Science and Math: 2019 Appears to Know What It’s Doing
The year is proceeding at a nice quick clip, it would seem. Blink your eyes twice and BAM! It’s April. I spend an inordinate amount of time these days down on my haunches, squinting at miniscule dots of green on the ground, wondering if they’re going to turn into anything. We’re starved for nature, here in the early doldrums of April. As such, I can think of no better time to present to you the truly wonderful smattering of science and math titles for kids out in 2019 that struck me as worth knowing. They look to the skies, the plants, even inside our own craniums, so as to teach and instruct our young readers. Let us thank them, then, by taking a gander at their contents.
Beware of the Crocodile by Martin Jenkins, ill. Satoshi Kitamura
Terrifying hunters. Fantastic mothers. The whole point of this funny and scary book is to give you the low-down and dirty on one of nature’s finest predators. Though it bears quite a few similarities to the new Maxwell Eaton III book The Truth About Crocodiles (which I also adore and didn’t include here only because it’s part of a series), I think this book, while less silly, has a strange little humor and beauty all of its own. Plus, it’s just fantastic to see Kitamura back and doing nonfiction.
The Bluest of the Blues: Anna Atkins and the First Book of Photographs by Fiona Robinson
Apparently Anna Atkins is all the rage these days. For my library’s adult collection I recently purchased Sun Gardens: Cyanotypes of Anna Atkins by Larry J. Schaaf. This is a biography but much of the content is scientific in nature. It’s the gorgeously illustrated story of the woman who created cyanotypes (a strange, blue, early form of non-silver photography) to catalog the plant world, in 1843. Best of all, the book takes care to include one of Anna’s cyanotypes so that child readers can see exactly what one would look like. Add in my personal love of photography and you have yourself a winner (but you probably knew that when you saw that Fiona Robinson was involved). Consider pairing it with Snowflake Bentley.
Go For the Moon: A Rocket, a Boy, and the First Moon Landing by Chris Gall
Considering how much Dinotrux television I watched this past weekend, I think I should get special credit for not cursing the Gall name ad infinitum. Trouble is, the dude knows how to write. And draw, for that matter. Someday I’m going to make a booklist of picture books about authors and big moment in their youth. Things like Billy’s Booger by William Joyce and Shake, Rattle & Roll by Mark Alan Stamaty. This would fall under the same auspices and it’s really nice! How do you get to the moon? Well, take one rocket (that weighs as much as 400 elephants and is taller than two Statue of Libertys), three astronauts, and a whole lotta thrust. For the technically enamored, it gives you the nitty and gritty of space travel as you’ve never seen it before. I’m rather partial to Brian Floca’s Moonshot, but Gall manages to weasel into all the nooks and crannies all the information that Floca didn’t cover. Technical stuff, like the weight of the engine, the height of it, and how the heck you get from the Columbia to the Eagle at all. Gall’s art is the most realistic I’ve ever seen it, and there’s this keen bit he puts at the end where he sort of shows that if you start off making models of planes, the logical last step would be to build your own actual full-sized version in adulthood. Fun Facts, a Glossary, Sources, and Websites round it all off. I know we’re seeing a LOT of moonwalk books this year, but this one is a standout.
How Did I Get Here? by Philip Bunting
What a treat! We’ve seen a whole slew of picture books talking about the beginning of the universe and how it relates to you directly (heck, last year I think I saw three different titles on the subject). This cover looks awfully goofy so I was all set to disregard it in some way. Instead, it’s a hoot! Super funny. From the very beginnings of the universe to where you are today, this book takes a concept with gigantic scope and squishes it down into a funny, peppy, incredibly colorful creation. My favorite page, without a doubt, has to be the one where you see all the critters and Bunting writes in a footnote, “Our ancestors first developed eyes at about this stage in our journey. All peepers on creatures and creations before this point in the book have been gratuitously added for comic effect.” So it may just be my overwhelming love of googly eyes that tips the balance, but honestly the writing is great and the art darned delightful.
I’m Trying to Love Math by Bethany Barton
While I normally try to avoid subsequent titles in a series, this latest Barton title (she already wrote I’m Trying to Love Spiders and Give Bees a Chance) stands alone. First off, finding ANY good math books published in a given year is a near impossible feat. This year, this might be my math book of choice. It breaks down all the reasons you’re supposed to hate math, shows how it infiltrates every aspect of your life, and is really funny along the way. Who could ask for anything more?
Just Like Rube Goldberg: The Incredible True Story of the Man Behind the Machines by Sarah Aronson, ill. Robert Neubecker
How is it that the world’s greatest inventor never saw any of his inventions brought to life? This kicky little biography shows what can happen when you follow your dreams. Even the weird ones. Two years ago my family bought a Rube Goldberg calendar and my daughter hasn’t stopped talking about it since. I was so pleased with the look, the feel, and the telling of this tale. I adored the endpapers! And yeah, you’re going to get complaints about the gun (you’ll see), but I don’t care, it made me laugh out loud. Beautifully rendered and a wonderful encapsulation. Plus, Neubecker clearly put his heart and soul into the art.
Just Right: Searching for the Goldilocks Planet by Curtis Manley, ill. Jessica Lanan
Kids wonder about whether or not there are aliens out there, so this book gives the scientifically minded amongst them a concrete explanation of what it would take. I didn’t know anything about the “habitable zone” (where a planet can have liquid, but it’s just the right distance from its sun). And I seriously geeked out over the different planets that we’ve ruled out or the fact that a star twinkles because a planet has passed between us and its light (so cool!!). I like this book. A fun examination of what makes our planet so unique.
Moth: An Evolution Story by Isabel Thomas, ill. Daniel Egnéus
Oh, lovely lovely, how lovely this book is. The story of the peppered moths that adapted and then un-adapted (not a word) to pollution on their trees has always stood as sort of the quintessential evolution story but until now no one’s ever tried to turn it into a picture book. I remember when parents would wander into the library looking for ANY kind of book that contained an explanation of evolution (still happens, I hear). This book is as good a recounting of natural selection as ever you could find. Plus the cover is shiny. Soooo shiiiiny….
Rocket to the Moon! (Big Ideas That Changed the World) by Don Brown
Going to the moon? Now that’s a big idea. So how the heck did we get there? From “the rockets red glare” to “one giant leap” kids get a whirlwind breakdown of the history of rocketry itself. Don Brown is finally writing some of his younger nonfiction comics for the younger kids now! My children enjoyed Brian Floca’s Moonshot (ever noticed how I keep mentioning that book?) so I was interested to see if they’d like this as well. And since it begins with an explosion they were pretty much on board from the start. Beautifully rendered and explained. I know we’re already seeing a LOT of moon landing books out this year (heck this is the second on today’s list), but this is one of the tops.
Skulls! by Blair Thornburgh, ill. Sam Campbell
“Skulls are safe and snug, like a car seat for your brain.” The cheeriest little human body book you ever did see. First off, killer cover, so I have to give it points right there. Then there’s the fact that Scott Campbell was an ideal choice for the art. He manages to present these skulls in a really non-creepy way. Well.. okay, they’re still creepy but they’re FUN creepy! Great backmatter (“Cool Skull Facts!”) and just a lovely paean to your own strong body. Consider it for your Halloween displays (and trick ’em in learning something).
What Miss Mitchell Saw by Hayley Barrett, ill. Diana Sudyka
In the 1840s Maria Mitchell was taught to “sweep the sky” using her father’s telescope. Being the first to spot a comet was never the plan. There are a lot of things I like about this book, actually. I like that it’s nonfiction and fun and that the dialogue, when it appears, is in the art and not the text (and sounds like it’s real anyway, but there you go). I like Sudyka’s art. She really went out of her way to make these images pop. And though this is entirely personal, I also like that the heroine is a Quaker. Not a lot of Quaker bios out there for kids. Oh! And did I mention that Barrett is a REALLY good writer? See, this is what I mean when I’m talking about picture book biographies that are above average. Beautifully rendered with excellent writing and a nice scientific twist.
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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