STEM Friday review: WHY IS MILK WHITE?

Why Is Milk White cover

by Alexa Coelho & Simon Quellen Field
Chicago Review Press
January 1, 2013
288 pages

Did you (or any children in your life) ever wonder how soap works, why onions make you cry, or how bad it is for you to breathe in hairspray? 11-year-old Alexa Coelho did, so she pulled together these and almost 200 other questions about her favorite subject, chemistry, and asked science writer Simon Quellen Field to write up the answers. This book is the result.
Alexa did a great job of coming up with a huge collection of specific, relevant questions that today’s kids (and adults) are sure to be interested in, and Simon did an equally great job answering them in clear, easy-to-understand explanations. It’s fun to read straight through or to use as a reference whenever you come across something interesting that you want to know more about. The book also has some nice nonfiction features like a detailed table of contents, special sections with hands-on projects for young chemists (and often an adult helper), and a glossary of terms.
Unfortunately, there are a few things missing here. First, I would really love to see an index in a book like this. It’s nearly impossible to find the answer to the titular question, for example. I only found reference to it in a different question about why hair conditioner is white, which, obviously, isn’t in the food section. Second, I would have liked to have seen some advice about where to find the ingredients for some of the projects. Have you purchased any muriatic acid lately? Finally, I wish it had clearly stuck to chemistry questions, or at least acknowledged when it was departing from them. Some, such as “Why is the sky blue?”, stray pretty far afield into other areas of science.
Still, I think the goodness here far outweighs the flaws, and middle-school scientists all the way through curious adults will learn a lot about science while enjoying this book.

It’s STEM Friday! Check out the STEM Friday blog for more STEM book reviews.
(STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)

Disclaimer: I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

STEM Friday roundup is here!

I’m thrilled to be hosting STEM Friday today! If you reviewed a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) book for kids on your blog today, please leave your link in the comments or on Twitter (@lauriethompson), and I will add you to the round-up throughout the day. Thanks!

My contribution to this week’s STEM Friday, a review of IN SEARCH OF SASQUATCH by Kelly Milner Halls, is posted here.

cover1Jeff Barger reviews A Leaf Can Be… by Laura Purdie Salas over at NC Teacher Stuff. Read all about this poetry book about leaves here.

cover2On her blog, SimplyScience, Shirley Duke talks about her new book, Gases, and shares activities.

Over at Archimedes Notebook, Sue Heavenrich reviews Star of the Sea by Janet Halfmann, with some insight on writing from the author herself.

Anastasia Suen from Booktalking joins the fun with her review of Bones: Dead People Do Tell Tales
by Sara L. Latta.

Next week’s STEM Friday host will be Roberta Gibson at Wrapped in Foil.

Review: In Search of Sasquatch

In Search of Sasquatch
by Kelly Milner Halls
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children (October 25, 1011)
64 pages, ages 9 and up
When I was a kid, one of my favorite books was BIGFOOT: MAN, MONSTER, OR MYTH? by Carrie Carmichael (Raintree, 1977). I’ve always been an animal lover, and I loved the possibility that there was one (or more?) out there clever enough to remain a mystery to us. I lived in rural northern Wisconsin and spent a lot of time in the woods, but, sadly, never saw any Sasquatch signs.
When my son told me he thought it’d be cool to be a cryptozoologist (nice!), I knew I had to get him this book. It didn’t disappoint. He’s read it several times cover to cover, and I’m loving the facts and critical thinking skills he’s demonstrating as a result.
My first thought when I opened the book was how beautiful it is. The full-bleed forest spread with the quotes overlaying the trees pulls you right into the world of the sasquatch from the very first page turn (and the final one, as well). The beauty continues with beautiful photography, elegant illustrations, and well-done layout and design throughout.
Halls combines various myths and legends with expert opinions and eyewitness accounts to weave a cleverly crafted and compelling case for the existence of sasquatch. She doesn’t come right out and tell us that it does or doesn’t exist, though. In the end, it’s up to the reader to decide if they’ve been convinced or not.
This is a great book to hand to any kid with an interest in cryptids or other mysteries, and animal lovers and budding young scientists will also enjoy it.
FUN FACT: “According to experts at the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO), credible witnesses have reported seeing Sasquatch in every state in the United States of America except Hawaii, as well as most Canadian provinces.”
There is a dedication, table of contents, additional resources, photo and illustration credits, bibliography and source notes, glossary, and index.
SIDE NOTE: When asked her opinion of the book, my daughter answered, “I LOVED how she crammed so many facts into this book, yet still kept it completely interesting!” My answer: “Ahem. <cough> ‘YET STILL?’ Have I told you what I do? FACTS ARE INTERESTING!” I have failed as a parent.

This is my review for STEM Friday, which I’m also hosting this week! See the complete roundup here.
Disclaimer: A copy of this book was checked out from my local library for review. Thanks, King County Library System!

Review: Bring On the Birds

Bring On the Birds cover

Bring On the Birds
written and illustrated by Susan Stockdale
Peachtree Publishers (February 1, 2011)
32 pages, ages 4 and up

This is one of my favorite books of all the nominations in the Cybils Nonfiction Picture Book category this year, and I just can’t get over how absolutely perfect it is. The poetic text is a simple but elegant rhyme with spot on rhythm and meter:

“Swooping birds,
whooping birds,
birds with puffy chests.
Dancing birds,
diving birds,
birds with fluffy crests.”

The illustrations are bright, clean, and not only depict the various birds, but also place them in their appropriate habitats.
The 21 birds featured run the gamut from the common robin to the more exotic blue-footed booby, from the great blue heron to the blue bird-of-paradise. This book covers an enormous diversity of life, then ends just right with what they all have in common:

“All of them have feathers,
and all are hatched from eggs.”

This is a wonderful introduction to birds for the youngest readers. It could also be used to talk about diversity, habitats, and classification.
At the end of the book, Stockdale includes a perfectly brief and spot-on paragraph with information about each bird profiled in the book. The book also includes a bibliography.
STEM Friday logo

To check out the rest of today’s roundup of books for kids about topics in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, head on over to this week’s STEM Friday roundup over at Anastasia Suen’s Booktalking.

(Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from my local library. I received no monetary compensation for this review. All opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone.)

STEM Friday Book Review: The Case of the Vanishing Golden Frogs

The Case of the Vanishing Golden Frogs: A Scientific Mystery
(Exceptional Science Titles for Intermediate Grades series)
by Sandra Markle (Author)
Millbook Press (Lerner), October 2011
48 pages
Ages: 9-12
From the publisher’s web page:

Panamanian golden frogs aren’t just cute, little, and yellow. They’re also the national symbol of Panama. But they started to disappear about fifteen years ago. What’s killing them? Could it be a change in their habitat? What about pollution? Might it be a result of climate change? Follow a team of scientists working to save these frogs and protect frog populations worldwide in this real-life science mystery.

Sandra Markle is one of my favorite authors, and frogs are high on my list of favorite animals, so I was thrilled to have a chance to preview this title. And I wasn’t disappointed. The text is informative and easy to understand, but also tells a fascinating and compelling story.
Markle does a great job of capturing both the importance and the fun of science. First, she explains why the disappearance of these tiny creatures matters. Then, she lays out how the mystery unfolded: what questions different scientists asked, and how the answers led to the next piece of the puzzle–and more questions, for other scientists, etc.
In fact, that’s one of the things I appreciated most about this book: it doesn’t follow just one scientist and his or her unique work. It demonstrates how one person’s findings sparked others to advance the science, and how each used his or her own expertise and knowledge to contribute the next vital step in the ongoing process. To me, that makes science feel more accessible to kids by showing that successful scientists don’t need to solve a whole big problem, they just need to learn something new and tell others.
Aside from the masterful text, the stunning layout and design and big, bold photographs on every page make the book visually engaging throughout and are more than enough to keep young readers turning the pages to see what’s next.
In the author’s note, Markle adds this:

No tale of finding a serial killer could be more exciting than this true story. . . . But the story isn’t over yet. The amphibian killer is still at large. Perhaps, one day, one of you will become the science detective who finally stops this killer.

The book also includes a table of contents, “how to help” section,  glossary, age-appropriate recommended resources, index, and photo credits.

To check out the rest of today’s roundup of books for kids about topics in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, head on over to this week’s STEM Friday host, Rasco From RIF!