April 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Of Machines & Mathematics: STEM | Series Made Simple Fall 2014

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SMS1411-BK-STEM

Responding to the Common Core and STEM philosophies, math and science series books now regularly incorporate questions prompting reflection and observation, problem solving activities, and hands-on experiments or projects. The current assortment provide ample instruction in computation and other math operations, some appeal for younger readers, and a generous array of enjoyable schemes for applying the math. Large and fast vehicles are ever present in the machine category, but coverage also ranges from the fundamental simple machines underlying the invention of tools and mechanization through all of human history to contemporary computer technology. Older readers get an in-depth description of the highly varied work of engineering. On the whole, there’s plenty of food for thought for readers of all ages and interest levels who have a STEM bent.

Preschool to Grade 4

Bluemel Oldfield, Dawn. Patterns at the Sea Shore. ISBN 9781627243353; ISBN 9781627243919.

Markovics, Joyce. Patterns in the Desert. ISBN 9781627243377; ISBN 9781627243933.

––––. Patterns in the Jungle. ISBN 9781627243384; ISBN 9781627243940.

Sawyer, J. Clark. Patterns in the City. ISBN 9781627243360; ISBN 9781627243926.

––––. Patterns in the Park. ISBN 9781627243391; ISBN 9781627243957.

––––. Patterns in the Snow. ISBN 9781627243407; ISBN 9781627243964.

ea vol: 32p. (Math Blast!: Seeing Patterns All Around). ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. photos. Bearport. 2014. lib. ed. $26.60. ebk. $33.27.

K-Gr 3– “Patterns can be shapes, colors, or sizes that repeat.” There’s beauty, humor, and elements of surprise in the fine photographs featured here. Simultaneously simple and complex, these small, thoughtfully constructed books supply an introduction to the concept of patterns to six different environments. Each spread pairs a brief explanation with a view illustrating a pattern seen in nature or created by humans (striped, alternating, irregular, spiral, checkerboard, dotted, and more). Pigeons on a fence, a curled up millipede, an elaborately striped street intersection, and flip-flops on the beach demonstrate varied types. A short reader quiz and picture glossary round out the books, making them ideal for a variety of uses, from the classroom to family reading. These offerings will induce smiles, spark useful conversations, and lead to repeated viewings.

Brinker, Spencer. The Ghost of Skip-Count Castle. ISBN 9781627243322; ISBN 9781627243889.

––––. More or Less and the Vampire’s Guess. ISBN 9781627243308; ISBN 9781627243865.

––––. Odd or Even in a Monster’s Season. ISBN 9781627243315; ISBN 9781627243872.

––––. The Witch’s Things: A Counting to 20 Rhyme. ISBN 9781627243339; ISBN 9781627243896.

ea vol: 32p. (Math Blast!: Spooky Math). ebook available. further reading. illus. Bearport. 2014. lib. ed. $26.60. ebk. $33.27.

K-Gr 2 –Though the monsters, ghosts, and witches pictured in these counting lessons are on the corny side, the simple rhyming text describing their numerical concerns are likely to amuse beginning readers. A vampire and a witch named Belinda appear as friendly humans in costume, while Elsie the Even, Onslow the Odd, and a ghost are smiling animation-style creatures. Their assorted household goods include everyday items, such as socks, sneakers, pumpkins, and dirty dishes, as well as the requisite animal life: toads, snakes, spiders, bugs, lots of mice, and a few crocodiles. Readers are invited to answer various questions related to math or counting (for instance, “Which group has fewer, and which group has more? The mice resting on the pillow, or the rats dancing on the floor?”). The interactive counting scheme provides solid practice in arithmetic and reading, and the goofy theme and details add just a bit of silly fun.

Clay, Kathryn. Robots in Space. ISBN 9781491405857.

––––. Robots on the Job. ISBN 9781491405864.

––––. Tiny Robots. ISBN 9781491405871.

Shores, Erika L. Animal Robots. ISBN 9781491405888.

ea vol: 24p. (Cool Robots). further reading. glossary. index. photos. Capstone. 2014. lib. ed. $24.65.

Gr 1-3 –These slim works examine robots that complete a variety of intriguing tasks, from exploring Mars to photographing the human body. Some robots, however, appear to be little more than amusing toys, and there’s scant information on them; for instance, the author of Robots on the Job doesn’t elaborate on how the SushiBot can “[make] 300 sushi rolls each hour.” The only explanation of what robots are or how they work appears in each title’s glossary (“a machine that can do work and is operated by remote control or a computer.”). Text is on the spare side, and readers will be hard pressed to make sense of some of the accompanying photographs, which vary in clarity. There’s too little content here to support students in pursuing the critical thinking questions at the end of each book. The cool concept here sinks in the vague and sketchy treatment.

Marsico, Katie. Ball Game Math. ISBN 9781467718851. LC 2013041745.

––––. Kitchen Math. ISBN 9781467718837. LC 20130037671.

––––. Math On the Move. ISBN 9781467718820. LC 2013049792.

––––. Shopping Trip Math. ISBN 9781467718844. LC 2013046315.

ea vol: 32p. (Math Everywhere!). ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Lerner. Oct. 2014. lib. ed. $26.60.

Gr 3-5 –“Without math, sports would not exist,” Marisco informs us. You’d also have difficulty making muffins for 90 people, figuring out the cost of your hockey team’s trip, or getting the most goods for your shopping dollars. Numerous practical examples set in busy, two-page entries encourage children to use computation in making everyday decisions. A diverse cast of children and adults face quandaries requiring readers to add, subtract, multiply, divide, or apply percentages or fractions to find a solution. Brief reminders of common math formulas are included within some problems. Most of the math is quickly done with a calculator or paper and pencil, and there’s an answer key at the end of the book.The realistic scenarios are generally appealing and well constructed for math practice and learning sensible decision making in numerous aspects of daily life. The recipes in Kitchen Math are a little lackluster, but Shopping and Sports are particularly strong, with the latter covering 12 different sports. Old-fashioned word problems made fresh and new.

Morey, Allan. Fighter Jets. ISBN 9781620311073. LC 2013049158.

––––. Motorcycles. ISBN 9781620311035. LC 2013039881.

––––. Police Cars. ISBN 9781620311042. LC 2013039884.

––––. Race Cars. ISBN 9781620311059. LC 2013044263.

––––. School Buses. ISBN 9781620311080. LC 2013047727.

––––. Tanks. ISBN 9781620311066. LC 2013047819.

ea vol: 24p. (Machines at Work). ebook available. Jump! 2014. lib. ed. $25.65.

K-Gr 2 –Aimed at emerging readers, these simple introductions to vehicular uses and working parts each begin with useful suggestions for parents and teachers guiding students. Brief sentences (“The robber goes in the back seat. The doors have no handles. The robber can’t get out.”) and photographs will appeal to readers. Each book highlights the basics of the various vehicles, such as the siren, warning lights, radio, computer, and safety gear and first-aid kit in the big trunk of the police car. Most of the titles feature men and women. Some adults may not be comfortable discussing the war vehicles and their uses of guns, rockets, and missiles, but these books should have wide appeal to beginning readers.

Veitch, Catherine. Big Machines Build! ISBN 9781484605844.

––––. Big Machines Drive! ISBN 9781 484605851.

––––. Big Machines Float! ISBN 9781 484605875.

––––. Big Machines Fly! ISBN 9781 484605868.

––––. Big Machines Rescue! ISBN 9781 484605882.

––––. Big Machines Ride Rails! ISBN 9781 484605899.

ea vol: 24p. (Big Machines). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Heinemann-Raintree. 2014. lib. ed. $22.65.

K-Gr 2Big is a rather relative term in these sketchy introductions to large vehicles. Each two-page entry carries a small logo rating the machine’s size as big, super, or mighty, but there’s no explanation of what these terms actually mean. When does big become super? Small bits of information about each vehicle and the two accompanying photographs vary widely in clarity and specifics. The truncated or partial views and picturing of vehicles with no background for context are ineffective, as readers won’t get much sense of what some of these vehicles look like or how they operate. This is a subject with a lot of child-appeal, the six categories are well chosen, and many of the vehicles are intriguing. However, the cluttered pages and skimpy information and images do the readers and the subject a disservice.

Grades 5 & Up

Abramovitz, Melissa. Amazing Feats of Biological Engineering. ISBN 9781624034268; ISBN 9781629685267.

Carmichael, L.E. Amazing Feats of Civil Engineering. ISBN 9781624034275; ISBN 9781629685274.

Eboch, Chris. Amazing Feats of Mechanical Engineering. ISBN 9781624034305; ISBN 9781629685304.

Hand, Carol. Amazing Feats of Environmental Engineering. ISBN 9781624034299; ISBN 9781629685298.

Smibert, Angie. Amazing Feats of Aerospace Engineering. ISBN 9781624034251; ISBN 9781629685250.

Swanson, Jennifer. Amazing Feats of Electrical Engineering. ISBN 9781624034282; ISBN 9781629685281.

ea vol: 112p. (Great Achievements in Engineering). glossary. index. notes. photos. ABDO. 2014. lib. ed. $34.22. ebk. $48.50.

Gr 6 Up –Extremely tall buildings, bionic legs, and vehicles bound for Mars are among the copious examples of recent and long ago engineering accomplishments described in these substantial accounts that encourage readers to possible careers and various individuals working in these fields. Through nine chapters, each title combines history, project development, the problem-solving work of engineers, and likely future developments in the particular specialty. The numerous concluding tools include hands-on exercises with questions prompting observation and continued thought, which are mostly appropriate for middle school students (though the electrical engineering project is college level). The writing is informative and usually interesting, though a bit challenging; the books would work well with high school and college students. These thoughtful explorations of the importance and work of engineering add depth to science and career materials for skilled readers in the upper grades.

Arias, Lisa. Dandy Decimals: Add, Subtract, Multiply, and Divide. ISBN 9781627177184.

––––. Dazzling Decimals: Decimals and Fractions. ISBN 9781627177146.

––––. Dive into Division: Estimation and Partial Quotients. ISBN 9781627177153.

––––. Dynamic Denominators: Compare, Add, and Subtract. ISBN 9781627177160.

––––. Edgy Equations: One-Variable Equations. ISBN 9781627177214.

––––. Fraction Action: Fractions Are Numbers Too. ISBN 9781627177092.

––––. Funky Fractions: Multiply and Divide. ISBN 9781627177177.

––––. Galactic Geometry: Two-Dimensional Figures. ISBN 9781627177085.

––––. Glorious Geometry: Lines, Angles and Shapes, Oh My! ISBN 9781627177139.

––––. Groovy Graphing: Quadrant One and Beyond. ISBN 9781627177207.

––––. Magical Mathematical Properties: Commutative, Associative, and Distributive. ISBN 9781627177054.

––––. Marvelous Measurement: Conversions. ISBN 9781627177122.

––––. Multiplication Master: Divisibility Rules. ISBN 9781627177108.

––––. Multiplication Meltdown: Factors and Multiples. ISBN 9781627177115.

––––. Positive and Negative Numbers, Oh My!: Number Lines. ISBN 9781627177191.

––––. Powerful Place Value: Patterns and Power. ISBN 9781627177078.

––––. Scrumptious Statistics: Show and Recognizie Statistics. ISBN 9781627177221.

––––. Time Travel: Intervals and Elapsed Time. ISBN 9781627177061.

ea vol: 32p. (Got Math!). glossary. index. websites. Rourke Educational Media. 2014. lib. ed. $29.95.

Gr 4-8 –Jocular titles and rhyming text aside, these slim volumes each provide short, straightforward definitions, explanations, and plentiful demonstration problems set in large print numerals. Photographs and small pictorial elements are used judiciously on pages focused on the mathematical processes. The author favors the mathematical properties—associative, commutative, distributive, identity, and others—used in addition and multiplication. Demonstrated in Magical Mathematical Properties, these properties also appear in other volumes and seem to vary in their usefulness. There’s some overlap and duplication among the books, and a few—especially Statistics—suffer from brevity and density of ideas. Rhyming text, used here and there throughout, sometimes adds a light note but other times detracts from otherwise clear explanations. This series offers useful introduction and review of basic arithmetic operations, decimals, fractions, and a bit of algebra and geometry, though quality varies from book to book.

Gosman, Gillian. Simple Machines and Holidays. ISBN 9781477768419.

––––. Simple Machines at School. ISBN 9781477768730.

––––. Simple Machines in Sports. ISBN 9781477768297.

––––. Simple Machines in the Great Outdoors. ISBN 9781477768372.

––––. Simple Machines in the Military. ISBN 9781477768334.

––––. Simple Machines in Your Home. ISBN 9781477768693.

ea vol: 24p. (Simple Machines Everywhere). glossary. index. photos. websites. PowerKids. 2014. lib. ed. $22.60.

Gr 4-6 –A well-intentioned but flawed series. Each title devotes a single page to defining each of the six simple machines: inclined plane, wedge, screw, lever, pulley, and wheel and axle. These titles are on the redundant side: captions often repeat parts of the narrative, and toward the end, all titles contain the statement “a compound or complex machine is one made up of two or more simple machines.” Scissors and wheelbarrows turn up several times as examples of complex machines, and occasionally human bodies are used as simple or complex machines, too. Explanations are on the murky side, and there are no related materials or books, other than the publisher’s own website. Overall, weak offerings; Sports is the most informative and likely to appeal to children.

Hoena, Blake. Building the Golden Gate Bridge: An Interactive Engineering Adventure. ISBN 9781491403983.

Lassieur, Allison. Building the Empire State Building: An Interactive Engineering Adventure. ISBN 9781491404003.

––––. Building the Great Wall of China: An Interactive Engineering Adventure. ISBN 9781491403990.

Otfinoski, Steven. Building the Transcontinental Railroad: An Interactive Engineering Adventure. ISBN 9781491404010.

ea vol: 112p. (You Choose: Engineering Marvels). bibliog. chron. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Capstone. 2014. lib. ed. $31.32.

Gr 5-8 –These “Choose Your Own Adventure”–style books invite readers to assume roles as architects and builders of sites that set historical records in their magnitude. A bit of introductory history is followed by a stop-and-start account that asks readers to flip to different pages based on the choices they make. The fragmented nature of the series can be confusing, and despite the creative take on the topic, some of the writing is on the dry side. Readers who perservere will be presented with a grim, realistic view of the human cost of these large-scale projects (many of the options end with the death or dismissal of the worker) and some interesting sketches of history. Two “Further Paths to Explore” suggest exercises in reading and writing to aid students with key ideas and details. More ambitious than appealing, these will best serve as supplemental material for classroom units dealing with famous structures.

Macarthur, Collin. Inside a Drag Racer. ISBN 9781627130493.

––––. Inside a Formula 1 Car. ISBN 9781627130349.

––––. Inside a High-Speed Train. ISBN 9781627130431.

––––. Inside a Speedboat. ISBN 9781627130370.

Phillips, H. Edwards. Inside a Sprint Car. ISBN 9781627130523.

––––. Inside a Stock Car. ISBN 9781627130400.

––––. On a Jet Ski. ISBN 9781627130462.

ea vol: 48p. (Life in the Fast Lane). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Cavendish Square. 2014. lib. ed. $31.36.

Gr 4-8 –Attractive, competent offerings on a fun and appealing subject. Four chapters and colorful photographs cover history, design and mechanical features, operation and safety, and many aspects of racing, regulations, and organizations. Readers are also encouraged to seek out events for viewing. Though there’s some diversity here (a drag racer and a stock car driver are female, while girls, women, and people of color are shown using the jet skis), mostly this all appears to be a white men’s racing world. High-Speed Train stands out, as the vehicles here differ from the cars and watercraft, because the trains are valued for economy and efficiency, rather than racing and competition. European and Asian trains are shown to be far sleeker and speedier than the dowdy American Acela. Principles of engineering are introduced, but libraries will likely put most of these titles in sports, not science, collections. With an emphasis on the thrill and excitement of speed, these selections will easily attract readers.

Murphy, Maggie. High-Tech DIY Projects with 3D Printing. ISBN 9781477766705.

––––. High-Tech DIY Projects with Electronics, Sensors, and LEDs. ISBN 9781477766729.

––––. High-Tech DIY Projects with Flying Objects. ISBN 9781477766736.

––––. High-Tech DIY Projects with Microcontrollers. ISBN 9781477766712.

––––. High-Tech DIY Projects with Musical Instruments. ISBN 9781477766743.

––––. High-Tech DIY Projects with Robotics. ISBN 9781477766699.

ea vol: 32p. (Maker Kids). further reading. glossary. index. websites. PowerKids. Jan. 2015. lib. ed. $26.50.

Gr 5-8 –These slim volumes are designed to attract children to the maker movement, which has rapidly grown as an online community among adult and teenage builders of technology devices. Each book offers a few projects, some made with readily available materials and tools. Many require free downloading of online patterns or instruction, the purchase of components or kits, or the use of costly equipment. There’s an emphasis on joining or forming science clubs to share in the making process. Libraries and schools already offering makerspace programs may find useful ideas, books, and websites here. Savvy tech users could likely find all this and much more online, but the books offer basic explanations and definitions along with intriguing ideas for projects. Some of the titles are disjointed, and there’s also repetitive material. Intimidating supply lists and the many safety issues are addressed with an emphasis on adult assistance and the value of collaborating with other DIY makers. Despite a few flaws, the subject matter makes these series relevant and solid additions to most collections.

Rooney, Anne. A Math Journey Through Planet Earth. ISBN 9780778707288; ISBN 9780778707363.

––––. A Math Journey Through Space. ISBN 9780778707301; ISBN 9780778707387.

––––. A Math Journey Through the Animal Kingdom. ISBN 9780778707325; ISBN 9780778707400.

––––. A Math Journey Through the Human Body. ISBN 9780778707349; ISBN 9780778714590.

ea vol: 32p. (Go Figure!). glossary. index. websites. Crabtree. 2014. lib. ed. $27.60. pap. $9.95.

Gr 5-8 –Readers are invited to apply varied math lessons to hypothetical life or work situations, such as heading up an ecological expedition or space mission, working as an animal scientist, or conducting a study of the human body. Page one of each colorful entry features a section called “Learn About It,” with explanations and examples of math operations, including addition and subtraction, fractions and decimals, time, quadrants and coordinates, an assortment of tables and graphs, and much more. On the second page, “Go Figure!” poses several questions or problems for applying the lesson. Varying in difficulty level, these are introductions that could also work as review exercises or enjoyable explorations for students who like math. They might even invite further thinking about interesting possibilities for future careers. Fun, sometimes challenging additions.


The best of the series are thoughtful and informative in organization and appealing and comprehensible to children. Bearport’s “Math Blast!: Seeing Patterns All Around” is a prize in versatility, offering many opportunities for children, parents, and teachers, while introducing everyday people and animals in settings readers will enjoy visiting repeatedly. Crabtree’s “Go Figure!” adds special value to the math skills and practice, asking children to identify with adults doing all sorts of intriguing science work. The world of work and careers is the core of ABDO’s “Great Achievements in Engineering,” moving well beyond many earlier career books with skilled authors exploring a wide assortment of architectural accomplishments. Some of these books struggle to find and develop genuinely useful topics to serve reading appeal and the learning prescriptions of recent standards. The common two pages per topic pattern and the breakdown of subjects works well in some cases, but is a wooden array in others. Often, a single well-developed book would do far more for the subject and readers than a whole string of chunks. However, the successes provide opportunities to explore STEM—and beyond: check them out.

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

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