Sibert Showdown, Middle Grade STEM-Style


Hello There! Let me first say, yes it IS Thursday. (with this year you never know, right?)

The STEM Tuesday Team has staged a Thursday takeover of the Mixed Up Files blog so that we can add one more day to the week to celebrate STEM/STEAM books!!

Today we are offering a  FUN activity with STEM/STEAM books to do in your classroom:






Every year the American Library Association honors the best informational books of the year at their annual conference at the end of January.  The award for that is the Robert F. Sibert Award. Typically, one book receives that award and several honor books are chosen as well.

What is the Robert F. Sibert Award?   “The Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal is awarded annually to the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished informational book published in the United States in English during the preceding year. The award is named in honor of Robert F. Sibert, the long-time President of Bound to Stay Bound Books, Inc. of Jacksonville, Illinois. ALSC administers the award.”– quoted directly from the ALSC (Association for Library Service to Children) website

What is an informational book?  “Information books are defined as those written and illustrated to present, organize, and interpret documentable, factual material for children. There are no limitations as to the character of the book, although traditional literature (e.g., folktales) is not eligible. Poetry is not eligible except as a format or vehicle to convey information.”  – quoted directly from the ALSC website



Get your class to decide! Which book do they think should win the Sibert Award? Which one(s) should be awarded a Sibert Honor?

Award-winning author Melissa Stewart started her Sibert Smackdown four years ago. What a BRILLIANT idea! Many teachers and librarians have been using it every year since. Here is a post about  Melissa’s  Sibert Smackdown

With a very enthusiastic nod to Melissa, we here at STEM Tuesday invite you to put a slightly different slant on her version. We encourage you to use middle grade STEM/STEAM books in your Sibert Showdown. This would be great to do for older classes, perhaps 4th graders and up. We realize that reading an entire middle grade book might seem daunting but don’t worry, we offer a few suggestions.



  Pick a book (see the book list below) 

  Decide how your class will read the books. Here are a few ideas: 

  1. Book Talk in Teams –Divide them up into teams of 2-3 students. Have each student read the introduction, table of contents and one to two chapters. They can present the book to the rest of the class in a 5-10 minute Book Talk.
  2. Book Tasting– Every student reads just the first chapter of the book and then you discuss in class.
  3. Individual Book Talk– each student picks a different book and skims it, reading the first chapter, a middle one, and maybe the last one.
  4. Book Talk by Class– Split your class up into different groups. Each group reads the back cover blurb and one chapter. (don’t forget the back matter). Then have a discussion and compare.
  5. Read the whole book Book Talk– Of course, this is the best, let students pick from the list below which book they’d like to read. Have them read it all the way through (most of them aren’t too long). Then they give a presentation about why it should be chosen (or not chosen) for the award.
  6. Persuasive Writing Paragraph– Do any of the above, but instead of a presentation, have the students write a persuasive paragraph explaining why this book should or shouldn’t be included in consideration for the Sibert Award.



So that they are all working from the same guidelines, have the students ask themselves these questions as they go through the book:

  • Is the book interesting or FUN to read?
  • Does this book have a lot of information in it– enough to give a reader a very good idea of the topic?
  • Is the book easy to understand? (does the author do a good job of explaining things?)
  • Is the information presented in an organized way? (does it make sense as you are reading it?)
  • Is there a glossary or index in the book to help you understand the terms and find the topics?
  • Is there an author’s note or a way to learn more about the topic?

Their presentations, discussions, or writing should include their answers to these questions.

Sound fun? It IS!

***  And just a note, you could do this activity ANY time of the year, not just during the Sibert Award consideration time. There is always a time to have fun with STEM/STEAM Books!  😊***



Our STEM Tuesday Team came up with a list of some 2020 STEM/STEAM books we think are awesome and will get you started. But feel free to add to our list! Post your favorites in the comments below  OR you can always invite your students to come up with their own classroom list.



Condor Comeback (Scientists in the Field Series) by Sy Montgomery (Author), Tianne Strombeck (Photographer),   HMH Kids





All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys Soccer Team by Christina Soontornvat, Candlewick Press






Changing the Equation: 50+ US Black Women in STEM by Tonya Bolden, Abrams BFYR






Earth Day and the Environmental Movement: Standing Up for Earth by Christy Peterson, 21st Century Books




Beastly Bionics: Rad Robots, Brilliant Biomimicry, and Incredible Inventions Inspired by Nature by Jennifer Swanson, National Geographic Kids





Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier by Jim Ottaviani illustrated  by Maris Wicks, First Second Books






Tracking Pythons: The Quest to Catch an Invasive Predator and Save an Ecosystem by Kate Messner, Millbrook Press



Who Gives a Poop?: Surprising Science from One End to the Other by Heather Montgomery, Bloomsbury Kids





Big Ideas That Changed The World: Machines That Think by Don Brown, Amulet Books





Machines in Motion: The Amazing History of Transportation by Tom Jackson, Bloomsbury Children’s Books




Where Have All The Bees Gone? Pollinators in Crisis By Rebecca Hirsch, 21-First Century Books





This is our list. What is YOURS? Add to this list below. And if you use this activity in your classroom, we’d love to hear about it. Thanks for celebrating STEM/STEAM books with us!

Happy Holidays from the entire STEM Tuesday TEAM!

Using Picture Books to Teach Middle Grade and Beyond

Teaching with Picture Books

by Robyn Gioia, M.Ed.

When most people think of picture books, they think of cute pictures and feel-good stories that thrill children from ages 0-7. But, teachers know better. There is much more to picture books than meets the eye.

Students have grown up with visuals since the day they were born. From elementary to high school, picture books can spark the imagination and open the eyes as an introduction to a subject. Picture books boil down to the main topic and draw the reader in with interesting tidbits. Our public libraries are full of wonderful picture books ready to do the job. Picture books inspire conversations and provide topics for research. They allow insightful tie-ins to curriculum and present opportunities for projects. Their pictures bring the topic to life. They create understanding unlike anything else. They are quick reads that can fit into almost any schedule.

Take the book, The Turtle Ship by Helena Ku Ree.

One of the greatest historical war heroes in the S. Korean culture was Admiral Yi Sun-Sin. He is known for saving Korea from Japan, a conquering country with a formidable naval fleet. Because of his design, the undefeatable Turtle ship had the ability to defeat the Japanese. His larger than life statue looms high over the skyline in Gwanghwamun Square, Seoul.

In the picture book, a young Sun-Sin comes to life as a boy who is afraid to enter a shipbuilding contest sponsored by the King. The King needs an indestructible ship able to withstand ongoing invasions from the sea. Sun-Sin decides to accept the challenge. The author imagines what experiences might have influenced a young Sun-Sin’s turtle ship design, and from there the story is told.

Teaching Middle Grade with Picture Books

(Artwork from “Fighting Ships of the Far East (2)” by Stephen Turnbull © Osprey Publishing, part of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc)

The Turtle Ship picture book goes step by step through the design engineering process. Young Sun-Sin tries and fails at several design attempts before creating the design known today. This was something I was able to use in my 6th-grade science class. As we talked about the boy Sun-Sin and identified how the process was evolving, it created a bridge to understanding the design process. We had also learned that historically, a lot of designs were inspired by nature. The Wright brothers studied birds before designing the first airplane. In our story, Sun-Sin looks to his turtle for solutions.

When I used The Turtle Ship book in our lesson, my students were fascinated by the Turtle ship design from the 1500s. They learned the ship could rotate in one spot and fire cannons from each of its sides. They discovered soldiers were encased inside the ship so the enemy could not attack. They loved that the top was curved and covered in spikes to keep from being boarded by the enemy. They also learned that the hull was designed to ram into other vessels.

The Korean Turtle Ship

The turtle ship became one of the top engineering designs in warship history. You can read about this incredible ship and its design ingenuity on the U.S. Naval Institute News website. USNI News asked its readers, “What is the greatest warship of all time and why?” The answer can be found on the USNI News website

Teachers in grade levels from primary to high school have used this story to inspire students with a wide range of activities and topics.

Engineering Design Process (EDP)

Research on Korean Inventions

Historical Fiction Comparative Study

Creating a Historical Timeline between Asia and American History

Writing Sijo, a Korean Poetic Form

Analyzing Civic Characteristics of Main Characters

Origin Story with Read-Alouds and Comparisons with Multiple Sources

Teaching Korea through Writing

Teaching Modern Asian Culture through History

Creative Writing

Using the Glossary for Vocabulary Understanding

Study of Honor

Compare and Contrast Other Korean Historical Picture Books

STEAM: Create a Vessel that Holds the Most Weight

STEAM: Design a Boat That is the Fastest

Downloadable Teaching resources:

Lee and Lowe Teaching Guide: TURTLE-SHIP.TG

Historical Information on Admiral Yi Sun-Sin: Admiral Yi Sunsin_KSCPP(1)


Folding Tech: An Interview with the author + GIVEAWAY

The designs of objects found in nature and of so many things we use are related to origami: insect wings, leaf buds, brains, airbags, and robots, to name a few. I was blown away by all I learned about origami in Folding Tech: Using Origami and Nature to Revolutionize Technology. I am excited that I had a chance to find out more by interviewing the author, Karen Latchana Kenney.

About the Book

Hi Karen! Thank you for sharing Folding Tech: Using Origami and Nature to Revolutionize Technology with me. It was such an informative read that got me interested in learning about so many different STEM topics (who knew that heart stent designs are based on cucumber and pineapple origami patterns!).


Can you give us a short summary about the book?

Folding is not necessarily the first thing that comes to my mind when thin
king about technology, but it’s really important if you want to send massive solar panels or telescope lenses into space or minute surgical tools or drug delivery systems into the human body. Folding transforms objects in surprising ways, and

With Lerner’s AR app and a phone or tablet, readers can transform certain images in books into interactive features. This image shows the AR view of the Mars Insight Lander, which allows readers to fold and unfold the spacecraft’s solar panels.

engineers are being inspired to find new ways to fold technology through unexpected sources—the ancient art of origami and natural folding patterns found in insect wings and leaf buds. This book explains how art, science, and mathematics intersect to develop new folding methods that can be used for space and medical applications. It also includes some DIY folding activities along with really cool augmented reality features that show folding tech in action.

[Here’s more about Lerner’s augmented reality feature: ]


When does the book come out?

It comes out on November 3 (Election Day—be sure to vote!) from Lerner Publishing, under their Twenty-First Century Books imprint.


Tell us who would especially enjoy this book (as it’s more than just kids—and adults—who enjoy origami!).

I think teens interested in space technology, insect and plant biology, and medical engineering would enjoy this book too.


About the Author

Tell us a short summary about your writing journey. Did you enjoy writing as a child? Did you plan on writing middle grade nonfiction, or did you start out writing something else?

I always loved reading (and being read to by my mom) from a young age. One of my first favorite books was a nonfiction book about being a reporter. I thought—that is what I want to do when I grow up. Being able to share ideas and information through writing and books is something I’ve wanted to do since then. I always wrote stories, and was lucky enough to have a wonderful third grade teacher (Mrs. White) who encouraged me to continue doing so. I love writing nonfiction—and find endless inspiration in the real world. STEM and STEAM topics are some of my favorite to write about.


What is your connection/background with STEM?

I have no formal connections with STEM, but it’s a huge interest for me. Some of my most memorable moments are spent in nature, on long walks or bike rides on the many Minnesota trails. I believe we have so much to discover about the natural world and I view scientists as the innovators that solve some of the most interesting problems humans and our planet face.



This book has so much great technical information in various branches of math and science. What kind of research did you do to understand all the various concepts you write about?

I did a lot of reading for my research—books and articles in scientific journals—along with watching some really interesting documentaries, from a TED talk by Kaori Kuribayashi-Shigetomi to NOVA’s “The Origami Revolution” to the PBS Independent Lens film “Between the Folds.” But I always think the best research comes from talking with experts in the field, and I was lucky enough to interview two origami and mathematics pioneers—Western New England University Mathematics Professor Thomas Hull and former NASA physicist, scientific researcher, and now origami artist Robert J. Lang. Their insight, passion, and research really informed my writing and helped me understand more of the mathematics behind folding. Plus their websites are packed with their complex and really interesting origami creations, information for readers, and other resources.


What was the most fascinating tidbit you researched? (Personally, I loved the information about ladybug wings, especially how scientists made a see-through top wing to see what was happening beneath it.)

Here are a few of my favorite discoveries found while researching this book:

  • Earwigs have some of the most elaborately folded wings in the natural world. The surface area of its lacy wings grows ten times larger when unfolded!
  • One of the first origami-inspired folds went into space in 1995 on the Space Flyer Unit, a Japanese spacecraft.
  • That an Indian mathematician (Tandalam Sundara Row) made some important contributions in the late 1800s that linked mathematics with paper folding. Being of Indian descent, this was especially interesting to me!
  • Folding tech is being used to gently capture fragile deep-sea specimens—I’m fascinated with all the strange creatures found in the deep sea.


For Teachers

This book has me itching to teach math (and science) again! How can math teachers use this book in their classrooms?

Math teachers could try some of the folding activities  shown or discussed in this book—like the Miura-ori Fold or Thomas Hull’s PHIZZ unit. Students can look at the geometric shapes and angles revealed within the folds of their finished creations.


How about science teachers?

(And, personally, I think it would be wonderful as a guided reading book—so much to discuss and annotate.)

Oh, there’s so much in nature that’s involved with folding and mathematics. Students can research how beetle wings fold in unusual ways, how leaves fit compactly within buds, and more. They could even try designing their own folded creations to see how much they can reduce the surface area of a piece of paper.


How can we learn more about you? 

You can find out more about my books on my website ( or Twitter (@KLatchanaKenney).


Thanks for your time, Karen.

Thank you, Natalie!


Karen Latchana Kenney will be giving a copy of Folding Tech: Using Origami and Nature to Revolutionize Technology to a lucky reader. Enter the giveaway below for a chance to win a copy.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

*This giveaway is only available in the United States

Folding Tech is available here: