How Does It Work? | General Science Series Nonfiction

From simple machines to solving crimes, measurement to space exploration, this season’s general science offerings explain how things work.


In one way or another, this season’s general science offerings explain how things work. Simple machines, measurement, space exploration, solving crimes—there are scientific principles, special techniques, and equipment at use in all of them! Publishers utilize clever devices to focus readers’ attention, such as “look and find” challenges, hands-on activities, and graphic novel formats. Other series use humor or life-and-death situations to maintain interest. Cutting-edge technology and the latest research findings are explained for the benefit of older students. Whatever the reading level, there are topics sure to meet classroom and individual needs.



Becker, Trudy. Inclined Planes All Around.ISBN 9781637395974.
––––. Levers All Around.ISBN 9781637395981.
––––. Pulleys All Around.ISBN 9781637395998.
––––. Screws All Around.ISBN 9781637396001.
––––. Wedges All Around.ISBN 9781637396018.
––––. Wheels and Axles All Around.ISBN 9781637396025.
ea vol: 24p. (Using Simple Machines). North Star/Focus Readers. Aug. 2023. Tr $28.50.
Gr 1-3–Short paragraphs of text alternate with clear photographs in this series showing readers simple machines in action. Young scientists may be surprised to learn that a dump truck uses an inclined plane to empty its load or that a zipline is a pulley. Each title covers how the simple machine functions and various ways it is used for work and recreation. “Fun Fact” text boxes offer additional details like “Teeth are wedges. When people bite, their teeth split the food.” Each book also features “That’s Amazing!” examples, such as how a catapult uses a lever. Review questions with answer key, a glossary, and suggested books for additional reading are included in the back matter. Teacher resources including lesson plans, curriculum correlations, and links to other resources are available through the Focus Readers website. VERDICT Large scale images and clear explanations make this a good series for primary grade collections.

Diehn, Andi. Inclined Planes Ramp It Up: Simple Machines for Kids. Oct. 2023. ISBN 9781647410995.
––––. Levers Lessen the Load: Simple Machines for Kids.Nov. 2023. ISBN 9781647410957.
––––. Pulleys Pull Their Weight: Simple Machines for Kids. Oct. 2023. ISBN 9781647410872.
––––. Screws Keep Things Secure: Simple Machines for Kids. Oct. 2023. ISBN 9781647410919.
––––. Wedges Make a Point: Simple Machines for Kids.Nov. 2023. ISBN 9781647411039.
––––. Wheels Make the World Go Round: Simple Machines for Kids. Nov. 2023. ISBN 9781647411077.
ea vol: illus. by Micah Rauch. 32p. (Picture Book Science). Nomad Pr. Tr $20.95.
K-Gr 3–Humorous illustrations featuring diverse characters introduce children to simple machines and their uses through familiar examples. Screws may be used to assemble a tree house, or ramps may help someone in a wheelchair access the library. Funny situations like using a pulley to lift an elephant off a book are also provided. Glossary terms are bold within the text, while other key words may appear in a different color or font size for emphasis. Diagrams show how force is redirected or focused by each simple machine. Photos of simple machines in action are included within the glossary. Directions in the back of each book help readers with hands-on activities such as constructing a water wheel or designing a marble run. Free classroom guides are available through the publisher’s website. VERDICT The combination of humor and everyday experiences make this an enjoyable introduction to simple machines for primary grades.

Escape the Cave.ISBN 9798886185775.
Save the Captive.ISBN 9798886185751.
Stop the Shipwreck.ISBN 9798886185768.
ea vol: 36p. (Electric Challenges). Read with You. Oct. 2023. Tr $15.59.
Gr 2-4–Readers looking for an entertaining approach to science experiments may enjoy this series. Join Spark and the Critters as they try to solve engineering problems. Each book places Spark in a different predicament and asks readers to solve the challenge in order to save him from a shipwreck, being locked in his lab, etc. A list of materials is provided as well as hints in case readers become stuck on the solution. Key concepts are reviewed at the end of each challenge. Readers are also encouraged to document what they learn and take things to the next level by changing out some of the materials or making a how-to video of experiments. Each challenge builds on the next, making this helpful for planning a series of lessons. VERDICT Useful for STEM clubs or classrooms looking for a way to organize their lab activities.

Schuh, Mari. Venus.ISBN 9781645492733.
Thielges, Alissa. Earth.ISBN 9781645492702.
––––. Jupiter.ISBN 9781645492665.
––––. Mars.ISBN 9781645492672.
––––. Mercury.ISBN 9781645492689.
––––. Neptune.ISBN 9781645492696.
––––. Saturn.ISBN 9781645492719.
––––. Uranus.ISBN 9781645492726.
ea vol: 16p. (Spot Our Solar System). Amicus. Spot. Jul. 2023. Tr $31.40.
PreS-Gr 2–This series uses a look-and-find approach designed to build the confidence of early readers as they master new vocabulary. Four key terms are presented at the beginning of each title along with a picture identification for each word. Those terms are shown in an orange circle on the page where they appear in the text. Readers will also know they should look for the identifying image within the accompanying photo. Large-scale photographs throughout the book relate directly to the facts being presented. Close-up views of each planet, some of the moons and other characteristics, and even photos of probes sent to study the planets are included. A final answer key shows the photos with the image for each vocabulary word circled—just in case any prove difficult to find. VERDICT Perfect for early readers, with simple text and engaging photos plus the twist of a scavenger hunt.

Wells, Robert. The Ocean Is More than a Home for Fish.ISBN 9780807577820.
––––. We Need the Amazon Rain Forest.ISBN 9780807577806.
ea vol: illus. by Patrick Corrigan. 32p. (Tell Me Why). Albert Whitman
K-Gr 3–These books introduce readers to ecosystems such as the rainforest and ocean, explaining their importance. The text examines how these areas act as carbon sinks and details how they are affected by pollution and deforestation. There are also suggestions for how to help preserve these key natural resources. Colorful illustrations reveal howler monkeys, harpy eagles, sharks, and other wildlife. Some spreads must be turned sideways to show the various layers of the rainforest or the different zones of the ocean. Another illustration shows goldfish bowls stacked from the Earth to the moon to help students visualize how much water the oceans hold. A few pages also have inset images to show close-ups of phytoplankton and krill. A glossary and a list of selected sources appear in the back matter. VERDICT An engaging introduction to environmental awareness for primary grades.



Upper Elementary to Middle School

Adamson, Thomas K. Exploring Virtual Reality. illus. by Daniel Pedrosa. ISBN 9781669017219.
Collins, Ailynn. Journey to the Future of Transportation. illus. by Daniel Pedrosa. ISBN 9781669017295.
Collins, Ailynn. Living Among Robots.illus. by Eduardo Garcia. ISBN 9781669017370.
Kim, Carol. The World of Artificial Intelligence. illus. by Erik Doescher. ISBN 9781669017455.
ea vol: 32p. (Max Axiom and the Society of Super Scientists). Capstone. Aug. 2023. Tr $36.65.
Gr 4-6–Max Axiom and the Society of Super Scientists are back, this time investigating cutting edge technology of all sorts. From artificial intelligence and virtual reality to robots and futuristic vehicles, the team tries out some of the latest designs. Graphic novel format is useful in bringing scenes to life—flying cars, robotic exoskeletons, and virtual reality concerts are just some of the scenes readers will experience. Sidebars discuss current events such as robotic rovers on Mars and competition to create the most humanlike artificial intelligence as well as future plans for driverless taxis or hydrogen-fueled planes. While VR goggles and augmented reality apps are familiar, some of the other possibilities may be completely new to readers. Back matter includes a page of additional information about the topic, a list of suggested websites and further reading, and a glossary. VERDICT A series sure to be in high demand by graphic novel fans and useful to update STEM collections.

Chapman, Ty. Living on Mars.ISBN 9781728490656.
––––. Mars Rovers.ISBN 9781728490670.
––––. Water on Mars.ISBN 9781728490694.
Goldstein, Margaret J. Investigating Mars.ISBN 9781728490663.
––––. Landing on Mars.ISBN 9781728490649.
––––. Travel to Mars.ISBN 9781728490687.
ea vol: 32p. (Destination Mars). Lerner. Aug. 2023. Tr $30.65.
Gr 3-6–Human exploration of Mars is a high interest topic, and each title in this series covers a different aspect of efforts toward this goal. Large images appear on every page; photos of Mars rovers, concept art of astronaut shelters, diagrams of equipment and other details support the text. Readers will learn about the Mars Sample Return mission, how the Artemis project can create a departure point for Mars, and why planetary orbits are so important to the timing of space flight. Captions supply even more details about the images. Sidebars provide an in-depth look at China’s Zhurong rover, what ISS crews have learned about living in space, and experiments with the MOXIE device to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen. Back matter includes a glossary, list of books and websites for further reading, and photo credits. VERDICT Recommended to expand and update collections with the latest projects in space exploration.

Eason, Sarah. Cold Case Closed.ISBN 9781915153852.
––––. Hunting a Hacker.ISBN 9781915153876.
––––. Profiling a Criminal.ISBN 9781915153890.
––––. Spy Stalkers.ISBN 9781915153869.
––––. Terror Alert.ISBN 9781915153845.
––––. Tracking a Killer.ISBN 9781915153883.
ea vol: 48p. (Crime Science). Cheriton. Aug. 2023. Tr $31.99.
Gr 5-8–Middle grade readers will learn how science influences every aspect of gathering and analyzing crime scene evidence as they explore these titles. Those who picture themselves as CSI investigators, or in related jobs, can read about different aspects of forensic science and how crime scene investigations have evolved over the years. Various careers in crime science are described with details about the workplace, tools, required education and experience. True crime case studies are included in each book highlighting the type of science used to solve the case. Information is presented in the main text grouped under brightly colored headings, while sidebars and other intriguing facts offer additional content. Full-color dramatic photos show pathologists, photographers, and other specialists at work. A glossary and suggested books and websites for further investigation appear in the back matter. VERDICT High interest and informative reading for middle grades.

O’Daly, Anne. Measuring Area.ISBN 9781642827743.
––––. Measuring Distance.ISBN 9781642827774.
––––. Measuring Height.ISBN 9781642827804.
––––. Measuring Speed.ISBN 9781642827835.
––––. Measuring Temperature.ISBN 9781642827866.
––––. Measuring Time.ISBN 9781642827897.
––––. Measuring Volume.ISBN 9781642827927.
––––. Measuring Weight.ISBN 9781642827958.
ea vol: 32p. (Measure It with Math!). Rosen/PowerKids. Aug. 2023. Tr $27.93.
Gr 4-6–How is the area of a room calculated? What is the difference between imperial and metric units? Can the height of mountains actually change? Readers will find the answers to these and other questions within the titles in this series. Sidebars supplement the main text with details about the heights of various animals or using lasers to measure distance. Photographs show various measurement technology such as an Aztec Calendar Stone or a digital jewelry scale, as well as examples of things to be measured—the speed of a Lockheed SR-71 or the area of a rainforest. Each book offers several suggested problems to apply what has been read along with an answer key. There is also a hands-on activity, a list of additional books and websites for further investigation, and a glossary. VERDICT Recommended to update library collections and for classroom use.

Schwab, Chris. Mountains and Wilderness.ISBN 9781731657350.
––––. Water and Weather.ISBN 9781731657367.
ea vol: 32p. (Amazing Real-Life Stories!). Rourke/High Tide. Aug. 2023. Tr $27.50.
Gr 4-9–Animal attacks, tsunamis, and plane crashes are a few of the extreme situations that capture readers’ attention in these pages. Some accounts are told in more depth, such as the Thai cave rescue; others appear in a trading card-style sidebar with the bare facts listed. Photos of sharks, tsunamis, and deadly rattlesnakes will also hold readers’ interest. There are useful tips on dealing with deadly situations like snake bites or earthquakes. Vocabulary words are bold within the text, then defined at the bottom of the page. A memory quiz in the back matter shows six photos and readers try to retell the story that goes with each one. There is also an activity to apply what was learned by making a weather safety poster or a packing list for a survival kit. VERDICT Sure to appeal to readers who love extreme nature or survival stories.


Upper Middle School to High School

In Concert.ISBN 9781725349674.
Is There More Than One Universe?ISBN 9781725349735.
The Origins of Humanity.ISBN 9781725349643.
Smart Cities of the Future.ISBN 9781725349612.
Understanding Consciousness.ISBN 9781725349704.
Understanding the Bond Between Humans and Pets.ISBN 9781725349582.
ea vol: 160p. (Scientific American Explores Big Ideas). Rosen/Scientific American. Aug. 2023. Tr $43.95.
Gr 9 Up–Each book in this series collects articles on a common topic such as the origins of humanity or smart cities of the future, with articles grouped by theme. For instance, articles on the exploration of Mars cover unmanned exploration, possible human settlements, and other areas of interest. Articles run anywhere from one to 16 pages, making it easier to accommodate different readers. Another strength of this series is the variety of viewpoints presented. That feature would make the articles particularly useful for classroom debate and discussion. A glossary and list of sources for further information round out each collection. Some articles also include information about the author so that readers can see the background and expertise of the writer(s) and their particular perspective on the issue. VERDICT A useful collection for research and exploring different aspects of the various topics.


Every series featured above offers support through text elements, back matter, or additional resources. What really stands out this season are the connections to current events. “Amazing Real-Life Stories” (Rourke) relates details on tsunamis, animal attacks, and floods to stories readers may have seen in the news such as the Thai cave rescue. “Destination Mars” (Lerner) includes current mission planning for Artemis as well as projects from other space agencies around the world. “Crime Science” (Cheriton) builds on the current interest in forensic science and police procedurals to explore possible STEM careers for today’s students. These books pique reader curiosity by answering the question “What does this have to do with me?”



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