Featured Book: “Mad Scientist Academy: The Dinosaur Disaster”

"Mad Scientist Academy: The Dinosaur Disaster" book cover
Author & Illustrator: Matthew McElligott

Book Summary: “Dr. Cosmic’s class of clever monsters at the Mad Scientist Academy solve the greatest challenges in science, in this perfect blend of adventure and exploration.”

This is a clever and fun book for anyone who loves dinosaurs or anyone who is looking for a great addition to a dinosaur unit. It’s heavy text features, which include numerous dinosaur facts, connect it well to the upper elementary grades, especially as an individual read. In addition, the upper elementary students would enjoy the graphic novel layout that takes this book out of the “traditional” picture book genre. The story also has easy-to-use information that a teacher could use to support a whole class lesson (if not wanting to read the entire story aloud). I learned a great deal from this story. 🙂

Science Topics

  • Dinosaurs
  • Using clues or found information to solve a puzzle/mystery
  • Solving a problem when there are problems along the way
  • Collaborative problem solving
  • Scientific method

Literacy Connections

  • Graphic novels: layout and potential text production connections
  • Storyboards
  • Character development, especially supporting characters
  • Using text to support opinions

Sociocultural Connections

  • Diversity of characters
  • Female paleontologist
  • Collaboration to solve a mystery/problem

Featured Book: “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”

Harry Potter Book 1 Cover
Author: J.K. Rowling
Illustrator: Mary Grandpré

I was about to write the book summary, when I paused and thought there was no need. 🙂 However if you are unfamiliar with “Harry Potter” please feel free to contact me – I would love to discuss all things Potter.

Why, then, is this a featured book? This past summer I had the joyful opportunity to visit the Harry Potter Theme Park within Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida, so this book series was, of course, on my mind and still is. On the plane ride to Orlando, I kept thinking about all of my friends who were not “into” all that magic or fantasy or sci-fi, but loved all the new technology we enjoy and use on a daily basis. As I sat during my 3-hour flight reading a book on my Nook, I could not help but think about how the experience was, well…magical.

How many of us have wanted a bag that could hold everything, like the wizard, Merlin, had in “Sword and the Stone” or that Hermione had in the last book? And here I was sitting reading a self-lit book that was part of a library of books on a device that weighed less than one hardcover book. It was magic in today’s reality.

The wonderment also caused me to think about science, technology, engineering, inventions, the power of imagination, and how it is being displayed in these magical stories by talented writers. So many of our students who love to build, create and explore worlds through writing are also displaying such a strong science identity. Perhaps there is no direct science standard I can attach to the Harry Potter series, but there just might be something in this magical world that will spark the powerful question in a student’s mind: “I wonder if…”

Science Topics

  • Chemistry connections to potions class (and there are many online sites that have lab connections to Harry Potter)
  • Inventions, inventors and the history of inventions
  • Problem solving and investigation

Literacy Connections

  • Writing across multiple genres
  • Descriptive writing
  • Character building
  • Setting

Sociocultural Connections

  • Characters that overcome personal and societal hurdles and how they process through those hurdles, together and apart.
  • Strong female character, Hermione
  • Pushing back on power and privilege

Featured Book: “The Most Magnificent Thing”

Author: Ashley Spires
Illustrator: Ashley Spires

Book Summary: “One day, a little girl has a wonderful idea. With the help of her canine assistant, she is going to make THE MOST MAGNIFICENT THING! She knows just how it will look. She knows just how it will work. Easy-peasy! But making the most magnificent thing turns out to be harder than she thinks. She measures, hammers, fastens and adjusts again and again, but the thing keeps turning out wrong. If only the thing WOULD JUST WORK!”

Another story about a female engineer! I love this new (and hopeful) trend! Keep them coming I say (and with multicultural characters). A relatable story and journey of passion and construction in all forms. I especially enjoyed the depiction of the scientific method in its brilliant and messy form-rather than the often clear and linear form shared in school through science books, posters, and too often instruction. This story also captures the emotional roller coaster the pursual of an idea can be, and a possible path, a walk, to regain perspective.

This book also makes great connections to multiple content areas and life lessons. It reminded me of my writing journey and why I keep all my drafts–there are gems in all of them.

Science Topics

  • Scientific method
  • Engineering
  • Design
  • Process
  • Sketches
  • Models
  • Construction
  • Creativity
  • Collaboration

Literacy Connections

  • Process
  • Drafts
  • Storyboards
  • Story elements
  • Design
  • Perspective
  • Letting drafts breathe

Sociocultural Connections

  • Female character as the main character
  • Female character with a science identity
  • Female character as science knowledge holder and producer
  • Emotions of trial and error
  • Perspective
  • Science also involves collaboration
  • Reuse-Recycle-Refurbish
  • Community identity

Featured Book: “If you plant a seed”

"If you plant a seed" book cover
Author: Kadir Nelson
Illustrator: Kadir Nelson

Book Summary: “If you plant a carrot seed…a carrot will grow. But what happens if you plant a seed of kindness…or selfishness?”

If you know this author and illustrator, then it will be of no surprise that the pictures, the paintings, are breathtaking. He selected to have a few wordless pages, which speak volumes under his artistic talent. As the title suggests, it is about planting a seed and what a seed needs to grow, and simultaneously, it is about the seeds we plant in our hearts and minds and what they produce. This story does a brilliant job of combining science with character teaching – both which could be picked up and fostered in the classroom in very powerful ways.

Science Topics

  • Seeds
  • Plants
  • What a plant needs to survive
  • Collaboration
  • Food source competition

Literacy Connections

  • Story elements
  • Character building
  • Comparing & contrasting to other stories (fables)
  • Cause and effect
  • Dialogue building for the wordless pages

Sociocultural Connections

  • Collaboration between a rabbit and a mouse (unlikely pair)
  • Community building
  • Character building
  • Choices
  • Perspective
  • Empathy

Featured Book: August 23, 2015

*And don’t forget to check out past featured books here.

"Come on Rain!" Book Cover
Author: Karen Hesse Illustrator: John J. Muth

Book Summary: “A young girl eagerly awaits a coming rainstorm to bring relief from the oppressive summer heat.”

I thoroughly enjoyed this book! I admired how the author, Karen Hesse, explored drought through the well expressed senses of a young girl and her surrounding community. This book, which, by the way, is one of the few picture books with a female of color as the main character, does a tremendous job of highlighting a science-based topic, while highlighting and honoring the connecting people and relationships.

Note: As a great novel read, please check out “Out of the Dust” also by Karen Hesse

Science Topics

  • Drought (and the impacts to community and environment)
  • Weather
  • Observation
  • Clouds
  • Water Cycle
  • Rain

Literacy Connections

  • Description
  • Dialogue (and the connecting punctuation)
  • Story Sequence
  • Setting

Sociocultural Connections

As mentioned above, this book is one of the few fictional picture books, with a science theme, that has a female of color as the main character. The story not only portrays the main character as a keen observer and science knowledge producer, but also highlights her connection to her mother, to her friends and her role as leader and community connector.

Featured Book: August 9, 2015

*And don’t forget to check out past Featured Books here.

"Rosie Sprouts Time to Shine" Book Cover
Author: Allison Wortche
Illustrator: Patrice Barton

Book Summary: “Rosie’s rival, Violet, outdoes her in everything until the class plants seeds for a unit on gardening.”

This story brought me back to my teaching days of working to establish a positive and collaborative learning environment, and it brought me back to my student days of wanting to be noticed and praised. This story also tells the tale of so many elementary science experiences of growing your own plant and the excitement that it brings. Allison Wortche does a clever job of telling Rosie’s tale while incorporating scientific concepts and skills.

Science Topics

  • Plants
  • How to grow a plant
  • What a plant needs
  • Gardening
  • Plant vocabulary
  • Science notebook/lists

Literacy Connections

  • Evidence based writing
  • Creating charts
  • Creating supporting illustrators
  • Science notebooks
  • Lists
  • Communicating findings

Sociocultural Connections

  • The role of competition
  • Classroom environment
  • Noticing and praising each and every student

Featured Book

"When the Wind Blows" Book Cover
Author: Linda Booth Sweeney; Illustrator: Jana Christy

Book Summary: “A boy has fun outside with his family as a storm approaches and inside when the rain arrives.”

This picture book focuses on the many effects of wind, as told by a young boy as he explores and interacts with those affects with his mom and family. The way it is written, simple two-word sentences, noun-verb combinations, really enhances the flowing visual to capture “wind”. I also really love how the book focuses on these explorations and interactions through the relationship of a boy and his mother.

Science Topics

  • Weather
  • Impacts of Weather
  • Observation
  • Wind
  • Cause and Effect
  • Storms
  • Aspects of Forces & Motion

Literacy Connections

  • Description
  • Onomatopoeia
  • Parts of Speech
  • Sequence of Events (story starts in the morning, ends at night)

*Note: This book would make a great lead into students writting their own stories/descriptions.

Sociocultural Connections

  • Relationship between a mom and her son and the adventures they have interacting and observing wind. There is also aspects of family exploration, but the focus is more on this one relationship. There are also connections to feeling wind, rather than just observing wind.