This year, the district I work for purchased new science textbooks. A committee looked at the state standards, matched those with our district’s target statements, and tried to make a selection that would best match our needs.
I do understand the reasons why textbooks could be helpful as resources. I just worry that the textbook might become the entire science curriculum. I have tried to come up with alternatives to using the textbook when studying our 5th grade life science unit on ecosystems.
I looked through the nonfiction books I owned, and I was able to find some fabulous books that dealt with ecosystems, food chains, food webs, interdependence of living things, and changes over time. These are all important science target goals in 5th grade. I collected these books and put them in a big tub for my students to use. I know I will be adding to this tub, but these are the current books that I have collected to help enrich my students’ thinking about ecosystems.
Ten Terrific Ecosystem Books
The Brook Book by Jim Aronsky
This book is written in a voice that speaks directly to the reader, and it focuses on all the living things that can be found around a brook or stream. The author also encourages a visit to a stream and details what equipment would be best to take. There are suggestions for teachers, and a terrific booklist of related topics.
Down, Down, Down: A Journey to the Bottom of the Sea by Steve Jenkins
This gorgeous book highlights the different layers of the ocean and the life contained within each layer. The beautiful pictures of the ocean life on each page are accompanied by very informative text. Another feature that supplies much information is the bar graph on the right of the page, explaining what level of the ocean is pictured, and how deep that particular level is. The bar is set up realistically, with only a smidgen of the top being blue with light, and the rest of the layers are extremely dark. The last few pages of the book are full of even more information about each layer.
Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow by Joyce Sidman
The format of this book alone would be a great nonfiction mentor text for young writers. The entire book deals with living things in a meadow, presented in four-page sets. The first two pages are poems that are riddles about things that live in the meadow, and are somehow interconnected. The second two pages are information pages that tell about the living things in the poems. Students will love to guess what the poems might be about and then to read more information about them. There are eight of these four-page topic spreads.
The Ever-Living Tree: The Life and Times of a Coast Redwood by Linda Vieria
This is the story of a redwood tree’s birth and growth. This book is very cleverly formatted. Along the top of the page, the reader can see a timeline. For instance, we are told on the first page that this tree started to appear in 325 BC. The majority of the two-page layout is spent on a picture of the tree and life around it. In the text boxes, we learn two things: information about the tree and its surroundings, and what was happening in history at that time. I think children will be fascinated to see the connection between history and the life of this redwood tree.
The Great Kapok Tree: A Tale of the Amazon Rain Forest by Lynne Cherry
A man comes to the rainforest to cut down a kapok tree, grows tired after doing some cutting, and lies down to take a nap. While he is sleeping, different animals from the rainforest visit his dreams to tell him reasons he should not be cutting down the kapok tree. When the man awakes, he sees all the animals and other living things surrounding him, and he drops his ax and walks away. It would be nice if saving the rainforest was this simple, but the story does manage to include wonderful facts about the rainforest.
Beachcombing: Exploring the Seashore by Jim Aronsky
This is an earlier book written by the same author as The Brook Book. It has the exact same format as The Brook Book, only this time the ecosystem the reader explores with the author is a beach and living things on or near it.
This is the Tree: A Story of the Baobab by Miriam Moss
This text revolves around the life of the baobab tree, a tree found on the African plain. The information is written in poetic form, and has a pattern to it. Every time a new fact is introduced, it starts with the phrase “This is the tree â€¦” The baobab tree is home to many living things, and readers will enjoy the up-close look we get at some of these creatures. While the text and the illustrations provide much information, there is even more to be found on the last two pages, where the author has written informational paragraphs about different parts of the baobab tree. A fascinating book!
Trout Are Made of Trees by April Pulley Sayre
This book is written for a younger audience than my 5th graders, however it will help my 5th graders understand in more depth the food chains and food webs depicted in the book. The first sentence is “Trout are made of trees.” The text progresses from the leaves falling into the streams in the autumn, to settling on the bottom where they become food for bacteria, to finally becoming algae. The chain continues on until the trout finally eats something further down this food chain. The interdependence of living things in an ecosystem is clearly shown here. There are three other bonuses at the back of the book: a more detailed explanation of the trout life cycle, a page that explains to the reader how they can help streams stay alive and healthy, and finally, further resources about streams.
Desert Giant: The World of the Saguaro Cactus by Barbara Bash
This book has been around for a very long time (published in 1989), but its information is still pertinent today. The author does a lovely job showing in detail how and why the saguaro cactus could be considered an ecosystem of its own. So many desert animals depend on this plant for food and shelter. I anticipate many rich classroom discussions inspired by this text.
A River Ran Wild by Lynne Cherry
This is a true story about the Nashua River in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. We follow the life and history of the Nashua River throughout the pages. It starts when the river ran clear, surrounded by many forests and home to many animals. As the Native Americans discovered the area and settled there, they only used what they needed from the Nashua River and the woods surrounding it. Then explorers came, followed by traders, settlers, and colonists. The areas surrounding the river began to look different, and there was loss of certain habitats, as well as rights of Native Americans to fish or hunt in this area (which is a terrific lesson for social studies as well). Then the industrial revolution began, with all the paper mills and fabric mills dumping their waste into the river. The story talks about the pollution and the grassroots movement to make a difference and clean up the river (which is another social studies tie-in). I love Cherry’s illustrations of the Nashua River changing over time — they are powerful visuals.
I look forward to sharing these books with my students this year as powerful examples about ecosystems that can deepen their understanding of concepts in the science textbook. I also look forward to adding to this collection as I find new titles.