March 30, 2016

Junior engineering projects

Explore Simple Machines! With 25 Great Projects
by Anita Yasuda

This book is a good introduction to the concept of mechanical advantage, which explains how simple machines make work easier. Each chapter is dedicated to each of the six simple machines: levers, inclined planes, wheels and axles, screws, wedges, pulleys. A brief history of the machine and how it works is followed by three or four activities that demonstrate the machine's usefulness. A final chapter offers tips on how to be an inventor.

Well-organized and clearly written, the book is ideal for connecting knowledge to the real world and sparking creativity.

Perfect for ages 6-9.

March 28, 2016

Simple machines

Simple Machines
by D.J. Ward
illustrated by Mike Lowery

Machines make work easier. This is a good introductory book to six simple machines - the lever, the wheel and axle, the pulley, the ramp, the wedge, and the screw. Easy text and clear, friendly pictures help kindergartners spot simple machines in the world around them. Includes an easy activity to demonstrate a lever, though the small text and no visuals are a drawback.

Simple Machines
by Deborah Hodge

Kids learn best by doing, and this excellent book allows them to use simple machines in a variety of experiments. They'll construct ramps, lift objects, or make toys, allowing them to see how simple machines work. The activities are fun and easy enough for kids to do on their own. The instructions and explanations are clearly written and easily understood, while the bright, attractive photos convey enthusiasm.

Highly recommended for grades 1-3.

March 25, 2016

Dinosaurs in the desert

Explorer Roy Chapman Andrews got his start cleaning the floors at the American Museum of Natural HIstory. A few months later, he managed to land his first expedition - retrieving the bones of a beached whale. His success led to other expeditions around the world, earning him much acclaim. So when he had the idea of searching for human fossils in Mongolia, he was able to raise the necessary funds. With the help of paleontologist Walter Granger and his assistant George Olsen, he didn't find human bones, he found dinosaur bones instead!

These two books tell the story of his Gobi Desert expeditions and the amazing discoveries he made there.

Dinosaurs at the Ends of the Earth: The Story of the Central Asiatic Expeditions
by Brian Floca

A fictionalized version, this text-heavy picture book dramatizes two of the expeditions, one of which resulted in the discovery of dinosaur eggs. Floca's imagined dialogue and action is very well done, giving the story a "you-are-there" feel to it. He also does a good job in describing the how the fossils were excavated and prepared for transport.

A map and full-page paintings add excitement. Of note are descriptions of the dinosaurs uncovered, which are depicted on the front and back endpapers.

Dragon Bones and Dinosaur Eggs: A Photobiography of Explorer Roy Chapman Andrews
by Ann Bausum

Published by National Geographic, this book describes the childhood and career of Roy Chapman Andrews, shedding light on what made the man tick. It's also a good primer on how to get your foot in the door when trying to land your dream job. Lots of photos and exciting descriptions bring the dinosaur expeditions to life. It gives the reader a good idea of how the expeditions were mounted and carried out. It also provides a good sense of the dangers encountered along the way, from sandstorms to snakes to bandits. 

With chronology, resource guide, and index, this is an excellent book for elementary and middle-grade readers. 

March 23, 2016

Old-west dinosaur hunter

Barnum's Bones: How Barnum Brown Discovered the Most Famous Dinosaur in the World
by Tracey Fern
pictures by Boris Kulikov

Anyone who has visited the American Museum of Natural History in New York City is familiar with the T-rex that graces the lobby. That magnificent skeleton and its companions were discovered by Barnum Brown back in the days when trains and horse-drawn wagons were in common use. Brown's interesting adventures form the basis of this attractive picture book. A bit of an eccentric - he sometimes went digging while suited up in a fur coat and bowler hat - Brown had a knack for sniffing out fossils. His larger-than-life spirit and style is ably captured in Kulikov's expressive and zany pictures. The cover is especially attractive to kids; it shows Barnum digging in the jaws of the T-rex.

Fun and informative.

March 21, 2016

Twelve-year-old paleontologist

Rare Treasure: Mary Anning and Her Remarkable Discoveries
written and illustrated by Don Brown

In 1811, a young girl discovered the fossilized skeleton of an ichthyosaur beneath an English cliff. The discoverer, Mary Anning, was twelve-years-old. She grew up to become a well-known fossil-hunter whose fossils are displayed in museums all over the world.

This engaging biography illuminates Anning's fearlessness, her sense of adventure and her curiosity. The watercolour illustrations, alternately pale and vibrant, add pathos and emotion. 

Stone Girl, Bone Girl: The Story of Mary Anning
by Laurence Anholt
illustrated by Sheila Moxley

This picture book devotes more time in exploring the relationship between Mary Anning and her father, whom she called "Pepper." He introduced her to fossil hunting before dying of an unnamed illness (possibly tuberculosis). At this point, Anholt can't resist delving into poetic license, having Pepper reincarnated as a little speckled dog who helps Mary make her exciting discovery.

The interesting pictures, reminiscent of old-fashioned folk art, reflect the sadness and danger permeating much of the story before its celebratory ending. But even that is tempered with melancholy as the dog disappears, leaving Mary wistfully recalling its faint bark. 

When read along with Rare Treasure, the deviations from the truth are readily apparent, which should foster discussion among young readers regarding the ethics of nonfiction. How should fiction be used to enhance a story and should the reader be warned beforehand?  Even the final epilogue is slightly suspect since there is no bibliography to support the story. There's no bibliography in Rare Treasure either, although Don Brown does mention a history museum and library in his thanks. Hopefully, both books will encourage further research on the life of Mary Anning.

By the way, the title refers to a teasing rhyme that local children used to call Mary: Stone girl, bone girl, out-on-your-own girl. But even that turned out to be false; the rhyme was actually the well-known tongue-twister She sells seashells by the seashore, which is quoted in its entirety at book's end.

March 18, 2016

Make a dinosaur out of chicken bones

Make Your Own Dinosaur Out Of Chicken Bones
by Chris McGowan

Birds evolved from dinosaurs. With this premise in mind, it's very appropriate that chicken bones are used to make an apatosaurus skeleton. It'll take lots of patience and an abundance of pre-planning, but it's a great way to learn about dinosaur anatomy and other bird facts. Boiling, cutting, and wire bending is involved, making this a mandatory team activity for adults and children. Prior model-making experience would be an asset. 

Includes recipes so chicken meat will not be wasted!

N.B. Not being good with her hands, this reader did not attempt to make a dinosaur skeleton. Besides, being single, having to purchase three whole chickens is rather daunting.

March 16, 2016

He made dinosaurs

The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins
by Barbara Kerley
paintings by Brian Selznick

Waterhouse Hawkins didn't know what dinosaurs looked like, but that didn't stop him from creating his humungous sculptures. Back in 1853, paleontology was in its infancy and complete dinosaur skeletons had yet to be uncovered. With the assistance of scientist Richard Owen, Hawkins tried to predict what a dinosaur looked like by comparing fossil bones and teeth to that of living animals. He revealed his finished iguanodon sculpture in dramatic fashion - by holding a dinner inside it!

Hawkins went on to build more dinosaurs for display at London's Crystal Palace. He was then commissioned to build American dinosaurs for New York's Central Park. But political corruption destroyed his dream and nearly broke his spirit. Yet he was determined to carry on, finding work at Princeton University and the Smithsonian.

Hawkins' extraordinary achievements are brought vividly to life in Barbara Kerley's oversized picture book. Her dramatic words, paired with Selznick's wondrous paintings, capture all the excitement and accomplishment of the time. If not for Waterhouse Hawkins, we would not have the dinosaur exhibits we have today.

HIghly recommended.

To view Hawkins' dinosaur sculptures, go to

March 14, 2016

Know your dinosaur

Dinosaur Discovery: Everything You Need to Be a Paleontologist
by Chris McGowan
illustrated by Erica Lyn Schmidt

The title of this book is misleading. It doesn't tell kids how to be a paleontologist; there's no mention of what skills are needed, what courses to take in school, or what it's like to work in the field. Instead, there are pages featuring thirteen different dinosaurs, with brief facts about their bones, teeth, and skin. In between these pages are a number of activities aimed to teach kids more about what it's like to be a dinosaur - how dinosaurs balance, walk, swim, hear, see, and fly. Other activities show how to make fake rocks, fake fossil feathers, and fake dinosaur skin. How the activities relate to the information presented is not always clear, but they are scientifically interesting.

In summary, the book is good for teaching kids about dinosaur anatomy, but not so good for showing them what an actual paleontologist does.

March 11, 2016

The extraordinary egg

Egg: Nature's Perfect Package
by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page

Husband-and-wife team Jenkins and Page are among the best at creating stellar nonfiction for young readers.  Both are excellent graphic artists as seen in Jenkins' distinctive illustrations and the bright, clean formats that are their books' trademark. Here they present intriguing facts about eggs - where animals lay them and how they carry, protect, and incubate them. Many eggs are shown at actual size, others by silhouettes; plus a cutaway series of a chicken and alligator egg showing the developing embryo.

A winning picture book that is highly recommended.

March 9, 2016

Colourful eggs

Animal Eggs: An Amazing Clutch of Mysteries and Marvels!
by Dawn Cusick & Joanne O'Sullivan

Short informative chapters provide a good introduction to egg-laying animals and their young. Kids will mostly be attracted to the photos, especially the brightly-coloured insect eggs, jelly-encased fish eggs, and see-through octopus eggs.

An egg-citing book!

March 7, 2016

Beautiful eggs

An Egg Is Quiet
by Dianna Aston and Sylvia Long

This is a wonderful book! Poetic text and beautiful watercolours turn the humble egg into something marvelous. Their diverse colours, shapes, textures and patterns will entrance even the youngest children. 

A book to treasure.

March 4, 2016

Nature is dangerous!

50 Poisonous Questions: A Book With Bite
by Tanya Lloyd Kyi
illustrated by Ross Kinnaird

I borrowed this book from the library; its battered shape is testament to its popularity. Kids just love interesting trivia, especially if it involves fangs, stings, venom, and a high "ick" factor. 

Besides dangerous animals and plants, there are chapters on toxic minerals, gas attacks, murderers and poisons, not to mention environmental hazards and disasters. 

Funny cartoons and quips add levity to the proceedings. Definitely kid-approved!

March 2, 2016

Deadly plants

Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln's Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities
by Amy Stewart

Colourful flowers, trees, and shrubs - we use them to decorate our homes and gardens. But watch out! Some of these plants can be deadly. In Wicked Plants, you'll meet all sorts of evil greenery that'll make you think twice before buying them, especially if you have kids and pets. There are plants that grow poisonous berries, plants with venomous thorns, vines that strangle trees, plants that intoxicate, and plants that burn. Some may merely irritate, but others kill, and in very painful ways. 

Stewart helpfully labels each plant as dangerous, poisonous, illegal, destructive, painful, intoxicating, deadly, or merely offensive, and cheerfully describes the agonies each plant imparts. Lovely botanical etchings form a nice juxtaposition with witty stories of unfortunate encounters. As well, gruesome drawings add a macabre touch. 

Excellent for ages 12 and up.