Wonderful Windmills

Wind and windmills were “hot” topics at our house last week, and therefore I was pleased to find The Wind at Work: An Activity Guide to Windmills by Gretchen Woelfle. Even though it is an older book (1997), it virtually stands alone on the topic of wind power and windmills for children.

Wind at Work covers the history and social aspects of using wind as a power source in great detail. From the early Persian windmills, through the use of windmills to pump water in the American West, Gretchen Woefle has done her homework. She provides many fascinating historical tidbits, such as how the saying “rule of thumb” came about. Who knew that the official seal of New York City has a windmill on it because windmills were so critical to early New Yorkers? In the final chapter, titled “Fulfilling the Promise,” Woefle explores the future potential of wind turbines as a renewable energy source. Even if you had some inkling of about wind power, Woelfe really brings home how important windmills and wind turbines were to our past and are to our future.

The chapters in this book are well-researched and clearly written. The accompanying activities, however, are a bit of a disappointment. Rather than emphasizing and/or clarifying concepts from the text of the chapter where they are included, the activities often seem to fit awkwardly. For example, for the chapter on ancient wind machines, the activity is to make a weather vane and wind sock. I think those would have fit better with the chapter on “A Windmiller’s Life” where the author says that the windmillers were the village weathermen. The “A Windmiller’s Life” chapter contains an activity to draw a landscape. The examples shown are landscapes with windmills, but the activity doesn’t suggest to draw windmills or even try to incorporate the idea of wind, simply draw a landscape. Surprisingly, the book does not contain a single activity for making a pinwheel, model windmill or even a kite that moves by wind.

Weaknesses with the activities aside, Wind at Work brings deserved attention to an often-overlooked topic. For those interested in wind as a power source, in history and/or in some of the modern environmental issues concerning wind power, this book stands out from the rest like a proud windmill at the top of a hill.

Reading level: Ages 9-12
Paperback: 156 pages
Publisher: Chicago Review Press; 1st edition (June 28, 1997)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1556523084
ISBN-13: 978-1556523083

From the same author, based on a true story:
Katje, the Windmill Cat (Paperback)
by Gretchen Woelfle (Author), Nicola Bayley (Illustrator)

If you are interested in some hands-on projects related to wind, visit Wind Power at my Growing With Science blog.


Nonfiction Monday is a blogging celebration of nonfiction books for kids. For more information, stop by Picture Book of the Day.

Who Buys Books for Boys?

I have read that tween/teen boys don’t buy books for themselves, so this weekend I decided to do a bit of market research. I went to a large chain bookstore at a mall and observed the children’s and teen’s sections.

The first group I encountered was a young teen with his grandparents. The boy actually had picked out a book he wanted to buy. It was about aliens. Grandma was not happy about his choice and said the book was too expensive. The boy then assured her that he had his own money and would pay for it himself (the book was $15). Grandpa wanted to know what the book was about. The boy read a short section about a town preparing for an alien invasion. Grandpa immediately decided it wasn’t a fit book for his grandson. “You can’t buy that book,” he said. Even though the boy assured them he would read it if he bought it, they left the store without the book.

A few minutes later I overheard a mom with her teenage daughter asking a clerk what to buy a 13-year-old boy. The middle-aged saleswoman immediately sprung into action, telling the mom about three books that she had read and really enjoyed. The clerk listed reasons why a boy would like each one and the mom pounced. She bought all three books, all fiction. Her daughter also picked out a book and bought it.

I almost missed the third boy, a quiet tween. I found him in the adult nonfiction, his nose in a book about the civil war. He read eagerly until his dad called him. He shoved the book back on the shelf.

What did I learn from this investigation? First of all, that books for teens have to pass through an adult filter. Will this book please grandpa, the middle-aged saleswoman and mom as well as a teen boy? Seems like a difficult challenge to make a book that pleases everyone. You have to wonder how well the teen boy is being served, especially when a busy bookstore saleswoman or librarian who reads a lot of books is the first in line making the choices. Her taste will be pretty sophisticated, whether she realizes it or not. Now that the economy is tight, the choices she makes are even more critical. Will boy favorites like graphics books, comics and nonfiction be pushed aside?

As for the boy in adult nonfiction, I think his story is the most important of all. I checked the teen nonfiction section. It was virtually empty, unless you were interested in a popstar biography or the lastest movie tie-in. Boys need young adult nonfiction, but there isn’t much available. The choice is to read adult nonfiction, sometimes with clearly inappropriate adult content.

I think I raised more questions than I answered in this trip. What do you think? Do you buy books for boys?

If you want to learn more about teenage boys and books, see
Teacher Librarian Volume 30, Number 3, February 2003
Overcoming the obstacle course: Teenage boys and reading
Patrick Jones & Dawn Cartwright Fiorelli

Tarantulas Inside and Out

While looking for a book to review this morning, Uncover a Tarantula by David George Gordon popped out at me, and I remembered it fondly. A few years ago I was helping a fourth grader who was a reluctant reader with his report about tarantulas, and I brought in my copy of the book to help him find some cool facts. He opened the book and started exclaiming. Before I knew it, the whole class was gathered around, totally fascinated. He proudly showed them what he had discovered. It was a wonderful moment.

The Uncover series are definitely unique. They contain a plastic model of whatever organism is being studied right in the middle of the book. As the reader turns the pages, he or she delves deeper inside the tarantula (in this case), like viewing a dissection. Around the central model is an explanation of the inner organs that are displayed at that page, and also detailed information about the biology of tarantulas and spiders in general.

The text is good and I even learned a few things, like the practical joke itching powder once contained the urticating hairs (stinging hairs) of tarantulas, and how tarantulas walk with eight legs to keep under control. Although it must be a organizational nightmare to create these books, the work is worth it because the model creates a visual and physical experience like no other.

The first thing that an educator might say when seeing the plastic model is, “Will it hold up to probing fingers?” Although the plastic looks flimsy, it is also flexible and it will definitely hold up to standard classroom use. Library level wear and tear could be another matter. I do know of one copy that is used at a museum and it is still intact.

What I particularly like about the text is that it presents the scary aspects in a factual way instead of playing them up to generate sensationalism. Too many books these days go for the creepy, scary aspects of arthropods to generate interest, when in reality the arthropods are pretty fascinating without all the hype once you get to know more about them.

Although listed as for ages 9-12, this book could easily be used with older ages and even adults. Take a look inside this book and you will be amazed.

Uncover a Tarantula: Take a Three-Dimensional Look Inside a Tarantula!
by David George Gordon

Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover: 16 pages
Publisher: Silver Dolphin Books (September 29, 2004)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 159223237X


Nonfiction Monday is a blogging celebration of nonfiction books for kids. For more information, stop by Picture Book of the Day. This week’s post is at All About Children’s Books.

Books to Take to the Beach

In my Growing With Science blog I have been doing a series on science you can do at the beach, for example this week’s activity about tide pool animals. In the process I’ve discovered a number of wonderful books about seashore and ocean creatures, plus rediscovered some old favorites.

How to Hide an Octopus and Other Sea Creatures
, written and illustrated by Ruth Heller, is a longtime favorite of ours. This is a lively introduction to camouflage in the animal kingdom that teaches about a number of novel sea creatures. This book is where we first learned about pipefish and red sea dragons. I love the rhyming text, because it helps young ones just learning to master language. The bright illustrations are unique and eye-catching, and looking for the animals hiding in each spread is great fun. This is a classic that is well worth revisiting.

What Lives in a Shell? written by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld and illustrated by Helen K. Davie, is the perfect book for younger readers to learn more about the seashells they discover at the beach. They quickly find out that a seashell is someone’s home. What Lives in a Shell? is part of the Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out Science series, which always seem to be high quality introductory science books.

If you going to the beach or visiting an aquarium close to home, there are a number of exciting nonfiction books out there to heighten and reinforce your experience.

How to Hide an Octopus and Other Sea Creatures by Ruth Heller

Reading level: Ages 4-8
Paperback: 32 pages
Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap (April 29, 1992)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0448404788
ISBN-13: 978-0448404783

What Lives in a Shell? (Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out Science 1) by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld and Helen K. Davie (Illustrator).

Reading level: Ages 4-8
Paperback: 32 pages
Publisher: Collins; 1 edition (April 22, 1994)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0064451240
ISBN-13: 978-0064451246


Nonfiction Monday is a blogging celebration of nonfiction books for kids. For more information, stop by Picture Book of the Day.