Animal Planet’s Weird and Wonderful: Show-Offs

Animal Planet’s Weird and Wonderful: Show-offs by Margaret McPhee is about intriguing animals that are sure to surprise and delight young readers. It has been recommended by the National Science Teacher’s Association.

The eye-catching color photographs and illustrations will be what attracts the reader’s attention first, which is appropriate. After all, the book is about animals that use bright colors and flashy behaviors to attract attention of mates, warn off predators and, believe it or not, blend in with their surroundings. However, the book is also full of interesting facts and amazing stories about animals that are both familiar and exotic.

Sometimes with “showy” books like this the concepts get lost between the pretty pictures, but that isn’t the case with Show-offs. Each new section builds on the previous ones, providing a sound conceptional framework for those that take the time to read the captions. The photographs and illustrations are sure to draw in the reluctant reader, making them want to know more. They will be enticed to read the text and to turn the next page.

In addition to a useful book for the science classroom, Show-offs would be a very nice gift book for youngsters interested in animals.

For more information and related activities:

Reading level: Ages 6 and up
Hardcover: 64 pages
Publisher: Kingfisher (September 27, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0753467224
ISBN-13: 978-0753467220

This book was provided by the publisher for review purposes.

Rovingfiddlehead Kidlit is hosting the Stem Friday meme this week. Be sure to visit for links to more excellent STEM books.

If you would like to participate in STEM Friday in the future, go to Booktalking blog for more information.

Elephant Talk: The Surprising Science of Elephant Communication

Elephant Talk: The Surprising Science of Elephant Communication by Ann Downer is a comprehensive look at elephant social behavior, including a detailed overview of exciting recent findings about how elephants communicate. This book has been nominated for a Cybils award in the MG/YA nonfiction category

In the first chapter Downer explores many aspects of elephant biology, laying a firm foundation for the chapters on elephant communication that follow. She discusses the three species of elephant found in the world today, the African, Asian and forest elephants, as well as their distribution.

Once the groundwork is laid, she reveals many amazing new scientific findings. Did you know that elephants regularly make sounds that humans can’t hear? Did you know that elephants can “talk” to one another via their feet? How about that some “chirp” and other “shake hands”? It turns out that elephants are incredibly intelligent social creatures.

In one example not found in the book, a scientist tested elephants tendency to cooperate by creating a rigging that gives a reward of a banana snack only if two elephants work together to pull on ropes. An article in Wired Science discusses how one elephant not only learned to cooperate to get a snack, but it also learned a shortcut by standing on the rope instead of tugging it. Wow!

In the final chapter of her book, Downer examines some of the complex relationships between humans and elephants throughout the world. Although some of the facts are grim, there are reasons for hope that elephants will be able to survive to be a source of wonder for future generations.

Simply Science has another great review and several related links and activities.

This has been a good year for elephant books. We also reviewed The Elephant Scientist by Caitlin O’Connell and Donna M. Jackson, and Beco’s Big Year:  A Baby Elephant Turns One by Linda Stanek with related activities at Growing With Science.

Reading level: Ages 8 and up
Library Binding: 112 pages
Publisher: Twenty First Century Books (January 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0761357661
ISBN-13: 978-0761357667

Stem Friday is at Booktalking. Click through for links to more excellent STEM books.

If you would like to participate in STEM Friday in the future, go to Booktalking blog for more information.

The Manatee Scientists: Saving Vulnerable Species

The Manatee Scientists: Saving Vulnerable Species by Peter Lourie, part of the respected Scientists in the Field series, follows scientists from around the world trying to learn more about manatees in a race protect them from extinction.

Manatees are fascinating. Distantly related to elephants, these large, lumbering herbivores live exclusively in warm waters. They are found in Florida, the Caribbean, the Amazon, and West Africa.

As the title suggests, the book follows leading manatee scientists in their studies. Peter Lourie documents the techniques the scientists use and the problems they encounter. In the Amazon River basin, the author accompanies Fernando Rosas on a boat trip to follow radio-tagged manatees that have been released from captivity.  He flies with John Reynolds, who does an aerial count of manatees in warm Florida waters, and shows researcher Lucy Keith rescuing West African manatees trapped behind a dam in Senegal. Sadly, one of the problems the scientists encounter in trying to preserve the wild populations is that the people who live along the rivers in both South America and Africa rely on manatees for food.

Peter Lourie is a photographer as well as author, and took many of the numerous color photographs. His narration adds a real sense of adventure to what the scientists are doing.

Cybils notes: It would have been nice to see a bit more about what the scientists were finding out. By that I mean I wondered what their results were, not just their methods. For example, it would be nice to learn if manatees really are useful to keep down vegetation in lakes that serve hydroelectric plants. Also, it would probably have been appropriate to mention the Steller’s sea cow, a relative of the manatees that really did go extinct.

The Manatee Scientists: Saving Vulnerable Species has been nominated for a Cybils award in the MG/YA nonfiction category. It will be a big hit with nature lovers and budding scientists. For informal science, use the book to accompany a trip to an aquarium that houses manatees, or even better, a trip to Florida to see manatees in the wild.

Video of Florida manatees in action:

Reading level: Ages 9 and up
Hardcover: 80 pages
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children (April 11, 2011)
ISBN-10: 054715254X
ISBN-13: 978-0547152547

Stem Friday is at Celebrate Science today. Click through for links to more excellent STEM books.

If you would like to participate in STEM Friday in the future, go to Booktalking blog for more information.

STEM Friday Roundup and Star of the Sea

Welcome to the December 9, 2011 edition of STEM Friday.

Are you looking for Science, Technology, Engineering or Math children’s books? Then you’ve come to the right place. We’ve gathered some of our favorites here today.

For our contribution, we are featuring Star of the Sea: A Day in the Life of a Starfish by Janet Halfmann and illustrated by Joan Paley. This lovely picture book has been selected as one of the 2012 NSTA (National Science Teachers Association) Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K–12.

Once again award-winning author Janet Halfmann has come up with a charming and informative story for readers 5 and up. Ochre sea star has a busy day looking for food and avoiding becoming food for other animals. The limpet extends its mantle and is too slippery for ochre sea star to grasp, but she is able to open and eat a mussel using her powerful arms. She manages to escape from a hungry fish, but isn’t so lucky when it comes to an encounter with a sea gull. (Note:  sensitive children may be alarmed that the sea star loses one of her arms, but remind them that she will be able to grow a new one again soon.)

In the backmatter Halfmann provides detailed information about the life history of ochre sea stars, including facts about their anatomy, locomotion, and reproduction. This type of background material is so helpful for busy teachers who don’t have time to gather a lot of other sources to look up all the answers to questions that might come up ahead of time. In this book, it’s all at their fingertips. She also includes sources to “Find Out More.”

Star of the Sea would be useful for units on marine animals (my nephew was just studying marine invertebrates in fourth grade), and also lessons on food chains. For informal science, it would be a great tie-in to a trip to an aquarium or the beach, especially to tide pools.

I couldn’t help myself, the book inspired some related activities:

1. For children who haven’t visited an aquarium or a beach, it helps to give them something concrete to explore. Sometimes you can find dried sea stars in craft stores to show. Otherwise, toy stores often carry realistic toy models.

2. To investigate how the sea star’s tube feet act like suction cups, allow the children to free explore with some inexpensive hook-style suction cups used as to hang household items. Let them try to attach and detach the suction cups to different surfaces. Which surface works best, rough or smooth? What happens if you moisten the suction surface with a damp sponge, versus a dry suction cup? Which comes off more easily?

Brimful Curiosities has wonderful starfish craft to accompany the book. Notice how she uses real shells, also available in craft stores.

Growing with Science has hands on activities about Tide Pool Invertebrates

Monterey Bay Aquarium has a wealth of lesson plans and guides. Be sure to listen to I am a Sea Star.

Our STEM Friday posts:


Ugly Animals by Gilda and Melvin Berger

An eye-popping book reviewed by Jeff at NC Teacher Stuff

Amazing Kitchen Chemistry Projects You Can Build Yourself by Cynthia Light Brown and illustrated by Blair Shedd

Cooked up today by Laurie Thompson.

Lightning, Hurricanes, and Blizzards: The Science of Storms by Paul Fleisher

Highlighted at Booktalking by Anastasia Suen

The Mangrove Tree: Planting Trees to Feed Families by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore with collages by Susan L. Roth.

The story of Gordon Sato, reviewed today at rovingfiddlehead kidlit.

MotherReader has a Science and Stories program for preschoolers called “Motion and Force” featuring:

Move! by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page
Forces Make Things Move by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Hot Rod Hamster by Cynthia Lord
What is Velocity? by Joanne Barkan
What’s Faster Than a Speeding Cheetah? by Robert E. Wells

Enterprise STEM By Shirley Duke, part of the Let’s Explore Science series

Shirley shares her book at Simply Science.

If you would like to participate in STEM Friday in the future, go to Booktalking blog and click on STEM Friday for more information.