March 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

New Nonfic Titles Align to Next Gen Science Standards | Series Made Simple

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Though the series below range broadly in the degree to which they cleave to the Next Generation Science Standards issued last Spring, all offer a time-tested instructional formula that pairs clear explanatory texts written in “leveled” language with photos and digitally created images that, for the most part anyway, convey visual information in immediately understandable—and generally dramatic—ways. There is still room for improvement in designing experiments or other interactive elements, however, and also in the quantity and quality of back matter provided. Along with glossaries and indexes, lists of relevant sources are standard features, even—often—in titles designed for casual browsing. But there is a sharp difference between what is offered to students in lower elementary grades, which is almost invariably perfunctory, and that compiled for fifth-grade readers and up. Those differences are clear in the new series here.

Preschool to Grade 4

Close, Edward. All About the Weather. ISBN 9781477761908; ISBN 9781477761915.

––––. Extreme Weather. ISBN 9781 477761946; ISBN 9781477761953.

––––. Germ Warfare. ISBN 9781477763032; ISBN 9781477763049.

––––. Moon Missions. ISBN 9781 477761786; ISBN 9781477761793.

Coupe, Robert. Body Basics. ISBN 9781477763094; ISBN 9781477763124.

––––. Earth’s Place in the Sky. ISBN 9781477761748; ISBN 9781477761755.

––––. Earth’s Treasures: Rocks and Minerals. ISBN 9781477761700; ISBN 9781477761717.

––––. Force and Motion. ISBN 9781477763179; ISBN 9781477763209.

––––. Volcanoes: Fire From Below. ISBN 9781477761861; ISBN 9781477761878.

––––. Wheels, Wings, and Motors. ISBN 9781477763131; ISBN 9781477763162.

Einspruch, Andrew. Brain Works. ISBN 9781477763056; ISBN 9781477763087.

McFadzean, Lesley. Earthquakes: On Shaky Ground. ISBN 9781477761823; ISBN 9781477761830.

ea vol: 32p. (Discovery Education Series). chart. ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. PowerKids. 2014. lib. ed. $25.25. ebk. $25.25.

Gr 3-5 –Like the similarly formatted “How It Works” series, above-average photos and graphic images combine with brief but specific narratives and captions to set these broad surveys apart. Together, All About the Weather and Extreme Weather combine to present a vivid picture of the forces that drive weather and climate (and climate change). Not all of the titles are equally valuable; Earth’s Place in the Sky, for instance, is just another quick tour of the solar system, and Moon missions does not mention China’s Yutu Moon rover but does incorrectly claim that NASA’s planned Moon project was cancelled (actually, that was just the Ares launch vehicle).

Deschermeier, Charlotte. Atoms. ISBN 9781477760895; ISBN 9781477760901; ISBN 9781477760925. LC 2013023467.

––––. Different States of Matter. ISBN 9781477760932; ISBN 9781477760949; ISBN 9781477760963. LC 2013023580.

––––. Elements. ISBN 9781477760857; ISBN 9781477760864; ISBN 9781 477760888. LC 2013023463.

––––. Gases. ISBN 9781477760819; ISBN 9781477760826; ISBN 9781477760840. LC 2013023459.

––––. Liquids. ISBN 9781477760772; ISBN 9781477760789; ISBN 9781477760796. LC 2013023582.

––––. Solids. ISBN 9781477760031; ISBN 9781477760048; ISBN 9781477760055. LC 2013024010.

ea vol: 24p. (Ultimate Science: Physical Science Series). glossary. illus. index. photos. websites. PowerKids. 2014. lib. ed. $22.60. pap. $7.05. ebk. $22.60.

Gr 3-5 –With significant oversimplification and topical overlap, these volumes introduce the kinds and states of matter. Aside from the single page on which plasma and Bose-Einstein condensates are mentioned, Different States of Matter is completely dispensable, as three other volumes in the series cover the topic in considerably more detail. Atoms leaves out any mention of ionization or explanation of molecular bonding and also offers a confusing contradiction by defining atoms as “the basic building blocks of everything,” then on the next spread launches a discussion of subatomic particles. Elements, an otherwise useful tour of the Periodic Table, inexplicably concludes its visuals with a version of the table that is partly in Chinese. There are no interactive elements beyond occasional questions in the texts or photos of theoretically reproducible demonstrations.

Hile, Lori. The Science of Snowboarding. ISBN 9781476539119; ISBN 9781476551944. LC 2013026810.

Kenny, Karen Latchana. The Science of Car Racing. ISBN 9781476539102; ISBN 9781476551937. LC 2013026811.

Lusted, Marcia Amidon. The Science of Motorcycle Racing. ISBN 9781476539126; ISBN 9781476551951. LC 2013026807.

Slade, Suzanne. The Science of Bicycle Racing. ISBN 9781476539096; ISBN 9781476551920. LC 2013027046.

ea vol: 48p. (The Science of Speed Series). diag. ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Capstone. 2014. lib. ed. $31.32. pap. $9.95.

Gr 3-6 –Along with describing selected kinds of events in each type of sport, these profiles mention some performance techniques that improve speed, height, or control as appropriate. Each volume also covers helmets and other safety gear, as well as how recent advances in technology and materials science have created more efficient, responsive vehicles. The physical principles involved in the design of those vehicles and on display in various moves and feats also get once-overs. Small action photos, many with explanatory labels added, break the blocks of text into easily digestible units while adding plenty of visual energy.

Mineo, Tyrone. Uranium. ISBN 9781 482405316; ISBN 9781482405347.

Roza, Greg. Chromium. ISBN 9781 482404876; ISBN 9781482404906.

––––. Platinum. ISBN 9781482405040; ISBN 9781482405071.

––––. Titanium. ISBN 9781482405187; ISBN 9781482405231.

Shea, Therese. Gold. ISBN 9781482405033; ISBN 9781482405002.

––––. Silver. ISBN 9781482405095; ISBN 9781482405125.

ea vol: 24p. (Rare and Precious Metals Series). ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Gareth Stevens. 2014. lib. ed. $22.60. pap. $8.15.

Gr 3-5 –Any young readers wondering how the rare metals in their jewelry, electronic devices or nuclear reactors (just kidding, hopefully) are mined, refined, and used will find systematically presented answers in these volumes. Along with close-up photos of both raw ores and pure specimens, the illustrations include a view of an open pit or other type of mine, glimpses of forges or other factory scenes, and samples of manufactured goods. Most conclude with a summarizing chart of distinctive properties or products; Uranium also mentions in passing the dangers of nuclear power generation.

Oxlade, Chris. Animal Infographics. ISBN 9781410962164; ISBN 9781410962218. LC 2013012529.

––––. Environment Infographics. ISBN 9781410962171; ISBN 9781410962225. LC 2013012530.

––––. Population Infographics. ISBN 9781410962188; ISBN 9781410962232. LC 2013012535.

––––. Weather Infographics. ISBN 9781 410962195; ISBN 9781410962249. LC 2013012536.

ea vol: 32p. (Infographics Series). chart. diag. further reading. glossary. illus. index. maps. websites. Heinemann-Raintree. 2014. lib. ed. $29.32. pap. $7.99.

Gr 2-5 –Though uneven in consistency, at their best, these collections of statistical information demonstrate the real value of well-designed infographics. Each volume contains a series of neatly designed full-page or full-spread graphic images with simply phrased explanatory captions. Many of the images are just arbitrarily sized silhouette illustrations with labels or even conventional pie and bar charts. Often enough, though, some imagination has been used to present information both numerically and visually at once—from a chart combining cloud types, shapes, and altitudes in Weather Infographics to silhouettes of various land animals placed on a speed line and a world map with selected (and labeled) country flags that are sized to reflect populations. Oxlade does not cite his sources, but leads to print and web resources are provided at the end.

Spilsbury, Louise. Making Noise!: Making Sounds. ISBN 9781410959997; ISBN 9781410960047. LC 2013013020.

––––. Shhh! Listen!: Hearing Sounds. ISBN 9781410960023; ISBN 9781410960078. LC 2013013099.

––––. Turn It Up! Turn It Down!: Volume. ISBN 9781410960016; ISBN 9781410960061. LC 2013013101.

––––. Why Can’t I Hear That?: Pitch and Frequency. ISBN 9781410960009; ISBN 9781410960054. LC 2013013039.

ea vol: 32p. (Exploring Sound Series). bibliog. diags. further reading. glossary. illus. index. photos. websites. Capstone. 2014. lib. ed. $29.99. pap. $7.99.

Gr 1-3 –Despite occasional overlaps, these elementary introductions provide a good balance of background explanation and doable activities that demonstrate various aspects of how sound is made, measured, and controlled. Making Noise! surveys the variety of vibration producing mechanisms from rubber bands to insect wings. Shhh! Listen! explores hearing directionally and through various media, with closing mention of deafness and sign language. The other volumes cover loudness and intensity. The illustrations include diagrams of vocal cords and ears, plus photos depicting children creating each project step-by-step and a broad range of other people engaged in various sound-making activities. Many of the projects are homemade musical instruments.

Throp, Claire. A Day Inside the Human Body. ISBN 9781410961990; ISBN 9781410962041. LC 2013012669.

––––. A Journey to the Center of the Earth. ISBN 9781410962003; ISBN 9781410962058. LC 2013012670.

––––. A Visit to the Space Station. ISBN 9781410961976; ISBN 9781410962027. LC 2013012665.

––––. A Weekend with Dinosaurs. ISBN 9781410961983; ISBN 9781410962034. LC 2013012667.

ea vol: 32p. (Fantasy Science Field Trips Series). diag. further reading. glossary. illus. index. websites. Heinemann-Raintree. 2014. lib. ed. $29.32. pap. $7.99.

Gr 2-4 –Though stocked with modest amounts of specific information, these “Magic School Bus”–style “field trips” seem slapped together. Weekend with Dinosaurs, for instance, is illustrated with dino portraits done in a large assortment of styles from photorealistic to sketched illustrations. In other volumes, readers are invited to board a “shrinking rocket” for a tour of the human body that jumps from system to system in a disconnected way, and though the author correctly notes that visitors to the International Space Station would now have to ride a Soyuz craft, a U.S. space shuttle is confusingly shown at the beginning. Lists of recommended museums related to each “trip” would have been particularly helpful.


Grades 5 & Up

Albright, R. N. The Double Helix Structure of DNA: James Watson, Francis Crick, Maurice Wilkins, and Rosalind Franklin. ISBN 9781477718094; ISBN 9781477718124. LC 2013023144.

Bortz, Fred. The Big Bang Theory: Edwin Hubble and the Origins of the Universe. ISBN 9781477718032; ISBN 9781477718100. LC 2013011361.

––––. Charles Darwin and the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection. ISBN 9781477718025; ISBN 9781477718117. LC 2013013178.

––––. Johannes Kepler and the Three Laws of Planetary Motion. ISBN 9781477718056; ISBN 9781477718131. LC 2013011700.

––––. The Laws of Genetics and Gregor Mendel. ISBN 9781477718063; ISBN 9781477718148. LC 2013016384.

––––. Laws of Motion and Isaac Newton. ISBN 9781477718087; ISBN 9781477718155. LC 2013011618.

––––. The Periodic Table of Elements and Dmitry Mendeleyev. ISBN 9781477718070; ISBN 9781477718162. LC 2013012047.

––––. The Sun-Centered Universe and Nicolaus Copernicus. ISBN 9781477718018; ISBN 9781477718179. LC 2013011621.

ea vol: 80p. (Revolutionary Discoveries of Scientific Pioneers Series). bibliog. chron. further reading. glossary. index. photos. reprods. websites. Rosen Young Adult. 2014. lib. ed. $33.25. ebk. $33.25.

Gr 6-8 –Though these tales of scientific discovery can easily be found elsewhere, here they are presented in lucid but nontechnical language, placed into historical and scientific context, and enhanced with detailed biographies of the scientists associated with them. In DNA, for instance, Rosalind Franklin is mentioned even before Francis Crick (with a rare color photo). Similarly, in Big Bang Theory, the effects of Hubble’s insight are carried through to the proposed existence of “dark energy,” and Bortz’s account of Mendel’s work concludes with the recent mapping of the human genome and a discussion of genetic engineering. Period photos or images add helpful visual notes, and the back matter includes annotated lists of scientific organizations as well as time lines and lists of print resources.

Asselin, Kristine Carlson. Dangerous Diseases: Scary Illnesses That Frighten the World. ISBN 9781476539270; ISBN 9781476551258. LC 2013022095.

Lee, Sally. Mad Scientists: The Not-So-Crazy Work of Amazing Scientists. ISBN 9781476539287; ISBN 9781476551265. LC 2013032179.

––––. Mutant Animals: Crazy Creatures Altered by Science. ISBN 9781476539294; ISBN 9781476551272. LC 2013025787.

Swanson, Jennifer. Top Secret Science: Projects You Aren’t Supposed to Know About. ISBN 9781476539263; ISBN 9781476551241. LC 2013022096.

ea vol: 32p. (Scary Science Series). bibliog. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Capstone. 2014. lib. ed. $26.65. pap. $7.95.

Gr 4-7 –Decidedly not for the weak of stomach, these provocative surveys aim to shock—and, by and large, succeed. Top Secret Science, the mildest of the lot, covers suppressed government projects from Britain’s World War II anthrax research to Area 51 and other U.S. “black ops” but only mentions Nazi concentration camp experiments in passing. The other volumes go for the (dis)gusto: from photos of a smallpox victim on the cover of Dangerous Diseases and equally disturbing views of animal vivisection in Mutant Animals to accounts of Mad Scientists who drank the vomit of a yellow fever patient, self removed an appendix, or kept a dog’s head alive. Some of the photos are uncaptioned filler, but mesmerized readers are unlikely to notice, much less mind.

Orr, Tamra B. Follow the Clues: Battling Extinction. ISBN 9781624317804; ISBN 9781624317903; ISBN 9781624318108. LC 2013045290.

––––. Follow the Clues: Forecasting a Flood. ISBN 9781624317781; ISBN 9781624317880; ISBN 9781624318085. LC 2013042106.

––––. Follow the Clues: Investigating a Crime Scene. ISBN 9781624317774; ISBN 9781624317873; ISBN 9781624318078. LC 2013036996.

––––. Follow the Clues: Pondering Pollution. ISBN 9781624317798; ISBN 9781624317897; ISBN 9781624318092. LC 2013038032.

––––. Follow the Clues: Searching the Sky. ISBN 9781624317828; ISBN 9781624317927; ISBN 9781624318122. LC 2013045700.

––––. Follow the Clues: Tracking an Epidemic. ISBN 9781624317767; ISBN 9781624317866; ISBN 9781624318061.

––––. Follow the Clues: Understanding Insects. ISBN 9781624317835; ISBN 9781624317934; ISBN 9781624318139. LC 2013042108.

––––. Follow the Clues: Unearthing Fossils. ISBN 9781624317811; ISBN 9781624317910; ISBN 9781624318016. LC 2013045292.

ea vol: 32p. (Science Explorer Series: Follow the Clues). bibliog. further reading. glossary. index. diags. photos. websites. Cherry Lake. 2014. lib. ed. $28.50. pap. $9.95. ebk. $28.50.

Gr 4-6 –Marching in lockstep with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), these episodes, though fictional, not only portray a series of specifically detailed scientific investigations conducted largely by young people, but even feature highlighted keywords in several of the narratives drawn from the NGSS list of best practices. The scenarios range from two young skygazers trying to prove that a certain rock is a meteorite to an epidemiologist’s daughter tracking down the origin of a local flu epidemic. The procedures are laid out in clear, easily imitable steps, illustrated with a mix of scientific photos or diagrams and encouraging pictures of young researchers at work, and capped by relatively generous lists of further resources on the given topic.

The leaders of the pack here are plainly those series intended for upper elementary grades, such as “Revolutionary Discoveries of Scientific Pioneers.” The possibilities of presenting new insights with infographics are ably, if unevenly, exploited in “Infographics,” and though cast in frameworks of fiction, the volumes in “Science Explorer: Follow the Clues” supply clear, strong models for scientific investigation in several fields. “Scary Science” may be disturbing to some readers (not necessarily a bad thing), and most of the rest cover their respective topics competently enough to recommend as replacements or collection extenders.

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



  1. I appreciate the kind words about the Revolutionary Discoveries of Scientific Pioneers series. In all my books, I strive to convey the story behind the science as well as the science within the story. In my opinion, that is the best way to meet both the Next Generation and the Common Core standards while creating works that the audience will want to read.

    I am pleased that reviewer John Peters saw the value in that approach.