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5 back-to-school books for science-loving children


School days are back, so fill your child’s backpack with some worthy reading material. Here is a short list of science themed books for kids that we adults have found pretty cool too.

Smart about sharks
By Owen Davey
Flying Eye Books (August 2016), ages 8 and up, $ 19.95

Sharks have been around for millions of years, but they never get old. British author / illustrator Owen Davey’s Smart about sharks is an illustrated sampling of the biology and behavior of over 500 species of sharks that swim in our seas. Have you ever heard of a cookie cutter shark? This species sucks up victims with its mouth, then “turns its body and cuts a circular piece of the creature’s flesh.” Meanwhile, black tip sharks have been observed herding fish into “bait balls”, which they attack “until only a shower of fish scales remains” . Kids might especially like a section for superlative sharks, which “rewards” certain species for unique traits. Take nurse sharks, which lie side by side along the seabed and “probably deserve the title of laziest shark.” Davey’s stylized illustrations are also appealing: the skillful assemblage of geometric shapes and patterns captures the essence of his carnivorous and cartilaginous subjects. (Readers passionate about Davey’s aesthetic might also check out Crazy monkeys.)

Of "Smart about sharks," by Owen Davey (Flying Eye Books, 2016)
From “Smart About Sharks”, by Owen Davey (Flying Eye Books, 2016)

Ada Twist Scientist Blanket

Ada Twist, scientist
By Andrea Beaty / Illustrated by David Roberts
ABRAMS (September 2016), 5-7 years old, $ 17.95

If your child’s favorite word is “why” she will find a soul mate in Ada Marie Twist. After quietly observing the world around her for the first three years of her life, little Ada Marie (her names are derived, respectively, from Ada Lovelace, widely regarded as the first computer programmer – see review below ! – and Marie Curie, who discovered radium) amazes her family with an avalanche of questions about how the world works. And she never stops asking. Impressed by the giant clock in their house, for example, she asks, “Why is it ticking and why is it ticking?” Why don’t we call it a big onethe girl the clock? ”Searching for answers, Ada sets up experiments, leaving cluttered disorder and general chaos in her wake. It takes a particularly vexing mystery – the source of a strange odor – for the family of Ada make peace with her science activities (Spoiler alert: They join her investigation.) Andrea Beaty’s artful rhymes are accented by adorable illustrations by David Roberts, which are full of creative details that will pique the curiosity of young readers. (If you want Ada Twist, scientist, there are two other books – one on one architect and one on one engineer-in the series.)


From Ada Twist, Scientist, by Andrea Beaty and illustrated by David Roberts (ABRAMS, 2016)

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Who built this? Bridges
An introduction to the ten great bridges and their designers
By Didier Cornille
Princeton Architectural Press (October 2016), ages 8-12, $ 17.95

In 1883, a parade of circus animals, including 21 elephants, crossed the Brooklyn Bridge to publicly demonstrate its ruggedness. Indeed, at the time of its inauguration, it was the largest bridge ever built. This emblematic engineering feat is one of the many innovative bridges that Didier Cornille explores in his book, the last installment Who built this? series (which also covered skyscrapers and modern houses). Cornille’s light and faint line drawings, which span long rectangular pages tailored to their subject, focus on important architectural and technical elements, such as trestles and beams, while drawing attention to the scale. For example, one image shows a side-by-side line of cars, wagons and pedestrians on the Sydney Harbor Bridge in Australia, underscoring its status as the longest spanning bridge in the world. Children will also meet the brains behind the bridges, such as architect Norman Foster and designer Michel Virlogeux, who together designed the Millau Viaduct, a structure supported by cables attached to masts that crosses the Tarn Valley in Europe. . Rising to 1,125 feet at its peak, it is the tallest cable-stayed viaduct in the world. This is an example of high level thinking.


Extract from “Who Built That? Bridges: An Introduction to Ten Great Bridges and Their Designers”, by Didier Cornille (Princeton Architectural Press, 2016)

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The darkest darkness
By Chris Hadfield / Illustrated by The Fan Brothers
Little, Brown and Company (September 2016), ages 4 to 8, $ 17.99

Chris is a space obsessed child. He pilots a spaceship (made of cardboard) and makes trips to Mars (in the bathtub). He is also afraid of something that scares many other children: the dark. In one scene, a wide-eyed Chris is lying in his bed, blankets pulled up in front of his nose, surrounded by glowing alien orbs evoked by his active imagination. But on the evening of July 20, 1969, Chris encounters a darkness he has never explored when he and his family gather around a neighbor’s television to watch the story unfold: Neil Armstrong takes his first step on the moon. “The darkness of the universe was so much bigger and deeper than the darkness in his bedroom,” writes Canadian author and astronaut Chris Hadfield, who based the protagonist of The darkest darkness on his young self. “For the first time, Chris got to see the power, the mystery and the velvety black beauty of the dark.” Hadfield grew up to explore this darkness. Maybe someday your kids will too.


From “The Darkest Dark”, by Chris Hadfield and illustrated by The Fan Brothers (Little, Brown and Company 2016)

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Ada’s ideas
The story of Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer
By Fiona Robinson
ABRAMS (August 2016), 6-9 years old, $ 17.95

Ada’s ideas, an illustrated biography of Fiona Robinson, opens with a whimsical portrait of a young woman with a knot in her hair, riding a spotted steed in the sky. The woman is Ada Lovelace, who once “dreamed of riding a steam horse,” and who is now widely regarded as the world’s first computer programmer. Thanks to delicious paper cut illustrations, Robinson recalls moments of training in Lovelace’s brief life (she died at 36). For example, while growing up during the Industrial Revolution, Ada joined her mathematician mother on factory tours. A two-page page of a young Lovelace climbing and spinning gears amid puffs of steam illustrates how her “imagination revolved with mighty engines!” But Lovelace was a dreamer and a maker. At 17, she met the great thinker Charles Babbage. When he designed his “scan engine” – an ancestor of the computer, in theory – Lovelace offered to write the program. His inventive spirit went even further than that of his counterpart: while Babbage believed that a machine like the one he had designed would only run calculations, Lovelace “believed that it could be programmed to create images, music and words ”. Talk about premonitory. (For more on Lovelace and Babbage, check out this SciFri segment.)


From “Ada’s Ideas The Story of Ada Lovelace, The World’s First Computer Programmer”, by Fiona Robinson (ABRAMS, 2016)

Meet the writer

Julie leibach

About Julie Leibach

Julie Leibach is a freelance science journalist and former online content editor for Science Friday.



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