Tween Titles to Inspire Science-Based Community Projects | Nonfiction Notions

In a continuing series on nonfiction books that help tweens "build a better world," Nonfiction Notions columnist Jennifer Wharton recommends several titles that support science-based community projects.
I’ve previously looked at titles that can help tweens become civically active, whether that is starting a business, volunteering, or planning service activities. This column looks at a very specific area of involvement in local communities and in the world at large: science-based initiatives. Many kids start losing interest in science in middle school, but these titles are guaranteed to keep them interested, energized, and enthused! My golden standard for science involvement is Citizen Scientists by Loree Griffin Burns. This title walks readers through the four seasons with four different projects they can participate in: migrating butterflies, birds, frogs in the spring, and ladybugs in the summer. Each section discusses the history and scientific importance of the initiative and includes real stories and interviews with kids who’ve worked with hands-on projects. Although it’s an older title (2012), only one linked resource (North American Amphibian Monitoring Program) is no longer active. More resources for citizen science projects can be found at SciStarter, which is also referenced in the book. One of the most common suggestions for kids looking for science-based community projects is recycling. I’ve reviewed multiple titles and, frankly, been disappointed. Many have no real research and only provide quick surface facts, offering the same old recycling suggestions, and are clearly geared towards a suburban, middle-class audience. However, after digging through copious books about trash, I’ve found one title that stands out for tween readers.Trash Talk, part of the "Orca Footprints" series, examines the history of waste, how it affects people and the environment around the world, and gives multiple, concrete examples of how kids are making a difference. It addresses controversies and issues in recycling, something I rarely see in books on this topic for kids, and how different countries approach the handling of waste. The book profiles young people not just picking up trash and recycling materials, but inventing ways to clean the oceans, standing up for more environmentally-conscious decisions at school, repairing and rebuilding instead of throwing away, and showcasing a wide variety of options for gardening and composting. Nonfiction about science isn’t often considered as a blueprint for getting kids involved in activism and their community, but the tweens who today want to help animals, improve the environment, invent, and explore are the young adults who might change the scientific world tomorrow! Two recent titles do an excellent job of breaking down the scientific process into manageable projects for kids. For younger tweens, Sea Otter Heroes follows the research of marine biologist Brent Hughes on the Elkhorn Slough in California. A step-by-step breakdown of his process in researching the causes of pollution and ways to remove it, ending with the discovery of how sea otters affected the environment, provides a solid and replicable plan for kids to start their own scientific research project in their community. Author Patricia Newman provides guidance for creating a mesocosm and offers thought-provoking questions to get readers thinking about their own relationship with local wildlife. With an adult to provide assistance, this book could easily be used as part of a larger effort to reclaim a creek area, create an urban garden, or otherwise improve the local community with a science-based project. Older readers, especially those interested in animal welfare, will appreciate the passion and research Nancy Castaldo brings to her latest title, Beastly Brains. Once they’ve devoured this readable and in-depth examination of the history surrounding research into how animals think and communicate, they will be eager to get involved with their local shelter or animal welfare organization. Castaldo takes this a step further by encouraging readers to not only volunteer but to engage in scientific research into animal behavior and communication. Resources and suggestions will get students started on their own research projects, either something as simple as studying squirrels in a park, carefully observing a pet at home, or embarking on more complicated projects if they have access to a zoo. More mature students who have the patience to wait for results can start their own long-term studies. Tweens looking for a way to get involved and change the world, whether or not they are initially interested in science, will find that all four of these titles spark their creative juices and get them thinking about projects they can do in their own neighborhoods. These are also a great resource for teachers and librarians looking to get their students and teen groups involved in science-based initiatives. Titles referenced: Citizen Scientists by Loree Griffin Burns. Holt. 2012. ISBN 9780805090628. Trash Talk by Michelle Mulder. Orca. 2015. ISBN 9781459806924. Sea Otter Heroes by Patricia Newman. Millbrook. 2017. ISBN 9781512426311. Beastly Brains by Nancy Castaldo. HMH. 2017. ISBN 9780544633353.    
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