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Notes from a Children's Librarian: Life Sciences

Celebrate Earth Day with these fun and inspiring picture books.

Book Cover Wanted Criminals of the Animal Kingdom

Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.

Celebrate Earth Day with these (mainly nonfiction) picture books. Ties to the Life Sciences curriculum include: Characteristics of Living Things (Grade 1), Growth and Change in Animals (Grade 2), Habitats (Grade 4) and Biodiversity (Grade 6).


Wanted! Criminals of the Animal Kingdom, written by Heather Tekavec, illustrated by Susan Batori, is a clever way of presenting information. Each “wanted” animal is showcased alongside a rap sheet of aliases, distinguishing features, life span and sightings (location), and most fun—witnesses and previous arrests. There’s lazy Big Bad Mama (aka the common cuckoo), who sneaks her egg into a neighbouring nest, forcing another mother to do all the hatching. When Big Bad Mama’s baby is born, she pushes out the other eggs and moves into the newly vacated dwelling. The witnesses? Hundreds of angry mother birds. Older students could adapt the rap sheet format in order to record their own research findings. Kindergarten-Grade 3.


Book Cover Different Same

Different? Same!, also by Heather Tekavec, illustrated by Pippa Curnick, contains four very different creatures per page, alongside patterned text calling out similarities; for example, a chameleon, a snake, a turtle and a fish appear next to text: “I perch. I slither. I plod. I swim…But look closer now…we all have scales.” The grand finale is a menagerie of living things with the challenge: “How many animals can you find that have spots? Make good pets? Have six or more legs? You would NOT like to touch.” There’s a two page spread on why animals have certain characteristics, such as stripes, whiskers or tusks. Great for Kindergarten-Grade 1.


Book Cover Cells

Cells: An Owners’ Handbook, by Carolyn Fisher, simplifies a complicated concept with the help of narrator Ellie, a skin cell living on the derriere of a Boston terrier. “Congratulations! You are the owner of 37 trillion high performance cells (give or take a few trillion),” Ellie says. Bold illustrations with eye-catching text provide a multitude of facts about cells, including what they are, their different types, shapes, sizes and jobs, as well as what makes up a cell. There are several illustrations that put cells in perspective—sometimes magnified thousands of times—and lots of juicy science words like “multicellular,” “nucleus,” and “mitosis." Humour abounds—from cells taking “a cellfie!” to the way text is laid out on the page. For Grades 1-6.


Book Cover the Mushroom Fan Club

I know a Grade 6 teacher who, each year, has his students grow mushrooms in little jars all along the chalkboard ledge. A great accompaniment to such an experiment might be The Mushroom Fan Club, by Elise Gravel. Learn about different types of fungi, along with funny things that happened to the author while searching for mushrooms and how to make a spore print. Did you know  there are millions of species of mushrooms? And mushroom scientists are called “mycologists”?


Book Cover the Fly

Elise Gravel has tackled some lesser liked critters in her Disgusting Creatures Series. Each book is perfect for as young as kindergarten but Grade 6 students would love them, too. The series include the following titles: The Fly, Head Lice, The Spider, The Toad, The Slug, The Cockroach, The Rat and The Worm. Cartoonish illustrations are a palatable way of learning characteristics, species, habitat, body parts, movement, food and reproduction. Also mentioned are each one’s role in the environment. Lice have no purpose, for example, unlike the very useful toad who eats pests that attack crops. And there’s some great vocabulary like retractable, muscidae (the fly family), transparent (lice’s tummy), incisors, ootheca (the purse which contains cockroach eggs). Humour is at the forefront with a louse (a single lice) seen swinging Tarzan-style from hair shaft to hair, and a fly, who lives between 15 and 30 days, exclaiming, “Mom, I’m not a baby anymore! I’m 6 days old!” Students could illustrate their own researched facts in a similar fashion.


Book Cover The Bug Girl

The Bug Girl (A True Story), by Sophia Spencer & Margaret McNamara, illustrated by Kerascoet, introduces the reader to bug-lover, Sophia Spencer. Sophia set up an outdoor bug club, which was cool in kindergarten but not in Grade 1. She was bullied for her interest so she packed up her bug gear and pretended not to care about little critters. But kids continued to call her “bug girl.” When her mom wrote a letter to the entomological society inquiring about a pen pal for Sophia, it went viral; scientists from around the world responded and set her back on track to becoming a future entomologist. At age 11, she wrote this book with the help of McNamara and the beautiful water colour illustrations of Kerascoet to tell the story of sticking to your scientific dreams.   


Book Cover Percy's Museum

Percy’s Museum, by Sara O’Leary, illustrated by Carmen Mok, is a fictional tale, great for Kindergarten-Grade 1. Sweet, appealing illustrations show Percy, lonely and bored, after moving from the city to the country. At the end of his very big yard he discovers a “Percy-sized house,” and even better—“bees kissing flowers…birds putting on air shows.” Trees, bugs, and the pond become his new playground. While drawing pictures and collecting objects, Percy discovers that “sometimes WILD means big and scary and sometimes it means small and sweet (like a wild strawberry)” and “the dark can seem empty but really is very full.” His Percy-sized house becomes a showpiece for his drawings and collectibles, as well as a new-friend magnet.


The next two books, both by Dana Hopkins and illustrated by Aaron Edzerza, are part of the Nunavummi Reading Series, a levelled book series teaching kids about Arctic people, traditions and environment.

Book Cover Dinosaurs of the Arctice

When we think about dinosaurs, we don’t really think about the far north but Dinosaurs of the Arctic tells us bones have been discovered in Nunavit. This one would be good for Kindergarten to Grade 1, or students in Grade 2-3 doing their own research. With 3-6 sentences per page, and illustrations providing context, it reveals the Arctic wasn’t as cold 65 million years ago; it was about the temperature of a fridge. And dinosaurs had to survive all that snow, lack of sunlight and food scarcity. Relative size is shown on a grid, with the ugrunaaluk as long as 3 polar bears. Did you know the tiktaalik, a fish-like animal walked on land with its fins? And giant camel bones have been found on Ellesmere Island?


Book Cover Ancient Arctic Mammals

Ancient Arctic Mammals has more text with 2-3 paragraphs per page, interspersed with bolded vocabulary and definitions. It includes creatures who have survived to this day: caribou, wolves and the siksiit (Arctic ground squirrels that have been around for 10 million years.) This book introduces the reader to a beaver the size of a polar bear and puijila, which were like seals with legs, living on both land and water over 20 million years ago. Both texts ignite the imagination—how did dinosaurs adapt to their severe conditions?


On her first day as teacher-librarian, Julie Booker was asked by a five-year-old if that was her real name. She's felt at home in libraries since her inaugural job as a Page in the Toronto Public Library. She is the author of Up Up Up, a book of short stories published by House of Anansi Press.

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