Book Corner: Rev Up Youngsters’ Interest in STEM

I recently came across some excellent new books at the library focusing on science and engineering, geared for older elementary-aged children. These can be challenging topics to present to children in an age-appropriate way, and sometimes books in this category are rather dry and utilitarian. But these three books all get creative to present important information in an entertaining way while staying true to the science.

Beastly Puzzles by Rachel Poliquin
Do your kids love animals? Do your kids love brain teasers? If you answered “yes” to either of these questions, Beastly Puzzles is for them. Each turn of the page poses the question, “What animal could you make with…?” then gives clues about the animal, such as “Dinosaur feet,” “the speed of a greyhound,” and “a lion-killing kick.”  Lift open the flap of the page and the answer is revealed (ostrich) along with explanations of the clues (Dinosaur feet:  “Ostriches are related to dinosaurs that walked on two legs”). The animals in the book come from all climates and environments, from snails and kangaroos to polar bears and sloths. This book has a unique way of sharing information, presenting the characteristics of an animal and making a game of identifying it.

Cars by Dan Zettwoch
Cars is part of the Science Comics series, whose theme is “Get to Know Your Universe!” Each book focuses on a topic, including robots and drones, rockets, wild weather, and volcanoes. What makes this series unique is the comic book format that utilizes cartoon-style illustrations and humor to explain scientific principles as well as the history of the technology (in the case of cars, robots, drones and rockets) or development of the study of the natural force (in the case of wild weather and volcanoes). In Cars, we learn about all the individual inventions that went together to create the automobile. As the introduction explains, cars are really a “science lab on wheels,” with several inventions and scientific principles all rolled into one machine. The book succinctly covers each of these, describing them with engaging graphics and illustrations and relating the history with humorous interpretations of events. The reader learns about combustion, the wheel, the concept of horse-power, steam engines and boiling point, compression, and the road. The second half of this slim book focuses on the modern development of cars, including the changes in body design and engine design, the development of race cars and electric cars, and descriptions of the car systems (electrical, suspension, drivetrain, brakes, and exhaust). These are complicated concepts but the author keeps it as simple as possible while still including enough information to keep budding scientists engaged.

Discover How Machines Work by Korwin Briggs
Similar to Beastly Puzzles, The Invention Hunters series combines a guessing game with interesting information about the history of inventions we use every day. A group of Invention Hunters drops from space into a construction site, where they investigate tools and inventions they’ve never seen before. They speculate about how each item is used, until an exasperated boy from the neighborhood tells them what it is and how it is used. The next page gives the history of that type of tool from ancient times to today, as well as the physics behind how it works, describing it as a lever, pulley, wedge, or crank. The humorous suggestions on what the invention could be set this book apart from the standard selection of invention or engineering books for children and will keep young readers interested in turning the page to see what ridiculous ideas the Invention Hunters have about the next piece of technology.

Darcie Caswell is Youth Services Coordinator for Central Rappahannock Regional Library. This column was first published in The Free Lance-Star newspaper and is reprinted here with their permission.