15 June 2018

3 Excellent Books for Budding Young Scientists

When I was in elementary school, there were very few good science books for young readers. Most of the nonfiction was greatly simplified and watered down, leaving budding scientists craving something more. Probably because I was one of those frustrated kids, I'm always looking for quality middle grade science books, which makes me a huge fan of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Pretty much my favorite nonfiction middle grade series is Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's Scientists in the Field books. Each book introduces readers to real-life scientists and through words, photos, graphs, and illustrations shows us the ins and outs of conducting fieldwork in a wide range of disciplines. The books may be geared to tweens, but the information is ageless. I love this series.

Review of Beetle Busters by Loree Griffin BurnsBeetle Busters by Loree Griffin Burns (photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz) takes us to the hardwood forests of the American Northeast, where foresters, entomologists, and others are searching for ways to stop the Asian longhorned beetle, which are killing trees from the inside out. The problem scientists face is a little ironic: in order to save trees, they may have to cut trees down--even currently healthy ones. Beetle Busters starts by explaining the beetle's life cycle, how it was introduced to America from China, and the massive damage they could do to our woodlands and to the trees in our neighborhoods. Then we meet the researchers and see exactly how they conduct surveys and search for the bugs. We also learn that working in the forests isn't always pleasant (think: bees, poison ivy, and bad weather, for example). After analyzing the data collected in the field, the foresters must make hard decisions. The book ends with a list of resources for learning more and how to get involved. The paperback edition of Beetle Busters includes a "research update," which reports on the continued success of the beetle-elimination program described in the book.

Review of The Next Wave by Elizabeth RuschThe Next Wave by Elizabeth Rusch is all about how engineers and ocean scientists in the Pacific Northwest are looking for ways to use the power of waves to generate clean, reliable, and sustainable energy. Did you know that wave energy could provide enough electricity to power every home in the United States? The problem for scientists is creating devices that can withstand the incredible forces produced by those very same waves, especially during storms. What's more, marine biologists are concerned about the impact permanent ocean structures and cables might have on ocean life. In the course of The Next Wave, we learn all about wave energy and meet the scientists who are building and testing all kinds of ocean-worthy generators. One of the things I love about this book is that it doesn't hide the failures, and we clearly see that science involves a lot of trial and error. We also discover that it isn't easy to get funding for research. Many countries are involved in the quest to harness the power of waves, and scientists and engineers have come up with a lot of amazing ideas, from small buoys to large platforms. One team is designing a device that rests on the ocean's floor instead of floating on the surface. Work continues in the exciting field of wave energy, and The Next Wave concludes with a great bibliography and list of informative websites.

I should also mention that HMH's Scientists in the Field website has activities and additional resources, which really bring these books alive for readers of all ages. If you prefer ebooks instead of print, HMH offers enhanced ebook editions that include videos and other interactive features. I haven't seen one of the ebooks, but they sound very cool.

Review of The Girl Who Drew Butterflies by Joyce SidmanThe third HMH book is a little different. Joyce Sidman's The Girl Who Drew Butterflies is an incredible biography of a woman who was one of the first field biologists and one of the first people to describe the metamorphosis of caterpillars into butterflies. What makes this story unique is that Maria Merian did her fieldwork before the likes of Darwin and Linnaeus were even born. In the 1600s, the young Maria loved to draw and paint the bugs she saw in her native Germany. The careful and precise illustrations she made as a thirteen-year-old led to her lifelong observations of the small creatures around her. But Maria did more than look and draw, she documented the life stages of the bugs and recorded minute details: how they grew and changed, what they ate, and how they lived. She did all this without a formal education and while fulfilling her duties as daughter and then wife and mother. She also had to hide her scientific interests: women doing "unnatural" things could be tried as witches. Despite the odds, Maria eventually left her husband, moved to the Netherlands, sold her artwork to finance a trip to South America, and returned to Amsterdam at the turn of century. All the while she continued to paint and observe nature and record her findings.

The biography is beautifully illustrated with photographs and engravings and with Maria's own illustrations. Sidman places Maria's story in the social, political, and religious context of the 1600s and doesn't whitewash the facts for young readers. Maria Merian has been called the world's first ecologist, and scientists have relied on her meticulous work even up to modern times. The Girl Who Drew Butterflies is a stunningly gorgeous, well-researched biography about an amazing woman who should not be lost to history. This is a book to keep in your permanent collection.


Clarissa 6/15/18, 6:44 AM  

I’ve not heard of this series. Thank you so much. I know what we are reading next!

Beth F 6/15/18, 7:03 AM  

@Clarissa: you'll love these books!

bermudaonion 6/15/18, 8:05 AM  

I'm not young but I still love books like those!

Yvonne 6/15/18, 8:53 PM  

They sound like interesting books.

rhapsodyinbooks 6/16/18, 5:59 AM  

As you know I love non-fiction books for children. I had not seen any of these; they look great. I especially am interested in the one by Sidman.

Daryl 6/24/18, 11:07 AM  

Silent Spring got me hooked on science and then somehow i meandered over to SciFi .. not sure there's a connection

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