Sci Friday Picture Book Naturalist Biographies

Welcome back to Sci Friday at the Melange!

Science is awesome, but sometimes kids forget that there are real people helping our world discover, invent, and explore. From their earliest days, children need to be exposed to the lives of scientists so that they can see themselves taking on those roles as well.

This week I’m highlighting two picture books that give kids a peek into the lives of fascinating naturalists - Charles Darwin and Jane Goodall.

One Beetle Too Many: The Extraordinary Adventures of Charles Darwin

by Kathryn Lasky, Matthew Trueman (Illustrator)
Hardcover, 48 pages
Published January 13th 2009 by Candlewick Press (first published May 13th 2006)
076361436X (ISBN13: 9780763614362)
Goodreads Summary: From the time Charles Darwin was a boy, he was happiest when he was out alone collecting specimens (especially beetles). And despite his father's efforts to turn young Darwin — a poor student — into a doctor or clergyman, the born naturalist jumped instead at the chance to sail around South America, observing and collecting flora and fauna all the way. In a clear, engaging narration, Kathryn Lasky takes readers along on Darwin's journey, from his discovery of seashells on mountaintops that revealed geological changes to his observations of variations in plants and animals, suggesting that all living things are evolving over time. Matthew Trueman's striking mixed-media illustrations include actual objects found in nature, enhancing this compelling look at the man behind the bold theory that would change the way we think about the world — and ourselves.

My Thoughts:
    I was fascinated to learn about the childhood of Darwin. While I’ve often heard about his adulthood, and his Galapagos trip, I had never heard about the things that came before it. I think children will also find him intriguing. Just like learning about Einstein’s struggles in school, Darwin’s childhood can help inspire all children to pursue their scientific sides.
   The illustrations were fun, with endless little details to explore. The text was heavier, making the book more appropriate for upper elementary on up. My one gripe with this book was the lack of transition between pages. I often turned the page and felt like I had missed something, as the author just jumped into a new aspect of Darwin’s life. The ending was likewise abrupt. Overall, though, I enjoyed the book.
    There was interesting exploration of creationism vs. evolution, and the conflicts Darwin faced with his colleagues and contemporaries. I’d love to pair Darwin’s life with stories about scientists like Galileo who faced serious consequences for putting forth their revolutionary ideas.

Me... Jane
by Patrick McDonnell
Hardcover, 40 pages
Published April 5th 2011 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
0316045462 (ISBN13: 9780316045469)
literary awards
Caldecott Honor (2012), New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Books (2011)
Goodreads Summary: In his characteristic heartwarming style, Patrick McDonnell tells the story of the young Jane Goodall and her special childhood toy chimpanzee named Jubilee. As the young Jane observes the natural world around her with wonder, she dreams of "a life living with and helping all animals," until one day she finds that her dream has come true.
    One of the world's most inspiring women, Dr. Jane Goodall is a renowned humanitarian, conservationist, animal activist, environmentalist, and United Nations Messenger of Peace. In 1977 she founded the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI), a global nonprofit organization that empowers people to make a difference for all living things.
    With anecdotes taken directly from Jane Goodall's autobiography, McDonnell makes this very true story accessible for the very young--and young at heart.

My thoughts:
   This is a simple picture book, and would be perfect for any primary grade classroom. The illustrations are darling. The overall tone of the book celebrates creativity by sharing Jane’s childhood journals and reminds us that a single person can help to change the world. That’s what science is all about, right?
    While both boys and girls will be inspired to follow their passions to create a career for themselves, I’m excited about how Jane can be a valuable mentor for girls. Girls need to be exposed to women in science from the earliest possible grades, so that they never internalize the idea that girls can’t be scientists.

Some other science resources to explore this week:

The NSTA published a list of “Outstanding Science Trade Books of 2012”. It includes a few books I have featured here, like Eye of the Storm (Kate Messner’s science fiction tale) and Invincible Microbe.

Free Tech 4 Teachers blog linked to some amazing NASA videos about the moon and the inner solar system. Enjoy!

And a great review of a science fiction book by my friends at Teach Mentor Texts.

Star Challengers: Moonbase Crisis Review and Interview


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