Encouraging Scientific and Engineering Practices with Picture Books

Today I’m pleased to bring this unique take on book reviews for three picture books.  We all know that fall behind other countries in the fields of math and science.  Perhaps if we begin introducing these subjects in an entertaining and informative way through picture books, we can close that gap.  Micheal Carton highlights three such books. Here’s Michael:

I’m a 1st grade teacher and the father of a 2-year-old boy, and I’m passionate about math and science.  Last year, I decided that I would try to read my son every fiction picture book in our local library, and I like to think we’ve been doing a pretty good job at it (we’ve already read more than 1,000 books together).

 The vast majority of the books my son and I have read were great, but the teacher in me couldn’t help but notice that many of the children’s fiction picture books that we were reading left a lot to be desired when it came to encouraging kids to develop Scientific and Engineering Practices (link to http://www.nsta.org/docs/ngss/201112_framework-bybee.pdf).

This bothered me so much that I even wrote a post on my blog (link to http://michaelsreadthelibrary.wordpress.com) about it.  Since then, I’ve been looking for exemplar books that would fit into the category of “Scientific and Engineering Practices,” and here are three of my favorites so far:

Yucky Worms copyYucky Worms (http://www.amazon.com/Yucky-Worms-Wonder-Vivian-French/dp/0763658170)

Written by: Vivian French (http://www.vivianfrench.co.uk)  Illustrated by: Jessica Ahlberg

Yucky Worms is about a boy who learns all about worms and their benefits from his grandmother while spending a day in her garden.  In the beginning of the story, the grandmother digs up a worm and the boy wants her to throw it away.  By the end of the story, he considers worms to be his friends!

Throughout the story, the author uses the wonderful illustrations to inject TONS of interesting facts about worms (such as, “Worms breathe through their skins… if their tunnels are flooded, they come up to the surface to move around more easily.”).  She also includes a couple pages on how to be a “Wormologist” by describing how to handle the slimy creatures and giving ideas for experimenting at home.

Yucky Worms is a great example of how Scientific and Engineering Practices can be seamlessly intertwined with a good story!

                     11 Experiments copy

11 Experiments that Failed (http://www.amazon.com/Experiments-That-Failed-Jenny-Offill/dp/0375847626)  Written by: Jenny Offill (http://jennyoffill.com  Illustrated by: Nancy Carpenter

11 Experiments that Failed is a book about a young girl who does a bunch of experiments that children wish they could do (but are probably not allowed to do).  For example, She formulates hypotheses and gets the answers to questions like, “Will a piece of bologna fly like a Frisbee?” and “Do dogs like to be covered in glitter?”

Some people might say that 11 Experiments that Failed is a terrible children’s book because it teaches kids to do naughty things… but if you understand kids and the way their minds work, you know that the experiments in this book are no worse than (and might even seem tame compared to) what a child will come up with on their own.

One of the reasons I really like this book (besides the excellent illustrations) is because it features a girl doing science. Way too often, we see male characters playing the role of scientist, so it’s always nice to see a book that provides an alternative to the stereotype.  I also like that the book provides young readers with multiple examples of how to ask questions and set up experiments, and it shows children that it’s okay when their hypothesis is wrong (and unexpected/unintended consequences occur).

By asking questions that real kids would ask and injecting humor throughout the book, 11 Experiments that Failed does an excellent job getting kids to start thinking scientifically!

                                                                                        Rosie copy

 Rosie Revere, Engineer (http://www.amazon.com/Rosie-Revere-Engineer-Andrea-Beaty/dp/1419708457)   Written by: Andrea Beaty (http://www.andreabeaty.com)  Illustrated by: David Roberts

Rosie is a second grader who dreams of becoming a great engineer, but some of her inventions don’t quite get the reaction she intends.  In the story, Rosie tries to build a flying machine for her Great-Great-Aunt Rose, but it crashes to the ground.  Fortunately, her Great-Great-Aunt is there to help her realize that her invention DID work (before it crashed), and that the only time a person really fails is when they quit.

Again, I love stories that portray girls doing science, and this book is no exception!  The illustrations in this book make you want to go out and try to invent something yourself, and the underlying message of perseverance in the face of failure is something that all kids should hear again and again.

These are by no means the only books that incorporate Scientific and Engineering Practices, but they are (what I would consider to be) excellent examples of what children’s picture books need more of.  If you know of any other books that you think encourage scientific thinking, please leave a comment with the title and author.

Michael Carton

Author’s Bio: Michael Carton teaches 1st grade in Rock Island, Illinois, coaches a FIRST LEGO League team, and teaches an after-school STEM program for 4th-6th graders.  In his free time, he likes to spend time with his wife and son and build hovercrafts and catapults with his “Little” (from Big Brothers Big Sisters).   You can reach Michael at:

Twitter: @michaeltcarton and his blog: http://michaelsreadthelibrary.wordpress.com

7 thoughts on “Encouraging Scientific and Engineering Practices with Picture Books

  1. Pingback: Guest Blogging | Michaels Read

  2. Michael,

    Great reviews! These are some really awesome books for kids to get them thinking about science. The other thing about the 11 Experiments That Failed is that kids can have fun and learn from their mistakes. Being a scientist is about being inquisitive and checking out your hypotheses; obviously they all don’t all work out, but you can certainly learn a lot from the process!

    Well done.


  3. Pingback: Books For Engineers |

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