Book Recommendations

The Story of Snow

Book Recommendations and Activities for Youth and Families in Late Winter and Early Spring

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Book Recommendations and Activities for Youth and Families in Late Winter and Early Spring by Susan Olcott

Late winter in New England means a kind of limbo between seasons. You never know what it will be like out – snow or mud or something in between. When preparing to come into my girls’ classroom to teach a winter lesson, I had to be flexible. They had been working with patterns in their class as a part of an art project where they made quilt squares. We had become fascinated with quilts at home and read and reread Amy Novesky’s beautiful story of weaver and artist, Louise Bourgeois, Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois. Her art reflects elements in nature like rivers and spiders and was a wonderful way to connect this art project to things observed outside. For the upcoming class lesson, I had planned to go outside and look at patterns of tracks in the snow – both animal and from their treaded snow boots. But, the snow did not cooperate to stick around long enough and softly enough for this.

Instead, I started the lesson by talking about snowflakes, which are full of neat symmetries. I brought in the fantastic book, The Story of Snow: The Science of Winter’s Wonder, to show them the crystalline photos of different types of snowflakes. Author-scientists Mark Cassino and Jon Nelson, Ph.D. share scientific details about the formation of these crystals without being too complex. We looked at the iconic star shaped ones as well as the tiny cylindrical crystals formed in the coldest of temperatures. Because we weren’t going to be looking at tracks in the snow, we spent a moment brainstorming what other patterns we might see outside. “Pinecones,” said one student. “Bark,” said another. I didn’t even have those on my list of possibilities! Once outside, they continued to notice patterns everywhere – in the clouds, in the ice, and in fallen leaves.

Needing to warm up a bit, we decided to see what human patterns we could make like a spiral, a pair of stripes, and a circle alternating boys with girls. Then, I divided them up into groups of six to make human snowflakes. One group held mittened hands in the center of a circle, another lay on their backs with feet in the air, and a third sat up back to back and raised their arms over head. They were all as unique as snowflakes.

We followed up in the classroom by asking the students to create their own nature patterns with simple supplies. We started with a piece of white paper and colored pencils. When a student asked for scissors and tape, I thought she might cut out a snowflake, but I was surprised instead to see her make her paper into a tube and cut slits in it. She unrolled it and rubbed her pencils over the newly formed bumps in the paper to make a wave-like pattern. We then did an indoor “nature walk” where everyone shared their creations, all of them different and all full of imagination.

Susan is a contributor to the Cornerstones of Science newsletter, a blogger for the Horn Book’s Family Reading Blog, and more!

Book Recommendations Spring 2017 Newsletter

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Winter Trees by Carole Gerber

A review and activity by Susan Olcott. Find our more about Susan here!

At a time of year when much seems dreary and black and white, Carole Gerber and Leslie Evans bring Winter Trees to life. The first word, “Crunch!” had me right there, exploring in the woods with the little boy and his dog. The lyrical rhyming quartets for each tree make it fun to read and the simple silhouette illustrations make what often seem like complicated structures of winter trees look simple and discernible. It concludes with a set of notes on the book’s seven trees, including deciduous and evergreens, along with the silhouettes all side by side for comparison.

Brainstorm the parts of a tree and what they do – roots, leaves, trunk, branches. Introduce “xylem” and “phloem” which carry nutrients and water up and down the tree much like our veins. Children have likely noticed veins in leaves before, but never thought of these going through the trees all the way down to roots to pull water up through the tree.

For a simple experiment, you need two cups and a paper towel. Twist the paper towel to make a wick. Fill one cup half full with water and put one end of the paper towel into it and the other into the empty cup. Leave it for a couple of hours and see what happens. It’s amazing how simple but illustrative this is of roots pulling up water. In the spring, sap begins to flow out of the tree and the roots continue to pull water up to replace the liquid in the tree. This is particularly neat to think about after all the liquids in the tree and the ground have been frozen over the winter. Now, as things become liquid, the tree comes back to life, its sap flows again, and we get to taste it as maple syrup!

Winter Trees

Suggested Ages – This book is great for young readers, who will like the rhyme and collage illustrations. It is also helpful as a field guide for slightly older readers who can learn the identification techniques detailed in the text and in the supplemental information following.

Thing Explainer

Book Recommendations Fall 2016 Newsletter

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Thing Explainer by Randall Munroe
Just the book we have been waiting for and it is even recommended by Bill Gates! Things easily explained so that the rest of us can better understand certain complicated concepts and how things work.


Hands On Standards Science Grades 4-5

Hands on Standards: Science

Photo-illustrated hands-on science activities. “Lessons move from building background knowledge to hands-on inquiry to assessment.” These fun activities can be used for out-of-school learning in the library setting. Made easy to follow and facilitate to youth in grades 4-5 (other grade levels available).

Book Recommendations Spring 2016 Newsletter

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Girls in Science: A Framework for Action (#PB221X) Paperback – January 1, 2008

ISBN-13: 978-1933531045

Helping to find gender equality with science, Girls In Science focuses on student goals, teaching goals, and science goals. Fifteen goals are highlighted and supported with great stories and evidence.






Expect More: Children Can Do Remarkable Things Paperback – September 22, 2010