Exploring Science and Nature Through Nonfiction Picture Books Handout

Exploring Science and Nature Through Nonfiction Picture Books
Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art
March 23, 2014

Featured Titles

Wild About Bears
Written and Illustrated by Jeannie Brett
Published by Charlesbridge in 2014
ISBN 9781580894180

Comparing Bears. Wild About Bears highlights the similarities and variation of eight bear species. Guide your students to construct a graphic organizer, a comparison chart to compare the characteristics and habitats of each species  (category examples include: sizes, diet, habitat). Read additional information about bears online, using the web resources listed below, and in other survey texts about bears, such as Bob Barner’s Bears! Bears! Bears! and other species- specific survey texts listed below. Add any new information students identify to the chart that you have constructed. This chart could then serve as a scaffold for student composed writing about the different bear species.

Habitat Murals. Brett’s detailed illustrations can provide inspiration for student created murals of different bear habitats. To prepare to create accurate murals, students should research the habitat, seeking photographic images to support their drawings. Guide students to identify other animals that live in the habitat they will depict. Recruit the support of your school’s art teacher to create large scale images of bears in their natural environment.

Endangered Bears. In Wild About Bears, Brett cautions her readers: “Bears around the world face many challenges.” She continues, listing the environmental and human behavioral concerns for bears. Invite your students to select a threatened bear species to research, preparing a presentation to share their findings. Students should research: threats to the species, identified and suspected causes, and remediation efforts. The following texts will support students’ research: How Many Baby Pandas?, Search for the Golden Moon Bear: Science and Adventure in the Asian Tropics, Garden of the Spirit Bear: Life in the Great Northern Rainforest, and Jasper’s Story: Saving Moon Bears.

Mentor Text: Survey Text: Variations in Species. Guide your students to examine Wild About Bears as a mentor text for the nonfiction subgenre of a survey text. Survey books tend to focus on one broad topic and break it down into a variety of subtopics. They do not go very in-depth with any of these topics, but they give the reader a general introduction. (For more on nonfiction subgenres, see our Classroom Bookshelf entry at http://classroombookshelf.blogspot.com/2012/08/nonfiction-and-classroom-bookshelf.html ) Notice how Brett begins her survey text with an overview of the eight bear species. Following this, she describes physical characteristics and behaviors bear species have in common. This serves as an introduction to double page spreads describing the habitats and special characteristic of each species. These descriptions are followed by a concluding statement. Be sure to discuss the Back Matter of the book. Your students can use the structure of this book as a model to compose their own animal books highlighting commonalities and differences across species.


Jeannie Brett: Author’s Website

Great Bear Foundation

National Geographic Kids: Animals
Search for “Bears”

New York Times Topics: Polar Bears

International Association for Bear Research and Management


Barner, B. (2010). Bears! Bears! Bears! New York: Chronicle Books.

Guiberson, B.Z. (2010). Moon bear. Ill. by E. Young. New York: Henry Holt.

Guiberson, B.Z. (2008). Ice bears. Ill. by I. Spirin. New York: Henry Holt.

Markle, S. (2009). How many baby pandas? London: Walker Children’s Books.

Mongomery, S. (2004). Search for the golden moon bear: Science and adventure in the Asian tropics. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Patent, D. H. (2004). Garden of the spirit bear: Life in the great northern rainforest. New York: Clarion Books.

Robinson, J. & Beckoff, M. (2013). Jasper’s Story: Saving Moon Bears. Ill. by G.van Frankenhuyzen. Ann Arbor, MI: Sleeping Bear Press

Sartore, J. (2007). Face to face with Grizzlies. Washington, DC: National Geographic.

Swinburne, S.R. (1998). Moon in bear’s eyes. Honesdale, PA: Boyd Mills Press.

Swinburne, S.R. (2003). Black bear: North America’s Bear. Honesdale, PA: Boyd Mills Press.

Handle With Care: An Unusual Butterfly Journey
Written by Loree Griffin Burns
Photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz
ISBN 978-780761393429

Duet Model Reading with A Place for Butterflies. To engage your students in a comparison of butterflies in their natural habitats and butterflies on a farm, such as El Bosque Nuevo, read Handle with Care: An Unusual Butterfly Journey paired with Melissa Stewart’s A Place for Butterflies. Provide students with lots of discussion time to share their learning about butterfly life cycles, habitats and behaviors, and the need for conservation efforts. These two titles could be used to launch a unit of study on butterflies focusing on their role in ecosystems, current threats, and conservation efforts. After their initial reading and discussion to these two titles, students can brainstorm a list of inquiry questions to pursue, using additional print and digital texts.
Understanding Metamorphosis. Gather a collection of texts to use in a Solar System model (Cappiello & Dawes, 2013) focusing on metamorphosis. Depending on the age of your students, you may choose to have students read one or multiple texts in a small group or you may read them aloud to your students over the course of several days. Read titles such as: Frogs, Butterflies, Growing Frogs, How do Tadpoles Become Frogs?, Metamorphosis: Changing Bodies, and Face to Face with Caterpillars (see listing of books below). Provide your students with note-making graphic organizers that prompt them to illustrate and write about the changes frogs, butterflies, and beetles undergo through the process of metamorphosis.

Missing Monarchs?: Butterflies as Endangered Species. Recently, backyard observers, naturalists, and scientists have noticed a dramatic decline in monarch butterfly populations. Share with your students digitally-available video, audio, and newspaper clips that discuss this decline in population. Use the collection of monarch related resources accessible on the Teaching with Text Sets blog site (accessible at: http://www.teachingwithtextsets.blogspot.com/p/monarch-text-setbibliography-frost-h.html ) to explore suspected causes for the decline of the species. This site includes a collection of texts that invite kids to take action to change our world, making a difference for threatened species.

Genre Study: Photo Essay. Handle with Care: An Unusual Butterfly Journey is a beautifully crafted photo essay in which the author’s clearly written text is accompanied by fascinating photographs that play an equal role in conveying the story of butterfly farming at El Bosque Nuevo. Read Handle with Care along with other well crafted photo essays such as George Ancona’s It’s Our Garden: From Seeds to Harvest in a School Garden and Nic Bishop’s Frogs. Discuss the relationship between the photographs and the text on double page spreads, as well as aspects of the book’s layout and design, such as placement of the photographs, the use of white space, borders, and captions. Discuss, too, the inquiry processes used by authors and photographs to craft a photo essay. Photo essays often (although not always) involve first hand research and documentation. Using the photo essays you have studied as mentor texts, invite your students to plan, research, document, and craft a photo essay featuring your school or community.

Loree Griffin Burns: Author’s Website

American Museum of Natural History: The Butterfly Conservatory

Boston Museum of Science: Butterfly Garden

Monarch Watch

North American Butterfly Association

Costa Rica: Entomological Supply


Arnosky, J. (2002). All about frogs. New York: Scholastic.

Bailer, D. (2011). How do tadpoles become frogs? New York: Marshall Cavendish.

Bishop, N. (2008). Frogs. New York: Scholastic.

Bishop, N. (2009). Butterflies and moths. New York: Scholastic.

Cappiello, M.A. & Dawes, E.T. (2013). Teaching with text sets. Huntington Beach, CA: Shell Education.

Frost, H. (2008). Monarch and milkweed. Ill. by. L. Gore. New York: Atheneum.

French, V. (2000). Growing frogs. Ill. by A. Bartlett. Cambridge, MA; Candlewick.

Hutts, D.A. (2011). A butterfly is patient. Ill. by S. Long. New York: Chronicle.

Kalman, B. (2002). Metamorphosis: Changing bodies. New York: Crabtree Publishers.

Kelly, I. (2007). It’s a butterfly’s life. New York: Holiday House.

Murawaski, D. (2007). Face to face with caterpillars. Washington, DC; National Geographic.

Simon, S. (2011). Butterflies. New York: Harper Collins.

Stewart, M. (2014). A place for butterflies. Ill. by H. Bond. Atlanta, GA.

Stewart, M. (2014). How does a caterpillar become a butterfly? And other questions about butterflies. Ill. by A. Patterson. New York: Sterling Children’s Books.

Feathers Not Just for Flying
Written by Melissa Stewart
Illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen
Published by Charlesbridge in 2014
ISBN 978-781580894319

Local Bird Guide. Have students select birds you can find in your community that they would like to research in greater detail. Students may do this individually, in pairs, or small groups. Read Look up! Bird Watching in Your Own Back Yard for inspiration. Work with students to create a guide for observing birds in your area. Have students convey what they believe is most important to share about their bird. Ask your public library to display students’ finished work.

Feathers Not Just for Birds?: Exploring the Bird / Dinosaur Connection. After reading, Feathers Not Just for Flying, students may be inspired to learn more about recent discoveries indicating that more dinosaurs may have had feather than scientists had previously thought. Read sections of Catherine Thimmesh’s Scaly Spotted Feathered Frilled: How Do We Know What Dinosaurs Really Looked Like? and Nic Bishop’s Digging for Bird-Dinosaurs: An Expedition to Madagascar (noting the ten year gap in copyright dates) along with online resources to support students’ inquiry into scientists’ evolving understandings of the connection between dinosaurs and the birds we see every day.

Similes Metaphors in Science Writing. Authors of nonfiction often use similes and metaphors to help readers better understand and/ or visualize the scientific concepts they want to convey in their writing. Melissa Stewart employs this technique through Feathers Not Just for Flying (hear Melissa describe this technique in her video on YouTube). Record several of these metaphors on a large piece of chart paper. Read aloud another science trade book in which the author uses similes and metaphors, such as Big Blue Whale by Nicola Davies. Ask students to identify the similes and metaphors in the book and to record them on chart paper. Add to this chart over a period of a couple of weeks as students collect additional examples from their reading. Invite students to use metaphors to enliven and improve the clarity of their nonfiction writing.

Specialized Nonfiction: Duet Model with Bird Beaks. With its in depth and specific focus on bird feathers and their functions, Feathers Not Just For Flying is an example of the subgenre of nonfiction known as Specialized Nonfiction. Compare the writing and styles and organizational structure of this book with Beaks by Sneed B. Collard, III, reading the two titles in a Duet Model (Cappiello & Dawes, 2012). There are subtle differences between these two examples of specialized nonfiction, as well as many similarities to discuss. Following this comparison exercise, invite students to research and write about bird feet types, using these two texts as models.

Sarah S. Brannen: Illustrator Website

Melissa Stewart: Author’s Website

Cornell Lab of Ornithology

NY Times Topics: Birdwatching

Audubon Society

American Museum of Natural History
Search for “Dinosaurs with Feathers”

Fernbrook Science Center: Bird Feet

YouTube Video: Melissa Stewart: Similes in Feathers Not Just For Flying


Cappiello, M.A. & Dawes, E.T. (2013). Teaching with text sets. Huntington Beach, CA: Shell Education.

Cate, A.L. (2013). Look up! Bird watching in your own back yard. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

Collard, S. (2002). Beaks. Ill. by R. Brickman. Cambridge, MA; Charlesbridge.

Davies, J. (2004). The boy who drew birds: A story of John James Audubon. Ill. by M. Sweet. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Davies, N. (1997). Big blue whale. Ill. by N. Maland. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.

Bishop, N. (2000). Digging for bird-dinosaurs: An expedition to Madagascar. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Henkes, K. (2009). Birds. Ill. by L. Dronzek. New York: Greenwillow.

Judge, L. (2012). Bird talk: What birds are saying and why. New York. Roaring Brook Press.

Stewart, M. (2009). A place for birds. Ill. by H. Bond. Atlanta, GA: Peachtree.

Thimmesh (2013). Scaly spotted feathered frilled: How do we know what dinosaurs really looked like? Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Yolen, J. (2011). Birds of a feather. Ill. by J. Stemple. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong Poetry.

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