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At one of my other blogs I have been participating in a book review round up for children's nonfiction for a number of years called Nonfiction Monday. The organizer, Anastasia Suen, has recently changed the format so now all the reviews are posted Mondays on the new Nonfiction Monday blog. Today I thought I would participate here at Growing with Science with a review of a picture book about Pluto. If you are interested in children's nonfiction, you might want to go visit the blog and see what interesting books other bloggers have found.


With the the change in 2006 from having nine planets in the solar system to only eight, children may be wondering what happened to Pluto. Why isn't it a planet any longer?  Pluto's Secret: An Icy World's Tale of Discovery by Margaret Weitekamp, with David DeVorkin, and illustrated by Diane Kidd uses a whimsical approach to explain the discovery of Pluto, its history and how scientific classifications change as we uncover more information about the world around us.


The premise is that Pluto has a secret, which is that it isn’t a planet but part of a different phenomenon altogether. The cartoon illustrations of a smiling Pluto reveal right away that this isn't going to be a deeply serious nonfiction book. The lighthearted tone of the text confirms that this is meant to be a fun, entertaining look at what happened. That doesn't mean that the information is lightweight, however, because the book is published in association with Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum where the authors and illustrator work. It is well written and has a good amount of depth.

What did happen to Pluto? In a nutshell, astronomers found a group of objects that also orbit around the sun near Pluto. Together they form what is called the Kuiper belt. Many of these newly discovered objects are nearly as large as Pluto, and one, Eris, was actually thought to be larger than Pluto. Eris would have been the 10th planet in the solar system, except in 2006 astronomers sat down and decided to set a strict definition of what a planet should be. As a group they decided that a planet has to orbit the sun, have a rounded shape, and also to have a clear orbit of its own. Pluto and the other members of the Kuiper belt fail the last criterion. Therefore, they are now called "dwarf planets." Because they are for the most part orbiting beyond Neptune, they are also called "trans-Neptunian objects." The only dwarf planet the orbits nearer to the Sun than Neptune is Ceres, which is found in the asteroid belt between Earth and Mars.


This illustration (from NASA) shows some of the best known objects in the Kuiper Belt in comparison to Earth. It was labeled before the objects got their official names, which are:

Top row (left to right): Eris and its moon, Dysnomia (not "Xena"); Pluto and Charon; and Makemake.

Bottom row (left to right): Haumea and its moons; and Kuiper Belt Objects Sedna and Quaoar.

Back to the book, Pluto's Secret is a lively introduction to the the history of Pluto and how science works. It definitely would be a useful resource for a unit on the solar system or to accompany a trip to an air and space museum.

Age Range: 5 - 9 years
Hardcover: 40 pages
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams (March 12, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1419704230
ISBN-13: 978-1419704239

Disclosure: I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at not extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.



This Friday I am hosting the STEM Friday children's book meme again. (STEM Friday gathers posts about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math children's books together in one place). To celebrate, I've decided to hold a little giveaway this week.

Are you familiar with the Basher Science books by Simon Basher? The brightly-colored illustrations feature sweet figures that appear to have roots in Japanese chibi. I have reviewed several of the titles, including Chemistry:  Getting a Big Reaction by Simon Basher and Dan Green.

Examples of Basher Science titles:

Kingfisher has recently published a new title, Basher Science Sticker Book: Science That Sticks. It contains several two-page spreads tied in with some of the earlier titles, such as:

  • Solar System
  • Planet Earth
  • Rocks and Minerals
  • Chemistry
  • and more.

Each illustration has spaces for some of the Basher characters and then a page of reusable character stickers to use to fill in the spaces. In the back is a bonus poster of Basher's version of the Periodic Table.

I love the interactive aspect of the stickers. Having to physically move stickers from place to place engages children, and makes them think about a problem longer. This type of book is especially important to kinesthetic or tactile learners.


If you know of someone who would like a copy of the Basher Science Sticker Book, be sure to leave a comment on this post before Friday, September 21, 2012 at 5:00 p.m. PST. Please leave a valid email address so that I can contact you if you are the winner. The winner will be selected at random. The easiest way to leave a comment is to click on the title of the post to send it to a separate page and then scroll to the bottom. The contest is now closed.

Reading level: Ages 7 and up
Paperback: 16 pages
Publisher: Kingfisher (July 17, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 075346828X
ISBN-13: 978-0753468289

Description of the book at Amazon:

Disclosures: The sticker book was supplied by the publisher for review purposes. Also, I am an affiliate for Amazon. If you click through the linked titles or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.


Today we have a lovely new picture book A Leaf Can Be . . . (Millbrook Picture Books) with poetic text by Laura Purdie Salas and breathtaking illustrations by Violeta Dabija. This book has been generating a lot of excitement in the children's literature world (See my review at Wrapped in Foil).

In the book Salas gently describes leaf "jobs," which are all the roles that leaves may play.  “A leaf can be a…Shade spiller…Mouth filler…Tree topper…Rain stopper….” She covers not only the basics, such as that leaves are where plants make food, but also more whimsical and imaginative uses, such as they serve as a place to conceal moths or snakes. She includes a section "More About Leaves" in the backmatter that feels and looks like she is sharing her handwritten research notes.

The mixed-media illustrations by Violeta Dabija are in a class by themselves. They "leave" this veteran book reviewer speechless (The video trailer below does not do justice to their beauty).

The bottom line is that A Leaf Can Be . . . is sure to be a winner with budding scientists.

Activities to investigate leaves, inspired by A Leaf Can Be . . .:

Make a leaf collection to study leaf form and function.

There are many, many ways to make a leaf collection.

My new favorite way to preserve leaves is to scan them.

Simply lay fresh or dry leaves on the bed of a scanner. Rather than using the machine cover, which might crush the leaves, gently cover with cloth or a large piece of construction paper to serve as a backdrop. Scan and save electronically. Now you can add your scans to an electronic journal or print them out for a paper one. No more lost or crushed specimens.

Be sure to include information about when and where you collected your leaves and any information you have about the identity of the plant. Collections like this can be an important learning and research tool, as well as a useful reference resource.

With the excitement of spring, with all the glorious new plant growth,  it is a perfect time to investigate leaves.

Related activities:

1. Laura Purdie Salas has a teaching guide to use with the book on her website, with suggestions for art, science, math and literature activities.

2.The Botany & Art, and their roles in Conservation lesson plans include a podcast about botanical illustration. as well as other materials (at the Smithsonian).

3. Bookish Ways in Math and Science has a unit on plants that includes a "Leafy Comparison."

4. Shirley at Simply Science has a review of A Leaf Can Be . . . and suggests taking a leaf walk.

5. Older children and adults might enjoy these leafy puns at The New York Times.

A Leaf Can Be . . .

Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Millbrook Pr Trade (February 1, 2012)
ISBN-10: 0761362037
ISBN-13: 978-0761362036

Disclosures: The author provided an electronic copy of this book for review purposes. Also, I am an affiliate for Amazon. If you click through the linked titles or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.