As my older daughter is graduating from pictures books and delving into chapter books, my skewed search (any STEM books for girls?) produced three series with a young girl as the protagonist immersing herself in STEM. Those are:
Lucy’s Lab (3 books in the series)
Ada Lace (5 books)
Zoey and Sassafras (5 books, 6th on its way)
The first books of each series were all published within last year (2017). I was curious, so I read the first books of each series after my daughter finished. I am giving my reviews here…
Lucy’s Lab: Nuts about Science by Michelle Houts (publisher recommended age: 7-9)
Plot: Lucy, a freshly minted second grader, discovers on her first day of school that a giant oak tree in front of the school was pulled out. She wonders where the squirrels that used to keep busy on the tree went. She also finds out on the same day that her new second grade classroom contains a science lab and is very excited. When coming home, she sets up her own science lab in her old playhouse.
By talking with her school principal Lucy discovers that the oak tree had to be pulled out because of oak wilt. Lucy goes to the library and finds out what it is. After her science class in which Lucy learns about “habitat,” She worries about the squirrels’ habitat. Lucy’s parents encourage that if she cares about it so much, she should attempt “convincing” school officials that they need to plant another tree in place…can she?
Review: Perhaps because this is a first book in the series there are lots of descriptions of characters and settings, it seemed not much actually happened in the story. However, the book still provides a great introduction into “scientific process”: what a laboratory looks like; what a scientist might look like (lab coat and goggles!); use of specific words (i.e. “specimen” instead of “stuff”); making observations; and writing up a report. It also touches on mobilizing social activism — once scientists know something, we better distribute information and work to fix it if needed — that is after all, responsibilities of scientists! The book is brimming of Lucy’s contagious enthusiasm for science.
Ada Lace, on the case by Emily Calandrelli with Tamson Weston (publisher recommended age: 6-10)
Plot: Ada, a precocious third grader who recently moved to a new city, broke her leg and was limited to keeping field notes (a la Charles Darwin in Galapagos) of happenings outside of her window. One day she notices that her neighbor’s dog went missing. Assuming it was “dognapped,” she sets out to find the dognapper.
With her wealth of gadgets (binoculars, walkie-talkies, cameras) and an assistance by her brand new friend in the neighborhood, she sets up surveillance on suspects. At times her operation backfires: surveillance blown up; the camera stolen; and interrogating a wrong suspect. Despite setbacks, Ada closes in on solving on the mystery…
Review: The story moved quickly, at times thrilling but other times questionable. What’s the legality of a young girl setting a surveillance camera on a neighbor’s window? Sneaking into a neighbor’s house? The ending was anticlimactic, too; the story behind “dognapping” was disappointing especially after so much development. Ada, as the protagonist, is very fun. She is curious, full of ideas, and interested in technology (she can fix a surveillance camera!). I would want my daughter to be friends with her, although she may get both of them in trouble. I also liked introduction of concepts, like Occam’s razor, weaved into the story.
Zoey and Sassafras, Dragons and Marshmallows by Asia Citro (publisher recommended grades: K-5)
Plot: Nature-, animal-, and science- loving Zoey discovers one day that she has special powers to see mythical animals just like her mom. It turns out, her family’s barn has been a convalescing center for injured mythical animals. Her mom, who has been a caretaker all this time, had to go out of town, and Zoey takes on the responsibility of rescuing creatures with her sidekick pet cat Sassafras. Right away, Zoey is visited by a famished baby dragon. Using the scientific method, Zoey tries to figure out how to rescue the dragon…
Review: Whereas the first two books attempted to contrast science from superstitions (Ada), princesses, castles, fairies, and pink-loving girls (Lucy), this book does a fine job of somehow meshing science and magic. It teaches readers how to identify a question to be tested, form a hypothesis, conduct an experiment, and come up with conclusions. Zoey also experiences setbacks and makes mistakes, but she learns how to improve and to fix them. This book is more story-centered, because I have a less grasp of who Zoey is, other than she likes science and is very caring (she is probably more revealed in later books).
It was intriguing that in all three books, each protagonist’s mom works, and all moms go out on business trips in the beginning. Each girl wishes her mom was there when encountering problems, but solves them on her own. Dads are around, but only assert minor supportive roles (they all cook meals!)
Each book promotes independence, creativity, originality, problem-solving skills, resilience, and love for STEM. I’m thankful that these books exist, making more “normal” for girls to be interested in and pursuing STEM.
Each book is fun and adorable, but the final word of this review belongs my daughter, who preferred Zoey and Sassafras over the other two. When asked why she said, “because the book has magic, and I like magic.” She has now finished all 5 books in the series. At her age, or perhaps at any age, magic and fantasy can coexist with science…imagination is as important as rational thinking. Asia Citro (the author) better hurry with her writing, and J.K. Rowling better get started on a book in which Hermione becomes a Nobel-prize receiving scientist (I never finished the Harry Potter series. Hermione isn’t, is she?)!