Poetry & Science

   Science and Poetry? Of course! Many excellent poetry collections or novels in verse can have scientific implications-whether in nature, sports, or space. Poetry begs to be read aloud, so get set to entice those science lovers who think poems aren’t their thing, and poetry fans who turn their noses up at science.

Web links to additional information and activities about poetry follow these reviews.

Contributor: Peg Glisson


All the Wild Wonders: Poems of Our Earth

Edited by Wendy Cooling

Illustrated by Piet Grobler

All over the world, in classic and contemporary forms, poetry echoes the awe and wonder of our earth. Categorized through varying themes of nature, poems in this collection reflect seasons and weather, conservation and awareness, wildlife and wonder. Each poem is catalogued with the poet’s name and country of origin, spanning from England to Russia, Turkey and China. A brief listing at the conclusion of the collection offers information about each selected poet. Contemporary poets find themselves sharing pages with classic writers and new voices. Free verse poems mingle with rhymes, rhythms, and eclectic verses to promote awareness of natural causes. More than thirty poems, tied together through brilliant watercolor illustrations, encourage children to appreciate nature and challenge themselves to protect natural resources. Exposure to verse from Alfred Lord Tennyson inspires a child to admire the flight of an eagle. A traditional Inuit song of Greenland asks a child to imagine a seal through the eyes of a hesitant hunter. A glimpse of massive beauty is painted through the words of John Milton. Riad Nourallah offers a complete alphabet, rhyming themes of awareness, considering all conservative efforts from saving dolphins to eating organically grown food. A beautiful and creative collection to any science classroom or as inspiration for students composing poetry about related themes. 2010, Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, Ages 5 to 14, $19.95.

REVIEWER: Patrice Russo Belotte (Children’s Literature).

ISBN: 9781847800732

At the Sea Floor Café: Odd Ocean Critter Poems

Leslie Bulion

Illustrated by Leslie Evans

Poems that will enchant both children and adults introduce 18 interesting ocean concepts in this unique little book. Following each poem is an extended section of content to support the lyric lines and satisfy readers’ new found curiosity. From convict fish to jeweled anemone crabs, ocean creatures are described in vivid detail. Bottlenose dolphins wear bits of sponge as ornaments; narwhals duel with extended teeth that are embedded with sensitive nerves. There are even poems about the worms that decompose the bones and skeletons at the bottom of the ocean and the ROVs that explore there. This book isn’t large enough to show while reading (although today’s “Elmo” might make that practical). But it’s just the size to tuck into a bag for frequent personal reading. The enchanting quality of its poetry and the surprising details of the science content made it an NSTA/CBC Outstanding Trade Book. Grades 3-5. 2011, Peachtree Publishers, Ages 8 to 11, $14.95.

REVIEWER: CBC Reviewer (National Science Teachers Association (NSTA)).

ISBN: 9781561455652

A Butterfly is Patient

Dianna Hutts Aston

Illustrated by Sylvia Long

Wonderfully illustrated, this picture book showcases the diversity of butterflies. Each two-page spread of the brief book focuses on a characteristic of butterflies. The life cycle is covered along with features such as wing scales, protective coloration, and ways butterflies differ from moths. The text is limited to a few sentences on each page, but is informative and interesting. The best thing about this book is that it contains labeled illustrations of a wide variety of butterflies from around the world. The drawings are large and very realistic. The first page inside the front cover contains drawings of over 25 species of caterpillars, and the corresponding butterflies are depicted on the first page inside the back cover. Besides conveying information about butterfly diversity, the overall message of the book is that there are many interesting aspects to the lives of butterflies. This title would be a great addition to an elementary school library. Highly Recommended. 2011, Chronicle Books, Ages 4 to 8, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Janet R. Mihuc (Science Books and Films).

ISBN: 9780811864794

The Crossover

Kwame Alexander

Twins Josh and Jordan have always been friendly rivals on the basketball court, where they are following in their basketball legend father’s footsteps. Over the course of the season, though, Josh finds his world rocked by small and large changes: he loses a bet that results in him having to cut off his lucky locks, he feels abandoned when Jordan starts hanging out with a girl, and his mother and father are fighting. When his anger and frustrations get the best of him, Josh lashes out at his brother on the court, and his mother, a principal at his school, suspends him from the team and things get worse from there. Alexander fully captures Josh’s athletic finesse and coming-of-age angst in a mix of free verse and hip-hop poetry that will have broad appeal. The lively basketball poems in particular beg for energetic oral performance, while the free verse shows the multidimensionality of a teen wordsmith figuring out the shifting conditions of life on and off the court. The book draws additional strength from the portrait of Josh’s father, a strong but flawed role model who’s so haunted by his own father’s early death that he won’t take steps to guard his health. With pithy poems that use basketball as a metaphor for life lessons off the court, two-voiced poems that highlight the ebb and flow of conversations that say too much and nothing at all, and poems inspired by vocabulary words that require extended definitions to tease out their emotional relevance and force, this will inspire budding players and poets alike. Review Code: R* — Recommended. A book of special distinction. 2014, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Grades 7-10, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Karen Coats (The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books).

ISBN: 9780544107717

Face Bug

J. Patrick Lewis

Illustrated by Kelly Murphy

Photographs by Fred Siskind

Many kids love bugs, and even more kids are fascinated by gross things. Face Bug is a book that will appeal to all those gross-seeking, insectophiles. From the hickory horned devil to the saddleback caterpillar, they are all here in their magnified glory. The beginning section is presented as if the reader is attending the grand opening of the Face Bug Museum. Each of the fourteen “exhibited” insects is featured in an extreme color close-up. Rhyming text gives facts on the featured bug. A little humor enhances each subject with amusing black and white illustrations of the antics of the insect visitors to the Bug Museum. The following section presents each insect again, this time with a photo of the full body. A few words on the habitat, life cycle, diet, and predators of each are offered. These are very brief and often humorously presented. A creative mix of poetry and nonfiction that will appeal to bugloving students. This would also be a useful cross-curricular tool in an upper elementary classroom, combining science and language arts into a fun book. 2013, Wordsong/ Highlights, Ages 6 to 9, $16.95.

REVIEWER: Robin Spano (Catholic Library World).

ISBN: 9781590789254

Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems

Paul B. Janeczko

Illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Never more than six or seven lines long-and some are just a few words-each poem in Janeczko’s (A Foot in the Mouth) spirited anthology celebrates an aspect of the seasons. Evocative and accessible, they make excellent prompts for classroom poetry exercises. “What is it the wind has lost,” ask poets Jim Harrison and Ted Kooser, “that she keeps looking for/ under each leaf?” Sweet’s (Little Red Writing) artwork is marvelously varied. In some spreads, the animals and people are drafted in thoughtful detail, while in others her line is loopy and spontaneous. Dragonflies and crickets blink with flirtatious cartoon-character eyes in one scene, while fireflies and their haunting light are painted with meditative calm in another. Beach towels are striped in hot colors; fog in a city is rice paper glued over a collage of tall buildings. William Carlos Williams’s red wheelbarrow and Carl Sandburg’s little cat feet appear along with lesser-known works. Even Langston Hughes’s poem about a crowded subway sounds a note of hope: “Mingled/ breath and smell/ so close/ mingled/ black and white/ so near/ no room for fear.” 2014, Candlewick, Ages 6 to 9. $16.99

REVIEWER: ★ Publishers Weekly (Publishers Weekly).

ISBN: 9780763648428

A Full Moon is Rising: Poems

Marilyn Singer

Pictures by Julia Cairns

The same moon shines over all of us and Singer takes readers on a multi-cultural journey to discover the many facets of the moon. The journey begins with Broadway Moon as a small child catches a mere glimpse of the moon though all the skyscrapers. Then it is on the Canada’s Bay of Fundy where twice a day the tides move one hundred billion tons of water in and out. In Israel a family celebrates Sukkot with a “vanilla white moonlight frosting us through the fragrant roof.” Readers join children parading under colorful lanterns at the festival of the “glorious eighth moon” while in America wheat is harvested “by moonlight brighter than headlights.” Singer’s journey comes full circle ending at Broadway where the moon, now high enough in the sky “takes a bow.” As Singer reminds readers the full moon will encore again in one month’s time and “admission is always free.” This collection highlights only one phase of the moon but the poems speak of celebrations, customs and beliefs and well as facts about the moon. Expanded information about each poem gives background or science instruction that will deepen the meaning of the work. Handsome watercolors depict each country with attention to detail in the dress and housing of the people but always keep the moon as the star attraction. Maps on the endpapers pinpoint each poem’s location around the world. This is a wonderful collection perfect for quiet reflection or to assist a classroom teacher in celebrating diversity or to put a more lyrical spin on the study of the moon. 2011, Lee and Low Books, Ages 7 to 10, $19.95.

REVIEWERS: Beverley Fahey (Children’s Literature).

ISBN: 9781600603648

Hi, Koo!: A Year of Seasons

Jon J. Muth

Twenty-six gossamer watercolors celebrate the changing seasons with Koo, the young panda Muth introduced in Zen Ties (he’s the nephew of Stillwater, Muth’s famous panda sage). Each page features a haiku about an evocative moment (eating cookies, accidentally killing an insect) or small natural miracle (crocuses, fireflies), which, in turn, contains a word that begins with a letter of the alphabet. In the “D” haiku (“Dance through cold rain/ then go home/ to hot soup”), Koo mimics Gene Kelly, hanging off a street lamp and beaming in the rain; a second vignette shows Koo seated at the lunch table. White space is used to marvelous effect. On the “K” page, a cardinal sits on a branch against a backdrop of white, while Koo smiles from beneath it under a headdress of snow: “King!/ my crown a gift/ from a snowy branch.” In spring, Koo frolics on a grassy hill, his stubby legs up in the air, then tickles a friend with a flower for “V” (“Violet petal/ caressing a cheek/ butterfly kisses”). It’s a joyous addendum to the Stillwater books, and it overflows with the same characteristic tenderness. Ages 4-8. 2014, Scholastic, 32 pp., $17.99.

REVIEWER: ★ Publishers Weekly (Publishers Weekly.

ISBN: 9780545166683

Out of This World: Poems and Facts About Space

Amy Sklansky

Illustrated by Stacey Schuett

Through the twenty poems about space and astronomy, readers discover a fascination for space travel and exploration that humans have shared for generations. The fun poems are accompanied and supported by sidebars with facts about space and about astronomy. For example, there are facts and a poem about packing to go to the moon that details what the Apollo 11 astronauts took with them on their historic mission, and then asks readers to think about what they would take if they were going to the moon. Readers learn that the bright light they associate with the moon is actually a reflection of the sun’s light; the moon does not generate its own light. There is a haiku poem about the astronaut footprints on the surface of the moon and the accompanying sidebar explains that the footprints will likely last as long as the moon itself does. The artwork that illustrates the book is a combination of paintings and computer-generated images, lending both wonder and charm to the book. The factoids in the sidebars are valuable by themselves and are particularly useful for a class unit on astronomy. This is one of the better books about outer space for younger readers and it is very highly recommended. 2012, Knopf/Random House, Ages 5 to 10, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Ellen Welty (Children’s Literature).

ISBN: 9780375864599

Outside Your Window: A First Book of Nature

Nicola Davies

Illustrated by Mark Hearld

Written by a veteran children’s author as well as a biologist, this visually appealing first nature book captures a child’s wonder as they explore the burgeoning world of nature. Divided into seasons, the book praises the wonder of flora, fauna, weather and many of the rituals of the various seasons such as seed planting and berry picking. An obvious love of nature is embedded in the short, non-rhyming verses that praise bird’s nesting in spring, making hay in the summer, the leaves of autumn and the bare trees of winter. Each season sports a dozen or so poems. The mixed media illustrations are bold and colorful to draw younger readers into the scene. The descriptive text seems to match each subject in tone and tenor. There is even an addition of a recipe or two. It’s a lovely introduction for youngsters and serves to increase their observations and appreciation of the natural world as well as the joy of listening to someone read to them. It’s a book to be enjoyed again and again. 2012, Candlewick Press, Ages 3 to 7, $19.99.

REVIEWER: Meredith Kiger, Ph.D. (Children’s Literature).

ISBN: 9780763655495

Rapping About What Animals Eat

Bobbie Kalman

Another enticing series by Bobbie Kalman, these “Rapping About!” books should interest curious young readers. Cleverly written in rhyme, the text can be read aloud to a rap beat. Every page is filled with large, colourful illustrations and photographs, enhancing the text. Each topic heading is printed in large coloured letters and key words are highlighted in bold. The final 2-page spread consists of a game, “Match them up”, which draws on information discussed in the text. A table of contents, glossary and index are included. Rapping About What Animals Eat discusses ‘omnivores’, ‘carnivores’ and ‘herbivores’, and when a groundhog eats a flower, it is a ‘florivore’! Many fascinating topics appear in this text, including ‘leaf eaters’, ‘insectivores’ and ‘predators’. The illustrations also vividly portray the animal’s eating habits. This is an excellent series for young readers and researchers. Clearly presented, each text is filled with pertinent information and vocabulary. The poetry/rap format should add appeal for young learners as well as for teachers/parents reading the information aloud. The complete series should be a popular addition to an elementary school library collection. ). Category: Non-Fiction Grades K-6. Thematic Links: Science; Animals; Habitats; Water; Air; Atmosphere; Wind; Animals and Food. Resource Links Rating: E (Excellent, enduring, everyone should see it!). 2012, Crabtree Publishing, Ages 6 to 10, $18.36 ea.

REVIEWER: Carolyn Cutt (Resource Links).

ISBN: 9780778727989

The Robin Makes a Laughing Sound: A Birder’s Journal

Sallie Wolf

Designed by Micah Bornstein

Delightfully written and exquisitely illustrated, this book gives children and adults a glimpse of a birder’s journal. The author, a noted poet, shows her notes, draft sketches, and watercolors as she observes birds. Then her completed poems reflect her curiosity and fascination with what she’s learned. This NSTA/CBC Outstanding Science Trade Book for 2011 is a great model for student journals. The metacognition of the author as she thinks about what she knows and what she wants to know will help students understand the processes of science–especially observation and questioning. It also contains a great deal of concrete information about backyard birds and their behaviors. This is not only a great tool for teaching science and communication arts but also a book that you’ll want to hug. 2010, Charlesbridge Publishing, Ages 8 to 14, $11.95.

REVIEWER: CBC Reviewer (National Science Teachers Association).

ISBN: 9781580893183

Seeds, Bees, Butterflies, and More!: Poems For Two Voices

Carole Gerber

Illustrated by Eugene Yelchin

In this botanical collection of verse, eighteen poems focus on various aspects of the ecosystem from their own perspectives. A rabbit faces off with an unsuspecting new seedling in “New Shoot”: sunflowers talk about their growth and seeding in “Helianthus”; a worm and flower converse about compost in “Bedmates”; a garden gives thanks for ladybug’s pest-eating in “Ladybug Hugs.” The verses are somewhat literal, but they’re celebratory and gently informative, and their dual-voice structure (each voice in a different type color and margin setoff) makes the volume very suitable for readaloud and performance. Yelchin’s gouache art, touched with graphite, balances crisp linework on the figures against backgrounds softly textured with Van Gogh-like brushstrokes. Overall, it’s an appealing blend of classic botanical intricacy, retro design charm, and freewheeling and airy modernity. While the format suggests readers of an age to read the verses alone, which would be a lively element in a nature study unit, this could also be a basis for an entertaining theater piece with younger kids. The book concludes with a brief botanic overview in prose. Review Code: R — Recommended. (c) 2013, Holt, Grades 2-5, $17.99.

REVIEWER: Deborah Stevenson (The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books).

ISBN: 9780805092110

Swirl By Swirl: Spirals in Nature

Joyce Sidman

Illustrated by Beth Krommes

Spirals are not often included in basic shape books, but thanks to the vivid illustrations and intriguing examples here, young readers will be inspired to look for spirals in their own backyards. The text is simple, yet descriptive. Sidman uses her distinctive poetic language to describe the spirals in nature. Plants and animals are identified with captions that don’t distract from the bold scratchboard illustrations by Caldecott Award winner Krommes. Sidman provides helpful additional information at the end of the book. For each of the specific plants, animals, and natural phenomena shown throughout the text, descriptions are provided, as is a short explanation of the Fibonacci sequence. This would be a good book to use with young students to inspire nature study and art projects. For middle elementary students, it could serve as an introduction to the fascinating mathematical patterns found in nature. 2011, Houghton Mifflin Books for Children/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Ages 4 to 8, $16.99.

REVIEWER: Susan Thomas (Children’s Literature).

ISBN: 9780547315836

Volcano Wakes Up!

Lisa Westberg Peters

Illustrated by Steve Jenkins

An award-winning children’s author and an acclaimed science illustrator team up for a totally unique and engrossing look at volcanoes. Using a rare combination of literature and science, the reader gets a brief picture of a day in the life of a new active volcano from dawn to dusk. The literature slant comes from the text. Author Peters presents short dialog, almost like free verse poems, from the perspective of five different things. The first voice is the young volcano itself, who speaks with the boisterousness of a rambunctious child (“I’m a little sleepy now, but when I wake up, watch out! … I get the most attention!”). There are also the cool, moisture-loving ferns that spring up after the lava flows, always ready for the party to begin. A pair of crickets use bursts of snappy, jerky Instant Message language to text each other about the impending feast that awaits them when “Big V” blows and delivers toasted insects for their enjoyment. The small black road communicates in typical road sign jargon. A particular favorite is a dialog between the sun and moon, whose poems have the first letter of each line spell out “morning,” “midday,” and “twilight,” thus bringing the reader full cycle through the day. Steve Jenkins is not a stranger to children’s science illustrations. He won the 2004 Caldecott award for What Do You Do With A Tail Like This? He brings his signature artwork to this book, too. Rich colors, sometimes with a textured paper look, make each image stand out in sharp contrast to the objects around it. The colors are often blues and browns with vivid lines of red lava and black ash. Two pages at the back give a more expository explanation of volcanoes, native Hawaiian ferns, lava flow crickets, the black lava roads, and the sights seen by the light of sun and moon on Hawaiian island volcanoes. Although this section reads more like a straightforward nonfiction text, it serves to emphasize the imagery of the poems with the factual phenomenon upon which they are based. This is less a scientific treatment of volcanoes than an impressionistic exploration inspired by a unique part of the world. Science exposition and literature seem like strange partners, but they work very well together here. Kudos to this author-illustrator team for their refreshingly unique approach and for expressing their fascination with this subject in a way that can speak to another dimension within their readers. Nonfiction, Highly Recommended. 2010, Holt, Ages 6 to 8. $16.99.

REVIEWER: Laura Baker (The Lorgnette – Heart of Texas Reviews).

ISBN: 9780805082876

The Voyage of Turtle Rex

Kurt Cyrus

Deep in the dunes of a long-ago shore, / the leathery shell of a turtle egg tore. / Out popped a flipper. Then two. Then four. / They scrabbled and scooped, and scrabbled some more.” The little hatchling, a primeval sea turtle called an archelon, soon scuttles from the beach to the water of its ocean home. Evading underwater predators, the archelon grows to its adult weight of two tons, and eventually returns to the beach where she was born to lay her own eggs. The archelon is extinct, but its characteristics are still evident, as “shells of all fashions continue to girdle / the middle of many a tortoise and turtle.” A rhyming and repetitive text with an easy flow conveys equal parts entertainment and information. Oversize pages with boldly outlined illustrations add drama to the ancient creature’s story. CCBC Category: Picture Books for Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers. 2011, Harcourt, Ages 3-8, $16.99.

REVIEWER: CCBC (Cooperative Children’s Book Center Choices).

ISBN: 9780547429243

What in the Wild?: Mysteries of Nature Concealed-And Revealed Ear-Tickling Poems

David M. Schwartz and Yael Schy

Eye-tricking photos by Dwight Kuhn

This book offers an interesting and unique experience for young readers as they “literally” become detectives while solving mysteries in nature. The authors skillfully use poems and striking pictures to engage all of the senses (seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting, and smelling) to find the solutions. The reader is presented with an impressive challenge to participate in an exciting adventure that promotes reading and critical-thinking skills. Further, analogies, inferences, transitional strategies, and inductive and deductive reasoning skills are enhanced by this format. Most children enjoy playing the role of a “sleuth” or “gumshoe.” The book opens with an intriguing picture together with the question “What’s Inside?” followed by an overview. Clues are provided in poems with catchy titles and rhyming verses illustrated in a variety of patterns and fascinating pictures. To discover the answer to the mystery, readers are invited to flip the page. A realistic picture of the animal appears in its habitat, followed by a narrative describing the habits, adaptations, and life cycle of the animal and the role it plays in the balance of nature. Additional pictures indicate patterns of growth and development. This panoramic view clearly resolves the mystery. The curiosity and exuberance that are released provide a great motivator for individual and group learning experiences. New mystery games may be created with classmates, friends, and family members. Learning about the mysteries of nature in this manner is fun and encourages explorations in the readers’ own backyards. The book lacks a glossary, so facilitators have an opportunity to help students develop their own vocabulary. Also, references listed in the section titled “For Further Reading” are excellent resources for additional research. C.I.P. Highly Recommended. 2010, Tricycle Press, Ages 8 to 10., $16.99.

REVIEWER: Jean B. Worsley (Science Books and Films).

ISBN: 9781582463100

Where My Wellies Take Me…: A Childhood Scrapbook with Poems and Pictures

Clare Morpurgo and Michael Morpurgo

Illustrated by Olivia Lomenech Gill

This beautifully designed and illustrated text combines the best of childhood with a selection of poems that highlight the joys of youth and time spent in nature. Based on the authors’ childhoods, the focus of the story is on Pippa, whose journey around the “lanes of Devon” allows her to create a scrapbook that highlights her experiences and serves as a safe place for some of the items she finds. One to two poems per two-page section align with what Pippa sees. For example, when she is at Farmer Yellands’ place, surveying the cow pasture, the poem “Fetching Cows” by Norman MacCaig is feature. A later section focused on a man working his fields highlights the poem “Digging” by Seamus Heaney. The scrapbook design-with folded sections that open to show yet another poem or a picture-as well as the illustrations found throughout beautifully support Pippa’s story and her experiences. Younger readers will enjoy having this read to them, and this may be especially necessary since the cursive that Pippa “writes” in may be difficult for youngsters to interpret. Older readers will surely be inspired to find out more about the English countryside. Another benefit to this book is that all proceeds go to the author’s charity “Farms for City Children.” Thus far, the charity has enabled 100,000 city children to spend a week at a farm. 2012, Templar Books/Candlewick, Ages 8 to 14, $29.99.

REVIEWER: Jean Boreen (Children’s Literature).

ISBN: 9780763666293

Updated 04/01/14

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