Posts Tagged books

STEM Tuesday– Nuclear/Atomic Science– Book List

From X-rays to bombs, coverups to meltdowns, the history of radioactive elements has never been boring.

Who Split The Atom? by Anna Claybourne

Using a DK-like format, it explores the early history and research into the structure of atoms, the periodic table, radioactivity, and atomic science. Loaded with photographs, graphics, “That’s A Fact!,” “Breakthrough,” and scientific sidebars, as well as vignettes of scientists, it is an accessible and engaging introduction to radioactivity.

Atomic Universe: The Quest To Discover Radioactivity by Kate Boehm Jerome

This National Geographic book uses a running timeline across the top of the pages (from 1800 to 1971), photographs, mini biographies, and “science booster” sidebars to interest high-low readers in an introductory overview to radioactivity, atomic science, and nuclear reactors.

The Woman Who Split the Atom: The Life of Lise Meitner by Marissa Moss

Lise Meitner made groundbreaking discoveries in the study of radiation. She was the first to split the atom. But as a woman she faced many barriers, with men often taking credit for her scientific research. When Hitler came to power she had to face anti-Semitic threats as well. In addition to the science of radioactive elements, this book shows how easily women’s contributions can be erased from the history of science.

Radioactive!: How Irène Curie and Lise Meitner Revolutionized Science and Changed the World by Winifred Conkling

This gripping dual biography provides an in depth look at both the discoveries, life-long personal sacrifices, and professional struggles which Irène Curie and her husband Frédéric Joliot-Curie made in discovering artificial radiation and Lise Meitner made in discovering nuclear fission. It also touches on Marie and Pierre Curie’s discovery of natural radiation, society’s grappling with radiation, World War II, and the atomic bomb. Includes a time line, Who’s Who section, black and white photos, and fascinating sidebars further explaining the science.

Marie Curie for Kids: Her Life and Scientific Discoveries, with 21 Activities and Experiments by Amy M. O’Quinn

This book begins with Marie Curie’s childhood in Poland and takes readers through her scientific work and discoveries. Her work in radioactive elements was pivotal in creating the field of atomic physics and she added new elements to the periodic table. Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize in not one, but two fields: chemistry and physics. Hands-on activities include building atomic models, a periodic table scavenger hunt, and splitting water into atoms.

The Science and Technology of Marie Curie, by Julie Knutson

Another book for Curie fans, that explores her groundbreaking research in physics and chemistry. Just as these discoveries forced scientists to rethink the structure of the world, Curie’s work forced them to rethink the role of women in science. Information boxes and sidebars are scattered throughout chapters, as are some biographies of other women in science, and there are a handful of activities to explore.

The Radium Girls: The Scary But True Story Of The Poison That Made People Glow In The Dark by Kate Moore

Equal parts medical mystery, corporate cover-up, and justice for women workers. This riveting true story about young women who used “glow-in-the-dark radium paint” on watch dials details the incredible lengths that the corporations took to evade responsibility for the women’s radium poisoning and deaths and the horrendous suffering of the girls. As well as the amazing efforts of a few doctors and lawyers determined to help these women fight back for their families and to save others and forever change workplace laws.

Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin

Take one part spy thriller, one part scientific research, and a dash of political intrigue and you get an explosive mix! In this book Sheinkin traces the race from splitting the uranium atom to harnessing the power of the first atomic bomb. Section headings include titles such as “how to build a bomb” with an epilogue that discusses the fallout of the atomic arms race. The heart of the book is based on first-hand accounts by participants in the events.

In Fallout: Spies, Superbombs, and the Ultimate Cold War Showdown, Steve Sheinkin takes readers on a fast-paced and terrifying journey into the Cold War and nuclear arms race. Like Bomb, Fallout is a page-turning nonfiction – perfect for kids who love science and history.

Chien-Shiung Wu: Pioneering Nuclear Physicist by Richard Hammond

This upper-middle grade book looks at the contributions this brilliant Chinese-American nuclear physicist made to the Manhattan Project – production of radioactive uranium for the atomic bomb and improvements of radioactive detectors. As well as Wu’s later experiments which changed scientists’ understanding of physics and resulted in her election as the first female president of the American Physical Society. Includes photographs, timelines, diagrams, and extensive further resources.

The Disappearing Spoon, And Other True Tales of Rivalry, Adventure, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements (Young Readers Edition) by Sam Kean

While this book isn’t exclusively about radioactive elements, there are plenty of stories about them – and their discoveries – to make it worth checking out. In a conversational tone, Kean talks about the periodic table, element families, and how elements are discovered. Sprinkled throughout are stories about the discovery of fission, the Manhattan Project, the “radioactive boy scout,” as well as Marie Curie and Lise Meitner.

Meltdown: Earthquake, Tsunami, and Nuclear Disaster in Fukushima by Deirdre Langeland

On March 11, 2011, the largest earthquake ever measured in Japan occurred off the northeast coast. It triggered a tsunami with a wall of water 128 feet high that ripped apart homes, schools, and damaged the nuclear power plant in Fukushima, causing a nuclear meltdown. Chapters describe the events as well as the science of nuclear reactors. Each section begins with a readout of reactor status, from “offline” to “meltdown” with the last chapter exploring lessons learned.

This month’s STEM Tuesday book list was prepared by:

Sue Heavenrich, author

Sue Heavenrich, who writes about science for children and their families on topics ranging from space to backyard ecology. Bees, flies, squirrel behavior—things she observes in her neighborhood and around her home—inspire her writing. Her most recent book is Funky Fungi (with Alisha Gabriel). Visit her at

Maria Marshall, a children’s author, blogger, and poet who is passionate about making nature and reading fun for children. When not writing, critiquing, or reading, she watches birds, travels the world, bakes, and hikes. Visit her at

An Old Friend in a Busy Season

A few weeks ago I attempted my first solo trip to the library with all three of our little boys. The library is walkable from our house at the edge of the borough, and since I don’t generally plan outings with the same attention to detail as my wife, I strapped the baby into a carrier, loaded the other two into a double-wide stroller, and decided we were good to go. The first three minutes of the walk were very pleasant — we noted the setting sun, talked about the books we hoped to find, hummed bits and pieces of Christmas tunes. It was all very nice. Then the boys asked for snacks. I only had one granola bar, which I had snagged on my way out the door mostly so the dog wouldn’t find it and eat the wrapper. Through some artful negotiating, we agreed to save the snack for after the library, but then they wanted water. There would be probably be water at the library, I told them.

“What about the book bag?”, they asked. 

Of course we didn’t have the book bag. I could picture it in my head — a reusable shopping bag my wife always brings because when you think for more than ten seconds about a trip to the library, you remember you’ll need a place to put all the books. 

The walk continued like that for another ten minutes — them asking questions and me dodging them like an embattled politician at a news conference. When it  was finally in view, the Phoenixville Public Library looked to me like a glowing beacon of hope rising up from the bustling corner of Reeves Park. We shuffled in, a blast of warmth hitting us as we pulled open the glass door. The kids’ section is at the bottom of a staircase, nestled deep in the belly of the building. By the time we got to the bottom of the stairs, everyone was quiet. The boys had forgotten all about being hungry and thirsty, and I’d forgotten all about being annoyed that I didn’t plan better. Even the baby had a renewed sense of calm. There was just something about being in that space that settled us.  

December is arguably the busiest and most emotionally complex time of the year, so I wanted to take a few minutes to reflect on those quiet, unassuming buildings on street corners around the country. The library can mean different things to different people, but a few specific comparisons come to mind as I consider the library in this lovely albeit chaotic month.

A Refuge

photo credit: Gaelle Marcel

In a recent interview on The Daily, librarian Martha Hickson described her school library as a refuge. That word really resonates with me because it’s true on so many levels. The library can be a physical refuge — a public and safe space to go when it’s cold or dark or dangerous outside. But it’s not just a building. The library is a refuge for ideas — silly ideas and bold ideas and sometimes contentious ideas. In her interview, Martha discussed her battle to keep controversial books on the shelves at her library, and regardless of my personal opinions about specific books or their content, I really cherish the notion that the library is a refuge even for ideas that fall outside the comfortable and familiar. To that end, Martha helped developed a website designed to support other librarians facing similar challenges, and the way the literary community has circled the wagons really speaks to the importance of libraries as safe spaces.


A Swiss Army Knife

photo Credit: Debby Hudson

When I was a kid, I really wanted a Swiss Army Knife. I’m not sure why – I wasn’t especially outdoorsy. For most of my adolescent years, I couldn’t even open a can of soup without parental intervention. I think I just loved the idea of something serving so many different functions. In a lot of places, libraries are the Swiss Army Knives of the community. They serve as polling places, event centers, computer labs, and classrooms. Contrary to popular belief, most librarians will even tolerate quiet conversations between friends. The library is home to endless forms of community engagement, and its influence is like soft music playing in the background — a comforting, steady rhythm that settles the soul.

A French Chalet

photo credit: Toa Heftiba

December is a very commercial time of year. At our house, we don’t get much regular mail these days. It’s mostly ads for Black Friday sales and post-black Friday sales and double-bonus sales events just in case you missed the first bonus sales event.  Libraries don’t have much to sell. I think that’s another reason I find them so refreshing. As a middle school teacher and parent of young kids, I’ve gone to my share of school book fairs this season, and while no one loves shopping for books more than I do, there is something jarring about the way books are advertised in those settings. It feels a little like Vegas for book nerds — super fun but slightly overwhelming. Going to the library is like visiting a French Chalet. I’ve never been in one, but I’ve heard they’re very cozy.


A Thick Blanket

photo credit: Valentin Antonini

Of course no refuge is perfect. At the end of our library visit, my two year-old tripped over a train table and hurt his arm, and my five year-old nearly had a meltdown when I told him he couldn’t check out all twenty-three Berenstain Bears books at the same time. Still, the gentle music played and a million ideas from a million books swirled around and covered us like a thick blanket. We walked home mostly in silence, warmed by the thought of the dozen or so books wedged under the stroller. We’d found a brief respite from the business of the season, and I hope you do, too. Whether you go to the library every day or haven’t been there in years, I promise it’s waiting like an old friend.

Just don’t forget a bag.

Holidays are for Books: Nine Bookish Ideas for the Holiday Season

With the holiday season upon us, it’s easy to get busy and not make time for reading. Incorporating literature into the holiday season can create lasting memories for all involved and encourage a year-round joy of reading. Below are nine ideas for creating holiday reading traditions:

  • Read books aloud together. Find holiday-themed books, some mugs of hot chocolate, and read a little bit aloud each day during the month of December. Reading also can be turned into an advent calendar experience with a picture book to read for each day.



  • Re-read classic books. Whether its A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens or something entirely unrelated to holidays, creating a ritual of reading the same book during December creates a sense of stability and is grounding. It also teaches the value of revisiting literature and learning or noticing new things upon each re-read. To take it a step further, you can create a bookmark that records the year, each child’s name, and their observations or reactions to the story. This can create a keepsake to pass down to the next generation.


  • Read to build empathy. As we all know, books encourage us to empathize with characters and thus allow us to see and appreciate different perspectives and diverse life experiences. The holidays can be a hard time for many people. Reading at least one book in which the main character comes from a very different background and life situation than your family can build greater awareness of the needs and perspectives of others.


  • Spark a love of reading by giving books. Whether it’s a book you’re ready to part ways with or something brand new, a thoughtfully given book during the gift exchanges of the holiday season feels personal to the receiver. Here’s a list of new books just in time for the holidays. A brief personal note from you, written on the book’s inside front cover with the date and why you think that they will enjoy that particular book, can make the gift even more meaningful.


  • Create decorations with old books. Do you have any books that are falling apart at their seams? If so, you can repurpose them into great holiday decorations. For example, a stack of green books can be made into a “tree,” cut-up pages from a book can be put into a clear round container to create a unique holiday ornament, and you can make a paper chain from pages of an old book.


  • Bring books to life. Pick an element of a book that you’re reading as a group or family. You may focus on recipes the main character enjoys, a tradition in the main character’s family, or a craft that the main character enjoys. Then spend an evening cooking, trying out a new tradition, or enjoying a new craft. You also often can find a book playlist on the author’s website and here’s a sample one from my website here. You might even decide to act out a holiday play together featuring a scene from the book your family is reading.


  • Library scavenger hunt. Make a game out of going to the library and searching for holiday books whose title begins with each letter of the alphabet. No computers to help. Just peruse the shelves and have fun!


  • Holiday book club! Pick a book to read as a group throughout the holiday season. On New Year’s Eve, you can discuss the book and pick some books to read in the coming year.


These are just a few ideas—you can bring reading more fully into the holiday season in many ways and I’d love to hear from you about the reading traditions that you create. I’m wishing you happy reading in the holiday season and beyond!