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For STEAM educators, the following books about inventions, innovators, and everything in between highlight the places where art and science intersect and influence each other.
Creativity and innovation often go hand in hand. The line between art and technology can get blurry, making it difficult to assign certain books to specific categories. The titles below give some examples of how STEM creates art and STEAM defines STEM. Whether your students are learning about artistic inventions or how art and nature intersect or just discovering entertaining ways science, technology, engineering, math, and art can interact, these offerings suggest all sorts of curriculum crossover possibilities.
The Crayon Man. By Natascha Biebow. Illus. by Steven Salerno. 2019. HMH, $17.99 (9781328866844). Gr. 1–3.
Businessman and inventor Edwin Binney realized that folks wanted to draw inexpensively in color. He experimented with chemistry and tried out unique names. Attractive full-page, brightly colored illustrations mix realism and whimsy. Back matter describes how 12 million Crayolas are manufactured each day and features a bibliography and additional notes.
The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors. By Chris Barton. Illus. by Tony Persiani. 2009. Charlesbridge, $18.95 (9781570916731). Gr. 2–5.
Joe wanted to improve his magic show; Bob needed to pay his medical bills after an industrial accident. After years of experimentation, they created paints that glowed in both daylight and ultraviolet light. Explanations of fluorescence are included. The stylized, retro artwork segues from black, white, and gray to Day-Glo yellow, green, and orange.
Perkin’s Perfect Purple: How a Boy Created Color with Chemistry. By Tami Lewis Brown and Debbie Loren Dunn. Illus. by Francesca Sanna. 2020. Little, Brown, $18.99 (9781368032841). Gr. 1–3.
In 1838, Queen Victoria demanded a coronation crown lined with purple velvet. Sadly, the ancient Phoenician purple-dye recipe had been lost, and current methods were unreliable and stinky. William Henry Perkin was working on a malaria cure. It didn’t work, but his misguided results came out purple. The story also includes marketing aspects—Perkin patented his method and became rich. The accessible, compelling text is superimposed on richly colored illustrations (in purple, of course).
STEAM in STEM: Art in Nature
Best in Snow. By April Pulley Sayre. Illus. by the author. 2016. Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane, $17.99 (9781481459167). PreS–Gr. 2.
Crisp, concise phrases point out what happens before, during, and after a snowstorm, using words that slant, curve, and circle around large color photos. While the text is spare, the variety, intricacy, and beauty of the photos require close examination. This combines exceptional photography with dependable writing. See also Sayre’s Full of Fall (2017) and Raindrops Roll (2015).
Bright in the Night. By Lena Sjöberg. Illus. by the author. 2020. Thames & Hudson, $17.95 (9780500652190). Gr. 2–5.
Whether we’re looking for stars or at streetlights, there are night lights everywhere: moon jellyfish, luminous mosses, ball lightning. Content is divided according to where lights are found, with tidy paragraphs of information set against black pages. There are no source notes, but thoughtful critical-thinking questions will get kids thinking (and make the dark less scary).
Creatures Close Up. By Gillian Watts. Illus. by Philippe Martin. 2016. Firefly, $19.95 (9781770857834). Gr. 3–6.
French photographer Martin’s hyper-focus technique depicts 45 small animals and insects in stunning close-up detail, defining every hair, feather, and scale. There is a brief discussion of how Martin achieves his images, and then each photograph is accompanied by a bit of factual information. This is a winner for photography and wildlife enthusiasts.
Glow in the Dark: Nature’s Light Spectacular: 12 Stunning Scenes of Earth’s Greatest Shows. By Katy Flint. Illus. by Cornelia Li. 2020. Wide Eyed, $20.99 (9780711251977). Gr. 1–3.
Displays are illustrated in sweeping double-page spreads: eclipses, double rainbows, volcanic lightning. Informational paragraphs, small factoid insets, and diagrams help readers understand what’s happening. The level of science is sometimes daunting, but the sumptuous illustrations will generate interest in further learning.
Look Again: Secrets of Animal Camouflage. By Steve Jenkins. Illus. by Robin Page. 2019. HMH, $17.99 (9781328850942). K–Gr. 3.
Critters appear here in various natural settings, first in group compositions with several other camouflaged animals and then individually isolated against a white background. Brief notes identify creatures and comment on their methods of concealment. The striking artwork—collages of cut and torn papers—is beautifully textured, enhancing contrasts.
Pink Is for Blobfish: Discovering the World’s Perfectly Pink Animals. By Jess Keating. Illus. by David DeGrand. 2016. Knopf, $16.99 (9780553512274). K–Gr. 3.
Nearly all these rosy animals are bizarre, from the flesh-colored blobfish to the delicate pink fairy armadillo. Each two-page spread pairs a full-color, close-up photo with an approachable paragraph of key features, a fascinating fact, and a concise rundown of basic data. The comical tone makes this particularly inviting, and the cartoon illustrations add to the fun.
A Rainbow of Rocks. By Kate DePalma. 2020. Barefoot, $16.99 (9781782859864). PreS–Gr. 2.
Double-page spreads of brilliantly colored rocks pop against black backgrounds, accompanied by rhyming text in a large white font. Additional information tells readers about the formation of rocks and describes their many colors and textures. Eye-catching photographs and lively, descriptive text will engage readers while showcasing amazing varieties from around the world.
Who Eats Orange? By Dianne White. Illus. by Robin Page. 2018. Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane, $17.99 (9781534404083). PreS–Gr. 2.
Eye-catching art and a lively question-and-answer format introduce animals and the colorful foods they eat. Orange food comes first; other colored edibles follow. The spare, anticipatory text perfectly complements the bold, brightly colored collage-like digital illustrations, even though some foods, like the school of krill, may not be instantly recognizable.
Antsy Ansel: Ansel Adams, a Life in Nature. By Cindy Jenson-Elliott. Illus. by Christy Hale. 2016. Holt, $17.99 (9781627790826). Gr. 1–3.
Adams never attended traditional school, preferring to roam the outdoors. When he was 14, he got a camera and discovered a lifelong passion for photography. Descriptive and entertaining language is accompanied by digital-collage illustrations. The last pages cover Adams’ accomplishments as a celebrated nature photographer.
Beatrix Potter, Scientist. By Lindsay H. Metcalf. Illus. by Junyi Wu. 2020. Albert Whitman, $16.99 (9780807551752). K–Gr. 3.
Potter’s first love was science—especially fungi. When her male colleagues refused to print her research, she redirected her skills to creating children’s picture books. The gentle colored-pencil artwork has a hazy, nostalgic feel and features iconic Potter characters while artfully emphasizing distinctive botanical details.
The Bluest of Blues: Anna Atkins and the First Book of Photographs. By Fiona Robinson. Illus. by the author. 2019. Abrams, $17.99 (9781419725517). Gr. 1–4.
Cyanotypes, or sun prints, are blue-toned photographic prints created with chemically treated paper and sunlight. Atkins, a nineteenth-century botanist and artist, pioneered their use. Bright blue illustrations pop alongside pencil-and-watercolor drawings, vintage prints, and photos, including some of Atkins’ own. Back matter includes directions on how to recreate these images.
The Bug Girl: Maria Merian’s Scientific Vision. By Sarah Glenn Marsh. Illus. by Filippo Vanzo. 2019. Albert Whitman, $16.99 (9780807592571). K–Gr. 3.
A girl studying insects in the 1650s could have been accused of witchcraft, but fearless Merian persevered and discovered that silkworm life cycles involve metamorphosis, not magic. She eventually traveled to South America to pursue her passion for insects of all kinds. Reproductions of her graceful, meticulous paintings appear on the endpapers.
The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science. By Joyce Sidman. 2018. HMH, $17.99 (9780544717138). Gr. 4–7.
Merian broke ground through her meticulous observations of insects in their natural habitats. The text radiates passion and curiosity; inserts provide historical and cultural context. An array of photos and her drawings are accompanied by descriptive captions. This is a vibrant and rounded biography of a pioneering and prodigiously talented woman.
Out of School and into Nature: The Anna Comstock Story. By Suzanne Slade. Illus. by Jessica Lanan. 2017. Sleeping Bear, $16.99 (9781585369867). Gr. 1–3.
Naturalist, artist, and education reformer Comstock, born in 1854, defied contemporary expectations. She excelled in college, created meticulous illustrations to teach farmers about insect pests, and developed an outdoor curriculum. Her story is told with warmth and admiration; the detailed illustrations will delight bug enthusiasts.
Picturing America: Thomas Cole and the Birth of American Art. By Hudson Talbott. Illus. by the author. 2018. Penguin/Nancy Paulsen, $17.99 (9780399548673). K–Gr. 3.
Thomas Cole was born and raised in filthy, Industrial Revolution–era England. When he came to America as a young man, he felt he had rediscovered Eden. He spent his life preserving the beauty of nature and spearheading the burgeoning environmental movement. Full-page paintings provide insights into this cofounder of the Hudson River school of landscape artists.
Rosa’s Animals: The Story of Rosa Bonheur and Her Painting Menagerie. By Maryann Macdonald. 2018. Abrams, $21.99 (9781419728501). Gr. 3–6.
Nineteenth-century French painter Bonheur enjoyed popular and financial success during her lifetime, which was rare for a female artist. She specialized in lifelike animal portraits and scenes. The text enthuses over her passion, talent, and total disregard for convention. Reproductions and photographs integrate her biographical details with different art movements that influenced her style.
Saving the Countryside: The Story of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit. By Linda Elovitz Marshall. Illus. by Ilaria Urbinati. 2020. little bee, $17.99 (9781499809602). PreS–Gr. 3.
Potter faced rejection for her scientific study of mushrooms. After achieving acclaim and financial independence from writing The Tale of Peter Rabbit, she moved to a farm and started buying land to preserve the countryside of England’s Lake District. Fresh illustrations bring this gifted writer, illustrator, and environmentalist and her surroundings to life.
World of Glass: The Art of Dale Chihuly. By Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan. 2020. Abrams, $22.99 (9781419736810). Gr. 3–5.
American glass artist Chihuly’s massive pieces recreate plants and flowers and grace indoor and outdoor installations worldwide. Along with biographical details, crisp color photographs chronicle his process from workshop to exhibition, including modifications made for his disability (he lost an eye in an accident). Lengthy notes, a bibliography, and information on where to see Chihuly’s art are included.
Drawn from Nature. By Helen Ahpornsiri. Illus. by the author. 2018. Candlewick/Big Picture, $22 (9780763698980). Gr. 1–4.
Intricate, hand-pressed plant illustrations portray flora and fauna, pollination and photosynthesis, migration and hibernation. The text is lean and informative; the illustrations are showstopping. Butterflies are fashioned from flowers, a red fox from coiled fern fronds and scarlet blossoms. This one-of-a-kind resource is ideal for classroom use.
Dr. Seuss’s Horse Museum. By Dr. Seuss. Illus. by Andrew Joyner. 2019. Random, $18.99 (9780399559129). Gr. 1–4.
This story of a horse museum, which features artists from multiple cultures and their interpretations of the horse, is based on a manuscript found after Geisel’s death. The simple text and colorful illustrations are accompanied by drawings of children having fun at a museum and attempting to produce their own horses. Familiar characters from the Dr. Seuss canon appear as museum visitors.
Eye Spy: Wild Ways Animals See the World. By Guillaume Duprat. Illus. by the author. 2018. What on Earth?, $21.99 (9781999802851). Gr. 3–6.
This offering compares human vision to the eyesight of 20 other animals, from horses to earthworms. Readers lift flaps to see how scenes appear based on differing fields of vision, focus, and color perception. The text explains technical terms in context, and succinct, accessible summaries highlight how different eyes help animals find food and keep safe.
Folding Tech: Using Origami and Nature to Revolutionize Technology. By Karen Latchana Kenney. 2020. Lerner/Twenty-First Century, $37.32 (9781541533042). Gr. 8–12.
The centuries-old art of origami has multiple current-day STEM applications. Here chapters trace parallel art and STEM developments, accompanied by hands-on experiments that turn theory into observable results. Diagrams, photos, and case scenarios further help readers understand the seemingly never-ending possibilities. From folded cranes to collapsible solar sails, this offering provides an enticing look at a unique STEAM crossover.
Handimals: Animals in Art and Nature. By Silvia Lopez. Illus. by Guido Daniele. 2019. Holt, $18.99 (9781627798914). K–Gr. 3.
Italian artist Daniele arranges human hands into recreations of 16 endangered animals. Double-page spreads feature a full-size Handimal on one side, facing an actual photograph. The final section shows Daniele in action and explains that he sees his art as metaphor for humans lending hands to ensure animal survival.
Inside Out Sharks: Look inside a Great White in Three Dimensions! By David George Gordon. 2018. Quarto/becker&mayer! kids, $14.99 (9780760355329). Gr. 2–4.
Utilizing a dynamic design and incorporating intriguing bite-size facts, appealing transparent sections and cutouts peel away layers of great whites. Image-driven but full of interesting tidbits, this is sure to attract plenty of attention.
Lifesize. By Sophy Henn. Illus. by the author. 2018. Kane/Miller, $16.99 (9781610677318). PreS–Gr. 1.
This crowd-pleaser features oversize, interactive illustrations of animals—or at least the parts of animals that will fit on pages. Readers compare their body parts to those of various critters, and intervening pages offer details about behaviors and habitats, plus a steady stream of content-based questions. Illustrations cover every page; final pages pull all the examples together.
Shine-a-Light (series). By Carron Brown. Kane/Miller. PreS–Gr. 2
The Human Body. Illus. by Rachel Saunders. 2016. (9781610674652).On the Plane. Illus. by Bee Johnson. 2016. (9781610674126).On the Space Station. Illus. by Bee Johnson. 2016. (9781610674119).Secrets of Animal Camouflage. Illus. by Wesley Robbins. 2016. (9781610674669).Secrets of Our Earth. Illus. by Wesley Robbins. 2017. (9781610675369).Secrets of the Apple Tree. Illus. by Alyssa Nassner. 2014. (9781610672436).Secrets of the Vegetable Garden. Illus. by Giordano Poloni. 2016. (9781610674133).Secrets of Winter. By Carron Brown and Georgina Tee. Illus. by Bee Johnson. 2015. (9781610673693).Wonders of Our World. Illus. by Stef Murphy. 2018. (9781610677189).Wonders of the USA. Illus. by Bee Johnson. 2017. (9781610675437).
These titles introduce subjects on a single, colorfully illustrated page along with a sentence or two of large text. A question follows, which is the reader’s cue to activate the book’s special feature—a secret image revealed when the book is held up to light. Turn the page, and a reverse silhouette provides the answer. Each volume finishes with a double-page spread of related trivia.
Your Place in the Universe. By Jason Chin. Illus. by the author. 2020. Holiday/Neal Porter, $18.99 (9780823446230). Gr. 2–5.
Concepts of size, scale, and distance incrementally increase from a child and an ostrich to the Earth and the observable universe. Full-bleed spreads contain brief text, digital illustrations, captions and sidebars, and items from previous examples for reference. Vetted by astrophysicists, all illustrations are shown to scale—except for some final entities that spread way beyond the book covers.
Kathleen McBroom is the School Library Media Practicum Coordinator for the Wayne State University School of Information Science.
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