. Lifelike collage illustrations and a large font create a beautiful book that’s accessible to younger readers. Told in the voice of the babies themselves, readers will learn about the variety of ways newly born creatures adapt to their environment. Golden snub-nosed monkeys and sifakas cling to their mothers for safety. Leatherback turtles are on their own from the day they are born. They race to the water for safety upon birth. Darwin’s frog babies hop out of their father’s mouth, as they are raised in a special pouch from the tadpole stage. Covering a variety of animals, the text expands in an author’s note at the back of the book.

Educators might use this book as a starting place for research. After reading the brief information, kids will surely be interested in knowing more. With 22 different creatures, they can work alone or in pairs to complete their research.

For ideas about how to use these books and links to supportive sites, check out the Junior Library Guild blog, Shelf Life.

Junior Library Guild is a collection development service that helps school and public libraries acquire the best new children’s and young adult books. Season after season, year after year, Junior Library Guild book selections go on to win awards, collect starred or favorable reviews, and earn industry honors. Visit us at

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Deborah B. Ford About Deborah B. Ford

Deborah is the Director of Library Outreach for Junior Library Guild. She is an award-winning teacher librarian with almost 30 years of experience as a classroom teacher and librarian in K–12 schools.