May 31, 2017

A less-than-perfect scientist

Albert Einstein
by Kathleen Krull
illustrated by Boris Kulikov

Suitable for ages 10 and up, Krull's biography of Einstein is structured and reads like a novel, which maintains reader interest. She provides a complete picture of Einstein's life - his education, his work, his marital difficulties - with all its positives and negatives. The closing chapter shows why Einstein is still relevant today.

May 29, 2017

Elementary Einstein

On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein
by Jennifer Berne
pictures by Vladimir Radunsky

Throughout his life, Albert Einstein never stopped wondering, thinking, and imagining. His quest for answers helped him formulate the theories that changed our understanding of the universe.

Einstein's theories are hard to understand. Harder still is explaining  them to young children. Berne, wisely, doesn't try to. Instead, she uses Einstein's story to encourage kids to be themselves, to read and to study, to never stop dreaming, and to always ask big questions. Above all, she reminds them to never stop playing. 

Play is the recurring theme of the story as evidenced in Radunsky's whimsical pictures of a sockless Einstein riding his bicycle, sailing his boat, or eating an ice-cream cone. It's a light-hearted introduction to a great scientist.

Albert Einstein: A Biography
by Milton Meltzer

Meltzer manages to write an understandable biography of Einstein in a mere 32 pages. He sticks to the main facts, using a timeline to fill out the points in-between. He even explains Einstein's famous equation in an easy way that kids will almost grasp. They'll like the black-and-white photos too.

Both books are good for ages 7 and up.

May 26, 2017

Science in the playground and the amusement park

Roller Coaster Science: 50 Wet, Wacky, Wild, Dizzy Experiments about Things Kids Like Best
by Jim Wiese

Wiese takes science out of the lab and into the playground in this optimistic book. He aims to get kids to ask questions about how things work and hopefully shows how science can give them the answers. So he's put together a bunch of activities that can be done on slides, swings, seesaws, and merry-go-rounds. 

These are real multitasking tests! He somehow thinks that kids can remember if they're sliding down the outer or inner curve of a slide and keep track of how many times they swing back and forth. Similarly, he challenges kids to note the size of the hills and the circles while riding a roller coaster, figure out their direction of travel while on the scrambler, and when in a bumper car, know which collisions cause them to move forward or backward. These observations are meant to demonstrate things like pendulums, centripetal force, impulse, and velocity. These lessons will, however, be undoubtedly lost during the thrill of the moment.

Wiese has more success in explaining how toys like paper planes, slinkies, and paddleballs work, why popcorn pops, and how cotton candy is made. Instructions for making a g-force meter, a paper helicopter, and a solar hotdog cooker are included.

May 24, 2017

Engineer and toy inventor

Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson's Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions
by Chris Barton
illustrated by Don Tate

As a kid, Lonnie Johnson loved to build rockets and robots. He grew up to become an engineer who built a backup power system for the NASA orbiter Galileo. But his claim to fame was a super-powered water gun! 

The Super Soaker is a hit toy, but its path to production was a rocky one. A story of persistence and faith, Johnson's biography is filled with zest and exhilarating whooshes! that stream over double pages and a fold-out wow! Be sure to check out the end pages, which are filled with drawings of Johnson's other inventions.

Very entertaining.

May 22, 2017

The ferris wheel

Now that summer is almost here, amusement parks are preparing for business. Their roller coasters are the prime attraction, but for a more leisurely experience, you still can't beat the ferris wheel. A peaceful ride, it offers an excellent view as well! 

The ferris wheel is named after its inventor, George Ferris. His story is told in the following picture books.

The Fantastic Ferris Wheel: The Story of Inventor George Ferris
by Betsy Harvey Kraft
illustrated by Steven Salerno

The organizers of Chicago's 1893 World's Fair needed an attraction that would dazzle visitors. Inspired by the success of the Eiffel Tower, engineers submitted plans for look-alike towers. Only George Ferris thought up something different. Concerned about safety, the fair  organizers were leery of Ferris' giant observation wheel, but eventually gave the go ahead. The rest, as they say, was history.

Kraft tells the story in dramatic fashion, detailing the wheel's challenging construction and its eventual success. An account of the wheel withstanding a tornado adds even more excitement. 

Salerno's pictures are an especial standout, showcasing to excellent effect the wheel's size and perspectives.

Mr. Ferris and His Wheel
by Kathryn Gibbs Davis
illustrated by Gilbert Ford

More simply told, Davis' story about George Ferris empathizes his financing difficulties, some of the construction problems, and the opening day's festivities. The text flows quite well, nicely encapsulating the main events. Similarly, Ford's pictures capture period details very well, though his palette is a bit on the dark side.

May 19, 2017

Be a balloon maker

The Hot Air Balloon Book: Build and Launch Kongming Lanterns, Solar Tetroons, and More
by Clive Catterall

Inventor and author Clive Catterall provides detailed, step-by-step instructions for making eight different hot air balloons out of trash bags, wire, tissue paper, tea candles, cotton balls, and cardboard. Since open flames are often appropriate for many of the balloons, important safety guidelines preface the launching directions.

The how-to parts of the book seem easy enough, if done with care and in a space large enough to accommodate oversized trash bags. After all, the larger the balloon, the better it flies! Catterall explains why this is so, as well as the science behind lift and flight. He even shows you how to make a solar power meter and a balloon that measures air density. The book begins with an interesting history of ballooning and its uses. 

Catterall's writing can be a bit dry, but those who are into math and physics will find it very adequate. A good book for any aspiring maker.

May 17, 2017

Flying in a hot air balloon

Flying in a Hot Air Balloon
by Cheryl Walsh Bellville

A recreational pilot, Cheryl Walsh Bellville describes what it's like to fly in a hot air balloon. She explains how the balloon is prepared for flight and how it is maneuvered during flight. Later, she becomes a member of a balloon chase crew, and describes how the balloon is tracked from the ground and how the balloon is packed up after landing. She also provides a brief history of ballooning and an overview of an American balloon rally. Illustrated with her own photos, this is a good book for anyone interested in hot air ballooning.

May 15, 2017

Sophie Blanchard, woman aeronaut

Lighter than Air: Sophie Blanchard, the First Woman Pilot
by Matthew Clark Smith
illustrated by Matt Tavares

Words and pictures work harmoniously together in this magical picture book, which ably captures the incomparable sensation of flight. Smith writes with a light, expressive touch which, when combined with Tavares' soaring bright or dark-hued pictures, wonderfully convey ballooning's joys and dangers. Sophie herself is depicted with verve and bravery; her love of flight evident in her expressive features.


May 12, 2017

Dragonfly experiments

Nature Close-up: Dragonflies and Damselflies
by Elaine Pascoe
photographs by Dwight Kuhn

Kids who are lucky enough to live near a body of water would get the most out of this book. The first chapter provides a wealth of information about dragonflies and their damselfly cousins. It even takes a brief look at mayflies. However, the majority of the book is devoted to the care and observation of dragonfly nymphs. 

Catching dragonfly larvae is potentially hazardous, while raising them could be challenging. They require room-temperature non-chlorinated water, pond plants, and a continuous supply of live prey. The experiments, while easy, depend on healthy, living nymphs. Therefore, I would recommend this book for conscientious kids who prefer scientific, hands-on learning. 

May 10, 2017

Dragonfly field guide

Dragonflies: Catching - Identifying - How and Where They Live
by Chris Earley

The many bright photographs in this book help in identifying the numerous species of dragonflies that kids may find at the lake, the cottage, or their own backyards. Clear, informative text teach them about a dragonfly's life cycle, its prey and predators, and how to catch and hold one.

An excellent book for budding naturalists.

May 8, 2017

A dragonfly named Anax

A Dragon in the Sky
by Laurence Pringle
paintings by Bob Marstall

As spring arrives, a green darner dragonfly nymph is born in a swamp in western New York state. Named Anax by its biographer, we watch as he develops from nymph to mature adult, and follow as he migrates down the eastern American coast. 

Illustrated with lovely watercolour paintings, the book does a wonderful job of describing the life cycle of a dragonfly in an engrossing storybook format. Sidebars add further details about dragonflies and the insects who share their habitats. Appended to the story are a list of books and websites for further research, and advice on caring for dragonfly nymphs.

An excellent introduction to these living flashes of light.

May 5, 2017

Don't sing before breakfast

Don't Sing Before Breakfast, Don't Sleep in the Moonlight: Everyday Superstitions and How They Began
by Lila Perl
illustrated by Erika Weihs

Saying bless you after sneezing…Stepping over sidewalk cracks…Crossing your fingers for luck…Tossing confetti at weddings…

These are all superstitions. But why are we superstitious? How did superstitions begin? Lila Perl traces the origin of superstitions in her interesting book. It demystifies some of our traditions and explains certain quirks of human behaviour.

Black-and-white illustrations, which resemble wood etchings, add further interest.

May 3, 2017

Eat mice to stop stuttering

Duck's Breath and Mouse Pie: A Collection of Animal Superstitions
by Steve Jenkins

Black cats, peacock feathers, and sharks bring bad luck, while wishing on frogs, spotting dalmatians, and tossing caterpillars are lucky. Other animals cure illness, foretell fortunes, or bear good news.

Decorated with Jenkins’ familiar paper collages, this is an unusual and interesting book. Endnotes explain how these illogical beliefs got started.

May 1, 2017


Knock on Wood: Poems About Superstitions
by Janet S. Wong
illustrated by Julie Paschkis

Think of a horseshoe as a piggy bank of luck.

When you bring it home, hang it prongs up.
Then leave it to fill, full and rich,
with no one looking.

When it’s time, the luck will spill.

Horseshoe and sixteen other free verse poems make up this picture book about superstitions. The poems and pictures are often strange, which seems oddly appropriate.