Q: My two boys, 6 and 8, aren't into fantasy books. They love science and I'm trying to find books for our nightly reading. Those in our school library are very textbooky. Can you recommend a science series that we can all enjoy?
A: Your boys are a step ahead of an important trend -- more nonfiction reading in the early grades, so students develop "academic vocabulary" and background knowledge to help them understand math and science concepts in the middle grades and beyond.
Ask your librarian to gather a collection of books by Sandra Markle, an award-winning children's science writer of more than 200 books. Sandra uses the tools of science to research and write the books, traveling the world to observe her subjects. She even trekked to the South Pole for her book on penguins. Her probing prose, keen eye for delight, and ability to impart a sense of wonder grabs readers of any age. (Her series "Arachnid World," featuring spectacularly photographed spiders, helped a girl I tutored overcome her fear of these fascinating eight-legged predators.) Check out her "Outside and Inside" series and "Growing Up Wild" series. Sandra, who lives in New Zealand, invites young readers to share her sense of discovery on her blog: sandra-markle.blogspot.com.
Another author who does his own research is conservationist Michael Patrick O'Neill. His marine life books are packed with his spellbinding photography of sharks, sea turtles, fish and ocean reef dwellers. Go to batfishbooks.com.
Animal Planet and Kingfisher partnered to launch two series -- "Weird and Wonderful" (ages 6 to 10) and "My Life in the Wild" (ages 4 to 8). The first titles in "Weird and Wonderful" are "Show-Offs" and "Attack and Defense," focusing on adaptive behaviors for mating and defense, such as camouflage. Cheetahs and penguins are featured in the first two "My Life in the Wild" titles.
This month, Scholastic launches its "Discover More" series of nonfiction titles in print and online for three reading levels: Emergent, ages 4 to 6; Confident, ages 7 to 9; and Expert, ages 8 to 12. The photos and trendy graphics have great kid appeal. I gave my 12-year-old neighbor "The Elements: The Building Blocks of the Universe," the first title in the Expert series, and "she just pores over it," reports her mom. Each book comes with a code that allows online access to a free digital companion book with charts, videos, quizzes and articles that encourage readers to join scientists on their explorations. Go to www.scholastic.com/discovermore.
Peachtree publishes two well-illustrated nature series. The "A Place For" series explores ways to protect species such as butterflies, birds, fish and bats. The "About Habitats" series explores mountains, grasslands, deserts, wetlands and oceans. Go to peachtree-online.com.
The award-winning magazine Kids Discover explores a different subject each month, from the brain and cells, to earthquakes and space. It's edited for grades three to seven, but your 8-year-old will do just fine with your guidance. Back issues are available on 140 topics. It carries no advertising. Go to kidsdiscover.com.
(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)