22 Jan 2016

You and Your School Library Need These Books

by Helen Mason

I love reading Science books, especially those written for kids. That's because authors have to know a lot about their topic in order to distill the information into interesting and understandable communications that appeal to young readers. In the following titles, Jennifer Gardy and Tanya Lloyd Kyi make challenging scientific information readily available to young readers. These books should be in every elementary school library — and the collections of all teachers who hope to interest students in modern science.

It's Catching: The Infectious World of Germs and Microbes written by Jennifer Gardy and illustrated by Josh Holinaty (Owl Kids, 2014) uses a combination of text, visuals, and anecdotes to introduce readers to the many germs with which we share this planet.

The author, herself a disease detective, introduces past disease detectives, such as Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, the first person to see the microbial world. She explains that microbes exist both in the world around us and in our own bodies. Some of the details provide the necessary gross factor that kids love.

Without boring the reader, Grady outlines the difference between viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites. There's also a dangermeter for diseases that range from the common cold and influenza to malaria and ebola.

Discussing why doctors are so worried about parents who don't have their kids vaccinated against measles? Mention the 165 BCE measles plague that killed off about one-third of Rome's population. Have students of Irish descent? Suggest researching family trees to find out how many have ancestors who came to Canada following the 1845 Irish potato blight.

DNA Detective by Tanya Lloyd Kyi and illustrated by Lil Crump (Annick Press, 2015) is equally interesting. The intro draws kids right into the topic by showing a crime scene. Someone broke into a jewellery store and got away with valuable jewels. The perpetrator wore gloves. One was left at the scene. There are no other clues.

Readers will enjoy trying to pick the culprit from a list of suspects who include the store's manager, bookkeeper, custodian, and two cashiers, as well as three customers (two of them identical twin supermodels), a sales rep, a security guard, the owner of the store next door, and a convicted thief. They can follow the thinking processes of a young detective on her first case as she collects DNA evidence in an effort to identify the culprit. 

The author compares DNA identification to a high-tech fingerprint. Both can be inadvertently left behind and collected from crime scenes. The book includes profiles of past DNA rock stars, such as Gregor Mendel and Rosalind Franklin. A cartoon page or spread at the end of each section brings readers back to the crime in question. The detective outlines what she's learned. In most cases, readers can use this information to eliminate suspects. By the end, the detective — and readers — have their man — er, woman.

Books such as these provide excellent introductions to topics kids will continue to learn about throughout their student years — and likely their entire lives.

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