Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Do-It-Yourself Programming with Children's Books on Women in Science

Do-It-Yourself Programming with Children’s Books on Women in Science

March 13 - Today's post provided by Penny Peck

Hands-on crafts are a great way to celebrate women scientists and inventors.  This post is a little different than the others contributed so far, which focus on reviewing great children’s books on the topic of women in history.  Today, I am going to outline some simple do-it-yourself programming ideas tied to children’s books on these women and their accomplishments.

Hands-on do-it-yourself programming can be relatively easy and much more affordable than other programming for many libraries, since the costs are just some simple arts and craft supplies.  You can do a program offering all these activities at separate stations, as part of a Women’s History program or festival.  Have two high school volunteers at each station, to help younger children, to monitor the craft supplies, and to keep things moving.  Having a refreshment table and a display of these books and others on the topic will make for a great program!

You can also offer just one or a few of these activities as a “passive program.”  Just set up the supplies for one activity, along with a poster outlining the instructions, for parent and child to do together at a library table.  These activities can also be adapted to the classroom, bookstore, or museum, since they fall into the type of “living history” activities that are so popular. 

Here are ten books and a hands-on activity relating to each, which would be a great focus for a Women’s History and Science program:

Pluto’s Secret: An Icy World’s Tale of Discovery by Margaret Weitekamp and David DeVorkin, Abrams, 2013:  Celebrate Venetia Burney, the 11-year-old girl who named planet Pluto in 1930, who is profiled in this new book on the “former” planet.  Make a model of Pluto and its moon, as seen here:

Look Up! Henrietta Leavitt, Pioneering Woman Astronomer by Robert Burleigh, Simon & Schuster, 2013: Leavitt was only 25 years old when she discovered the scientific importance of a star’s brightness. This picture book biography introduces her to children, who can make paper tube telescopes in her honor:

Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle by Claire A. Nivola, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012: Oceanographer Sylvia Earle is the subject of this biography, that also stresses the importance of preserving the ocean for the well-being of our planet.  Make these Japanese Carp Kites:

Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World by Laurie Lawlor, Holiday House, 2012: The pioneering environmentalist is profiled in this picture book biography.  To help children remember the importance of protecting the environment, make one of these recycling garden crafts:

Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell, Little Brown, 2011: This 2012 Caldecott Honor book depicts the life of Jane Goodall, noted scientist on chimpanzee behavior. Make one of these paper puppet monkeys:

In the Bag! Margaret Knight Wraps It Up by Monica Kulling, Tundra Books, 2011: Mattie Knight was a factory worker who loved to tinker and make things.  She is best-known for inventing a machine to make paper grocery bags we still use today.  Make paper bag vests, and decorate them with markers:

The Elephant Scientist by Caitlin O’Connell, Houghton Mifflin, 2011: Part of the “Scientists in the Field” series, O’Connell describes her career studying elephants in the African scrub desert.  Make these elephant pencil holders:

Summer Birds: the Butterflies of Maria Merian by Margarita Engle, Henry Holt, 2010: In the 1600’s, Maria Merian studied butterflies at a time when very few knew about the life cycle of most insects.  Make a beautiful caterpillar craft, which changes into a butterfly:

Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women by Catherine Thimmesh, Houghton Mifflin, 2000: Several women inventors are profiled in this clever collective biography, with witty illustrations by Melissa Sweet. Let these stories inspire kids to make their own inventions, using a variety of materials.  See some ideas here:

The Wright Sister: Katharine Wright and Her Famous Brothers by Richard Maurer, Roaring Brook Press, 2003: The Wright Brothers would have had a tough time inventing the airplane without the support of their sister Katharine, who managed their appointments and help them make money from their invention. For a related activity, make paper airplanes using instructions from books at the library or here:

Stone Girl, Bone Girl: the Story of Mary Anning by Laurence Anholt, Orchard Books, 1999: Anning was only 12 years old when she discovered a giant ichthyosaur skeleton near her home in England. Make an Ichthyosaurus out of clay or Playdoh, resembling the one seen here:

Penny Peck is a part-time faculty member of San Jose State University’s School of Library and Information Science, and author of three books on library service to youth, including Readers’ Advisory for Children and Tweens (Libraries Unlimited, 2010).  Penny is also the editor and contributor to the Bayviews and More Blog,  which is the blog for the Association of Children’s Librarians of Northern California.


  1. Terrific ideas! I just tweeted about your creative projects and programs -- not only will librarians and teachers love them, but parents too! I'm off to check out Bayviews and More Blog -- excited to find out about it.

  2. Love this pairing of books with activities! Pinned and tweeted.

  3. Great ideas, Penny. Kids might also like to try methods for sending hidden messages that women spies used. My coauthor and my book, "In Disguise! Undercover with Real Women Spies," has instructions for making an ancient Greek Skytale, a 16th-century Cardano Grille, a recipe for invisible ink, and more hands-on activities.

  4. Great ideas! I had no idea the Wright Brothers had a sister, a few years back my husband and I visited the Dayton Aviation Heritage NHS and there was no mention of her at all.