December 13 – Celebrating Read a New Book Month with STEM

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About the Holiday

Today I’m featuring two books that bring the world of big machines down to size for little readers. Being introduced to the various parts of favorite machines and what they do can spark a life-long interest in engineering and its many applications!

The Book of Flying Machines

By Neil Clark

Readers join Clever Cogz and his sidekicks, Nutty and Bolt, as they get up-close to airplanes, hot air balloons, helicopters, supersonic jets, and the latest technological advances to fill the skies. Little ones who love air travel or just watching planes soar through the clouds learn all about the “clever parts” that allow these machines to ascend, fly, descend, and land.

After defining the engine, cockpit, fuselage, tail, rudder, wheels, and fins, Clark presents a closer look at the wings, with all of their moving parts “that work together to control the speed and direction of the plane.” But how does a plane stay in the air? Kids discover that a wing’s special shape allows air to travel “faster over the top than it does underneath,” and that “the slow-moving air under the wing creates a force called lift.”  Clever Cogz reveals that “lift is the force that keeps an aircraft in the air.”

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Copyright Neil Clark, 2019, courtesy of QEB Publishing.

Now that the plane is in the air, how does it move forward? Working together, the engine and the propeller use air to create thrust, and budding engineers get to see just how this works. Next, children get to join Nutty and Bolt in a hot air balloon ride and discover how pilots use the science of hot air to make the balloon rise. They also learn the names of the various parts of these beautiful machines that make them work—and allow them to come back down.

No one can resist watching a helicopter hover overhead, and its ability to “take off and land without a run-up” makes it very useful in emergency situations. Readers get to learn about the engine, the landing skids, the rescue hoist, and the two rotors that provide the power for this unique machine while Bolt comes to Nutty’s aid on his sinking boat. Kids fascinated by speed will love learning about the various types of jets that “travel at supersonic speeds—faster than the speed of sound” and the definition of Mach 1, against which they can compare the speed of jets that fly at Mach 3.3, 6.7, and even 9.6.

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Copyright Neil Clark, 2019, courtesy of QEB Publishing.

Of course, kids are familiar with drones, so they’ll be eager to discover how three different types—one that can even predict storms. Finally, flying here and there powered by a jet pack may seem like science fiction, but “real ones have been built for the army, for astronauts, and for spectacular stunt shows,” including the Bell Rocket Belt, which can fly up to 60 mph (95 kmph) and the Jetman, invented by Yves Rossy, that can fly at 100 mph (160 kmph). Along the way, bits of trivia about the history and facts of air flight give kids even more information. A short quiz on the last page lets readers show off what they’ve learned.

Ages 5 – 7

QEB Publishing, 2019 | ISBN 978-0711243446

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The Book of Diggers & Dozers

By Neil Clark

 

Clever Cogz, Nutty, and Bolt are back in this book all about working machines. From backhoe loaders to excavators to bulldozers to the giants and the latest tech wonders, Neil Clark takes readers above and below ground to see how these machines work. Take a moment to get to know the intricate parts of a backhoe, which can lift the weight of three cars with its front loader and dig deep holes with its hydraulic-powered bucket in the back. The spinning seat in the cab makes it easy for the operator to do both jobs! What are hydraulics? Dog Clever Cogz, Nutty, and Bolt demonstrate the concepts on a backhoe and with a water gun.

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Copyright Neil Clark, 2019, courtesy of QEB Publishing.

Little ones know tractors belong on farms, but they’ll be surprised at how many jobs they can do using different attachments. There’s even a hole digger that makes planting trees much easier. The excavator may be best known for the tracks that wrap around sprockets and allow it to move over bumpy ground, but its bucket deserves some attention too. It has “an extra part called a thumb” that “turns the bucket into a giant claw, perfect for grabbing things.” Did you know that there are “new, electric powered excavators that will help keep our planet clean?”

The tallest machines are cranes—and “the biggest mobile crane is over 800 feet (245 m) high.” Nutty tells kids “that’s as tall as 50 giraffes standing on top of each other!” A crane’s height and power help it move objects too heavy to move any other way. When roads need fixing and repaving, it’s time to break out the road roller. These useful machines have been around since 1800, when horses pulled them. The steamroller was invented in 1865, and the diesel-powered version came along in 1950. The new road rollers are electric and better for the environment.

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Copyright Neil Clark, 2019, courtesy of QEB Publishing.

Fans of the bulldozer will see what a powerhouse this machine really is. With high tracks to allow it to travel through muddy ground, a ripper that claws at the ground and breaks up big lumps of earth, and a blade that can push piles of rock or sand or even knock down a building, the bulldozer is multi-functional. Whoa! Have you seen the Bagger 293? “It’s the biggest digger in the world” and its bucket wheel can dig “240,000 tons of coal a day.” It’s so big that it requires as much electricity as a whole town and needs 5 people to control it. Today, robot diggers controlled remotely, such as sensors, demolition bots, and the XE15R, are also taking on tasks in dangerous, tight, or other situations. A final quiz lets children review what they’ve learned.

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Copyright Neil Clark, 2019, courtesy of QEB Publishing.

Neil Clark’s fascinating looks at aircraft and the biggest machines will delight vehicle lovers of all types. His straightforward text is accessible for all ages while introducing children to vocabulary and concepts that empower them to understand the workings of not only these big machines but smaller, everyday machines as well. Loaded with information and hosted by charming characters who lend a bit of humor to the pages, Clark’s books are wonderful for dipping into again and again.

Clark’s vivid illustrations clearly mark and define the parts of each machine and demonstrate how these work together to power the machine and allow it to perform its job. Nutty and Bolt are there to translate some of the concepts into ideas kids are already familiar with (for example, Nutty wears big shoes to demonstrate the function of a backhoe’s stabilizers). Similarly, Clark incorporates easy-to-understand graphics to explain scientific concepts like air flow and the clustering of hot and cold air molecules. Boxed information and speech bubbles add interest to the pages. One even invites kids to a “where’s Waldo” type of hunt for Nutty and Bolt near a jumbo jet.

Terrific books for introducing all children to machines, how they work, and the science behind them, The Book of Flying Machines and The Book of Diggers & Dozers would be valuable additions to home, classroom, and public library collections. Check out the other books in the series: The Book of Cars and Trucks and The Book of Space Rockets.

Ages 5 – 7

QEB Publishing, 2019 | ISBN 978-071124341

Read a New Book Month with STEM Activity

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Big Machines Coloring Pages

 

Children can have fun coloring and adding their own touches to these printable pages.

Airplane | Hot Air Balloon | Digger | Crane

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You can find The Book of Flying Machines at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

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You can find The Book of Diggers & Dozers at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

June 18 – Father’s Day

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About the Holiday

While celebrations of Mother’s Day caught on very quickly after the first ceremony in 1908, proclaiming Father’s Day as a national institution took a little longer. On July 19, 1910 the governor of Washington State held the first Father’s Day event. In 1916 President Woodrow Wilson, trying to attract attention to the holiday with a little technology, unfurled a flag in Spokane, Washington by pushing a button in Washington DC. This clever ploy, however, did not convince the men of the time, who scoffed at a holiday dedicated to fathers as somehow too “domesticated” and “unmanly.” During World War II celebrating Father’s Day began to be seen as a way to honor American troops and to help the war effort. The holiday then entered the mainstream, but it wasn’t until 1972, when President Richard Nixon signed a proclamation, that Father’s Day became a federal holiday.

The Best Part of Daddy’s Day

By Claire Alexander

 

Little Bertie is proud to introduce his daddy to readers. His dad is a builder who drives diggers and trucks every day. Today he’s going to be in a crane high up in the sky working on a tall tower. “When I’m big,” Bertie says, “I want to be a builder just like him….” But right now Bertie’s dad is dropping him off at school. “‘Have a good day, Bertie!’” he says as he gives his son a hug.

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Image copyright Claire Alexander, 2016, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

With the BRRRIIING of the bell, Bertie runs into class, where he’s in for a surprise. “‘Today we’re going to be builders,’” his teacher tells her class, and Bertie knows it’s going to be a great day! First the teacher reads “an exciting story about a digger” then Bertie paints a picture of a crane like his daddy’s. But just as he’s finishing it, a classmate with paint on his shoes tracks green footprints across the paper.

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Image copyright Claire Alexander, 2016, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

At lunchtime Bertie trips over his shoelace and spills his lunch. His great day is having some bumps along the way, and Bertie wishes he could see his daddy. Bertie knows just what to do. He runs to the playground and climbs “up, up, UP…to the top of the jungle gym.” Bertie is so high up he “can see the top of Daddy’s tower!” Bertie can even see someone driving the crane and knows it must be his dad.

After lunch the class constructs an enormous tower. Bertie pretends to be a small crane, while his teacher, in her high-heeled shoes, is a big crane, able to place boxes higher and higher. The building they make is amazing! As the day progresses it begins to rain, but when Bertie’s dad picks him up he gives Bertie his hat to keep his ears dry. Bertie is excited to tell his dad about building the tower—it was the best part of his day, he says.

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Image copyright Claire Alexander, 2016, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

At home Bertie tells his dad “the not so good parts” of his day—about his spoiled painting and about tripping and falling. “‘I bet things like that never happen to you, Daddy,’” Bertie says. “‘Well, actually…they do sometimes!’” Bertie’s dad answers, and he tells his son about the bumps in his day—how someone walked across his new, wet cement floor and that he also tripped and fell over an untied shoelace, just like Bertie. But then, his dad says, he went back up in the crane and “‘finished my tower, and I think I saw you, Bertie, on the jungle gym!’”

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Image copyright Claire Alexander, 2016, courtesy of clairealexander.com

“‘It WAS me, Daddy!” Bertie exclaims. Then he asks his dad “if the best part of his day was finishing the tower.” His dad looks at his son snuggled on his lap and answers, “‘Actually, the best part of my day is right now, being here with you, Bertie.” Bertie agrees. “‘I think this is the best part of my day, too.”

Claire Alexander hits all the right notes in her heartfelt tribute to loving father-son relationships. Perfectly paced toward an emotional surprise twist, Alexander’s story is sweet and satisfying. The open communication between father and son adds poignancy, and the truth that while kids are inspired by their parents, parents are equally inspired by their kids may amaze children and will bring a lump to parents’ throats. This father and son aren’t just building towers, they’re building a life-long bond.

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Image copyright Claire Alexander, 2016, courtesy of clairealexander.com

Alexander’s vivid, cheerful watercolor illustrations glow with the enthusiasm and love that Bertie and his dad feel for each other. Large two-page spreads invite kids into Bertie and his dad’s world as they eat breakfast together in the tidy kitchen, say goodbye outside the school gate, and read together in their comfy, overstuffed chair. Kids will love the view of Bertie’s playground with the gleaming glass tower and red crane rising above it and the sweeping vista of the city as seen by Bertie’s dad from atop the crane. A vertical spread of the tall tower Bertie’s class builds adds a fun element to the story and emphasizes the tower’s height for young children. 

The Best Part of Daddy’s Day  is an excellent addition to a child’s bookshelf and makes a wonderful gift. It will quickly become a favorite for bedtime or story time.

Ages 3 – 8

little bee books, 2016 | ISBN 978-1499801965

To see more of adorable books for children by Claire Alexander visit her website!

Father’s Day Activity

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I Love Dad Building Blocks

 

This craft will stack up to be a favorite with kids! With wooden blocks and a little chalkboard paint, it’s easy to make unique building materials. They’re great for gifts, decorating, party favors, or when you just have a little time to play!

Supplies

  • Wooden blocks in various sizes, available from craft stores
  • Chalkboard paint in various colors
  • Paint brush
  • Chalk in various colors

Directions

  1. Paint the wooden blocks with the chalkboard paint, let dry
  2. Write words or draw pictures on the blocks
  3. Have fun!

Picture Book Review

February 24 – National Engineering Week

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About the Holiday

National Engineering Week was established to promote a better understanding of and appreciation for engineering and technical careers to ensure a diverse and well-educated workforce for the future. Several programs throughout the week highlight communication between engineers and the public, the work of young professional and student engineers, and a future-city contest for middle school students. Our future depends on our having talented engineers to solve problems and create new solutions.

Tinyville Town Gets to Work!

By Brian Biggs

 

It seems there’s trouble in Tinyville Town! Every day the baker creates delicious treats, the trash collectors pick up trash, the bus driver takes riders to their various jobs, and everyone else goes to work and school or runs errands. But today the bus is late, and when Mayor Murphy tries to find out why, he also discovers that the trash collectors can’t haul the trash away and the bakery can’t open it’s doors. Why? Because there’s an enormous traffic jam on the Tinyville Town bridge.

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Image and text copyright Brian Biggs, courtesy of Harry N. Abrams

“‘We need a new bridge!’” the townspeople shout. “Mayor Murphy knows just what to do. He meets with Tinyville Town’s engineer and city planner.” The engineer tells the mayor that “‘the old bridge was built when Tinyville Town was much smaller.” Now they need “‘a bridge that is wider so that more cars, trucks, and buses can get across.’” The city planner agrees and adds that the bridge should be stronger.He also assures the mayor that they can also make it beautiful by adding large steel arches.

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Image and text copyright Brian Biggs, courtesy of Harry N. Abrams

Mayor Murphy announces the plan to the news media and invites the citizens to “get to work!” First the excavation crew digs deep holes near the banks of the river so a strong foundation can be laid for the piers. Then a crane operator lifts heavy stones so the stonemasons can put them into place on the piers. Next it’s time for the ironworkers to join in. They build the structure and the big steel arches that “look beautiful and make the bridge much stronger than the old one.” Finally, the road crew paves the road and paints lines to mark the lanes for the cars, trucks, and buses that will drive over it.

When the bridge is finished everyone in Tinyville Town comes out to watch Mayor Murphy cut the ribbon and open the bridge. “‘Hurray!’” they all cheer as they cross over their shiny new bridge.

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Image and text copyright Brian Biggs, courtesy of Harry N. Abrams

Little would-be engineers and builders as well as any town or city citizens will be captivated by Brian Biggs’ introduction to the inner workings of a town in need of a new bridge. With infrastructure and road work going on in most towns and cities throughout the year, Biggs’ accessible story is a perfect way to explain to youngest readers the whys and hows of the construction work they see as they travel from place to place. The diversity of workers provides welcome inclusiveness and role models for children. The upbeat philosophy of this little town is even reflected in the book’s title, in which the phrase “Gets to Work” can be read two ways.

Biggs’ friendly town on the banks of a river is homey and cute and immediately inviting to his young audience. With bright colors, crisp details, and smiling people, Tinyville Town is a place kids will want to visit again and again. Tinyville Town Gets to Work is one of three in this new series that also includes Tinyville Town: I’m a Veterinarian and Tinyville Town: I’m a Firefighter.

Ages 2 – 5

Harry N. Abrams, 2016 | ISBN 978-1419721335

You’ll find a world of books, drawings, comics, and more on Brian Biggs’ website!

Visit Tinyville Town with this Tinyville Town Gets to Work book trailer!

National Engineering Week Activity

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Build a Remarkable Recycled Bridge

 

You don’t need fancy blocks and construction materials to build a bridge! Little ones will be fascinated to put together a bridge made out of items you already have at home or that may even be slated for the recycle bin. Spaghetti boxes make great roadways, and cut-up egg cartons can be used as supports. Want to build a whole town? Cereal boxes and pasta boxes make skyscrapers, apartment buildings, fire stations, and more. Need a farm silo? Grab a peanut butter jar or aluminum can. You can use them as is or—if your kids are sticklers for a little more detail—add a little paint! So look around, use your imagination, and get creative!

Picture Book Review