Promoting STEM and Writing With The Trouble With Ants

Are you looking for a middle-grade realistic fiction title that promotes STEM?  The Nora Notebooks, Book 1: The Trouble with Ants by Claudia Mills and illustrated by Katie Kath is a complex, multi-layered story that encourages children – particularly girls – to take an interest in science, while at the same time helping young readers understand some of the challenges of life more deeply. It is also an excellent tool for teaching the persuasive essay.

The best books are multi-layered, with the capacity to give different messages to different readers, or even to the same reader over time when reading the book again. The Trouble with Ants is one of the those books.

Layer One: Myrmecology (The Study of Ants) and STEM

Nora, the main character, is a 10-year-old budding myrmecologist with an ant farm and a passion for studying ants. The text is sprinkled with scientific facts about ants and also reveals basics about how scientists work. For example, Nora reveals that her mother specializes in studying only Saturn’s rings, not other planets or even the planet Saturn. In another part, Nora’s dad explains to her how scientists publish their work in scientific journals, something youngsters probably have no inkling about.

Layer Two:  Boys Versus Girls

In a fourth grade stereotype, boys and girls tend to keep separate from one another. In this book, the relationships are more realistic. Nora and Amy are platonic friends with Brody and Mason. Dunk is a boy who likes Emma, but shows his interest in immature ways, which leads to conflict. The insights into human behavior are likely to help some readers understand their peers better.

Layer Three:  Dealing with Crushed Expectations

At one point Nora has some very high and unrealistic expectations, and without revealing details, her hopes are crushed. How she deals with this blow and some unexpected successes, show that life sometimes takes unexpected directions.

Layer Four:  The Persuasive Essay and Writing in General

This book would be an excellent choice for teaching the persuasive essay. It includes full examples of persuasive essays written in the voices of different students.

The book also encourages writing practice. The main character keeps a journal where she writes down her thoughts and facts about ants. Other tips about writing are gently included, such as leading an essay with a question to spark interest.

Other Threads:

The story carries multiple threads, such as references to taking care of different kinds of pets, popular culture in the form of cat videos, and even a gentle introduction to the topic of death.

With all that layering, however, The Trouble with Ants is still a coherent and entertaining story, complete with foreshadowing and rising conflict. Kudos to author and philosophy professor Claudia Mills for pulling off the difficult feat of creating such an intricate work!

In fact, I was so impressed with The Trouble with Ants that I nominated it for a Cybils in the Middle Grade fiction category.  Hand a copy to a young reader today and see what messages they discover in it.

Related:

Be sure to visit Growing with Science Blog for ant science activities and Wild About Ants for some entertaining Kids’ Questions about Ants.

Looking for more information? Try our list of children’s books about ants at Science Books for Kids.

Age Range: 7 – 10 years
Grade Level: 2 – 5
Hardcover: 176 pages
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (September 22, 2015)
ISBN-10: 0385391617
ISBN-13: 978-0385391610

Disclosures: This book was provided by the publisher for review purposes. I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at not extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.

Come visit the STEM Friday blog each week to find more great Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books.

Something Stinks: STEM Can Be Fiction, Too

When we think of promoting STEM books for kids, we usually think of nonfiction. Fiction can play a role as well, however, especially for the middle-grade reader.

In the middle-grade novel Something Stinks! by Gail Hedrick the main character, Emily, is an aspiring writer who finds out that science can help answer tough questions.

A lot of things change during middle school. Emily is discovering that her friends are looking and behaving in unexpected ways, and she isn’t sure how to react. On top of that, piles of fish are dying in the river near her uncle and aunt’s farm, and Emily wants to know why. Is it run off from local farms, pesticides from a nearby golf course, or pollutants from a local factory that are causing the fish to die? Will she be able to solve the mystery without getting into trouble and losing all her friends?

This is the type of book that is likely to inspire readers who might otherwise avoid STEM to give it a chance because it reveals how science can have important real-world applications. At the same time the characters are not hardcore science whizzes, but kids who many middle-grade readers will find easy to recognize, with problems that are relatable.

The waters are not always smooth as author sets up the characters and their conflicts in the beginning of the book. Once the story was underway, however, it becomes a compelling page turner.  In fact, Something Stinks! was chosen by the National Science Teachers Association – Children’s Book Council’s Outstanding Science Committee as an Outstanding Science Trade Book in 2014.

Want to encourage a middle grade reader to appreciate science? Give Something Stinks! a try.

  • Age Range: 9 – 12 years
  • Paperback: 183 pages
  • Publisher: Tumblehome Learning, Inc. (April 1, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 0985000899
  • ISBN-13: 978-0985000899

Disclosure: This book was provided electronically for review. Also, I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.

Come visit the STEM Friday blog each week to find more great Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books.

Beach Book Week: Beach Reads for Older Kids

Looking for beach-themed books, either to prepare children for a trip to the beach or for reading during down time at the seashore? Join us throughout the week as we celebrate sand between our toes with a series of posts highlighting children’s books about beaches!

This post contains affiliate links (see disclosure below).

sand-footprints

Middle Grade:

Junonia by Kevin Henkes

Almost ten-year-old Alice Rice loves the family tradition of celebrating her birthdays in a cottage on the Florida beach. This year she has the faintest sense of foreboding, however, as the rental car passes over the bridge. Who will be able to come to her party? And will she finally find the rare and highly-prized junonia shell (featured on the cover)?

In this lovely book, Henkes has perfectly captured the conflicting feelings of a young girl caught between the immaturity of childhood and the growing maturity of adolescence. Front matter includes illustrations of some common Florida seashells.

Highly recommended!

Age Range: 8 – 12 years
Grade Level: 3 – 7
Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: Greenwillow Books; Reprint edition (April 24, 2012)
ISBN-10: 0061964190
ISBN-13: 978-0061964190

Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm

When Turtle’s mother finds a much-needed job during the Great Depression, Turtle is sent to the Key West to stay with her aunt whom she has never met. Discover Florida as Turtle discovers herself.

This is a Newbery Honor Book.

Age Range: 8 – 12 years
Grade Level: 3 – 7
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Yearling; Dgs Rep edition (December 27, 2011)
ISBN-10: 037583690X
ISBN-13: 978-0375836909

Young Adult:

 

We Were Liarsby E. Lockhart

Cadence has gone to her family’s private island off the coast of Massachusetts every summer of her childhood. Something happened while she was there during the summer of her fifteenth year, however, and now she doesn’t remember much about it. Will going back help her figure out what happened?

For mature young adults, We Were Liars features a main character who is also an unreliable narrator.

Recommended in the 2015 Best Fiction for Young Adults list.

Age Range: 12 and up
Grade Level: 7 and up
Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: Delacorte Press; First Edition edition (May 13, 2014)
ISBN-10: 038574126X
ISBN-13: 978-0385741262

 

sand-footprints
beach-books-for-kids-weekCheck out related Beach Books Week posts with many more book and activity suggestions (active links will be added through the week):

What is your favorite beach read for older kids?

Disclosure: The books were either from the library or my personal copies. Also, I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.

Anni Moon and The Elemental Artifact: An Elemental Fantasy Adventure

Today we are excited to be participating in a blog tour for a new middle grade book, Anni Moon and The Elemental Artifact: An Elemental Fantasy Adventure (The Anni Moon Series) (Volume 1) by Melanie Abed and illustrated by Hisham Abed.

 

Anni Moon

Anni is an orphan who is going through some difficult times. Her guardians have mysteriously disappeared, and are presumed dead. Even worse, the school where she has been living, Waterstone Academy for Girls, is being sold and she might have to move. When her best friend and fellow orphan Lexi also disappears, Anni knows she has to do everything she can to save her.

While writing the first book in what is destined to become a fantasy series, the author must devote some time developing the parameters of her new world while still moving the plot forward. Abed does this deftly through Anni’s adventures. At first the reader is as confused and naive as Anni, but as Anni barrels forward, more and more is revealed.

There are “elements” in the last few chapters that some readers might find disappointing. Without giving away the ending, Anni performs an important task, but then credit is given, out of necessity, to another person. This is a wonderful opportunity for a reading group or class to discuss how it might feel to have someone else receive credit for work you did or an idea you had. What does this say about Anni’s character? It could also be a jumping off point for a discussion of plagiarism.

Anni Moon and The Elemental Artifact is a fast-paced adventure, a mystery, and a fantasy world all rolled into one. Be sure to visit Melanie Abed’s website for an opportunity to download the first 6 chapters for free, and to see more information about the characters and their world.

Series: The Anni Moon Series
Paperback: 392 pages
Publisher: Oculus Print (September 27, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0990706214
ISBN-13: 978-0990706212

AnniMoonVBT

 

Disclosures:  This book was supplied electronically for review purposes. I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at not extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.