February 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Storm Watch | Books About Weather

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Characterized by school cancellations, upset travel plans, and the after-effects of major storms, this year’s turbulent weather has certainly caught the attention of youngsters. From heat waves to hurricanes, recent events have ignited curiosity about our ever-changing weather, how scientists study and predict variations in atmospheric conditions, and what it’s like to experience volatile fluctuations firsthand. The books featured here have been chosen for their clearly presented information and elucidating—often breathtaking—visuals. Share these titles with students to fuel their interest in a timely topic, rev up weather and climate units, and support curriculum standards in earth systems science.

inside weatherGreat Beginnings
Part of a series that packs a visual punch with a handsome layout and dramatic fold-out pages, Mary Kay Carson’s Inside Weather (Sterling, 2011; Gr 3-6) is both eye-catching and informative. The well-written narrative covers world climate zones, solar radiation, atmospheric layers and air pressure, air masses and fronts, the water cycle, types of clouds, precipitation, different kinds of storms and their origins, weather scientists and prediction, and weather-generated renewable energy. Throughout, sections address global climate change and the resulting and/or possible effects on atmospheric conditions.

Stunning and well-chosen, the colorful photos support the text (for example, a tree-blown image from 2005’s Hurricane Wilma accompanies a discussion of winds) and expand upon the content (descriptions of weather phenomena are teamed up with striking snapshots of a rainbow, a sun dog, lenticular clouds, and more). The attractive illustrations clarify scientific concepts with illuminating visual interpretations, such as a vertical fold-out that displays the atmosphere’s layers, or a series of diagrams depicting how different types of fronts are created when cold and warm air masses collide.

arlon weatherOutstanding visuals and a lively layout make Penelope Arlon and Tory Gordon-Harris’s Weather (Scholastic, 2013; Gr 3-6) an inviting choice for taking a quick information plunge. Throughout, brief text tidbits are supplemented by appealing full-color photos and illustrations. Divided into three sections, the book introduces weather basics (climates, atmospheric layers, sunlight and air movement, wind measurement, the water cycle, clouds, precipitation, storms), extreme weather (tornadoes, hurricanes, droughts, bushfires, dust storms, floods, blizzards), and the work of meteorologists (along with a glimpse at global warming).

Spreads of particular interest include a fire-singed look at a Virginia park ranger who has been struck by lightning seven times (and survived), a concise Q&A with storm chaser Sean Casey illustrated with a photos of his (hopefully) tornado-resistant armored vehicle, and a round-up of amazing caused-by-weather-related-erosion land formations (e.g., hoodoos, fairy chimneys, and more).

Part of the “Discover More” series, this volume allows access to an online digital companion book that offers additional info, experiments and activities, quizzes, and video clips. While not in-depth, this title’s clearly presented content and enticing layout will capture interest and whet appetites for further study.

reilly and naturalKathleen M. Reilly’s Natural Disasters: Investigate Earth’s Most Destructive Forces with 25 Projects (Nomad, 2012; Gr 3-7) contains chapters on tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, drought and heat waves, wildfires, and blizzards and avalanches. Each of these weather or weather-caused events is treated with a clear explanation of origins and effects, definitions of important terminology, measurement scales and safety warnings, and descriptions of real-life occurrences throughout history and across the globe. Simple maps, charts, diagrams, and pen-and-ink illustrations enhance the accessible text.

Two to three science experiments and/or activities follow each section, providing hands-on experiences that clarify the highlighted concepts and scientific processes. Utilizing readily found supplies, these easy projects include a homemade barometer, an avalanche in a jar, and an activity that replicates a tornado’s convection currents (caused by warm air molecules rising then falling when they cool) in a container of water.

Thunderstorms and Twisters
Employing the same reader-grabbing format as Inside Weather, Melissa Stewart’s Inside Lightning (Sterling, 2011; Gr 3-6) invites youngsters to explore the ins and outs of this dramatic and potent weather-caused wonder. Beginning with a curriculum-spanning look at ancient storm gods from varying cultures and Ben Franklin’s celebrated kite experiment, the book delves into how thunderstorm-producing clouds originate, how lightning is generated within a thunderhead, different types of lightning (including “Freaky Flashes” such as ball lightning that floats through the air—and even ceilings and walls—before disappearing), dangers and damage caused by strikes, scientific studies, and lightning activity in space.

Beautifully composed photographs taken across the globe show storms in action, and step-by-step diagrams clarify complicated concepts, such as the way in which negative and positive electric sparks form and flow during a lightning strike. Interesting facts are sprinkled throughout, as are firsthand accounts of surviving encounters with this “dangerous and unpredictable” force.

fradinJudith Bloom Fradin and Dennis Brindell Fradin’s Tornado! (National Geographic, 2011; Gr 3-6) pairs solid science with gripping you-are-there accounts and attention-riveting photographs. The dynamic narrative describes the spawning, size, and structure of twisters; the Enhanced Fujita Scale (EF) used to rate strength and estimated wind speeds; the incredible power and destructive capabilities of tornadoes; and methods employed by meteorologists to study and predict storms and issue warnings.

Recaps of deadly events, including a 2007 storm in Greensburg, KS, are brought to life with large-size photos and quotes from survivors. Informative maps, charts, newspaper headlines, fact lists, and images of whirling tornadoes and their aftermath are presented scrapbook-style, making for an engaging layout.

gibbons hurricanesHurricanes
Straightforward text and swirling marine-hued watercolor paintings make Gail Gibbons’s Hurricanes! (Holiday, 2009; K-Gr 4) an outstanding choice for sharing aloud. Brief but fact-crammed, the book covers the formation of these “dangerous spinning storm[s],” their typical size and structure, the Saffir-Simpson Scale (with five tempest-tossed spreads illustrating each level’s wind speeds, storm surge height, and degree of damage), and storm tracking, along with thumbnail summaries of three historical hurricanes.

Maps and labelled diagrams aid understanding, and the motion-filled artwork captures the power and potential for destruction of these devastating weather events.

carson hurricaneCarson’s Inside Hurricanes (Sterling, 2010; Gr 3-6) delves more deeply into the why and how of tropical cyclones (called hurricanes, cyclones, or typhoons depending on where they occur). The required ingredients (warm ocean water, converging surface winds, etc.) and step-by-step development of these storms are conveyed through a captivating mix of lucid text, clear diagrams, and dramatic satellite photos. The naming and rating of storms is treated, and a “Hurricanes to Remember” section presents detailed descriptions, maps and photos, and survivor accounts for four catastrophic events.

A section on tracking touches upon weather-forecasting computers, “Hurricane Hunter” airplanes flown into storms (complete with a harrowing firsthand report from a flight meteorologist who braved Hurricane Hugo in 1989), and the use of 3-D satellite images. Activities include measuring air pressure with a homemade barometer, interviewing individuals for eyewitness accounts of hurricanes they experienced, and assembling a safety kit.

gregory sandyStudents can apply their knowledge of how hurricanes form and are tracked to a recent storm that made headlines for its deadly destructiveness, far-reaching effects, and ongoing recovery efforts. Josh Gregory’s The Superstorm Hurricane Sandy (Children’s Pr., 2013; Gr 2-5) traces the October 2012 storm’s development in the Atlantic Ocean, the devastation wrought in Jamaica and other Caribbean nations, preparations and emergency declarations made in the US, landfall on the East Coast, and ensuing havoc.

Utilizing informatively labeled maps and simple timelines, the succinct, fact-filled narrative provides an evenhanded overview of a catastrophic weather event from origin to aftermath. Captioned full-color photos highlight Sandy’s calamitous impact on landscapes, buildings and infrastructure, and the lives of the people in its path.

geisert thunderstormWeathering the Storm
Two poignant picture books, one nearly wordless and the other completely so, use evocative illustrative detail and eloquent visual storytelling to encapsulate the experience of an extreme weather event. Beginning with “Saturday Afternoon July 15 12:15 PM” and ending with “6 PM” that same day (the changing time constitutes the only text), Arthur Geisert’s hand-painted etchings depict the tempestuous course of a Thunderstorm (Enchanted Lion, 2013; Gr 2-6) through Midwestern farm country.

As a family loads bales of hay onto a trailer, the wind picks up, black clouds roll across a pale blue sky, and a lightning strike cuts through a power line. The storm intensifies with sheets of rain and howling winds, and people hurry to take down drying laundry or deal with a leaky roof, while animals scurry into hideaways in trees and underground (all shown in precisely detailed cut-away illustrations). In one spread, a tornado touches to the ground like a pointing finger, wreaking havoc in one spot, but leaving the surrounding area unscathed; another motion-filled illustration provides an inside-the-funnel view, depicting a churning vortex of swirling rooftops, trees, fences, and debris. Finally, quiet returns and the cleanup begins, as the storm moves off into the distance.

villa floodAlvaro F. Villa’s richly textured and lushly hued paintings tell the story of a family whose lives are changed by a Flood (Capstone, 2013; Gr 2-6). The first spread depicts their picturesque house along a waterway, surrounded by a white picket fence and blossoming flowers. Interior scenes show a cozy setting filled with comfy furniture, framed photos, and cherished possessions. The family monitors the TV news as a storm approaches and gradually grows in strength; window shutters are nailed closed, sandbags are unloaded and stacked around the dwelling’s perimeter, necessities are boxed up, and the family gets into their car (as they evacuate, the young daughter holds her hand against the window in a touching gesture of worry and regret).

Roiling spreads reveal how the structure is breached by storm surge, partially submerged, and left damaged and desolate after the waters recede. The moment of the family’s return is heart-wrenching, but blue skies peek from beyond their storm-ravaged house, which can be re-built, re-painted, restored—and made ready for more happy days.

These offerings can be used in tandem with the nonfiction titles highlighted above. Have students apply their newly acquired weather knowhow to identify the type of storm featured in each picture book; kids can pinpoint quotes and illustrations from the appropriate texts to support their suppositions. Ask your students to do some fact checking: do the events depicted in Thunderstorm and Flood follow the general accounts and descriptions of specific storms in the nonfiction titles? Can the weather terms and related vocabulary introduced and defined in the nonfiction works be applied to the picture books (for example, “funnel cloud,” “storm surge,” or “evacuation”)? Have youngsters write a newspaper article about the storm featured in Thunderstorm or Flood, basing the details on their knowledge of how different types of storms form and behave.

Like the numerous eyewitness accounts included in the nonfiction works, these picture books pack an emotional wallop. Youngsters can discuss how the weather events affect each highlighted family, or write a description of events from the point of view of one of the characters. Students can also choose a real-life weather event, research details in the nonfiction titles and other sources (both print and online), and create their own account of the incident, incorporating basic facts and weather-related terminology.

The Common Core State Standards below are a sampling of those referenced in the above books and classroom activities:

RL. 3.1. Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as a basis for the answers.
RI. 3.7 Use information gained from illustrations…and the words in a text to demonstrate understanding of the text.
RI. 4.1. Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inference from the text.
RI. 4.4. Determine the meaning of general academic and domain-specific words or phrases in a text.
RI 5.5 Compare and contrast the overall structure…of events, ideas, concepts, or information in two or more texts
RI. 5.9. Integrate information from several texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.
W. 4.3. Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences.
W. 5.2. Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic or convey ideas and information clearly.
W 5.7 Conduct short research projects that use several sources to build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic.

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Joy Fleishhacker About Joy Fleishhacker

Joy Fleishhacker is a librarian, former SLJ staffer, and freelance editor and writer who works at the Pikes Peak Library District in southern Colorado.

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