February 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

The Wonders of Science in Elementary Nonfiction │ JLG’s Booktalks to Go

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Butterflies, baby elephants, and dung beetles. Oh my! There’s really nothing to be afraid of and today’s nonfiction authors and illustrators continue to deliver amazing facts about topics kids love to read. From dung beetles that eat on the job to farmers who search leaves by hand every day, facts gleaned in the following selections by the editors at Junior Library Guild will have your patrons glued to the beautifully illustrated picture books.

Behold the beautiful dung beetleBARDOE, Cheryl. Behold the Beautiful Dung Beetle. illus. by Alan Marks. Charlesbridge. 2014. ISBN 9781596437173. JLG Level: NEK : Nonfiction Early Elementary (Grades K–2).

Flying within 15 seconds after dung hits the ground, dung beetles arrive in droves. Their antennae pick up the scent with speedy wings zipping them to the target. Why do these insects rush to harvest the waste from animals? Nutrients and water in the droppings meet the needs of all three kinds of beetles―dwellers, rollers, and tunnelers. What makes them so different? How do these creatures impact the natural world? Find out for yourself!

Written for two levels of readers, the picture book works as a read aloud and for research. Though there is no index, the short text and large illustrations easily allow readers to locate information. Learn about the author and illustrator on their websites. Watch a book trailer. On the publisher’s website, you’ll find additional resources, such as a discussion guide and additional book selections. Pair the book with the Wonderopolis lesson, “Do Insects Work Out?” Connect your patrons with real dung beetles at the San Diego Zoo. Kids can play the Dung Beetle Derby at National Geographic Kids or watch a video of the African Dung Beetle in action at National Geographic.

Handle with careBURNS, Loree Griffin. Handle with Care: An Unusual Butterfly Journey. illus. by Ellen Harasimowicz. Millbrook Pr. 2014. ISBN 9780761393429. JLG Level: NEK : Nonfiction Early Elementary (Grades K–2).

Where do butterflies at the Museum of Science in Boston start their lives?―on a farm in Costa Rica. They begin their 2,000 mile journey as eggs in an El Bosque Nuevo greenhouse. Farmers carefully work to protect and feed them as they evolve in their four phases of life. It takes a great deal of effort. A crop of a few hundred caterpillars can eat a greenhouse full of leaves in just two days. Farmworkers watch for changes in the cycle until the caterpillars finally become tightly sealed pupae, ready for shipping to the United States. Scientists study them on arrival, but then they release them into the museum where visitors can observe them on the nearby foliage.

Who knew you could grow butterflies? The fascinating story of their path to Boston is loaded with details and amazing photographs. The author also includes back matter to guide students in further research. On her website, she provides resources for teaching her other award-winning books. Get a peek at the photographer’s work and biography on her website. Don’t miss the multitude of resources in “Exploring Science and Nature Through Nonfiction Picture Books,” from the virtual handout at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. Supplementary support sites abound on the content area, but be sure to watch the Chrysalis Cam at the Florida Museum of Natural History or participate in the Butterfly Count Program with the National Butterfly Association.  And certainly, visit El Bosque Nuevo online, if a trip to Costa Rica is not imminent.

GravityCHIN, Jason. Gravity. Roaring Brook/Neal Porter Bks. 2014. ISBN 9781596437173. JLG Level: NEK : Nonfiction Early Elementary (Grades K–2).

Gravity makes objects fall to earth. Without gravity, everything would float away. What exactly, does that mean? How would the loss of gravity affect the sun, the moon, or even toys?

Chin’s simply-told explanation, illustrated with visual brilliance, interprets a complicated scientific force for younger readers. For older readers, he includes more details in the back matter. A visit to his website is as enlightening as his work. Macmillan has produced a teacher’s curriculum guide to accompany the book. Combine a reading with the Wonderopolis lessons, “When is Being Grounded Good?” or “How Fast Can a Feather Fall?” NASA and PBS provide lesson plans and other resources for all grade levels. If you have an interactive whiteboard, SMART Exchange and Promethean Planet also have ready-to-use lessons on gravity.

Baby elephantO’CONNELL, Caitlin. A Baby Elephant in the Wild. photos by Caitlin O’Connell and Timothy Rodwell. Houghton Harcourt. 2014. ISBN 9780544149441. JLG Level: NEK : Nonfiction Early Elementary (Grades K–2).

Liza weighs 250 pounds when she is born. Her skin is hairy, and her toes, belly, and the backs of her ears are bright pink. Though it takes most children a year to learn to walk, Liza learns in just a few hours. She will walk 10 to 20 miles a day. Such is the life of a baby elephant in the wilds of Namibia.

The husband and wife team were fortunate to witness the birth of the amazing African elephant. Following the herd allowed O’Connell to study the family groups, while providing the couple with rare opportunities to photograph their research. The author posts video and other resources on her website. The publisher has created a discussion and activity guide connected to CCSS. WWF has information about Namibia, conservation, and how you can help save endangered animals. Founded by the San Diego couple, you may also want to visit their nonprofit organization called Utopia Scientific which also promotes conservation. Combine a reading of the picture book with the Wonderopolis lesson, “Why Do Elephants Have Big Ears?” where you’ll find a video, informational text, and a quiz.

Additional Resources

Check out our award-winning LiveBinder which organizes all of the above resources. All websites are posted within the LiveBinder, along with the accompanying booktalk. As I write more columns, more books and their resources are added. Simply go to JLG Booktalks to Go where you will see the LiveBinder main tabs. Each tab is a book title. Under each color-coded tab are gray subtabs with links to media, websites, and other related documents. Everything you need to teach or share brand new, hot-off-the-press books is now all in one place. Booktalks and resources are also included on JLG’s BTG Pinterest board.

For library resources, tips, and ideas, please visit JLG’s Shelf Life Blog.

Junior Library Guild (JLG) 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 www.JuniorLibraryGuild.com. (NOTE: JLG is owned by Media Source, Inc., SLJ’s parent company.)


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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.

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