Nov 21, 2019

Some CYBILS Seaside Science: Two Approaches

We Cybils panelists are coming into the critical, painful stage of winnowing, narrowing the extensive lists of nonfiction nominees to the best of the best for both elementary and middle grade readers. As you read on, be aware that my features here are (and have been) a reflection of books that particularly spoke to me and that I felt would have special appeal to readers. I offer no "hints" about where the decisions are headed because we are still in advance of that stage (and sworn to secrecy!). 
I've been sharing outstanding books on this blog for nearly eight years and I'm not about to stop now. Winning an award is delightful and fun, yet winning over readers with a book that will last the test of generations is the best award of all. This is particularly true of  science nonfiction, since new discoveries and experimental results change rapidly. 
I've been trying to feature a wide range of my own favorites (WAY MORE than will fit on a shortlist) by pairing (or tripling) some titles based on topics or types. So science is a terrific place to start.
Charlesbridge, 2019

Melissa Stewart is one of the most entertaining and engaging authors of nonfiction, one I admit is a favorite. Even though she has a stack of awards to prove it, I strongly resist naming favorites among anything literary.
SEASHELLS: MORE THAN A HOME is a perfect example of the remarkable talent Stewart brings to the research, insights, and writing of science picture books. A nod goes to the illustrators with whom those words and content are paired, as in this case, Sarah S. Brannen.These two creators have been paired for other titles, including FEATHERS: NOT JUST FOR FLYING. 
In both visuals and text, the depth of science research is evident: endpapers, scientific labeling, simulated field notes, back matter sources, and further prompts. The tone of this book makes it a delight for read aloud for even the youngest. The flowing main narrative provides familiar comparisons of various shell adaptations to increase survival, and Stewart's figurative language provides a pattern for early language development. It is framed within a horizontal and watery display that soothes and refreshes. The parallel paragraphs of accessible but more detailed content and the accurate but soft-edged specimens are set in natural habitats that explain and expand the meaning of the lyrical lines that float across the top of each page.

"Seashells can wear disguises like a spy...
or hide in plain sight like a soldier in camo clothing.
Seashells can open like your mouth...
and close quickly like your eyelids."

A wordless visual narrative allows a diverse and curious group of friends to propel the content through illustrations, spanning a day of noticing, examining, and discussing among themselves what they have found and learned at the beach. 
One reason this and its related titles appeal so deeply to my taste is that both text and illustrations also work well with older readers. The similes offer a rich resource as mentor-text for young writers, moving them from simply lifting content and rephrasing it to analyzing, comparing, and expressing science content effectively. 
The related information may engage young readers as they develop skills, but will be embaraced by parents who seek ways to answer questions, and by established learners as a template for creating original works on science subjects of their choice.

Millbrook, 2019
LITTLE MONSTERS OF THE OCEAN: Metamorphosis Under the Waves is another book that stands out as a science offering about the watery wild. Scientist/author Heather l. Montgomery provides complex and intriguing content for older readers. The cover alone guarantees that readers will snatch this one up, and the many astonishing photo images within are fully credited in back pages. 
The main text is loaded with readable informative narration, artfully balanced with gorgeous full page and inset photos that include equally fascinating and accessible captions. This layout also allows older readers with challenges to learn from much of the content even when not as independent as peers.

The book design is ideal for older audiences, utilizing traditional expository formats: a table of contents, author notes, glossary, selected bibliography, suggested further explorations, and an index. The color choices for page background and font color combine with text details to offer excellent accessibility and examples for practice in such text, including boldface vocabulary, sidebars, scientific drawings and diagrams. The central content, the role and process of metamorphosis of a variety of ocean life, flows throughout the main and supplemental text and images. This is a treasure trove of factual content within a strongly framed concept. I can picture readers looking up mid-page to find someone with whom to share images and information, facts that will persist and encourage further inquiry in many minds.

Stay tuned for coming posts about nominees on science topics, biographies, and interactive text.  
"So many books, so little time..."

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