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Find more Classroom Connections: Scientists as Children
Imagine yourself observing a kindergarten classroom. Perhaps little Jacques has his nose pressed up to the fish tank, Wilson is looking out the window at the falling snow, and Mattie is under a table trying to figure out why it is wobbling. These children are completely engaged, and their actions communicate who they are as much as who they will be as adults—perhaps scientists and inventors. As children, Jacques Cousteau spent a considerable amount of time in the ocean, Wilson Bentley created a way of photographing snowflakes, and Margaret “Mattie” Knight became an inventor, acquiring numerous patents in her lifetime.
What common qualities did these children have? How did those interests develop into passions that fueled notable work that we still honor today? Inspired by their families, their environment, and necessity, these individuals were collectors, tinkerers, observers, and explorers who questioned everything. It may seem challenging to build a curriculum based on wonder, questions, and risk taking, and yet that is what children bring to the classroom each day. In the following bibliography, fiction and informational titles feature the childhoods of famous scientists and inventors. In her picture-book biography On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein, Jennifer Berne dedicates her book “to the next Einstein, who is probably a child now,” and this bibliography, and the accompanying Common Core–linked activities, has been crafted to expand on that wish.
Mary Anning (1799–1847)
Mary Anning and the Sea Dragon. By Jeannine Atkins. Illus. by Michael Dooling. 1999. 32p. Farrar, o.p. 560. K–Gr. 4.
In this picture book, paintings of the English coast are full of shadowy shapes that young Mary sees or imagines as she seeks treasures in the sand and stone. At one point, she chips away at what she thinks are teeth and eventually discovers a head in the stone. Months later, she unearths the skeleton of an ichthyosaur, the first fossil of its kind ever found. An afterword explains more about Anning’s accomplishments.
Stone Girl, Bone Girl: The Story of Mary Anning. By Laurence Anholt. Illus. by Sheila Moxley. 1999. 32p. Frances Lincoln, paper, $8.99 (9781845077006). 560. K–Gr. 3.
Young Mary collects and sells the curiosities she finds in the cliffs near her home to help support her family. When a scientist explains the concept of fossils to her, she decides to look for a prized “sea monster” fossil. At age 12, she finds it—a skeleton more than 165 million years old. Folk-art-style illustrations and an author’s note round out the story.
Benjamin Banneker (1731–1806)
Benjamin Banneker: Pioneering Scientist. By Ginger Wadsworth. Illus. by Craig Orback. 2003. 48p. Carolrhoda, paper, $6.95 (9780876141045); lib. ed., $25.26 (9780876149164). 520. Gr. 1–3.
Part of the On My Own biography series, this title details the life of Banneker, an eighteenth-century free black man with little formal education, in simple, concise language. Largely self-taught and possessing a love of learning as a youth, he became an accomplished scientist, surveyor, almanac author, and farmer. Featuring colorful illustrations, a time line, and an afterword.
Dear Benjamin Banneker. By Andrea Davis Pinkney. Illus. by Brian Pinkney. 1994. 32p. Harcourt, $7 (9780152018924). 520. Gr. 2–4.
This title begins with Banneker’s childhood on a Maryland tobacco farm, where he began his inquiries into the natural world. Later pages include excerpts from letters between the adult Banneker and Thomas Jefferson. Varied in composition and tone, the energetic, sweeping illustrations include landscapes, portraits, and scenes from Banneker’s whole life.
William Bartram (1739–1823)
The Flower Hunter: William Bartram, America’s First Naturalist. By Deborah Kogan Ray. Illus. by the author. 2004. 40p. Farrar/Frances Foster, o.p. 580. Gr. 3–5.
Written as a series of journal entries and featuring appealing landscapes and vignettes, this begins with eight-year-old William helping his father, botanist John Bartram, find, cultivate, and study native plants. As William grows up, he accompanies his father on expeditions and develops his skills in drawing plants and animals. Biographical notes, a list of some of the plants they first identified, and a source bibliography conclude.
Wilson Bentley (1865–1931)
Snowflake Bentley. By Jacqueline Briggs Martin. Illus. by Mary Azarian. 1998. 32p. Houghton, $17 (9780395861622); paper, $7.99 (9780547248295). 551.57. K–Gr. 3.
Young Wilson Bentley loved snow. He even tried drawing snow crystals, but they melted too quickly. Then, as a teenager in the 1870s, he received a camera with a microscope and spent winters photographing the intricate flakes, eventually finding fame as a nature photographer. The attractive book design features striking woodcut illustrations and sidebars about camera techniques and Bentley’s experiments with snow.
George Washington Carver (1860–1943)
The Little Plant Doctor: A Story about George Washington Carver. By Jean Marzollo. Illus. by Ken Wilson-Max. 2011. 32p. Holiday, $16.95 (9780823423255). 630.92. K–Gr. 3.
Told from the viewpoint of a talking tree on the plantation where George Washington Carver spent his young childhood, this handsome picture-book biography tells how the famous African American scientist always nurtured plants and studied them, but the law did not allow black children to go to school. Finally, at age 12, Carver tells his beloved tree the exciting news that he is leaving for school. Although the fantasy elements distract from the amazing details of Carver’s life, Wilson-Max’s beautiful acrylic paintings will grab readers. Extensive final notes fill in more fascinating facts about science and history.
A Weed Is a Flower: The Life of George Washington Carver. By Aliki. Illus. by the author. 1988. 32p. Simon & Schuster, $17.99 (9780671661182); paper, $7.99 (9780671664909). 581. PreS–Gr. 3.
With warm-toned, painterly illustrations and an expository text, Aliki details the renowned scientist’s heartbreaking beginnings and the tireless and extraordinary efforts he undertook to obtain an education and pursue his dreams. Focusing on his industrious nature and unflagging interest in helping his people and the world at large, the story follows the full scope of Carver’s life.
Jacques Cousteau (1910–1997)
The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau. By Dan Yaccarino. Illus. by the author. 2009. 40p. Knopf, $16.99 (9780375855733); lib. ed., $19.99 (9780375955730). 551.46092. K–Gr. 3.
In brief, evenly paced text, which includes a few direct quotes, this picture-book introduction to Jacques Cousteau begins with depictions of the scientist as a young boy, tinkering with cameras and swimming in the ocean to recover from chronic illness—experiences that led to the famed oceanographer’s lifelong fascination with the sea, filmmaking, and invention.
Manfish: The Story of Jacques Cousteau. By Jennifer Berne. Illus. by Eric Puybaret. 2008. 40p. Chronicle, $16.99 (9780811860635). 551.46092. K–Gr. 3.
Berne follows Cousteau through his life as he develops his twin passions for filmmaking and oceanic exploration, and she shows how a life’s path can begin with deep childhood curiosity. Accompanied by smoothly textured acrylic illustrations, the book concludes with information about how human activity has damaged sea life and a call for young people to become stewards of the earth.
Thomas Edison (1847–1931)
A Wizard from the Start: The Incredible Boyhood and Amazing Inventions of Thomas Edison. By Don Brown. Illus. by the author. 2010. 32p. Houghton, $17.99 (9780547194875); e-book, $17.99 (9780547773117). 900. Gr. 1–3.
Thomas Edison’s childhood begins with a heartening description common to many of history’s great minds: he was a poor student. His life of invention began in his own cellar laboratory, but it really clicked when he started working with the newfangled telegraph. Scribbly artwork nicely captures the young Edison in this gentle nudge pushing kids to take learning into their own hands and run with it. An author’s note fleshes out his career.
Young Thomas Edison. By Michael Dooling. Illus. by the author. 2005. 40p. Holiday, o.p. 621.3. Gr. 1–3.
Richly finished oil-on-linen paintings have a fine period glow that increases the sense of history in this biography that details Edison’s childhood and his constant experimental search for the why and how of things. The tale ends with a description of some of his most marvelous inventions—the incandescent lightbulb; the phonograph; the kinetoscope, from which movies were to come—and gives a feel for Edison’s genius and persistence.
Albert Einstein (1879–1955)
I Am Albert Einstein. By Brad Meltzer. Illus. by Christopher Eliopoulos. 2014. 40p. Dial, $12.99 (9780803740846); e-book, $10.99 (9780698164765). 530.092. Gr. 1–3.
In this brief biography for young children, Meltzer traces the life of one of the greatest of all scientists. Stressing both curiosity and independence, Albert says, “I did things my own way.” Readers will be interested to learn that young Albert didn’t always get good grades. The drawings are comical, and the text is both humorous and informative.
On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein. By Jennifer Berne. Illus. by Vladimir Radunsky. 2013. 56p. Chronicle, $17.99 (9780811872355). 530.092. Gr. 1–3.
It’s not easy to explain the work of Albert Einstein to a young audience, but this book does so by providing an overview of his life: his youth, the way he thought, and how his remarkable ideas changed the way scientists think. Accompanied by stylized watercolors, the text stresses that readers may someday answer the questions that Einstein didn’t get to, and an author’s note covers Einstein’s pacifism, personality, and thought experiments.
Philo Farnsworth (1906–1971)
The Boy Who Invented TV: The Story of Philo Farnsworth. By Kathleen Krull. Illus. by Greg Couch. 2009. 40p. Knopf, $16.99 (9780375845611); paper, $7.99 (9780385755573); lib. ed., $19.99 (9780375945618). 621.3880092. Gr. 3–5.
At 14, Philo was plowing a field, and the parallel lines sparked an idea about breaking down images into lines of light and transmitting them. Krull explains how Farnsworth held onto his dream to develop television and, in concise fashion, ably explains the scientific concepts behind it. Oversize artwork incorporates scientific diagrams to extend the story.
Jane Goodall (1934–present)
Me . . . Jane. By Patrick McDonnell. Illus. by the author. 2011. 40p. Little, Brown, $16 (9780316045469); e-book, $9.99 (9780316210102). 599.885092. PreS–Gr. 3.
Feeling kinship with all of nature, young Jane often climbs her favorite tree and reads about another Jane, Tarzan’s Jane. She dreams that one day she, too, will live in the African jungle and help the animals. And one day, she does. Quietly told and expressively illustrated, the book concludes with a message from Jane herself that invites others to get involved.
The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps. By Jeanette Winter. Illus. by the author. 2011. 48p. Random/Schwartz & Wade, $17.99 (9780375867743). 590.92. Gr. 2–4.
As this stirring introduction to Jane Goodall’s life and work makes clear, the scientist’s passionate love of nature began in early childhood, when she “watched ALL the animals in her world, big and small—earthworms, insects, birds, cats, dogs, and horses.” Vibrant acrylic paintings echo the graceful polish of the words. An author’s note rounds out this beautiful celebration of one of the world’s most influential animal advocates.
Margaret E. Knight (1838–1914)
Marvelous Mattie: How Margaret E. Knight Became an Inventor. By Emily Arnold McCully. Illus. by the author. 2006. 32p. Farrar, $16.99 (9780374348106); Square Fish, paper, $6.99 (9781250058355). 609.2. K–Gr. 3.
Knight created the machine that makes paper grocery sacks. Her invention isn’t instantly attention-grabbing stuff for young people, but McCully draws children in by starting with Knight’s childhood, when the young Mattie sketched prolifically, built inventions, and proposed safety devices for the New Hampshire textile mills where her family worked. Watercolor scenes invoke the drama, and a banner of sketches showing various inventions runs along several pages.
Maria Merian (1647–1717)
Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian. By Margarita Engle. Illus. by Julie Paschkis. 2010. 32p. Holt, $17.99 (9780805089370). 595.78. K–Gr. 3.
Born in Frankfurt in 1647, young Merian disagreed with the conventional wisdom that butterflies were “beasts of the devil” that sprang alive from the mud. As a girl, she watched the slow transformation of caterpillars to winged adults, painting everything that she saw, always in secret. In pared-down language and vividly colored and patterned paintings, this poetic book concludes with an appended historical note.
Maria Mitchell (1818–1889)
Maria’s Comet. By Deborah Hopkinson. Illus. by Deborah Lanino. 1999. 32p. Simon & Schuster/Aladdin, paper, $16 (9780689856785); e-book, $7.99 (9781442484580). Gr. 1–3.
The childhood of American astronomer Maria Mitchell gets a fictionalized treatment here, with naive-style paintings that reflect the early 1800s. The story introduces young Maria’s family, tells of her brother’s secret departure aboard a Nantucket whaler, and describes her first time viewing the night sky through her astronomer father’s telescope. An author’s note extends the information, and a glossary defines astronomy terms.
Kristin Rydholm, a frequent contributor to Book Links, has worked as a teacher, reading specialist, and school administrator.
Below are suggestions for implementing the Common Core State Standards with titles about scientists and inventors as young children. You can find more information about the standards on the Common Core website: www.corestandards.org.
In the Classroom: Have each student select a scientist or inventor from the accompanying bibliography and then create a trading card based on that figure. Children can draw a picture and write the name of their individual on the front of the card (e.g., Mary Anning). Then have students conduct research to answer the following questions about each figure and print the information on the back of the card: What is the scientist/inventor famous for? When did your scientist/inventor live? Where did your scientist/inventor live? Once all of the cards are complete, make duplicates so that each student has a full set. A trading-card template can be found at this link: www.readwritethink.org/files/resources/interactives/trading_cards_2/.
Common Core Connections
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.2.1. Ask and answer such questions as who, what, where, when, why and how to demonstrate understanding of key details in a text.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.2.6. With guidance and support from adults, use a variety of digital tools to produce and publish writing, including in collaboration with peers.
In the Classroom: After reading Jennifer Berne’s On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein, challenge students to find and write at least 20 three-syllable words selected from the text (e.g., amazing, disappear, discover, disruption, everything, existed, figuring, gravity, government, inventions, magnetic, mysteries, professors, realized, scientists, suddenly, understand, universe, wandering, wondering). Divide the class into pairs, and have each duo create a memory-card game: each pair writes the words that the class chose on the index cards to create a full deck. Next, ask the students to shuffle their cards and spread them out in a grid to play Memory. (If you need a refresher on the game’s rules, the full instructions can be found on the Classic Games and Puzzles website: www.classicgamesandpuzzles.com/Memory.html.)
Common Core Connection
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RF.4.3.A. Use combined knowledge of all letter-sound correspondences, syllabication patterns, and morphology (e.g., roots and affixes) to read accurately unfamiliar multisyllabic words in context and out of context.
In the Classroom: With students, explore the question, “What is a glossary?” You can provide an immediate example of a glossary from Deborah Hopkinson’s Maria’s Comet. In small groups, students can then create a glossary for Marvelous Mattie: How Margaret E. Knight Became an Inventor, by Emily Arnold McCully. Suggested terms and phrases could include brainstorm, manufacture, mill, patent, prototype, shuttle, trial and error, weaving, and whirligig. Since Margaret E. Knight invented a machine that produced flat-bottomed paper bags, you can incorporate her product in the exercise. Have students write a glossary word on one side of a paper bag, and then, on the opposite side of the bag, write the passage from Marvelous Mattie that includes the word. Finally, have students write the definition of the glossary word on an index card, and place it in the bag. The small groups can switch bags with another group to practice or learn words from this hands-on glossary.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.2.5. Know and use various text features (e.g., captions, bold print, subheadings, glossaries, indexes, electronic menus, icons) to locate key facts or information in a text efficiently.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.3.4. Determine the meaning of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases in a text relevant to a grade 3 topic or subject area.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.3.10. By the end of the year, read and comprehend informational texts, including history/social studies, science, and technical texts, at the high end of the grades 2–3 text complexity band independently and proficiently.
In the Classroom: Deborah Kogan Ray’s The Flower Hunter: William Bartram, America’s First Naturalist uses a first-person narrative to relate anecdotes about Bartram’s life. Each journal entry includes the date and place of each event, followed by observations that are often accompanied by illustrations. After reading selected books from the accompanying bibliography, ask each student to select a pivotal event in the life of a scientist and write a journal entry from the point of view of the scientist as a child, using The Flower Hunter as a mentor text. Possible events to consider are Mattie Knight and the accident at the mill, from Marvelous Mattie, by Emily Arnold McCully; the day Wilson Bentley first successfully photographed a snowflake, in Snowflake Bentley, by Jacqueline Briggs Martin; and the day when George Washington Carver left home to go away to school, from A Weed Is a Flower: The Life of George Washington Carver, by Aliki.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.1.5. Add drawings or other visual displays to descriptions when appropriate to clarify ideas, thoughts, and feelings.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.2.7. Explain how specific images (e.g., a diagram showing how a machine works) contribute to and clarify a text.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.4.3. Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective techniques, descriptive details, and clear event sequences.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.4.2.D. Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to inform about or explain the topic.
In the Classroom: As a class, read Me . . . Jane, by Patrick McDonnell. Then post the following questions for students to see: Why did Patrick McDonnell choose to write about Jane Goodall? What is the Alligator Society? Why did McDonnell include engravings in his illustrations? Finally, have students listen to this video interview, posted on Little, Brown’s website, which features Patrick McDonnell speaking about Me . . . Jane: www.hachettebookgroup.com/features/patrickmcdonnell/book-me-jane.html. After listening to the interview, ask students for responses to each of the posted questions, and write down any additional questions that they have for the author.
Next, repeat the same exercise with On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein, by Jennifer Berne, using the following questions as prompts: Why did Jennifer Berne choose to write about Albert Einstein? What advice does she have for children? Jennifer Berne discusses her motivation for writing the book On a Beam of Light on teachingbooks.net: www.teachingbooks.net/book_reading.cgi?id=9524&a=1. [Prod: add web link icon.]
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.2.2. Recount or describe key ideas or details from a text read aloud or information presented orally or through other media.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.3.3. Ask and answer questions about information from a speaker, offering appropriate elaboration and detail.
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