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May 15, 2017 BOOKLIST
Find more Core Collection
Inspirational lives are a mainstay of picture-book biographies. But when it comes to those who worked in STEM fields, the concepts can be big enough that it’s difficult to articulate why a luminary’s work is significant in terms little ones can understand. Luckily, curiosity and exploration make sense at any age, and those attributes are key for successful scientists, too (not to mention more than a dash of perseverance—and an aggressive patent attorney—if we’re following the Thomas Edison model).
The following introductions to both famous and not-so-famous scientists for the youngest set cover a broad scope of disciplines and innovations, but each has a similar message: fascination about the world—and beyond!—and its inner workings is at the heart of scientific inquiry, and there’s nothing too complicated about that.
Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine. By Laurie Wallmark. Illus. by April Chu. 2015. Creston, $17.99 (9781939547200). Gr. 1–3.
Barnum’s Bones: How Barnum Brown Discovered the Most Famous Dinosaur in the World. By Tracey Fern. Illus. by Boris Kulikov. 2012. Farrar/Margaret Ferguson, $17.99 (9780374305161). Gr. 1–4.
As soon as Barnum Brown could toddle, he collected fossils, but Barnum’s biggest find would come in the early 1900s with the discovery of a new species, which Barnum named Tyrannosaurus rex. Vivid, personality-rich text pairs with intricate, breathtaking renderings of dinosaur bones in this captivating biography of an idiosyncratic dinosaur hunter.
The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos. By Deborah Heiligman. Illus. by LeUyen Pham. 2013. Roaring Brook, $17.99 (9781596433076). K–Gr. 3.
With math constantly woven through the lively text, this introduction to relatively unknown mathematician Paul Erdos demonstrates not only his love of numbers but the different way he saw the world. Pham’s animated artwork emphasizes the importance of math in Erdos’ unconventional life.
Electric Ben: The Amazing Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin. By Robert Byrd. Illus. by the author. 2012. Dial, $17.99 (9780803737495). Gr. 2–5.
Large in format and ambitious in scope, this appealingly designed book spotlights Benjamin Franklin. In addition to the well-researched, clear text, the detailed ink-and-watercolor artwork creates a distinctive period look and delivers plenty of historical information visually.
Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle. By Claire A. Nivola. Illus. by the author. 2012. Farrar/Frances Foster, $17.99 (9780374380687). K–Gr. 3.
With lyrical text incorporating Earle’s own words and evocative artwork, this stunning picture-book biography invites young explorers to connect Sylvia Earle’s early life as a child “investigator” to her career as a world-renowned marine scientist and advocate for ocean preservation and conservation.
Mr. Ferris and His Wheel. By Kathryn Gibbs Davis. Illus. by Gilbert Ford. 2014. Houghton, $17.99 (9780547959221). Gr. 1–3.
George Washington Gale Ferris Jr.’s eponymous invention was initially ridiculed by laypeople and engineers alike, but once passengers were taken aloft in his marvelous contraption, everyone was convinced of his brilliance. Like Mr. Ferris’ invention, Davis and Ford’s picture book soars, matching the gregarious text to smaller, often tech-based side comments and gorgeous illustrations of the machine.
On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein. By Jennifer Berne. Illus. by Vladimir Radunsky. 2013. Chronicle, $17.99 (9780811872355). Gr. 1–3.
It’s not easy to explain Einstein’s work to a young audience, but this fantastic book pulls it off by providing an overview of Einstein’s life and how his remarkable ideas changed the way scientists think. Radunsky’s stylized watercolors on textured papers swirl with words, numbers, and people from Einstein’s life. The book stresses that readers may someday answer the questions that Einstein didn’t get to.
A Passion for Elephants: The Real Life Adventure of Field Scientist Cynthia Moss. By Toni Buzzeo. Illus. by Holly Berry. 2015. Dial, $16.99 (9780803740907). Gr. 2–4.
Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea: Marie Tharp Maps the Ocean Floor. By Robert Burleigh. Illus. by Raúl Colón. 2016. Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman, $17.99 (9781481416009). Gr. 1–3.
Though she started her career in geology and cartography at a time when women weren’t seen as capable of being scientists, Marie Tharp made significant discoveries, which led to groundbreaking realizations about plate tectonics. The enthusiastic text and understated illustrations emphasize Tharp’s achievements as well as the challenges of being a woman in science in an unforgiving period. Burleigh and Colón’s Look Up! (2013) takes a similar approach to the life and work of Henrietta Leavitt, another little-known woman in science.
Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos. By Stephanie Roth Sisson. Illus. by the author. 2014. Roaring Brook, $17.99 (9781596439603). Gr. 1–3.
Carl Sagan is best known for being a renowned expert on the cosmos, but he started out as just a curious kid fascinated by the night sky, and that curiosity grew into a career designing spacecraft, sending informative greetings to life on other planets, and hosting a TV show to share his boundless delight about the universe. Sisson’s cheery, painted pages echo the joyful tone of the text.
Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian. By Margarita Engle. Illus. by Julie Paschkis. 2010. Holt, $16.99 (9780805089370). K–Gr. 3.
This luminous, inspiring work showcases passionate young scientist Maria Merian, born in Frankfurt in 1647, who disproved the long-held belief that butterflies sprang from mud through spontaneous generation through simple observation. Engle’s poetic, pared-down lines, in Maria’s teenage voice, deftly fold in scientific concepts and biographical details, while Paschkis’ colorful paintings are an exuberant counterpoint to the minimal words.
The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps. By Jeanette Winter. Illus. by the author. 2011. Random/Schwartz & Wade, $17.99 (9780375867743). Gr. 2–4.
Jane Goodall’s passionate love of nature began in early childhood, and that tendency served her well in her work in the Gombe Forest, from where her observations of chimpanzees fascinated the world. Winter’s elegantly simple language has the lyrical rhythm of poetry and emphasizes the thrill of discovery, while the vibrant acrylic paintings gracefully bring to life scenes of Goodall living and working in the dense forest.
Who Says Women Can’t Be Doctors? The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell. By Tanya Lee Stone. Illus. by Marjorie Priceman. 2013. Holt/Christy Ottaviano, $16.99 (9780805090482). K–Gr. 3.
Stone and Priceman combine their considerable talents to tell the story of Elizabeth Blackwell, who, after a childhood of exploration and considerable toughness in the face of challenges, fought the scorn, the sneers, and the barriers on her way to becoming a physician. The gouache-and-india-ink artwork is poetry in motion, and the perfect complement to Stone’s snappy, informative text.
Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions. By Chris Barton. Illus. by Don Tate. 2016. Charlesbridge, $16.95 (9781580892971). Gr. 1–4.
Lonnie Johnson’s career includes rocket science and NASA, but kids will be most drawn to his best-known invention, the Super Soaker. Documenting his perseverance in overcoming obstacles, some stemming from prejudice he faced for being African American, Barton and Tate’s upbeat tribute to the inventor emphasizes his indefatigable drive as well as the support he received from his family. Bright, expressive illustrations bring Johnson and his resourceful career to life.
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