Educators and students continue their long-term efforts to make up academic ground in the wake of pandemic interruptions. This school year, the U.S. Department of Education has provided some avenues for assistance and support in that endeavor via its Raise the Bar: STEM Excellence for All Students initiative. Among the program’s key priorities is to “ensure all students from pre-K to higher education excel in rigorous, relevant and joyful STEM learning.” In light of that goal, we looked at some interesting STEM/STEAM resources.
Big Kid Science
Big Kid Science books are out of this world. Well, sort of. Scientist, educator, author, and publisher Jeffrey Bennett can make that claim, as all seven of the children’s titles his company has published have been to space. Bennett’s 2012 picture book Max Goes to the Moon, the inaugural title in the Max Science Adventure series starring Max the Dog, was the first children’s book to be selected for the Story Time from Space program, in which astronauts on the International Space Station read books aloud on video. Three subsequent Max titles, and three additional Big Kid Science books, have made the trip to Earth’s low orbit as well, and according to STFS director Patricia Tribe, an estimated seven million kids have watched the Big Kid Science videos to date.
Bennett’s passion for creating science projects that grab kids’ attention was the driver for launching Big Kid Science, which he calls a “source for fun and scientifically accurate educational products” on the company’s website. “I spent a lot of my early career teaching elementary school kids, and ever since, I’d wanted to find a way to improve the fairly dismal state of kids’ science books,” he says. “Far too many are riddled with scientific inaccuracies, plus it’s very rare to find ones that combine a story with science, which I think is important in building interest for kids and making these books useful for teachers.”
The opportunity to produce Big Kid Science books arrived after Bennett’s various college textbooks, mostly on astronomy, became successful sellers. “Some of the people at my publisher [Pearson] told me they’d be interested in helping me start an imprint for kids’ books,” he says. “So, with their help—they worked with me as freelancers, independent of Pearson—I went forward. That’s more than 20 years ago now.” Big Kid Science’s catalog consists of seven children’s science titles and several books for adults distributed by IPG.
The newest initiatives and materials from Big Kid Science focus on eclipses and the climate crisis. The Totality by Big Kid Science app provides kids, families, and teachers with information about, and tips for viewing, next April’s Great American Eclipse. The app and the companion book, Totality! An Eclipse Guide in Rhyme and Science, both contain extensive activities for classroom use. Bennett currently offers a free online digital textbook, Earth and Space Science, as an experimental project soliciting educator feedback. A new edition of his adult book A Global Warming Primer: Pathway to a Post-Global Warming Future arrives in January 2024. Bennett devotes all revenue from Big Kid Science books to donations to nonprofit organizations and funding his free author visits to schools and communities.
Kids Can Press
According to Sarah Labrie, sales and marketing director at Kids Can, “At least 30% of our list each season consists of nonfiction and fiction titles categorized as STEM/STEAM.” And a couple of recent titles under that umbrella have been riding a wave of success.
“Author Rochelle Strauss has been on a speaker’s circuit this year to promote her latest book, The Global Ocean, and share how to incorporate STEM/STEAM books into classrooms,” Labrie says, pointing out that UNESCO has recognized the book as an IOC-UNESCO Ocean Decade Activity. Strauss and fellow KCP author L.E. Carmichael (Polar) presented at the North American Association for Environmental Education conference in October, and Strauss joined KCP authors Adrienne Mason (Whales to the Rescue) and Donna Sandstrom (Orca Rescue!) at last summer’s National Marine Educators Association conference. “Our authors are out there preaching the importance of STEM/STEAM books wherever educators are gathering!” Labrie notes.
In addition to more traditional efforts like bringing authors to trade shows and conferences, Labrie says her team is “working towards easing some of the challenges around discoverability in this market” in new ways. One strategy for increasing awareness among teachers and librarians includes compiling themed digital catalogs for all the areas of STEM/STEAM that KCP covers. “We are also experimenting with outside-the-box concepts, such as a theme song for our recent title Kaboom! A Volcano Erupts, which was brought to us by the book’s author, Jessica Kulekjian. Singer-songwriter Tara Trudel, who specializes in this niche, created the song for teachers to use in the classroom.”
Global Ocean is the follow-up to Strauss’s One Well: The Story of Water on Earth, which Labrie notes is a perennially solid performer that has sold more than 600,000 copies to date. Both titles are part of KCP’s CitizenKid imprint, which focuses on books that inform kids about the broader world and inspire them to be better global citizens. One of the things that sets the books in this collection apart is “they provide real actions that kids can take to make them feel like they’re having an impact,” Labrie says. “I think that when a book leaves you with the feeling that you can make a difference, it sticks with you. That’s why teachers have really come to these books—it’s not just information offered within, but solutions too.”
In the STEAM category, Ashley Spires’s The Most Magnificent Thing has been a standout since its release in 2014. The maker-themed book has sold nearly a million copies in total. “It’s a unique combination of STEM/STEAM and SEL concepts—the scientific method is not about perfection—and this book offers teachers a way to discuss perseverance and emotional regulation as part of the science curriculum for young students,” Labrie says. KCP offers a variety of classroom activities as well as a hands-on book hack video by Spires on its website in support of the title. Forthcoming licensed tie-ins include the animated TV series Millie Magnificent from Nelvana and a board game from Fat Brain Toys. A sequel, The Most Magnificent Maker’s A to Z, hit shelves in September.
“How would you solve the problem of an elephant sitting on your book? Hint: Save your back and use a pulley.” This is just the kind of funny but informative example of science in action that readers will find in Pulleys Pull Their Weight, a new entry in the Picture Book Science series from Nomad Press by author and content marketing manager Andi Diehn. “Our STEM picture books are some of our best sellers,” she says. “Educators are hungry for materials for younger elementary grades, where kids are curious, eager, and excited to learn about science. And nonfiction STEM picture books have really gained in popularity over the past several years as we learn more about how all students learn differently, and some prefer straight science with no story around it. Our nonfiction picture books really hit that sweet spot.”
Pulleys is part of a six-volume Picture Book Science set by Diehn focusing on simple machines. Other titles in the bundle—which can also be purchased individually—include Wheels Make the World Go Round and Wedges Make a Point. “Simple machines are foundational to an understanding of physics and motion, and at the same time they’re inherently accessible for everyone,” Diehn says. “Who hasn’t unscrewed a bottle cap, used a stick to dig a rock out of mud, or used a fork?”
Diehn believes that a big hook for educators is publisher-provided resources that help them keep their students engaged with the material. “All of our books include hands-on activities, and that’s what I hear about from teachers and librarians,” she says. “There’s something really wonderful that happens when kids read a book and then put into practice the science, engineering, and technology skills they’ve gained. Nothing beats getting your hands dirty!”
Washington, D.C.–based independent press Science, Naturally has published children’s books focused on science and math literacy since its launch in 2006 as an imprint of Platypus Media. “For each of our upcoming titles, we reach out to organizations in STEM fields related to the topics in the book and see how we can work together to share our initiatives and content with new audiences,” says Caitlin Burnham, senior editor and marketing coordinator.
Earlier this year, the company teamed up with the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the National Mole Day Foundation to help promote the book Mole and Tell by Catherine Payne and John Payne II, illustrated by Elisa Rocchi, a picture book look at Avogadro’s number, scientific notation, and the periodic table. “We were able to partner with NIST for a professional development seminar for middle school teachers,” Burnham says. “We gave a presentation about accessible STEM education and fun ways to excite and engage students with chemistry, and also gave away copies of our books to use in their classrooms.” Mole and Tell is the inaugural title in the Celebrate Science series, which will grow to include books about various science holidays throughout the year, like Astronomy Day, Earth Day, and Pi Day.
Burnham says another recent release, The P Word: A Manual for Mammals by David L. Hu, illustrated by Ilias Arahovitis—a project fully funded on Kickstarter—“is already climbing to the top of our list.” She describes it as “a pre-puberty, gender-neutral picture book about the penis for kids ages seven to 12. With a focus on mammal biology and anatomy, this book is selling well because it shares important health information in a way no book has before––which is especially important in a time when children’s health and LGBTQ+ materials are being restricted.”
Perennially strong backlist books include 65 Short Mysteries You Solve with Science and 65 Short Mysteries You Solve with Math, also available in English-Spanish bilingual editions. Burnham believes the unique short-form content is key to the books’ appeal. “They reach nonreaders where they are by only requiring a few minutes at a time, and they’re convenient for teachers because they help fill extra class time,” she says. “Each mystery is one page, front and back, and places STEM topics in the real world—essentially answering the age-old question, when am I ever going to use this outside of class?”
Beanz, the print STEAM magazine for kids ages eight and up published by nonprofit Kids Code & Computer Science, celebrates a big birthday this month, marking its first decade—and 67th issue. Since 2013, the Beanz writing staff of classroom teachers, technologists, and journalists has been serving up a wide range of content focused on everything from coding and Minecraft to math, robots, and making and sewing. A glance at the most recent issue reveals pieces on ocean cleanup technologies, tissue chips for scientific research, AI, real-life ghost-busting devices, and navigation methods of ancient China.
Powered by donations and subscriptions, Beanz publishes six print issues per year and offers additional material such as videos on its website and within its recently launched Between Issues newsletter. The company donates 15%–20% of its print issues to Title 1 schools, as well as to food pantries and homeless shelters via MagLiteracy.org, which delivers free copies of the magazine to at-risk readers throughout North America.
“We are excited to celebrate this major milestone and share our continued growth,” publisher Tim Slavin said in a statement about Beanz’s birthday. “Exposure to STEAM is proven to help kids develop problem-solving skills, encourages creativity and collaboration, and teaches technologies like coding.”