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Earth Hour: Books & Activities to Spark Discussion and Environmental Action

On Saturday March 28th millions of people around the globe will turn off their lights and spend an hour without the use of electricity to mark Earth Hour. The movement, in previous years, has helped spark initiatives like tree planting and the banning of single use plastics in different countries. It’s important to talk about Earth Hour so young people understand the reasons behind the initiative and encourage their families to participate. There are many areas of the curriculum that involve environmental issues and stewardship. The environment is a natural springboard to explore different models of learning such as inquiry, design thinking, and project based learning. Here are a few titles and activities for kids from grades K-8 that fit with a discussion of Earth Hour and what we can do to help protect our planet.

Inspired by true events, In the Treehouse by Andrew Larsen, illustrated by Dušan Petričić is the story of a boy who plans and builds a treehouse with his dad and older brother. After a while his big brother doesn’t want to play anymore, he’d rather hang out with his friends. Until one night when the power goes out. The boy sees his neighbours actually come out of their houses and socialize. His brother joins him in the treehouse and they read …

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How an Email to an Astrophysicist Changed My (Book’s) Life

Literary worlds collided when YA novelist Ria Voros, whose latest is The Centre of the Universe, connected with astrophysicist Dr. Elizabeth Tasker. 

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She writes about exoplanet research. I write about adolescent humans. This month, astrophysicist Dr. Elizabeth Tasker and I are embarking on a multi-city book tour in Canada in support of both our books. Hers, The Planet Factory, is nonfiction, and mine is a young adult novel called The Centre of the Universe. It turns out our areas of interest have some overlap, and maybe not in the ways you’d imagine.

Our connection goes back to January 2018, when I was working on the final draft of my novel. I’d written a male astrophysicist character for my astronomy-obsessed protagonist to look up to, but he didn’t feel quite right. I decided the astrophysicist needed to be a woman. And then I decided—because, why not?—that this character should be real. The known universe has a reasonable number of space scientists these days, and surely one of them would agree to be written into my story?

Book Cover the Planet Factory

At my local …

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STEM Books to Inspire Young Readers

Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.

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These STEM books will inspire young readers to take their curiosity to the next level.

Book Cover Secret Coders

Secret Coders, by Gene Luen Yang and Canadian illustrator, Mike Holmes, is a unique graphic novel. Hopper doesn’t fit in at her new school until she befriends Eni who teaches her (and the reader) how to read binary code using coins and a piece of chalk. When the two discover a turtle robot, Eni shows Hopper how to use the old programming language Logo to move it. Sometimes they write the wrong number of steps or send the turtle in the wrong direction and have to try again, a great STEM lesson. Progressively harder coding challenges are presented to the reader: “Can you figure it out?” By the sixth book, the reader is writing code to help save the world and find Hopper’s long-lost dad, and working the tasks is a step-by-step tutorial in programming! There’s also a website with videos that do the same. (Grade 4+)

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Zoobots, by Helaine Becker, illustrated by …

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Notes From a Children's Librarian: Books on Biodiversity

Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.

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The following books complement the Grade 6 Biodiversity unit. 

Planet Ark: Preserving Earth’s Biodiversity, by Adrienne Mason, illustrated by Margot Thompson, makes biodiversity easy to understand. Using the biblical Noah as a metaphoric guardian, biodiversity is covered in three ways: species biodiversity, genetic biodiversity, and biodiversity within habitats. The text explains that an astounding 15,000–20,000 new species are identified each year, and the reader is asked to think about preservation in the following way: beware trashing your broken skateboard because you might later need one of its parts. At the end of the book is a grocery list of why biodiversity matters, along with examples of modern-day child Noahs who are working to preserve biodiversity. 

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The Tree of Life: The Incredible Biodiversity of Life on Earth, by Rochelle Strauss, also illustrated by Margot Thompson, is a great scaffold for learning about biodiversity. The tree me …

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Exploring Space: Notes From a Children's Librarian

Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.

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Reading the books on this list (which complement the Grade 6 Science and Technology Unit) will result in a thirst for all-things-space, as well as a deep appreciation for the scientific imagination.

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The picture book Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13, by Helaine Becker, illustrated by Dow Phumiruk, is the true story of a NASA aerospace technologist and her early beginnings as a gifted math student. Her calculations were so reliable that John Glenn bypassed the computer-generated numbers to ask if it passed "the Katherine test." When Apollo 13 exploded, Katherine calculated a safe flightpath home, while three astronauts awaited their fate in outer space.

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The Amazing International Space Station, by the Editors of Yes Magazine, covers the ins and outs of this incredible scientific feat. Fascinating facts are presented in a kid-friendly way. Did you know it takes eight minutes to leave the earth’s atmosphere, and 41 hours fo …

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Notes from a Children's Librarian: Books on Flight

Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.

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Take off! These books about flight complement the Grade 6 Science & Technology unit.

The first of the nonfiction titles us Generating Wind Power, by Niki Walker. A pleasure to read and well laid out with photos and text boxes, it covers the gamut: the definition of energy, how wind is harnessed, why wind is a viable alternative to fossil fuel, how wind turbines work, wind farms, the history of harnessing wind (windmills), its drawbacks, and the future of wind power. Includes a timeline and glossary.

In The Wright Brothers: A Flying Start, by Elizabeth MacLeod, well-chosen historical details beautifully animate the Wright Brothers’ story; their close relationship, lack of high school education, money-making schemes growing up. One such business included bicycle repair, resulting in a redesign of the bicycle of the time—small back wheel/large front wheel. (Their same-size tires meant a much easier ride). The reader learns the science of flight th …

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Notes from a Children's Librarian: On Structures

Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.

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Structures! Here are some great fiction and nonfiction titles to launch the Grade 3 science unit.

The picture book, Home, by Carson Ellis, is a great discussion-starter about different types of houses, as well as materials used to build them. This creative and humorous book showcases some fantastical structures, interspersed with questions: Who in the world lives here? And why? There’s a Japanese businessman’s sparse, cuboid home, a highly decorative Nordic god’s, a shoe (as in, ‘There was an old woman who lived in a…’), a tour bus, as well as homes belonging to a Kenyan blacksmith, and a “moonian.”

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Going Up! Elisha Otis’s Trip to the Top, a picture book by Monica Kulling, illustrated by David Parkins, will inspire young inventors. As a Vermont farm boy in 1818, Otis was intrigued by the ropes and pulleys hoisting hay up to the barn loft. As a grownup, he invented a platform to lift heavy machinery parts. He then moved onto elevatin …

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