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Want to Be a Scientist? Read These Biographies

by Miriam Downey 5. January 2015 08:06

I recently had the opportunity to see two movie biographies of famous scientists. The Theory of Everything about Stephen Hawking, the physicist, and The Imitation Game about the inventor of the computer, Alan Turing. Both of these movies portray science and scientists in a realistic light and are appropriate for high school students. If you have seen the movies, you might be interested in these biographies:

Stephen Hawking: Breaking the Boundaries of Time and Space by John Bankston

Alan Turing: The Architect of the Computer Age by Ted Gottfried.

Fewer young people are going into science careers, even though many young people are extremely interested in science and mathematics. Statistics have shown that STEM careers (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) are being encouraged among young children, but that older students are opting for other career paths. Additionally, there are very few women beginning careers in the sciences. A recent article on the National Geographic website discusses the ways women are discouraged from pursuing careers in science. However, the trend seems to be changing as more careers in science are opening up. It is time again for young people to look to STEM for career choices.

This website has information about STEM careers.

This website has short biographies of famous scientists.

So, if you are really into science and mathematics and want to think about a career in the sciences, you need to get a realistic view of what such a career would look like. Reading biographies of scientists will be really valuable to you. Here are the names of several new biographies that might interest you. They are appropriate for grades 4-9 and will be available at your library or bookstore.

The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos by Deborah Heiligman. The story of a brilliant but unconventional mathematician.

Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different by Karen Blumenthal. The biography shows the influence of Jobs on our current technological world.

Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman. The story of Charles Darwin through the context of his marriage.

Rosalind Franklin and the Structure of Life by Jane Polcovar. The life of the English chemist who helped with the discovery of DNA.

Up Close, Jane Goodall by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen. An honest look at the famed biologist.

On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne. This picture book perfectly mirrors Einstein's endless search for answers.

Odd Boy Out: Young Albert Einstein by Don Brown. Another excellent book about Einstein.

Electric Ben: The Amazing Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin by Robert Byrd. Emphasizes Franklin's scientific discoveries.

Starry Messenger by Peter Sis. The story of the astronomer, Galileo.



Blog | Libraries, Library Books | Math | Science

Interactive Reading

by Miriam Downey 16. July 2014 11:13

My father had one story from his childhood that he loved to tell. It was a simple story about him harnessing his horse, Topsy, to the wagon, loading the wagon with milk cans, and riding into town to the dairy with his dog, Jack. What the children loved was the interaction; they could go "clippety clop: as Topsy clattered down the road, and "bow wow wow wow" as Jack asked for a treat. Grandpa told the story many times to his grandchildren, and they even told it at his memorial service, even though they were all adults by then.

Children love interactive stories, particularly kindergarten and first graders who are just beginning to read for themselves. A new book, Born Reading, by Jason Boog, published by Touchstone just this week, has a great list of interactive story books that children love. I heartily recommend his book to you if you have young children.

Here is how to read a book interactively. Read it to the child first, then read it again having the child help you make the sounds or cry out the important words. Finally, hand the book to the child and watch him/her read it aloud even if they can't read yet.

I had this experience this week. I read No! David! by David Shannon to my granddaughter. It is an almost wordless story of a toddler who is always doing something naughty. I changed David to Davick, which is her toddler brother's name. She thought it was the funniest thing ever, because, of course, we are always saying No! to Davick. Although she is only three, she soon was reading the whole book herself, pointing to the word No! Then she wanted me to read it to her again, only this time she was the one being scolded. it was so much fun!

 Here is Boog's list of great interactive books from his book Born Reading.

Pete the Cat by Eric Litwin and James Dean. A groovy cat teaches kids how to cope with life's little problems. You can find several songs and some other activities at this website.

I Got the Rhythm by Connie Schofield-Morrison. Lots of music on a trip to the park.

Can You Make a Scary Face by Jan Thomas. Children make funny faces to match the story. Here are some activities to do as follow-up.

From Head to Toe by Eric Carle. Children imitate and complete a series of exercises.

Press Here by Herve Tullet. Touch the pages, shake the book, and blow on the pages.

Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson. This fun book has you tapping it, shaking it, jiggling it, and blowing it a kiss.

Don't Push the Button by Bill Cotter. A bit of reverse psychology.

It's a Tiger by David LaRochelle. Lots of noisy animal sounds.

Clip-Clop by Nicola Smee. A horse carries animals around the barnyard. A story you can reenact with your kids.

Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems. A pesky pigeon wants to take the bus for a joyride, but your child will love to tell him to stop!

I am indebted to Jason Boog for this list of books. He has a wonderful website that is filled with lists of books and activities for children. You can access it here. The books can all be found at the library or your local bookstore.







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Blog | English | Libraries, Library Books

Farley Mowat: Canada's Nature Writer

by Miriam Downey 9. May 2014 12:04

Farley Mowat, who died this week at age 92, was a prolific Canadian nature writer. His most famous book was Never Cry Wolf which was made into a Disney movie. Mowat is an often overlooked writer of the 20th century, but an author any middle grade and teenaged reader should read--especially if he/she is interested in nature.

I first got acquainted with Mowat with his hilarious childhood memoir about his dog, Mutt. The book is called The Dog Who Wouldn't Be, and it tells the story of the world's greatest dog. Mowat grew up in the 1930s on the Saskatchewan prairie. Each story about Mutt is laugh-out-loud funny. My mother read it to us on a family trip when I was a teenager, and my dad had to pull over to the side of the road because he was laughing so hard.

Another very funny memoir is Owls in the Family. It is a story about three boys who rescue a couple of owls and learn about friendship, responsibility, and respect for nature. This book is a ton of fun. Mowat also wrote The Boat Who Wouldn't Float, which is his tale of taking an old boat from Newfoundland to Lake Ontario. A delightful book for readers of all ages.              


A more serious nature book is Never Cry Wolf. Although it is not a scientific study of wolves, it is compelling because Mowat emphasizes how misunderstood they are. He advocates that they have a right to exist, and that they have an essential place in the wilderness food chain.The movie based on this book is terrific and well worth finding.

The final book I would recommend that would be of particular interest to older children is A Whale for the Killing. Mowat expresses his outrage at the injustice done by killing a beached fin whale on the Newfoundland coast.

Many have called Farley Mowat a "hero of Canadian literature," and he was a fierce advocate for wildlife, the environment, and the aboriginal peoples of Northern Canada and Alaska. Your nature-loving children will love his books.

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Blog | English | Libraries, Library Books

Some Fun Halloween Picture Books

by Miriam Downey 29. October 2013 19:28


Well, it's Halloween. It's one of the most fun times of the year for children. My little granddaughter who is two is trying to figure it out. Really! You go to houses and get candy! How amazing is that!

My father used to tell us about Halloween out in the country in the 1930s. There were more tricks than treats during that era, but by the time I was a child, it was a grand adventure much like it is now. I wrote a blog posting in October of 2012 that you might want to check out. It tells about a visit to Sleepy Hollow in Tarrytown, New York and lists some books about The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

I am including this year a list of some funny Halloween picture books for younger children. Check them out!

Here are five Halloween books that are available from We Give Books. You can read them online just by signing in. There is no obligation.

Bug Out! The World's Creepiest, Crawliest Critters by Ginjer Clark

Many Marvelous Monsters by Ed Heck

Goodnight Goon by Michael Rex

Halloween by DK Publishing

H is for Haunted House by Tanya Lee Stone

Here are some other funny Halloween books that you can find at the library or bookstore.

The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams

The Hallo-wiener by Dav Pilkey

The Berenstain Bears and the Spooky Old Tree by Stan Berenstain

Big Pumpkin by Erica Silverman

Scary, Scary Halloween by Eve Bunting

Space Case by Edward Marshall

Have a safe and fun Halloween



Blog | Libraries, Library Books

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

by Miriam Downey 25. July 2013 07:02

I read an article in the Wall Street Journal today about baseball games between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. The game last Sunday took 4 hours and 46 minutes. This caused me to ponder about the kind of people who could sit at a baseball game for 4 hours and 46 minutes. Lots of people, apparently. The article also noted that it takes 3 hours and 15 minutes to drive from Fenway Park in Boston to Yankee Stadium in New York--an hour longer to play a game than to drive to the game!

Of course, Americans love baseball. True fans will tell you that the game has nothing to do with the action and everything to do with the mind games that are part of the sport's intrigue. I was very interested in the movie "Moneyball" starring Brad Pitt, that detailed the strategy of a baseball team manager to create a winning team. That movie was based on a book by Michael Lewis called Moneyball:The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. My teenage grandson who is fascinated by sports statistics really enjoyed both the book and the movie.

There are many biographies of baseball heroes--many more than I can put in this short blog posting. Pick a baseball here and there's a biography about him. I can also recommend novels by Matt Christopher, Duane Decker, and John Tunis for kids who just can't read enough sports books. Another fun series is the Southside Sluggers Baseball Mysteries by Daniel Greenberg.

Here are some other baseball books that are well worth reading. All of them can be found at your local library or bookstore.

Biographies of Baseball Greats

Lou Gehrig: The Luckiest Man by David A. Adler (grades k-3). The moving story of a baseball hero who died too young.

My Greatest Day in Baseball by Eliot Cohen (grades 4-8). Short biographies of 38 of the greatest baseball players.

Teammates by Peter Golenbock (grades k-6). When Branch Rickey recruited Jackie Robinson to play baseball.

When Willard Met Babe Ruth by Donald Hall (easy reader). In 1917, Willard met Babe Ruth and sparked the interest of three generations of his family.


The Longest Home Run by Roch Carrier (easy reader). A girl hits the longest home run ever. Very fun book.

Casey at the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic Sung in the Year 1888 (K-6) A Caldecott award winner illustrated by Christopher Bing makes the old poem new again.

Heart of a Champion and Painting the Black by Carl Deuker (grades 9-12). Coming of age novels with baseball as the theme.

Grandmas at Bat by Emily McCully (grades k-3). Grandmas are the coaches of the kids' baseball team.

Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki (grades k-6). Children in a Japanese internment camp during World War II create baseball teams to pass the time.

MadCat by Kathy Mackel (grades 9-12). A novel about high school softball.

In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord (grades 4-6). A delightful story about a Chinese immigrant girl who becomes fascinated with Jackie Robinson and baseball.

Heat by Mike Lupica (grades 4-6). Michael dreams of being a professional baseball player.

Shoeless Joe by W. P. Kinsella (grades 9-12). The classic baseball story that became the movie "Field of Dreams."


An Inside Look at Spring Training by Joan Anderson (grades 4-6). A photo essay about spring training through the eyes of a batboy.

The Super Book of Baseball by Ron Berler (grades 4-6). Everything you wanted to know about baseball.

Careers in Baseball by Howard Blumenthal (grades 9-12). What are the options for people who might want a career in baseball?

The All American Girls Professional Baseball  League by Margot Galt (grades 4-6). For twelve years there was a professional women's baseball league. The movie "A League of Their Own" came from that era.

Latinos in Beisbol by James Cockcroft (grades 9-12). Discusses the history of Latinos in American baseball.

Baseball in the Barrios by Henry Horenstein (grades k-3). How baseball is played in Venezuela.



Blog | English | Libraries, Library Books

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