February 18, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Standout STEM Reads | SLJ Spotlight

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The STEM fields are an endlessly transforming and fascinating area of study, though most children’s and YA books on these subjects can be a tad didactic—certainly valuable but not always attention-grabbing. However, these recent offerings are anything but dull. Examining everything from a bald eagle’s chance at a new life to the labor of love behind the twin Voyager space probes, the following titles not only have stellar hooks but are also lively explorations of physics, technology, and space.

Ferrie, Chris. General Relativity for Babies. ISBN 9781492656265.
––––. Newtonian Physics for Babies. ISBN 9781492656203.
––––. Quantum Physics for Babies. ISBN 9781492656227.
––––. Rocket Science for Babies. ISBN 9781492656258.
ea vol: illus. by Chris Ferrie. 24p. (Baby University). Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky. May 2017. Board. $9.99.
Gr 5 Up–Ostensibly aimed at toddlers but more serviceable as stealth instruction for older students and caregivers who are a bit hazy on the basics of quantum and Newtonian physics, these board books attempt to explain concepts such as black holes, how rockets and airfoils work, and how energy—measured in quanta—moves electrons only to specific orbits around an atomic nucleus. In General Relativity, for instance, Ferrie, a physicist, uses grids and dots that are color-coded to words in the pithy captions to demonstrate how “mass drags space” and “space drags mass” and ultimately how two black holes spinning around each other “send ripples through space called gravitational waves” that “stretch and squish space throughout the universe.” Each of these four outings (and there are more on the way) ends with an optimistic variation on “Now you know GENERAL RELATIVITY!” Not quite…but the taste may make the physical laws and phenomena on which our current understanding of reality is based more easily palatable when next encountered down the road. VERDICT As with Ruth Spiro’s Baby Loves Quarks!, the topical reach is well beyond the grasp of even the most precocious young Einsteins, but their parents or older siblings may benefit from these quick refreshers.–John Peters, Children’s Literature Consultant, New York

Rose, Deborah Lee & Jane Veltkamp. Beauty and the Beak: How Science, Technology, and a 3D-Printed Beak Rescued a Bald Eagle. 48p. photos. websites. Persnickety. Aug. 2017. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781943978281.
Gr 3-5–Rose and Veltkamp tell the inspiring story of an Alaskan bald eagle, later named Beauty, who was shot in the face by a poacher and lost most of her upper beak. She was unable to eat, drink, or preen and would have died had she not been rescued. Because her beak didn’t regenerate, Beauty eventually made her way to a raptor center in Idaho, where she received continuous care. Coauthor Veltkamp, a raptor biologist and rehabilitator, worked with engineers, a dentist, and other animal experts to fabricate an artificial beak, using a 3-D printer. After arduous testing, an appropriate beak was created and attached. Beauty could now drink and eat on her own. Outstanding full-page photographs accompany this uplifting account. Many resources for further study and additional information on the life cycle of eagles, their habitats, and their near extinction and recovery are appended. VERDICT Highly valuable for elementary schoolers as a lesson in empathy; an inspiring addition to STEM collections.–Eva Elisabeth VonAncken, formerly at Trinity-Pawling School, Pawling, NY

redstarSiy, Alexandra. Voyager’s Greatest Hits: The Epic Trek to Interstellar Space. 80p. further reading. glossary. index. notes. photos. websites. Charlesbridge. Jun. 2017. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781580897280.
Gr 4-8–Forty years after the launch of the twin space probes, Siy’s well-researched and enthusiastic title depicts their conception, construction, major discoveries, and lasting legacy. After two introductory chapters, the narrative settles into a pattern: each chapter opens with a historical breakthrough, such as Galileo discovering four of Jupiter’s moons, and then relates some pertinent information gained from the Voyagers’ data as well as photos from specific encounters. The material is presented in a chronological order that roughly follows Voyager One’s and Voyager Two’s journeys, taking readers from launch on Earth through reaching interstellar space. The final chapter, on the Golden Records, the Voyagers’ message in a bottle from Earth to aliens who may come across it, ends the book on a hopeful note. The back matter, especially the links found in “Keeping Up with the Voyagers,” will be invaluable for those wanting more. Siy’s conversational tone makes for quick reading, and she deftly injects humor into what could have been challenging passages about eight-tracks and other 1970s era technology. Beautiful full-page photographs, most of which are from the Voyager mission, enhance the text. VERDICT An engaging and captivating STEM title that deserves a place in most libraries.–Kacy Helwick, New Orleans Public Library

Della Farrell About Della Farrell

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

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