May 25, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Five STEM-themed Chapter Books & Lesson Plan Ideas

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) is a perennially hot topic in classrooms and libraries. While there are many wonderful nonfiction books on these topics, this column highlights great fiction with STEM connections. These books may reinforce a love of science for students who are already fascinated by it or offer a gateway into science concepts for young readers.

For educators looking for more STEM connections in books, check out STEM Read, a project from Northern Illinois University which explores the science behind books.

Space Taxi by Wendy Mass (Little, Brown, 2014).

When Archie Morningstar turns eight years, eight months, and eight days old, the moment he’s been waiting for finally arrives. It’s Take-Your-Kid-to-Work Day and Archie is dying to ride along in his dad’s taxicab. Little does he know, his dad drives a space taxi, ferrying all kinds of people all across the galaxy.

With the hype surrounding the solar eclipse this year, it’s the perfect time to study the science of space. Although Space Taxi is obviously a sci-fi series, it’s a fun way to inspire interest in our galaxy—and beyond.

Activities and Lesson Plan Tie-Ins:

The Space Taxi website features Archie’s space facts and an educator guide with classroom activities.

NASA’s 2017 Eclipse website provides all kinds of information about the eclipse. The education section contains many K–12 lesson plans and resources.

Project Mulberry by Linda Sue Park (Clarion, 2005).

When Julia and her best friend Patrick decide to do an animal husbandry project for the state fair, Julia’s mom suggests that they raise silkworms like she did when she was a child in Korea. If Julia embroiders something from the silkworm thread, their project can be entered in multiple categories—something many kids aspire to do. Patrick’s all on board, but Julia’s not too sure. The fair always shows very American things—is their project too Korean, she wonders.

Readers follow along as Julia and Patrick face many challenges related to their project. Where can they get mulberry leaves, the only food silkworm caterpillars will eat? And what happens when the caterpillars face a dire end in order to obtain the silk?

This book just might inspire students to visit their state fair to check out the student projects or to work on a project of their own.

Activities and Lesson Plan Tie-Ins:

The William Allen White Children’s Book Award website provides a teaching guide for Project Mulberry, which includes discussion questions and classroom activities.

Raise butterflies in your classroom or library. Kits can be purchased from Insect Lore and it’s a fun and educational activity for a variety of ages.

National Agriculture in the Classroom offers many lesson plans for teaching kids about the science of agriculture, including the life cycles of animals, growing plants in the garden, and more.

The Trouble with Ants by Claudia Mills (Knopf, 2015).

Fourth grader and aspiring scientist Nora loves ants and she can’t understand why everyone else doesn’t love them, too. She records interesting ant facts in her notebook as she tirelessly cares for her ant farm and comes up with ant-related experiments.

Nora’s story is a great introduction to the scientific method and what scientists do: observe and experiment. This book would certainly tie in with units on insects but can also be used to introduce the Scientific Method.

Activities and Lesson Plan Tie-Ins:

Discovery Education provides an Ant Architecture lesson plan where students learn about how ants build shelters.

Pair this book with the picture book Two Bad Ants by Chris van Allsburg (HMH, 1988) and compare how real ants behave and how the ants in the book behave.

Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor by Jon Scieszka (Amulet, 2014).

Kid inventor Frank Einstein is sure he’s going to win the Midville Science Competition this year; he’s created two somewhat intelligent robots, so how could he not win? But just before the competition, Frank’s inventions are robot-napped and all signs point to his nemesis, T. Edison and his sidekick, Mr. Chimp.

This is a hilarious series starter that makes science really entertaining. It just may encourage kids to start tinkering and thinking about machines they might like to invent.

Activities and Lesson Plan Tie-Ins:

The “Frank Einstein” website has teaching guides for the first two books in the series. They include science vocabulary words and science questions whose answers can be found inside the books.

Inspire students to create their own inventions by offering a maker space and/or maker programs. Renovated Learning offers advice on creating classroom maker spaces, including how to start a maker space and ideas for teaching with a maker space.

Brendan Buckley’s Universe and Everything in It by Sundee T. Frazier (Delacorte, 2007).

Brendan Buckley is a young scientist, constantly thinking about the world around him, asking questions and writing them down in his research notebook. Whether he’s investigating what dust is made of or designing an experiment to test if his bladder is bigger or smaller than his best friend’s, Brendan knows that the only way to find answers is to ask questions. But what happens when the adults in your life won’t answer your questions? Are there some answers Brendan’s not ready for?

Brendan’s interest in science is infectious and the humor in this book will have students clamoring to design experiments like Brendan’s. This is another great choice to introduce students to the work that scientists do and how they solve problems.

Activities and Lesson Plan Tie-Ins:

Brendan is never without his question notebook, where he writes down all the questions he wants to find answers to. Have students start their own question notebooks and then take a trip to the library to see if they can start finding answers.

Start a rock collection. Grab some books about rocks and minerals and head outside to find some specimens. Can your students identify the rocks they find? If you can’t go outside or don’t have access to rocks, try out the virtual rock collector on Annenberg Learner’s website.

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Abby Johnson About Abby Johnson

Abby Johnson is the youth services manager at the New Albany-Floyd County Public Library in Southern Indiana. You can find her on the web at

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