Welcome to Top Grade: CanLit for the Classroom, a blog and preview video series that features new releases from Canadian book publishers ideal for use in K-12 classrooms and school library collections. Throughout the year, we will dive into new titles, highlighting relevant curriculum links and themes.
Written by secondary school teacher Spencer Miller
Recently, I was asked to substitute for an awesome STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) teacher. When I entered their classroom I was excited to see a selection of books prominently displayed at the front of the room. Each book covered a different topic in STEM and had a little label “What I just read”, “What I’m reading” and “What I’m reading next”. This simple three-book display said a lot. It told me (and the students in the room) that this STEM teacher loves the subjects they teach and is always looking to learn more. It told me they love to read books and that if I wanted to learn more about a scientific concept, I should read about it!
This is just one way that STEM teachers can support literacy in their classrooms. Books give important context to the concepts students are learning about in STEM classes. By promoting reading, not only are they helping their students develop important literacy skills, but they are encouraging their students to get curious about the world around them.
Through reading quality texts about different topics in STEM, students will also develop their STEM literacy. They will see how real-life scientists and STEM communicators use language to express their findings and share their research. Students will in turn improve their skills in hypothesizing, analyzing and synthesizing information.
One day our students will be asked to decipher a complicated research article or investigate a report from an international organization. We can prepare them for this higher-level reading by creating a habit of thoughtful STEM reading in earlier grades.
Reading books from many different authors is also a great way to promote diversity and representation within STEM. Check out these brand new books from 2021 that explore a wide range of scientific concepts and ideas!
Animals Illustrated, a colourful series from Inhabit Media, mixes visuals with fun-filled animal facts suitable for the youngest of readers. As children’s nonfiction books, the series is a uniquely beautiful collection about Arctic animals featuring intricately detailed illustrations. Each volume contains first-hand accounts from authors who live in the Arctic, along with interesting facts on the behaviours and biology of each animal.
In the latest book, Wolverine, kids will learn how wolverines raise their babies, where they live, what they eat, and other interesting information. Written by Allen Niptanatiak, a hunter and trapper from Kugluktuk, Nunavut, this book also contains information on the traditional Inuit uses of wolverine fur in parka trimming and making mitts. Available in English and Inuinnaqtun.
In Class: This series is sure to interest students in learning more about the Arctic region, the animals and the people who live there. Inhabit Media, the first Inuit-owned, independent publishing company in the Canadian Arctic, has more many more books and resources for educators to explore.
Lights Day and Night explores the science of how light works through the natural curiosity of a young girl and her cat. Inspired by watching a firefly glow, the pair investigate many fascinating aspects of light while on their summer vacation including natural and artificial light; the many uses of light; how light can be absorbed, reflected and refracted; the meaning of opaque, translucent, and transparent; how the eye sees light; and why some animals need less light to see than humans.
Presenting complex topics in a graphic, appealing and kid-friendly format, this comprehensive one-of-a-kind book does a wonderful job teaching scientific concepts through storytelling.
In Class: Allow students explore their classroom and outside areas to observe the aspects of light that surround them. The book’s glossary also includes instructions for a shadow puppet show, another great activity that allows students to play with light and learn how it works.
If you love listening to music, you’ll love learning about how it works. The Science of Song: How and Why We Make Music is a fascinating blend of history and science, broken into readable chunks, that describes how music has changed over the years. From the phonograph to streaming, it covers how everyday items like headphones were created and includes tidbits of the science of how we experience music, answering questions like, Why do you like the music you like? and Why do some songs get stuck in our heads?
In Class: Listen along to songs found in the books “playlist” sections. Can your students create a speaker to amplify sound or a musical instrument to strum along using everyday items around your classroom? Or take things to the next level and go online to experiment in the Chrome Music Lab.
What is really going on inside our bodies? It Takes Guts is an excellent, science-based resource, containing information about the surprising role that food and digestion play in your mood and immune system, the amazing tools your body uses to break down food, the incredible truth that not all bacteria is bad, and so much more!
Equally informative and humorous, the book detours to investigate the science behind burps, barfs, and farts with goofy illustrations and silly jokes on every page.
In Class: Author Dr. Jennifer Gardy, a recognizable face from her work with the CBC and the Discovery Channel, knows how to entertain children while teaching them crucial information about their bodies and health. Check out Dr. Gardy as she lifts the lid on poop in this episode of The Nature of Things from the CBC.
Chasing Bats and Tracking Rats is a gripping narrative nonfiction with STEM and social justice themes that proves cities can be surprisingly wild places—and why understanding urban nature matters.
Featuring the work of a diverse group of eleven scientists—the author included!—Dr. Cylita Guy shows how studying urban wildlife can help us make cities around the world healthier for all of their inhabitants. In the process, Guy reveals how social injustices like racism can affect not only how scientists study city wildlife, but also where urban critters are likelier to thrive. Sidebars include intriguing animal facts and the often wacky tools used by urban ecologists, from a ratmobile to a bug vacuum. Cornelia Li’s engaging illustrations bring the scientists’ fieldwork adventures to life!
In Class: Scattered throughout the book are urban ecology challenges that encourage readers to look for signs of wildlife in their own neighbourhoods. Take an urban ecology field trip and walk around your school’s neighbourhood to see what you can find!
The climate crisis is the issue of our time. Urgent Message From a Hot Planet is written directly to young readers across the country. The accessible first-person narrative outlines the science behind global heating and its root causes and aims to reduce youth anxiety over climate change impacts by providing ways to take action. Comprehensive and informative, the book includes important insights into intersecting issues like inequality and racism. While looking to the future, this book takes the time to honour the efforts of the millions of youth and adult allies from around the world working tirelessly to make a difference today.
In Class: Check out this list of resources for educators from the Government of Canada for more ways to enhance curriculum learning with empowering classroom projects and activities. Work with your students to incorporate improved sustainability practices in your classroom.
Check back for a new blog post each month along with preview videos throughout the year for more recommendations for your classroom library and beyond!
We would like to thank our partner 49th Teachers and our funder Ontario Creates for their support of the Top Grade project.
Spencer Miller graduated from the University of Calgary with degrees in English and Education. He participated in various projects examining the potential of children’s literature in the classroom as an undergraduate researcher. He is currently a secondary school teacher in Montréal/Tiohtià:ke. You can follow more of Spencer’s passion for books on Instagram @YACanadaBooks.