March 21, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

3 “STEM”-ulating Biographies

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These recent titles tackle complex STEM topics, highlighting fascinating innovators and creating an accessible entry point for students not prone to calculating equations in their heads or reciting Latin species names from memory.

Becker, Helaine. Lines, Bars and Circles: How William Playfair Invented Graphs. illus. by Marie-Ève Tremblay. 36p. Kids Can. Apr. 2017. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781771385701.

NF-SP-Becker-LinesBarsandGraphsGr 1-4 –A picture book biography of the inventor of the three most frequently used infographics: the line graph, the bar graph, and the pie chart. William Playfair (1759–1823) grew up in Scotland, was educated by his mathematician and scientist brother, and later worked for inventors Andrew Meikle and James Watt. So why don’t more students know his name? The author suggests that even though Playfair was a creative thinker, he was not taken seriously during his lifetime because he was also a scoundrel and a schemer. Another reason is that scientists preferred numbers to Playfair’s colorful visuals, which they saw as imaginative rather than scientific. It took more than 100 years for Playfair’s ideas to become a popular way of displaying data. A mix of informative and witty illustrations add to the value of this educational, well-written work. (Drawings of Playfair’s graphs enhance the narrative and also teach kids how to interpret said graphs.) Back matter further explains Playfair’s life and his innovative methods of presenting material. VERDICT The author’s evidence-based speculation about why Playfair’s charts didn’t initially catch on and the smart and playful art combine to produce a welcome option for STEM and biography collections.–Myra Zarnowski, City University of New York

Goldstone, Lawrence. Higher, Steeper, Faster: The Daredevils Who Conquered the Skies. 256p. chron. ebook available. glossary. index. notes. photos. Little, Brown. Mar. 2017. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780316350235.

NF-SL-Goldstone-HigherSteeperFasterGr 4 Up –Goldstone, author of the adult title Birdmen: The Wright Brothers, Glenn Curtiss, and the Battle To Control the Skies, ventures into books for young people for the first time. What follows is an overview of early aviation history, with a focus on the exploits of record setters including Lincoln J. Beachey, Glenn Curtiss, Emory Malick, and Harriet Quimby. By expanding the scope beyond familiar figures such as the Wright brothers, Goldstone brings the legends behind death-defying acts to life, exploring how competition can lead to innovation. For instance, most early pilots built or tweaked their own aircraft. The writing style is engaging, and students curious about flight will appreciate the read. Though the chapters are somewhat linked, each one could also work as a stand-alone resource for reports or as a classroom read-aloud. The progression of aviation technology connects well with STEM curricula and could inspire experiments or projects that continue the “research” of the daredevils whose achievements fill the volume. The use of black-and-white photos will likely deter younger readers, making this selection best suited for middle schoolers. VERDICT School libraries in need of engaging historical nonfiction should consider for purchase.–Sarah Knutson, American Canyon Middle School, CA

Sanchez, Anita. Karl, Get Out of the Garden!: Carolus Linnaeus and the Naming of Everything. illus. by Catherine Stock. 48p. bibliog. chron. ebook available. further reading. notes. websites. Charlesbridge. Mar. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781580896061.

NF-SP-Sanchez-KarlGetOutoftheGardenGr 3-5 –Born in 1707, Karl Linné was an inquisitive child who enjoyed the outdoors, loved plants, and wanted to know the names for everything. He discovered that scientists, farmers, and doctors tended to disagree with one another about the naming of flora and fauna—the same plant might have several different titles. Linné wanted to bring order to this chaos, so he set out to create a convention from which to designate plants and animals. Linné classified and named more than 12,000 species of plants and animals, and his Latin classification system was accepted and used by scientists across the globe. What had seemed an insurmountable task was completed by Linné, portrayed here as a figure with a boundless imagination and fascination for nature. In 1757, he was knighted by the king of Sweden and thus gave himself a new name, Carolus Linnaeus. Stock’s impressionistic pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations are subdued, with spots of bright color, and adeptly match the content and the tone of the work. VERDICT The biographical approach to a knotty scientific subject makes this a valuable addition to STEM and biography collections.–Patricia Ann Owens, formerly at Illinois Eastern Community Colleges, Mount Carmel

Della Farrell About Della Farrell

Della Farrell is an Assistant Editor at School Library Journal and Editor of Series Made Simple