Tag Archives: science

Professor Astro Cat’s Space Rockets

Professor Astro Cat’s Space Rockets
Dr Dominic Walliman and Ben Newman
Flying Eye Books

With Brian Cox-like charisma, Walliman and Newman’s Professor Astro Cat blasts off on a new adventure, launching us into space courtesy of the prof. It’s he that describes first, in easily comprehendible terms for young readers, the workings of rockets.

Next comes a brief (and selective) ‘History of Space Travel’ that begins in 1947 with fruit flies, and is followed by Laika (her reportedly ‘painless’ death in orbit is not mentioned), monkey Albert and then in 1961, Yuri Gagarin, the first human space traveller who managed to orbit the earth.

The huge Appollo 11 features thereafter with the famous first moon landing of two of the crew’s three astronauts in 1969.

Readers also hear of ‘Modern Space Shuttles’: Columbia, Discovery (that carried the Hubble Space telescope), Challenger that was especially memorable for carrying Sally Ride the first American woman, in space and the first African American, Guion Bluford.

Looking to the future, the final spreads are devoted to NASA’s work in progress, Orion and the Space Launch System; the possibilities of space tourism for ordinary mortals, a brief mention of star travel and on the last page, a short glossary.

In all this, the Prof. is accompanied in Ben Newman’s characteristically stylish retro looking illustrations, by his two pals, the similarly clad feline and sidekick mouse.

Sufficiently powerful to send the youngest of primary children rocketing on their way towards becoming ardent space enthusiasts, and into potential science careers I suspect.

Ice Boy / Stack the Cats

Ice Boy
David Ezra Stein
Walker Books
Meet Ice Boy, the hero of Stein’s latest book. Rather than being restrained by his freezer existence and frequent “Never go outside” parental warnings, the young ice-cube leaves the safe enclosed environment and ventures down to the ocean’s edge and thence discovers a whole new world of exciting adventures is to be had.
His first incarnation is ‘Water Boy …

and thereafter Vapour Boy; after which, having tap-danced upon a thunderstorm and freezing …

a tiny pellet of summer hail.
In solid form once again, he hurtles off a roof-top and ‘BLOOP’ –is reunited with his parents who just happen to be chilling someone’s drink.

Suddenly it looks as though extermination is to be the outcome for all three cubes but fortunately, the thirsty human’s first taste is of the little lad who, after all his adventures has become a taste-bud disaster; and Ice Boy and parents are summarily tossed from the tumbler onto the grass.
Then, with an infusion of worldly knowledge, Ice Boy leads the trio off on a new water-cycle adventure …
This clever tale of risk-taking, transformation and re-incarnation is such a fun way to introduce a sclence lesson on the water-cycle. Stein’s mixed media, largely blue and grey illustrations are littered throughout with witty speech bubbles (‘Oh, Ice Boy! You’re a sight for sore ice.‘ Or, ‘Am I dense or did I just become a liquid again?‘and peppered with POPs, PUFFs, BLOOPs and other appropriate noises off.

Stack the Cats
Susie Ghahremani
Abrams Appleseed
Much more than a mere counting activity, this playful picture book offers opportunities for youngsters to expand their mathematical thinking to embrace simple division and multiplication; and a spot of height comparison. We start with ‘One cat sleeps.’ // Two cats play. // Three cats?/ STACK!’ Followed by …

After which the pattern alters thus:

Clearly the six have found this process a little wearying so ‘Seven cats nap.’
Then, the revived felines plus another try their paws at a spot to towering , which rapidly turns to a tumble. It’s as well cat nine is there to even things out and for the first and only time, numerals make their appearance …

What happens thereafter is that Ghahremi decides that ten cats are ‘just too many’, dispersing the gathering to hide, sleep, climb and generally have a playful time (a subtraction discussion opportunity) and finishing with an open-ended, ‘How will you stack the cats?’
The eye-catching cats are given the opportunity to show their playful personalities while youngsters are offered a plethora of mathematical possibilities. A purrfect prelude to some mathematical activities: fun and educative and also, great for beginning readers.

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Rosie Revere’s Big Project Book for Bold Engineers


Rosie Revere’s Big Project Book for Bold Engineers
Andrea Beaty and David Roberts
Abrams Books for Young Readers
From the same Beaty/Roberts team and using art from the original Rosie Revere, Engineer story, this splendid project book will surely motivate primary age children to involve themselves in all manner of exciting and creative science and engineering projects. There are opportunities to make a simple catapult (and analyse it); to design a ‘1000 Egg Picker-Upper’ to help Rosie and Uncle Fred in the zoo (there’s a related egg identification challenge too). I’m sure the marble run making will prove popular – lots of cylinders needed here; and there are projects to design a better bicycle


Engineers make things better: design a bicycle for the future …

and make a solar oven. I love the improving Great, Great Aunt Rose’s walking stick challenge where her walking aid needs to be adapted as a tool carrier: superb stuff and perfect for developing those vital STEM problem-solving/creative skills,


as are the reminders about the importance of failing and learning from it. There is even a word search and a story writing project, showing that the book’s creators clearly understand the importance of the development of the imagination.
Famous scientists are introduced too: for instance, Joseph Swan and Thomas Edison – with his team of ‘Muckers’ (I’m pleased to see the whole question of teamwork discussed); and there’s Rube Goldberg (a famous cartoonist and engineer).
Empowering and inspiring at the same time. Brilliant stuff.

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Charles Darwin’s Around the World Adventure


Charles Darwin’s Around the World Adventure
Jennifer Thermes
In this introduction to the work of Charles Darwin, the author focuses on his five-year long voyage aboard HMS Beagle, the ship on which he served as naturalist. Before that though we’re given brief details of his earlier life leading up to his departure on the ship whose mission was making maps of South America.
The young man was absolutely fascinated by the sights and sounds around. He kept a journal, writing in it detailed daily observations of what he saw and heard –‘big observations about the tiniest of creatures’ we’re told.


So delighted by the wild life was he that Charles would often choose to remain on land while the Beagle sailed up and down the coast. This delight is portrayed in Thermes’ detailed watercolour portraits of the young man at work, work that set his imagination on fire and would later contribute to his ideas and writings on evolution. Her narrative fills in other details, particularly that of Darwin’s observations on individual creatures: ‘He saw a rare bird called a rhea that used its wings to steer as it ran, but could not fly’, and later in Tierra de Fuego, on the interconnectedness of all wild-life, indeed all of nature itself.


The stop on the volcanic Galápagos Islands particularly amazed Charles with its 200 pound tortoises big enough to ride on, but most notably the different kinds of finches he came across.


In addition to a detailed cross-section of the departing Beagle, there are large, colourful maps charting the exciting voyage for readers to enjoy …


Further information is given about Darwin’s life and work, and other related facts in the two final spreads.
All in all this does a very good job of capturing the excitement not only of the voyage, but of the wonders of nature as a whole. Definitely one for the primary school bookshelves and for individuals interested in wildlife in general.

Up, Up and Away


Up, Up and Away
Tom McLaughlin
Bloomsbury Children’s Books
I have a particular soft spot for small boys with large imaginations so I instantly fell for Orson, a boy who loves to make things. On the particular day we meet him, young Orson has his head in a book, and his heart and mind on an extraordinary idea …


Now unlike many of the inventive ilk, Orson is an organised little chap and so in a short time he’s busy gathering all the vital ingredients for his venture – a cup of rocks, a splosh of water, some chunks of metal and a large amount of nothingness (lots of empty space is required on a planet after all). Naturally, he’s decided to employ the big bang method and has managed to get his hands on just what he needs for the purpose …



And before long BOOM! There in his bedroom, right before his, and our, eyes, is a small swirling spherical object. It’s a case of love at first sight so far as Orson is concerned, but concerned he is ,for the planet he’s brought into being has a decidedly unhappy look about it. What’s a lad to do with a sad planet?
Orson resolves to cheer it up … not very successfully …


Off he goes to his favourite place to do a spot of research and having genned up on the subject through the night, he proceeds to carry out his plan of inducing planet happiness. He feeds it, dusts its craters, tidies its ocean and voila! By the following morning there’s a decided improvement and significant increase in size … with veritable moons even.
Unsurprisingly, care equals happiness where the planet is concerned but most of us know, though perhaps Orson had yet to learn, that happiness has a tendency to attract … Before long, it’s not ‘ just a few teaspoons and the odd unicycle’ but …


And come bedtime both boy and big bang ball are equally down at heart.
Next morning, (no doubt Orson’s unconscious mind was in over-drive all night), the boy has come to a decision: braveness is called for – and a release …


That however, is not entirely the end of the story …
Oh the wit, oh, the wisdom, oh the beauty of Tom McLaughlin’s whole phenomenal enterprise.

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Under Earth Under Water


Under Earth Under Water
Aleksandra Mizielińska and Daniel Mizielińska
Big Picture Press
First from this duo there was Maps and now back they’ve come three years later with another wonderful non-fiction offering, an exploration of what lies beneath the ground, or – if you turn this massively fascinating book around and begin at the other end – what lurks beneath the surface of the oceans. Even the contents pages are ingenious journey maps.
Let’s start with going under the earth where pretty much everything from bacteria, beetle larvae, burrowing animals, storage roots and the like …


natural gas …


cables and pipes, sewers, to metro lines are delved into.
Flip the book over and readers are plunged into lakes, the oceans, and richly coloured coral reefs. Topics such as underwater pressure, diving, submarines, oil platforms and deep-sea fish …


are covered. The whole thing is a veritable treasure trove chock full of delights scientific …


geographical, cultural and historical …


to fascinate and be pored over.
Totally engrossing, lavishly produced, brilliantly designed, visually staggering, this is a volume to be dipped into, enjoyed, cherished: what an amazing journey to the centre of the earth no matter from which end you begin.
It’s beyond brilliant and a must for family bookshelves and class libraries no matter what the age or stage.

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Professor Astro Cat’s Atomic Adventure

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Professor Astro Cat’s Atomic Adventure
Dr Dominic Walliman and Ben Newman
Flying Eye Books
Professor Astro Cat is one cool guy; if only he’d been around when I was learning physics. His “join me” invitation is one not to be ignored as he takes his readers on an amazing journey of discovery.
First stop, Gravity. Very important – if it weren’t for that invisible force, we wouldn’t be on planet earth at all, we’d all be floating around in space.

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It’s also the reason the Earth and the Sun – this exerts a massive gravitational force keeping the planets in orbit – were created. Awesome!
Next is an explanation of the Scientific Method; key here is making a hypothesis. Plug for the imagination for without it, no hypothesis; and as we know, the biggest fueller of the imagination is literature. Of course one needs to test that hypothesis (scientific guess), observe, record results and compare hypothesis and results. A vital element of experimentation is Measurement be it of length/distance, time, temperature, weight and mass. Our Prof. sums it all up here …

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Next tricky question: What is everything made of? Atoms – yes but those break down into …

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Moreover, they exist in three forms (at room temperature that is) solid, liquid and gas and the different kinds of atoms are called elements; they’re what are organised on that chart you’re likely to find in a school science lab. the Periodic Table. Professor Astro Cat explains the significance of this nifty piece of documentation and much more in A World of Atoms before going on to discuss Metals, which is what most elements in that periodic table are, the others being mostly gases. Don’t you just love the playful juxtapositioning here:

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But then playfulness is the essence of this whole mind-boggling book. It would be impossible in a short review to mention all the exciting areas the Prof. explores but crucially he makes the world of physics so accessible and understandable. Of course, the explanations themselves are only one half of the equation. Ben Newman’s busy, retro style illustrations are bounties of graphic genius and it’s the amalgam of words and pictures that really makes this one such a cracker.
(One small mistake I noticed is that we’re told ‘A clover has 3 petals … ‘ It has 5; 3 is the number of leaves, strictly speaking, leaflets.) All in all though, a real blast, you might say.
But let’s give the Prof. himself the final say:

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Look, Do, Discover

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How Things Work
Thames and Hudson
This large-sized book is a veritable treasure trove of ideas scientific, all using things that are likely to be found in the immediate environment as a starting point for investigation.
We join friends Koko and Alex – the former a deconstructionist fascinated by how things work, the latter a would-be machine builder. We also meet a trio of explorers who act as commentator, questioner and thought provoker, throughout. Starting with How to build a house, our explorers take readers through the process step by step introducing the various materials used. Then we move on to a spread that looks at all kinds of homes and there’s an invitation to play I Spy.

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Back we go next to learn about water and electricity and how not to waste these vital resources in the home.
There’s a materials game to play followed by some playful ‘Can you?’ scenarios to consider such as a paper hammer or wooden specs.

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There’s also a great “How is it made? section about book making from author’s ideas to finished product, followed by instructions on making a concertina book – budding authors/illustrators take note. I could go on but suffice it to say other topics include ‘What is a machine?’ and spin off activities, shadow play and other light-related activities, a look at other power sources and …
As a teacher I’m always encouraging children to ask ‘how?’, ‘why? And ‘what?’ questions and equally they love to do so and then discover answers to their queries. Billed as ‘Facts and fun/Questions and answers/ Things to make and do’,

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this volume, in addition to being a fun introduction to a host of science concepts, is an ideal starting point for enquiring minds.
The illustrations – a mix of seemingly, simple child-like art and photographs –

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are plentiful, amusing, involving and show great attention to detail.
A stonkingly good book all round either for home enjoyment or the primary classroom.

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Creatures Great and Small
Lucy Engelman illustrator
Wide Eyed Editions
Is it a colouring book? Is it a field guide? Actually, this one is more like a sketchpad with thick card backboard and tear-out pages containing thirty five prints of members of the animal kingdom from all over the world is both. Some 250 species in all are featured and these are divided into groups, each one having a page print to colour. So for example there are pages of large mammals, Marine Mammals for instance or Primates as well as Frogs, Toads or Bugs, Beetles and Bees.
The limited space available dictates that only a snippet of information can be given about each creature on the colouring page,

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with further details provided (by Valerie Davies) on the back key page. This includes information on the colour and pattern of each animal drawn.
This is certainly not a book for the very young; rather it will appeal to older readers (child and adult) who like information rendered visually rather in lots of words. There is assuredly plenty to keep anyone gainfully occupied and may very well send readers off to research and find other sources of information although completing the pictures can equally well be an end in itself.

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