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As you probably know, I am always looking for great new science books to share with children. Therefore, I was excited when I saw the AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prizes for Excellence in Science Books were announced for 2011. These books were judged to be the best new science books in their categories. Here are the winners:

Children's Science Picture Book:
Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge
by Joanna Cole and illustrated by Bruce Degen. (Magic School Bus Series.) Scholastic, 2010.

The Magic School Bus series is a perennial favorite, so I can't wait to see what they've done with this one.

Middle Grades Science Book:
The Hive Detectives: Chronicle of a Honey Bee Catastrophe by Loree Griffin Burns with photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz (Scientists in the Field Series.) Houghton Mifflin, 2010.

See my review of this book at Wrapped In Foil and some fun related activities here at Growing With Science.

Young Adult Science Book:
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. Random House, 2010.

This book is definitely for older readers because it is about a difficult topic. It has gotten a lot of well-deserved attention.

Hands-On Science Book:
The Book of Potentially Catastrophic Science by Sean Connolly.  Workman, 2010.

This trailer shows all the "energy" that went into this one.

Now this sounds like something I'd like to get my "hands-on!"

Have you read any of these books? What did you think?

Our book today, Doable Renewables:  16 Alternative Energy Projects for Young Scientists by Mike Rigsby, is full of creative new ideas and information. Do you remember in our post about smart materials (the materials that respond to the environment), we were looking for a source of nitinol (nickel-titanium alloy) wire? This book not only lists a source, but also uses nitinol springs in projects.

Mike Rigsby is a professional electrical engineer and he has a noble cause for writing this book. He has come up with projects to investigate various forms of renewable energy in the hope at least one of them will spark a young person to discover something that will change the world. His projects include making engines that use heat as a source of energy (including one with nitinol springs), solar energy, wind energy and wave energy. Each project is explained clearly, with a detailed list of supplies and numerous black and white photographs showing the assembly, as well as the finished project.

Before we get too excited, though, let's do the reality check. Safety is one concern. Some of these projects have steps that could potentially cause injuries, especially those that involve cutting. Unlike many of the activities found in children's science books, some of these projects are not made from items lying around the house. Many will require the purchase of specialized pieces of equipment or supplies from science and technology suppliers. For example, the nitinol springs are available from Jameco Electronics, part number 357835. As of today, they cost $45.95 for a 4 pack. The bottom line is that this book is for serious older children or young adults who enjoy engineering and inventing, and who preferably have an experienced adult mentor.

That said, do you have a science fair coming up soon? Doable Renewables: 16 Alternative Energy Projects for Young Scientists is a wonderful resource sure to generate innovative science fair projects.

In fact, the book inspired us to do some of our own investigations:

1. Stirling tin can engine

In chapter 4, Mike Rigsby suggests purchasing a Stirling engine to explore this technology investigated by Reverend Dr. Robert Stirling way back in 1816 (see our Amazon suggestions below). The Stirling engine uses heat to do work, and is known to be very quiet in comparison to the internal combustion engine.

Rigsby also mentions that there are instructions for building your own on the Internet, so of course we had to look. We found quite a few examples of Stirling engines you can make at home plus numerous videos of the engines in action. Here is one example of a fan Stirling engine (note: there is a pop-up ad).

The instructions can be found at Easy to build Stirling engine

There is more about how Stirling engines work at How Stuff Works.

2. Radiometer

We already had a radiometer, so we dusted it off and tried it out. A radiometer is a glass bulb that looks like a light bulb. Inside are 4 tabs suspended from wires. Those tabs are reflective on one side and black on the other. When placed in sunlight, the tabs rotate like crazy.

The Crookes radiometer caused quite a stir in its time, because no one was quite sure how it worked. Several hypotheses were proposed and shot down. Eventually the idea of thermal transpiration was found to be the one most generally accepted. It involves the movement of gases from the warmer side of the tab (the black side) to the cooler, reflective side. In any case, the only energy supplied is that from the sun.

3. We have a previous post on Windmills and wind power that also relates to this topic.

We hope this inspires you to try a few new projects with renewable energy. Be sure to let us know how they turn out.

Reading level: Ages 9-12 (Amazon)
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Chicago Review Press; Original edition (October 1, 2010)
ISBN-10: 1569763437
ISBN-13: 978-1569763438

This book was provided for review.

Stirling Engines at Amazon

Other scientific supplies suggested in the book:

Have you been over to visit the Cybils nomination lists yet? cybils2010

What are Cybils? The acronym stands for children's and young adult bloggers literary awards. Bloggers who specialize in children’s and young adult books have developed the Cybils awards to highlight some of the best books published in the previous year. Back in September people nominated their favorite books by genre. Now the judges are reading and reviewing all the books to pick one winner from each category.  Although there is a lot of excitement about which books will be chosen as the best, going through the nomination lists is also a great way to find interesting new things to read.

To save you some time, I went through the list of nominated nonfiction books in the picture book category and selected some science and nature books that you might find useful. (By the way, once again I am a round II judge for nonfiction picture book category.) Soon I'll tackle the middle grade/young adult books.

Nonfiction Picture Books - Science and Nature
(The titles are linked to take you to Amazon for more information)

 Pop!: The Invention of Bubble Gum by Meghan McCarthy
Never Smile at a Monkey: And 17 Other Important Things to Remember

By Steve Jenkins

Moon Bear by Brenda Z. Guiberson
Hurricanes! by Gail Gibbons

We love Gail Gibbons, see my brief bio for more about her.

Bugs and Bugsicles: Insects in the Winter by Amy S. Hansen

See my review

Astro: The Steller Sea Lion by Jeanne Walker Harvey

See my review

Little Black Ant on Park Street (Smithsonian's Backyard Collection)

by Janet Halfmann

See my review

Growing Patterns
by Sarah Campbell
 Little Red Bat by Carole Gerber
Insect Detective by Steve Voake
A Place for Frogs
by Melissa Stewart
Bones by Steve Jenkins
Kingdom: Savage Safari
by Nam Nguyen
Meet the Howlers! by April Pulley Sayre
Mammoths and Mastodons: Titans of the Ice Age by Cheryl Bardoe

See my review

Changing of the Guard: The Yellowstone Chronicles by Ted Rechlin
Come See the Earth Turn By Lori Mortensen

The Story of Leon Foucault

Dinosaur Mountain: Digging into the Jurassic Age by Deborah Kogan Ray
EcoMazes: 12 Earth Adventures
by Roxie Munro
The Shocking Truth About Energy
By Loreen Leedy
The Life of Rice: From Seedling to Supper (Traveling Photographer)

By Richard Sobol

The Buzz on Bees: Why Are They Disappearing?
by Shelley Rotner
Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian by Margarita Engle

Maria Merian was an incredible woman.

Yucky Worms by Vivian French

More Cybils nominees about science and nature:

Have you read any of these books? Do you have any suggestions?