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STEM Comes to Storytime

by Toni Buzzeo

*This article originally appeared in the April 2014 issue of Kids & Books.*

One of the newest buzzwords in American education is STEM, an acronym for the combined fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Why STEM? The new focus aims to produce students who are prepared to succeed in an innovation-based economy. What has that to do with storytime? In a word, plenty!

With the Common Core State Standards rolling out in 45 states, we're sharing more informational text, even with our youngest readers. If we combine that focus with attention to STEM topics, we'll score high in preparing our preschool audiences for the new world they'll enter through the kindergarten doors.

Of course, at the preschool level, many fiction books are also informational because the world is so new to young children that every book they encounter holds the potential for learning. These ten new storytime titles are organized into three STEM topics: animal lives, construction, and vehicles.

Animal Lives

In first-person rhyming quatrains, Mama Built a Little Nest introduces many species of birds and the nests that both females and males build for their young. Additional facts, in smaller font, are included on each double-page spread for especially curious readers. Consider sharing double-page illustrations before reading the text aloud, asking your audience to notice important details of each bird's nest and location. Then read that quatrain and discuss whether the information they anticipated is shared there. To further extend the fun, sing the text of the book to the tune of "Merrily We Roll Along."

Introduce smaller flying creatures with Flight of the Honey Bee, told from the point of view of Scout, a honey bee out on her first flight, searching for pollen and nectar. Here too, additional facts accompany each spread for the curious reader. Begin by sharing the second double-page spread, looking for clues that it is autumn. After reading the book aloud, stage a "Search for the Flowers" movement activity by tucking five or six small bouquets of silk flowers in the storytime area. Invite your honey bees to locate the flowers and drink their nectar (collecting a nectar card from each bouquet) to bring back to the hive. Or engage your readers in a "Find the Blue Meadow" dance with plenty of waggles, twists, and turns.

Stripes of All Types, with its dramatic acrylic illustrations and spare rhyming text, is a perfect animal book even for toddlers. Delicious verbal clauses introduce the movement and environment of each striped animal and will demand audience participation. On the second read-through, ask listeners to copy the movements of each animal pictured. If you have a document camera, you'll also want to project and guess on the "Can you find the animals that belong to these STRIPES?" spread after naming and discussing each animal in the glossary.

Oh, but Frog Song begs to be read aloud! Your little listeners won't be able to keep quiet when the frogs start singing. Introduce the book by playing some of the many frog songs found at Animal Diversity Web's Frog Calls site. Then ask children to guess what type of animals they've been hearing. Next, read the book aloud. Extend the reading by asking each child to choose his/her favorite frog or toad and learn the sound it makes. Then conduct an amphibious symphony!


Who doesn't love to build? All of the children pictured in the mixed media illustrations in Dreaming Up are engaged in building with child-friendly materials. Their constructions mirror actual buildings featured in photographs on opposing pages. The lyrical text is designed to mirror the shape of the buildings, too. Host a "Dreaming Up" storytime that begins with a reading of the book and extends into a lively building session at centers that offer such materials as stacking cups, cardboard, wooden blocks, interlocking plastic blocks, playing cards, craft sticks, and sand (if you have a sand and water table).

Building Our House offers young readers a kid's-eye-view of the building of a house. Starting with an empty field, followed by the arrival of many interesting machines, moving from materials to tools to a frame-raising party and interior work, the main character and all members of her family construct a house. What a grand opportunity to host your own library "home show." Provide a collection of toy construction vehicles along with real tools and supplies such as small pieces of wood, wire, and switches. After reading the book aloud, invite children to introduce the vehicles, tools, and supplies in the order they appear in the story.

Of course, what is constructed may eventually be demolished, making Demolition a perfect accompaniment to the construction topic. If you're in the mood for a quiet storytime, hold Demolition for another day because no reader of any age will refrain from shouting out the amazing sound effects as well as the repeated first line command on every spread. From donning boots and construction hats to operating the demolition machinery to building the new playground, there are enough bangs, clangs, cracks, beeps, and thwocks to satisfy the busiest of children. Plan to read this one at least three times in a row so that children become totally familiar with the text and join in raucously!


What if the ice cream truck got stuck in the middle of the city street? Invite your storyhour crowd to find out in Twenty Big Trucks in the Middle of the Street. The crane, mail truck, pickup, moving vans, animal transport vehicle, cement mixer, tanker, garbage truck, and several delivery trucks are all blocked from progress, stuck until the young narrator comes up with a solution. Re-enact the story on your second reading by assigning each child to be one or more type of stuck truck. If snacks are a part of your storytime, ice cream is the essential treat this week.

Even when the ice cream truck isn't stuck, there's plenty of vehicle action on city streets. Machines Go to Work in the City shines a dramatic light on the activity of those vehicles and their operators, offering the exciting addition of gatefold pages that reveal the full measure of each vehicle's work. From garbage trucks to trains to airplanes and the people who work with them, Machines Go to Work in the City gives a wide view of the mechanical world around young readers. Brainstorm other vehicles not featured in this book and create an oversize book with gatefold pages for children to illustrate on their next visit.

Not all vehicles have wheels, of course. In Zoom, Rocket, Zoom!, bold colorful illustrations accompany a lively text with sounds aplenty and enough predictability to ensnare young listeners into joining in. Featuring rockets, lunar modules, moon buggies, space shuttles, space stations, satellites, robot spacecraft and rovers, and lots of busy astronauts, you may be asked to read this one twice. To extend the fun, stage a live enactment of the actions of the vehicles and the astronauts as they do their work.

STEM Comes to Storytime: A Bibliography  

Building Our House by Jonathan Bean, Farrar Straus Giroux, 2013.

Demolition by Sally Sutton, Candlewick, 2012.

Dreaming Up by Christy Hale, Lee & Low, 2012.

Flight of the Honey Bee by Raymond Huber, Candlewick, 2013.

Frog Song by Brenda Z. Guiberson, Henry Holt, 2013.

Machines Go to Work in the City by William Low, Henry Holt, 2012.

Mama Built a Little Nest by Jennifer Ward, Beach Lane, 2013.

Stripes of All Types by Susan Stockdale, Peachtree, 2013.

Twenty Big Trucks in the Middle of the Street by Mark Lee, Candlewick, 2013.

Zoom, Rocket, Zoom! by Margaret Mayo, Walker, 2011.

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Toni Buzzeo, a certified school librarian, is the author of nineteen picture books for children and eleven professional books for librarians and educators.