How Much Does the Gray in an Elephant Weigh? Supporting Science Practice through Children’s Literature

 One of my favorite storybooks as a child was, “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.” As a youngster, its imaginative storyline and humorous illustrative details kept me pouring over the pages and reaching for it again and again. Over the past several years I have spread my joy for this story as a gift at baby showers and birthdays for young readers. Besides taking pleasure in writing, “hope you grow up to be a great ‘meat’eorologist!” on the inside cover, the author’s soft-edged storyline highlighting the challenges humans face from extreme weather events are particularly relevant given climate projections for our next generation. Never mind the fact such hurdles for humanity come from precipitating food!

This week I found myself looking for a change-up at the local Barnes & Noble. With my former selection feeling a bit stale (nyuk-nyuk) I combed through the newer titles in search of a suitable replacement. I ultimately came across an enchanting rhyme book titled, “How Much Does the Gray in an Elephant Weigh?” by Erik Van Os, Elle Van Lieshout, Alice Hoogstad, and Mary Chris Bradley. The story follows a grandfather and his grandchild through a zoo. As they observe each animal, the grandfather openly wonders about the characteristics of each animal. Why does the giraffe have brown spots? Do the zebra’s stripes go up or down? Do polar bears “beat the heat” with frozen treats? While many of the questions can be characterized as silly, the accompanying illustrations and clever rhymes will undoubtedly keep young readers interested and coming up with unusual predictions for answers!

Better still, the grandfather (and author by default) models one of the eight science practices being emphasized in the Next Generation Science Standards. Of course, “asking questions” has been at the foundation of scientific inquiry for a long time. But as science educators we are constantly looking for opportunities to model these practices and give students the chance to try them out for themselves. By reading picture books to kids that model these practices we are supporting student scientific literacy and a life-long love for reading simultaneously. Such picture books can also act as springboards to an investigation or exploration. This concept is by no means novel. The NSTA has been publishing recommendations for science and literature tie-ins for years, publishing monthly and annual recommendations.

There are plenty of titles available for kids that support science (the Ms. Frizzle series stands out in my mind as an obvious choice.) But I often find myself identifying books for the exposure to science content they provide. As our standards focus more on the practice of science I’ll have to keep a keener eye out for books that include characters who are curious and exploratory, observe carefully (Encyclopedia Brown?), collect data and put their predictions to the test! If you have any already in your early-reader repertoire please share in the comments below!

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About MrMusselman

K-5 Science Specialist for the Burlington Public Schools of Burlington, MA.
This entry was posted in Classroom Activities, Professional Reflections. Bookmark the permalink.

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