The skills necessary for success in ELA and Science are closely intertwined. Instruction in these skills must be deliberate, and science content ought to be infused into ELA instructional time and ELA skills ought to be infused into science time.
There are some authoritative lists of science trade books available to teachers looking for high quality resources. Experienced teachers already have some criteria for identifying quality publications that can be used as a foundation for analyzing the quality of trade books.
Some of the criteria teachers use to evaluate trade books include the following:
- Copyright date (although there are some oldies but goodies such as The Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock)
- Visuals - high quality photos and illustrations
- Not too busy graphically - some books can be bewilderingly stimulus rich
- Vocabulary - defined clearly at an appropriate level
- Possessing a subtopic organization to make information easy to find
- Indexed Accuracy - some very popular titles contain factual errors whose discovery can prove to be an important experience for students. Books with too many errors should be avoided.
Let's look at some sources of recommended works.
New York State native John Burroughs wrote twenty-five books during his 83 years, most devoted to essays on nature observation. In 1988, The John Burroughs Association established “The John Burroughs List of Nature Books for Young Readers, to recognize outstanding natural history books for children that contain perceptive and artistic accounts of direct experiences in the world of nature.” Awards are announced at the Association's annual banquet held at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. A list of the books that have received this distinction can be found here.
The Cooperative Extension Service offers the Master Gardener Program, a well-respected training program to prepare volunteers to assist with providing information on horticulture, gardening and plant problems. Recently, a Junior Master Gardener Program was established to engage children in fun activities that teach gardening and environmental science concepts. It has assembled the Growing Good Kids Book Awards Classics list, described as the best 40 books of the last 100 years. This list can be viewed here.
The National Science Teachers Association, working with the Children's Book Council, publishes an annual list of outstanding science trade books in the March issue of Science and Children. These annotated lists can be viewed at the Association's website.
The magazines published by two of the nation's major museums publish lists of children's books each year. Natural History Magazine usually publishes its list in the December issue. Smithsonian Magazine usually publishes its annual list of “Notable Books for Children,” in its August or September issue. PBS has a myriad of useful resources for educators including lists of recommended science books. Explore the PBS website here.
Every teacher has their own list of favorite trade books for the units or topics in his or her curriculum. The resources above can help enrich these lists so that students can use the best resources possible to add to their hands-on science experiences. If you would like to extend this discussion by sharing some of your favorite science trade book suggestions, join the ESP listserv.