Why Do We Poo? / Where Does the Sun Go?

Why Do We Poo?
Where Does the Sun Go?
Harriet Blackford and Mike Henson
Boxer Books

These are two TechTots™ Science titles in a new STEM series for the very young.

The Tots, Oscar, Isla, Seb and Mia are a quartet of mini Tech superheroes who act as investigators exploring the sort of questions young children ask.

In the Poo book, a pigeon pooing beside Mia as the Tots sit eating lunch on the beach one day precipitates Seb’s question, “Why do we poo?”

Rather than finish their picnic, the four, armed with bowls, a resealable bag, some food (and a pair of tights Oscar just happens to have brought along) they set about conducting an investigation.

Using straightforward language with plenty of dialogue, with the aid of their equipment the four take a look at the digestive process from mastication to excretion; the narrative concluding as Oscar enters the loo.

Like the characters in this scene, I’m sure your little ones will supply similar comments as you share this playfully informative book.

Whether or not you want to provide the facilities for practical investigation by your audience, I’ll leave to you; but use left overs such as fruit/vegetable peelings, not edible food for all kinds of reasons.

The Sun exploration begins as the four sit swinging in the park in the setting sun with Seb wondering, “Where does the sun go?” This little guy seems to be the questioner among the friends and this time it’s Isla taking the lead.

During the course of the investigation we learn that it ‘takes a day and a night for the earth to turn around once’ and that it turns at around 1000 mph. The account of their exploration finishes with Seb’s comment that “there’s a lot to learn about our planet”, no doubt paving the way for further investigations by the team.

This one’s more easily re-investigated in a foundation stage setting as it only requires a globe (any largish sphere would do), a blob of playdough, a small paper flag to mark where on the globe we live, a torch, a child to hold it and another to hold the globe.

We all want children to grow up with enquiring minds: this series with Harriet Blackford’s clear, concise narrative and Mike Henson’s bold, bright amusing illustrations should help them on their way to becoming young investigators themselves.

Ada Twist and the Perilous Pantaloons

Ada Twist and the Perilous Pantaloons
Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
Amulet Books

Ada Twist returns with a high-flier of STEM adventure in the second of her chapter books series. As always her head is full of questions: why does her mother’s coffee smell stronger than her father’s? Why do her brother’s tennis shoes stink so badly?

Each of her questions leads to further questions, hypotheses and experiments, one of which links her involvement in the Great Backyard Bird Count activity with working out how to rescue Rosie’s Uncle Ned who, thanks to his helium-filled pantaloons, is floating around in the sky unable to get down.

Ada combines her ‘what if’ curiosity, brainpower, and knowledge of molecules, air pressure, temperature and forces, with that of friends Rosie Revere and Iggy Peck to work out a plan to bring Uncle Ned back to earth.

Andrea Beaty’s amusing twisting, turning narrative is irresistible and sweeps readers along like the hot air that powers those pantaloons of Uncle Ned, while David Roberts’ detailed illustrations, be they full page or smaller, are full of humour and provide a great complement to the text.

With credible inspiring characters, believable relationships, information aplenty, including, after the story concludes, reasons for studying birds and the ‘think about this’ pages on the threat posed to rainforests by palm-oil plantations, a poem even, this book is a thoroughly engaging read, a super model of scientific questioning and thinking, and a demonstration that creative problem solvers and scientists don’t always get things right first time. Terrific!

Odd Science: Incredible Creatures

Odd Science: Incredible Creatures
James Olstein
Pavilion Children’s Books

Science is cool, it’s exciting, and creatures are endlessly fascinating, as this book demonstrates. It’s full of wacky and funky facts on beasties large and small from minute bugs to massive creatures of the deep, presented in an accessible manner by James Olstein.

So prepare to be fascinated by the likes of the praying mantis, which can turn its head around by 180 degrees to see what’s happening behind – particularly useful should they want to be teachers –

or the fact that in Tokyo, pigeons have been trained by scientists to distinguish between the works of Monet and Picasso; now why would they want to do that?

You might wish to know the answer to the time old ‘chicken or egg, which came first?’ question: the answer from some British scientists is revealed herein.

I was fascinated to discover that although sloths hang around in trees most of the time, they come down once a week for a poo; also, that yellow-billed oxpeckers roost on giraffes when they go to sleep at night often settling in the giraffe’s ‘armpit’.

Did you know that Egyptian plovers clean crocodiles’ teeth in exchange for some extra food? Risky!

The information is presented in sections such as dinosaurs, whales, octopods, cats, stripes, tongues, defences and so on.

Olstein’s retro-style, quirky pictures bring further funkiness to his array of facts.

This is ideal for dipping in and out of, though readers who find it hard to become engrossed in a book might just find themselves so doing in Incredible Creatures.

Speed Birds

Speed Birds
Alan Snow
Oxford University Press

Rather than being awed by his mother’s talk of potentially deadly falcons, a crow chick is entranced when he sees the speed at which a falcon zooms through the air.

Come autumn, the little crows learn that it’s time for them to fend for themselves in the big, wide world. Excited and with his mother’s words “… if you stay curious, use your mind, and believe in yourself, there is no limit to what you can achieve” the little bird sets off one morning with the other young crows.
Convinced that there are wonders to be discovered, the little crow urges the others onwards till eventually they stop to spend the night in a lone tree.

It’s here next morning that one little crow makes a most thrilling discovery that is to change his life and that of his fellow crows.

Below the tree is a junkyard full of abandoned vehicles and car parts as well as a shed full of tools, more car parts, trophies and most important, plans and a notebook containing drawings, diagrams and lists.

So begins the project to become the fastest bird in the world.

This is a book that makes nonsense of the notion some primary teachers adhere to that once children achieve reading fluency, they should no longer read picture books. Alan Snow’s illustrations are truly awesome – a combination of fine art and technical drawing with clearly annotated detailed inventories of the car’s and engine’s components and how  the internal combustion engine works as well as the formula for calculating the speed and more.

Mechanically minded adults, as well as older primary children and above, will be enthralled by both the story and the intricate technical details of the art. I wonder if Lewis Hamilton would go even faster with a feather festooned Mercedes?

Odd Science: Amazing Inventions

Daniel discovering some amazing inventions …

Odd Science: Amazing Inventions
James Olstein
Pavilion Children’s Books

What struck me immediately while reading about the amazing inventions in this book, is the crucial role of the imagination in each and every one of them; something all too many of those who’ve played a part in side-lining or cutting completely, creative subjects in schools seem to have overlooked or disregarded.
Without the power of imagination none of these ground-breaking ideas would ever have been conceived let alone come to fruition.

Weird and wacky-seeming, for sure: this book is brimming over with quirky, illustrated facts about all kinds of inventions and discoveries from penicillin to plastic-using pens; the matchstick to the microwave.

What about a nanobot so tiny it could swim inside a human body to perform medical procedures;

or non-melting ice-cream that retains its shape for hours .You can buy the stuff – it’s called Kanazawa – in Japan.

How super to have a pair of super-light, super-strong trainers made from spider silk that can be composted once they’re finished with.

Or perhaps a garment made of fabric that can be cleaned by holding it up to the light. Aussie scientists have manufactured such a fabric and it contains tiny structures that release a burst of energy that degrades stains; yes please.

Certainly the roads around the country could do with making use of the self-healing concrete developed by Dutch microbiologist, Hendrik Marius Jonkers. It uses bacteria to heal cracks in buildings and roads.

Even more surprising than some of the inventions themselves is the fact that they were accidentally discovered, penicillin being one, superglue another.

Hours of immersive, fun-filled learning made all the more enjoyable by author James Olstein’s quirky, retro-style illustrations on every spread.

Anatomy for Babies / Botany for Babies

Anatomy for Babies
Botany for Babies

Jonathan Litton and Thomas Elliott
Caterpillar Books

Here are two absolutely lovely board books that are part of the Baby 101 Science series.

Anatomy for Babies starts by introducing basic body parts such as head, hair and foot.
It then takes little ones inside to look at bones

and muscles, and back out to see the skin.

Next comes the brain, followed by the lungs and the heart.
The alimentary canal comes next with a quick look at digestion.

Thereafter we move to the outside again for a focus on the five senses. Each part introduced has a sentence describing its function.
The final spread celebrates the notion of growth and has a lift-up flap.
And don’t miss the opportunity to do the action song ‘Head, shoulders, knees and toes’ when you look together at the front cover.

Botany for Babies explores the world of flora starting, after a general celebratory introduction, with seeds of various kinds.

Roots and shoots and their respective functions come next and then an opportunity for some height comparison using a daffodil, a sunflower and a deciduous tree.
The following spread is devoted to root systems including some mouth-watering vegetables: it’s never too soon to introduce the idea of eating healthy veggies to little ones.

The focus then moves to trees of both the deciduous and coniferous kind, after which comes the role of leaves in photosynthesis (no that term isn’t used!).

Bees buzz merrily on the next spread where their role in pollination is mentioned.

A fruiting apple tree is shown bearing juicy red fruits and there’s also a cross section where you can see the seeds, which takes readers full circle back to seed dispersal on the final spread. There too is a flap to lift with a surprise beneath.
Adding to the enjoyment, insects and other small creatures form part of the illustration on almost every spread.

Both books have terrific STEM potential as well as being wonderful for language development; it all depends on the adult mediator.  Thoroughly recommended.

Audrey the Amazing Inventor

Audrey the Amazing Inventor
Rachel Valentine and Katie Weymouth
Words & Pictures

Hot on the heels of Ada Twist, Scientist and Rosie Revere, Engineer comes another young girl character with a passion.
Meet Audrey, inquisitive and an inveterate fiddler with things, who, having declared to her teacher, her intention to be an inventor, sets about achieving her ambition.

She starts with items to make life better for her dad and Happy Cat but after a very rocky start

and even more disastrous next efforts, Audrey miserably declares herself “the world’s worst inventor!

Luckily for her, her dad, far from making disparaging remarks, encourages his daughter to learn from her mistakes and carry on trying. Wise advice.

It works too, for it isn’t long before Audrey is inventing again, but this time she’s extra careful at the planning stage, the constructing stage and the testing stage. Dad cannot wait to see the new invention.

Will it work to the satisfaction of all though? It’s certainly wildly inventive, and sophisticated; but will it deliver?
Crazy, but enormously enjoyable and an inspiration to young female would-be scientists, technologists and engineers: Audrey demonstrates just how much enjoyment the STEM curriculum offers and Rachel Valentine’s narrative reminds children of the importance of persevering, and of following your dreams.

There’s a slight touch of the Heath Robinsons about some of Katie Weymouth’s zany scenes of Audrey at work on her inventions, and she also adroitly captures the close and supportive relationship between father and daughter.