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In My Heart
Author: Mackenzie Porter
Illustrator: Jenny Løvlie
Published March 10, 2020 by Little Simon

Goodreads Summary: A working mother reassures her child that even when they’re apart, they’re always in each other’s hearts. This lovely board book is perfect for moms to share with their little ones.

Though we’re not together
we’re never truly apart,
because you’re always on my mind
and you’re always in my heart.

This is what a mother tells her child as she leaves for work each day. This lovely board book perfectly captures the sentiment that many women feel about being a working mom. The lyrical text takes us through a mother’s day away, showing us that although she’s working hard, her child is always on her mind and always in her heart.

Ricki’s Review: This book really hit me in the gut. I couldn’t read it without crying. I have a lot of mom guilt related to my status as a working mom. I genuinely believe that it is best for my kids, yet I struggle with the emotions that come with this decision. This book was as much for my kids as it was for me. There are many books that address concepts like going to school or learning to meet new people, but this is the first book that I’ve read that addresses the concept of working moms (particularly at this age level). I will cherish this book and read it to my children again and again.

Kellee’s Review: As a working mom, mom guilt is real. It is hard when I cannot come and be a reader in Trent’s class every time or be part of all celebrations in his classroom, but I also love working; however, there are very few books that reinforce the normality of this situation. As Simon & Schuster shares, 70% of moms are working moms, so there are so many of us that need this book to read to our children to explain that work is part of our life but that they get the opportunity to be in an awesome school situation while we are doing a job we love and need. And no matter what we love them! The author and illustrator do a great job of showing that balance. Thank you to them both for bringing this book to life!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Ricki is purchasing an extra copy of this book for her kids’ daycare/preschool. It is a great book for early childhood educators to use. Children might draw pictures of the emotions that they experience before, during, and after reading this book.

Discussion Questions: How do you feel when your parent goes to work? Why? What might you do to cope with these feelings?

We Flagged: 

Read This If You Loved: The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn; Llama Llama Misses Mama by Anna Dewdney; Stella Luna by Janell Cannon

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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA!

It’s Monday! What are you Reading? is a meme started by Sheila at Book Journeys and now hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date. It is a great way to recap what you read and/or reviewed the previous week and to plan out your reading and reviews for the upcoming week. It’s also a great chance to see what others are reading right now…you just might discover the next “must-read” book!

Kellee and Jen, of Teach Mentor Texts, decided to give It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? a kidlit focus. If you read and review books in children’s literature – picture books, chapter books, middle grade novels, young adult novels, anything in the world of kidlit – join us! We love this meme and think you will, too.

We encourage everyone who participates to support the blogging community by visiting at least three of the other book bloggers that link up and leave comments for them.

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Updated Often: Stuck Inside? Live Author Read-Alouds, Doodle Alongs, and Other Learning Options

Tuesday: Review and Giveaway! Rosie: Stronger Than Steel by Lindsay Ward

Thursday: The Memory Box: A Book About Grief and The Memory Book: A Grief Journal for Children and Families by Joanna Rowland, Illustrated by Thea Baker

Sunday: Author Guest Post: “Discovering the World Through Literacy” by N.R. Bergeson, Author of The Magnificent Glass Globe series

**Click on any picture/link to view the post**

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Kellee

  • One of Us is Next by Karen McManus: JUST AS GOOD AS THE FIRST ONE! OH MY GOODNESS! KAREN MCMANUS!!!!!!!!
  • HiLo: All the Pieces Fit by Judd Winick: The HiLo series is some of my favorite graphic novels, and this one was pretty epic.
  • With Trent:
    • So many story times with so many authors! Mac Barnett, Oliver Jeffers, Kate Messner, Josh Funk, and Greg Pizzoli are amazing, and we are loving watching then and others during this time. It is a plus of kindness in this dark time.
    • We finished Bad Guys: Mission Unpluckable by Aaron Blabey and  This is Not My Hat & We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen for book clubs. We’re reading Bad Guys with Ricki’s son Henry and the Hat Trilogy with my colleague’s daughter.

To learn more about any of these books, check out my 2020 Goodreads Challenge page  or my read bookshelf on Goodreads.

Ricki

The kids and I have been in a reading frenzy. We’ve enjoyed a lot of picture books this week, and we read the first two books in the Bad Guys series by Aaron Blabey. These books are delightfully funny!

I adored In My Heart by Mackenzie Porter. This is a great book for working moms.

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Kellee

  • Reading: A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson
  • Listening: Whatever After: Seeing Red by Sarah Mlynowski
  • Reading with Trent: Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar

Ricki

We’ve got ten more pages in the first illustrated Harry Potter book!

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Tuesday: In My Heart by Mackenzie Porter, Illustrated by Jenny Løvlie

Sunday: Author Guest Post: “A Man of My Word: How Wondrous Words and Wordplay Make Children’s Books Shine” by Artie Bennett, Author of The True Story of Zippy Chippy: The Little Horse That Couldn’t

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“Discovering the World through Literacy”

A few weeks ago, I attended parent/teacher conferences for my fourth-grade daughter and second-grade son. Things certainly have changed in the days since I was a kid. The quantitative information, evaluation methodologies, and other assessment criteria provide some pretty amazing data. These data not only help to give me a clearer picture of how my kids are doing. They also give me important insight as to where I, as a parent, am able to provide any needed, additional support.

As I’ve talked to a number of teacher friends, I’ve learned that while these data and information, are often very helpful, they can also be, at times, somewhat limiting. Much of these limits are tied to various federal requirements, state laws, and school board emphases. A lot of direction and input has been aimed at our schools. While they provide clear standards and quantitative systems of evaluation, they also can end up restricting what teachers can and can’t do. In addition, the added requirements often end up eating up the lion’s share of finite minutes in every day that a teacher has to, well, you know … teach.

One area that many teachers feel has gotten the “short end of the stick” in this new environment is social studies learning. Whether history, geography, sociology, or others, these bottomless subjects – subjects that relate so directly to the real world – end up getting put in second place to the traditional education areas of reading, writing, and arithmetic, as well as a renewed emphasis on strengthening STEM education topics such as science and computers.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that all of these are not only very important. They are essential in the world today, and in large part shape our success when it comes to society as a whole. But as one who studied the social sciences extensively, and who has spent most of my career in the field, I do wish my kids were learning more on these topics.

For me, the area of my greatest passion is anything associated with global education. Geography, cultures, foreign languages, geopolitics, and more. Since we all live on the same planet, I strongly believe that we are all better off when we know as much about it – and about the different groups of our fellow earthlings – as we possibly can. After spending a decade working as a U.S. diplomat, living in seven countries, and traveling to nearly seventy countries, this passion has only grown.

A few years ago, while discussing my desire for a greater emphasis on global education in schools, a teacher friend of mine offered up a novel idea – finding ways to teach about the globe through literacy (pun intended).

In many ways, this notion helped shape my vision for the “Magnificent Glass Globe” series. By writing age-appropriate fiction, keeping it fast-paced and entertaining, but at the same time packing it with tidbits of knowledge about the world, cultures, and real global issues, I realized just how much one could experience a place and expand their horizons when reading a book.

The idea wasn’t to make things too heavy handed. Not a preachy textbook disguised as an adventure. But realizing that both literacy and global education could indeed go hand in hand. Then putting the two together in real, meaningful stories about the world.

After all, our world is full of stories. Those stories relate to real groups of people. Those people live in real places. Those places have real histories, environments, and cultures.

At the same time, given the realities of today’s quantitative education focus on things like reading and literacy, I wanted to provide teachers with a tool that they could kill the proverbial two birds with one stone (or, as my bird-loving younger brother prefers I say, “feed two dogs out of one dish”).

My suggestion to writers is that, whenever cooking up a new story, they consider taking it as an opportunity to immerse readers in some corner of the social-science universe. Historical fiction is a great genre for this. So are cultural stories. Don’t shy away from digging into cultures and societies that may not be as familiar to you – that’s what research is for! Of course, follow the “nothing about them, without them” principle – when incorporating cultural variation into your stories, it is essential to get the input from those who truly hold identity within that culture. Luckily, there are millions of people around this world who are eager and willing to share their identity with you, and to help make sure that it comes out correct on the page.

My suggestion for teachers is to seek out good books that are filled with social and global topics. There are thousands of good examples out there. Teaching valuable topics like reading comprehension can take on another element of social understanding. The questions almost write themselves.

Finally, for readers, I encourage you to share what you are learning about the world in books. It can give others the chance to see that books are often more than just an entertaining jaunt through the lives of a set of characters. There is always a social foundation upon which our characters’ identities are built. This is valuable, real world information that can really make a difference as we get a better grasp on it.

It’s amazing how much one can truly learn through a story.

Book 1 Published April 4th, 2017
Book 2 Published March 3rd, 2020
by Tantrum Books

About The Magnificent Glass Globe #2: The Legacy of the Stewardship: Several months after their unexpected adventure in the Amazon, Ike is not happy. He’s tired of being picked on and being treated like a baby. But when the kids learn Anatoly has kidnapped a group of innocent children and is holding them ransom in the forests of Siberia, Ike knows he has to do something. But Anatoly demands a steep price; they must hand over the globe.

When Grandpa suffers a heart attack, Ike, Mary, and Helen decide to help the other kids. Reluctantly, they decide to use the globe once again. Only this time, they leave better prepared. Or so they thought. When they arrive in Russia, they quickly learn that their problems are much bigger than just Anatoly. When a mysterious group of people appear using a second globe, Mary is kidnapped, and now it is up to Ike and Helen to cross the vast country and find her.

About the Author: N. R. (Nils) Bergeson is the author of the “Magnificent Glass Globe” series. From an early age, he was fascinated with the wider world, prompting him to seek a career that would give him opportunities for ample adventure. This led N.R. to spend twelve years overseas – in Siberia, Romania, Colombia, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, and Indonesia. He’s traveled to more than 65 countries with his wife, Emily, and their three young children. N.R.’s love for writing complements his globetrotting ways well. He hopes his writing will instill a desire in his readers to take advantage of modern opportunities to see the world, learn new languages, and expand their cultural experiences. We live in a wonderful world, and it’s just waiting for us to see it.

Instagram: @nilsbergeson
Facebook: Nils Bergeson
Twitter: @NRBergeson

Thank you, Nils, for the reminder to not forget about the social sciences!

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The Memory Book: A Grief Journal for Children and Families
Author: Joanna Rowland;  Illustrator: Thea Baker
Published: January 14, 2020 by Beaming Books

You might recognize the book which inspired this journal, The Memory Box: A Book About Grief:

The child in the book generates a box of mementoes of a loved one she lost. It’s a magnificent book that encourages children to generate boxes of mementoes of their own loved ones. We recommend it highly–particularly for children who are experiencing loss. This book inspired the grief journal, The Memory Book.

Goodreads Summary of The Memory Book: I will always remember you . . .Joanna Rowland’s best-selling The Memory Box: A Book about Grief has helped thousands of children and families work through the complex emotions that arise after the loss of a loved one. Now, with The Memory Book, Rowland has created a beautiful grief journal to help readers put her methods into practice. The Memory Book helps grieving families process their emotions together by remembering their lost loved one and creating their own memory album full of photos and keepsakes of the person they lost. With gentle prompts and ideas for journaling, drawing, and talking through grief, this journal will bring comfort in the midst of loss and be a keepsake for families for years to come.

Rowland discusses the process of writing The Memory Box:

“In writing The Memory Box, a book about grief, there were three people and their families that I was thinking about. In 2014, a relative that was meant to get my first published book Always Mom, Forever Dad (a positive picture book on divorce) lost her father suddenly a month before the book’s publication. I knew she needed a different type of book, and that’s when I knew I needed to write a picture book on grief. When I first found out her dad had passed away, I saw a photo of her holding her dad’s hand on the beach with the waves coming toward them. That image stayed with me. I knew somehow that I wanted to make a nod toward that scene in my writing. At the time, I had no idea what that story was going to be. I tried a couple of different ways to write about grief. My first attempt was a nature poem. But when thinking about how I would help a young child through grief, eventually the idea of a memory box came.

I was also thinking about my childhood friend, Scott, who was also gone too soon. He studied birds and had such a sweet soul. I have some sweet memories growing up with him. He’ll always hold a special place in my heart.

During the two years I spent writing about grief, we lost Marisa to cancer. I had coached her in synchronized swimming for years, and she swam with my niece and older daughters. It was heartbreaking. Marisa was so full of life with the most contagious smile.

All of these people were gone much too soon. These families had lost a father, a son, an only child, a daughter and a sister.

I had to get this story right. I think going through grief and taking my youngest to her first funeral at age six, helped me find a way to talk about death with my youngest and find the heart of the story. It still took me over two years to get the story right.

Grief is hard. Everyone has his or her journey with it. Allow yourself to grieve however you need to. There is no right or wrong way. There are support groups out there and other resources to help. Grief can be hard to communicate. I hope The Memory Box can be a tool to foster conversations and help keep the memories of your loved ones alive. The book also includes a guide in back that discusses ways to talk to your child about grief.

For anyone struggling with grief, my thoughts are with you.”

Ricki’s Review: I often see posts on parent forums in which folks are requesting books about grief. There are some amazing books out there, particularly Rowland’s bestselling picture book The Memory Box. Yet I have never seen a journal about this topic. I was intrigued and really looking forward to reviewing it. When I cracked the cover, it took my breath away. The pages are stunning, and the prompts are incredibly thoughtful. This book is one that I will recommend again and again to parents/teachers who are seeking to talk about grief with children. It allows children to negotiate with the many emotions that come with grief and celebrate the people they are grieving. I am so grateful that this book exists in the world.

Kellee’s Review: My son suffered a huge amount of loss this last summer: 3 pets (ours and my in-law’s who we live next door to) and his grandfather, my father-in-law. As a mom, I was lost at how to help him through this time, mostly as I was figuring out how to navigate the grief as well. In the end, Trent has done extremely well emotionally for the tough time we went through! However, he definitely still talks often about his lost loved ones, so when I saw this book, I knew it was one that I would want to share with him because I truly believe that the best way to deal with loss is to talk about it. The Memory Box and The Memory Book are perfect jumping off points for discussing memories of lost loved ones with kids. It is a healthy way to navigate such a tough time! I am thankful books like this exist to help their kids when loss impacts their lives.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Last semester, I (Ricki) asked my students (teacher educators) to describe a moment in their schooling in which they thought their teachers were wrong. One student shared that she was still deeply impacted by the death of a student during her middle school year. She said the teachers never spoke about the student’s death, which made it harder. This book offers thoughtful prompts that teachers can use in their classrooms (and that parents can use with their children).

Discussion Questions: Which prompts do you find most inspiring? Why?; Which prompts were harder to write? Why?; How did you feel as you wrote about your loved one?

Check Out the Beautiful Pages:

 

Read This If You Loved: The Memory Box: A Book about Grief by Joanna Rowland; The Remember Balloons by Jessie Oliveros; What a Beautiful Morning by Arthur A. Levine; Forget Me Not by Nancy Van Laan; Still My Grandma by Veronique Van Den Abeele, Really and Truly by Emilie Rivard; Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox; What’s Happening to Grandpa? by Maria Shriver

Recommended For: 

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**Thank you to Casey at Media Masters Publicity for providing copies of the books for review!**

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Rosie: Stronger Than Steel
Author and Illustrator: Lindsay Ward
Expected Publication: April 1st, 2020 by Two Lions

Summary: A brave tractor farms for freedom in a story inspired by women who acted with courage and strength in American factories and on British farms during World War II.

This is our Rosie,
stronger than steel.
She’ll plow all the land
with a turn of her wheel.

Built by women in the United States and sent to England to dig and plow alongside female farmers during World War II, Rosie the tractor does whatever is needed to support the war effort. She works day and night to help grow crops for the troops…even when she has to hide in the fields. This is because she knows, like the women who built her and the women who farm with her, that they all must do their part.

Inspired by the group of American women collectively known as “Rosie the Riveter” and the British Women’s Land Army, this is a story about taking action and coming together for the greater good.

About the Author: Lindsay Ward is the creator of the Dexter T. Rexter series as well as This Book Is Gray, Brobarians, Rosco vs. the Baby, and The Importance of Being 3. Her book Please Bring Balloons was also made into a play. Lindsay lives with her family  in Peninsula, Ohio, where she often sees tractors from the 1930s and 1940s. Learn more about her online at www.lindsaymward.com. Twitter: @lindsaymward

Praise: 

★“More than the sum of its parts, this is a wildly successful and well-researched shaping of the picture-book form to true historical sheroes.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

★“This ‘little tractor that could’ sort of tale pays tribute to the iconic Rosie the Riveter persona from the US and the British Land Girls of the Women’s Land Army during WWII. Fans of Loren Long’s Otis, Virginia Lee Burton’s Katy, and like sturdy, dependable workhorses will welcome Rosie into the fold, but the historical perspective adds an unusual dimension to her story.” —Booklist (starred review)

“Vocabulary is rich, and the younger set will appreciate the intermittent rhymes. The style of Ward’s colored pencil and cut-paper illustrations reflect the period of the tale. ” —School Library Journal

Review: During World War II, our students’ lessons usually focus on the war itself and the horrific events because of the war, but there was so much more going on to ensure that our countries continued to run while all of our armed forces were at war. We don’t often enough hear about how women were essential to this effort, and Rosie shows us another side to this. Rosie represents not only the tractors made by women who helped keep our plants and crops healthy and edible, but she represents all women that stepped up to do jobs that before then they had been told they were not good enough for. This story, beautifully crafted and illustrated by Lindsay Ward, is a call for strength whenever faced with unprecedented times.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Rosie is a great addition to history lessons about World War II and the home front efforts of women. Her story is also a great read aloud–maybe during Women’s History Month, or whenever!

Discussion Questions: 

  • Did you know anything about what happened on the home front before reading Rosie?
  • How does Rosie the tractor represent the women’s work on the home front?
  • How does Rosie impact the war effort?
  • What does the Rose on her body represent?
  • What is the theme of Rosie?
  • Why do you think the author wrote the book from Rosie’s point of view in first person?

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Read This If You Love: Historical fiction picture books, Learning about history

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**Thank you to Blue Slip Media for providing a copy for review and giveaway!**

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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA!

It’s Monday! What are you Reading? is a meme started by Sheila at Book Journeys and now hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date. It is a great way to recap what you read and/or reviewed the previous week and to plan out your reading and reviews for the upcoming week. It’s also a great chance to see what others are reading right now…you just might discover the next “must-read” book!

Kellee and Jen, of Teach Mentor Texts, decided to give It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? a kidlit focus. If you read and review books in children’s literature – picture books, chapter books, middle grade novels, young adult novels, anything in the world of kidlit – join us! We love this meme and think you will, too.

We encourage everyone who participates to support the blogging community by visiting at least three of the other book bloggers that link up and leave comments for them.

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Monday (though updated daily!): Stuck Inside? Live Author Read-Alouds and Other Learning Options

Thursday: That’s A Job?: I Like Animals…What Jobs are There? by Steve Martin, Illustrated by Roberto Blefari

Sunday: Author Guest Post: “Learning STEM Through Stories” by S. Kitanovic, Author of Esie Explores Beneficial Bacteria

**Click on any picture/link to view the post**

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Kellee

I hope you all are doing well during this time of self quarantine. Sending warm well wishes, safety, health, and sanity to everyone! <3

  • Violent Ends is a collaborative book by 18 authors edited by Shaun David Hutchinson. I came across it because Neal Shusterman wrote one of the chapters in the book and he mentioned it at his school visit. The book is about a school shooting and each chapter is a different insight into the event. Wow–it is powerful, sad, scary……. wow.
  • Time Shifters by Chris Grine is a graphic novel that was recommended to me by my student mentee. It is a book he talks about often, and it is never available at the library. When I saw it at the end of the day before Spring Break, I grabbed it. It is a adventure including time travel, bug monsters, ghosts–just all sorts of oddness and fun!
  • Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang was not what I was expecting, and it is hard to explain, but it is wonderful. It is an inside look at the creation of the book all in narrative form in the book. But trust me when I say to read it.
  • A Tale of Magic by Chris Colfer is a prequel to the Land of Stories series, and it was just as magical as the series. I look forward to book 2, and I just love listening to “Kurt” read the books to me.
  • With Trent
    • A new Sandra Boynton! I love Sandra Boynton, and although this is a board book, we dove right in because we actually know the “Your Nose” song off of the Sandra Boynton music CD (Blue Moo) we have. If you don’t know these, they are great companions to many of Boynton’s books.
    • Mac Barnett and Oliver Jeffers fill our recently read shelf because of their virtual book clubs. They have both been a PLEASURE to watch. They have all become instant favorites–it is something about the interaction of the book club and the personal feeling with the author reading to us that has just sucked Trent in! His favorites probably have been Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers and Chloe and the Lion by Mac Barnett, but it is truly hard to choose!
    • We did watch 2 Shark Story Hours also: Hark a Shark and Manfish. It is nice to get the shark info and a great story!
    • Trent and Henry are both in a book club reading Sideways Stories from Wayside School but we wanted to have them practice in a smaller setting, so they met up once this week to discuss half of Bad Guys: Episode One by Aaron Blabey, and it was one of the most amazing and cute things I’ve ever been witness to. They were so engaged! We finished book one and have a few chapters of book two to read for this week’s Trent and Henry meeting.
    • Jon Klassen read I Want My Hat Back on one of Mac Barnett’s Mac Book Club Shows, so Trent wanted to read it again, and now we’re in another book club with one of my colleague’s friends to discuss the Klassen Hat Trilogy!

To learn more about any of these books, check out my 2020 Goodreads Challenge page  or my read bookshelf on Goodreads.

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Kellee

  • Reading: One of Us is Next by Karen McManus, HiLo: All the Pieces Fit by Judd Winick
  • Listening: Whatever After: Seeing Red by Sarah Mlynowski
  • Reading with Trent: Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar, The Bad Guys: Episode 2: Mission Unpluckable by Aaron Blabey

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Tuesday: Review and Giveaway! Rosie: Stronger Than Steel by Lindsay Ward

Thursday: The Memory Box: A Book About Grief and The Memory Book: A Grief Journal for Children and Families by Joanna Rowland, Illustrated by Thea Baker

Sunday: Author Guest Post: “Discovering the World Through Literacy” by N.R. Bergeson, Author of The Magnificent Glass Globe series

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Link up below and go check out what everyone else is reading. Please support other bloggers by viewing and commenting on at least 3 other blogs. If you tweet about your Monday post, tag the tweet with #IMWAYR!

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“Learning STEM Through Stories”

Germs. Colds. The importance of hand washing. What better way to convey these concepts to kids than through picture books? After all, anything too small for our bare eyes seems unreal, especially to kids. Picture books that educate kids about germs, and how they can protect themselves from getting colds and other illnesses, are important. Kids rarely encounter information, though, about bacteria that benefit humans and other living beings.

The first time I heard about some unusual beneficial bacteria—such as those that make deserts more fertile—was while teaching biotech courses at a community college. I was then also bringing to life an idea from my own student days, when I relied on bacteria as a research tool in a molecular biology lab. With their interesting features, such as taking up other species’ DNA and producing foreign proteins, bacteria seemed the ideal subjects of jokes for science students and scientists. To make them cartoon-worthy, I also planned to give the aspiring bacteria much-needed words and goofy faces.

But after including a few cartoons in a short-lived biotech newsletter at the community college, I wanted to move beyond bacteria in-jokes. I couldn’t help thinking that kids, too, might love to read and learn about the diverse beneficial bacteria that do many amazing things, such as produce food, decrease pollution, and make snow.

Teaching Science with Picture Books

Teachers are nowadays finding little time to teach science in schools. Recent statistics aren’t encouraging— according to the Report of the 2018 National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education (NSME+),  only 17% of K-3 grades receive science instruction on all or most days of the school year. In self-contained classrooms (where one teacher teaches reading, mathematics, science, and social sciences to one class of students), K-3 grades spend an average of 18 minutes per day on science. In a world where STEM permeates our lives more than ever, and promises many career options, such meager student involvement in sciences is concerning.

Time constraints greatly limit teachers’ approaches to science instruction. Engaging hands-on activities, such as experiments, require considerable time to prepare and perform. Yet even finding the time for hands-on activities may be insufficient for comprehensive science instruction. Some science topics are difficult, if not impossible, to teach through classroom experiments or demonstrations—including ecology—the study of plants and animals (and other organisms) in natural environments. Most beneficial bacteria are also unsuitable for hands-on study. Though some classrooms may have the resources to grow common (and harmless) microbes on a Petri dish, many beneficial bacteria require special growth conditions that scientist have yet to discover.

Despite the obstacles, some teachers are delivering complex science topics to kids. By introducing science-themed picture books to classrooms, and developing activities around picture book readings, teachers are simultaneously satisfying science and reading requirements for their K-3 grade students. Unsurprisingly, many of these picture books are nonfiction.

Yet fiction picture books with scientific themes are also finding their way into classrooms. Students have different learning styles and interests, and some prefer fiction. Taking this into consideration, educators Melissa Stewart and Nancy Chesley have identified fiction and nonfiction picture books with related themes. They’ve then designed engaging science lessons around selected fiction/nonfiction book pairs, as described in their “Perfect Pairs” books. Not only do their classroom-friendly lessons cover a wide range of scientific topics—they appeal to many students, as well.

Hybrid Picture Books: STEM Fiction

The line between fiction and nonfiction isn’t always solid, at least in children’s books. When nonfiction seeps into science-themed fiction books, such books may be described as “hybrids.”

In some hybrid books, anthropomorphized characters “explain themselves” through scientific facts. In “I, Fly: The Buzz About Flies and How Awesome They Are,” by Bridget Heos and Jennifer Plecas, the main character is a charismatic and undervalued fly. Page after page, the fly glorifies members of its species to a classroom of kids—who were preparing to study the more beautiful butterflies instead. Readers learn intriguing (and gross) facts about flies from the funny fly character, as it brushes the “lazy” butterflies aside.

Other hybrid books introduce scientific concepts through captivating stories, with few, if any, scientific facts quoted in the story itself. In “Scampers Thinks Like a Scientist,” by Mike Allegra and Elizabeth Zechel, the scientific method—a basic and rather dry concept—is explained through the creative problem-solving efforts of mouse Scampers. After a strange owl suddenly appears and deters Scampers and her fellow mice from feasting in their favorite garden, Scampers determines to find the (scientific) truth about the unwelcome, and possibly dangerous, newcomer.

While the value of using nonfiction picture books in science instruction is hardly questionable, scrutiny surrounds science-themed fiction and hybrid picture books. Can students truly learn from such books? How will they figure what’s fiction, and what’s not? And finally, how to label emerging science-themed hybrid books, which combine fiction with nonfiction? Categorizing these books and ensuring they’re easily found on library shelves is a challenge for librarians, too.

These questions were pondered last year in a lively Twitter discussion, when educator and writer Melissa Stewart suggested a name for science-themed hybrid literature: STEM fiction. As a trained scientist, I’ve also asked similar questions while writing my book, “Esie Explores Beneficial Bacteria.”  Yet teachers who include fiction or hybrid books in science lessons believe in the benefits of this literature, providing that students also read nonfiction books, and participate in classroom discussions to distinguish fact from fiction. How can authors of STEM fiction books facilitate learning in classrooms, as they strive to create stories that both entertain and educate?

Emphasizing the Facts in STEM Fiction

The title of my STEM fiction picture book, Esie Explores Beneficial Bacteria, is clear about the book’s topic—beneficial bacteria—which exist all around us, and enable life on our planet. The story and illustrations, though, are fiction—exploress Esie is a bacterium. After suffering insults from frightened humans, she embarks on a journey to learn more about herself. Along the way, Esie meets chatty bacteria who help answer her key question—Is she a beneficial bacterium, or a dangerous germ?

To create an engaging story, I’ve taken major liberties in depicting beneficial bacteria. The anthropomorphized bacterial characters are exaggerated in size and life span. Yet there are some truths in my interpretation of bacteria. Bacteria do “talk” with each other, but use chemicals instead of words. Bacteria do “see” their surroundings, but rely on senses other than eyes.

STEM fiction authors, such as Heos and Allegra, often complement their stories with scientific facts and activities in the back matter of their books. Some authors also include facts on other book pages, though keeping the facts separate from the story, as in “A Germ’s Journey,” by Thom Rooke, MD, and Tony Trimmer. To distinguish fact from fiction, and provide educational value—without diminishing enjoyment of the story—I, too, have included several features in Esie Explores Beneficial Bacteria:

  1. Front matter. Before immersing themselves in the story, readers can learn what’s fact, and what’s fiction. Addressed here are the most exaggerated elements of the story—bacterial communication, senses, size, and lifespan. Reading this section, though, is not required for comprehension of the story.
  2. Back matter. In addition to a glossary of scientific terms and an activity page, my back matter contains a “Cast of Characters,” which relates fictional characters to real-life bacterial species.
  3. One scientific fact per footer. The bottom portion of almost every page features a scientific fact, contained within a distinct purple band. Though each fact relates to bacterial characters shown on the same page, reading of facts is optional.
  4. Moderate use of scientific terminology in the story. To avoid overwhelming kids with too many new words, I’ve balanced the use of some “big” words, such as “beneficial,” with omission of other scientific terms. For example, I opted for “dangerous” instead of “pathogenic,” when referring to bacteria that cause disease.
  5. Clarification of scientific terminology in the story. Though defined in the glossary, some scientific terms are also explained in the story to avoid interruptions in reading.
  6. Limits on anthropomorphization. Bacterial characters sport no clothes nor any other human artifacts. On the book cover, main character Esie uses a water droplet for magnification, instead of a miniature magnifying glass.
  7. Simple artistic representation of the environment. Bacterial characters were deliberately over-sized with respect to their environment. This helps kids identify objects that bacteria encounter in nature, such as leaves, petals, and sand—as opposed to an unrecognizable microscopic view. Yet in an effort to limit size discrepancies, I kept the scenes simple—they contain few objects, and hardly any signs of human life.

By no means should STEM fiction books compete with nonfiction books in K-3 education. Like people, different books play different roles. With thoughtful design, though, STEM fiction books can do much more than merely entertain—they can draw in young readers to explore unfamiliar worlds, and serve as a valuable introduction to various scientific concepts and topics.

About the Book: Esie leaves her twin Es behind to explore a world teeming with beneficial bacteria. Could she be one of them? Or is Esie just a nasty germ, as some people say? On her rugged journey through air, water, and a cow’s guts, Esie meets new friends who help her find the answers she seeks.

“Kids that love science-themed books filled with fascinating facts will surely get a kick out of this one.” -The Children’s Book Review

About the Author: S. Kitanovic, PhD, became fascinated by microbes as a biology student, and later explored how bacteria “sniff out” their food in a lab at the University of Utah. She enjoys merging science, drawing, and storytelling in picture books to bring the fun of science to young audiences.

What do you think? Do you use or plan to use STEM fiction books to teach science?

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