Overview of age group

This guide is for literature and resources for children in Stage 2 of primary school (Years 2 to 4), aged approximately 8 to 10. The audience for the guide is their parents, as children of this age may not be able to, or be allowed to, browse the library’s website on their own.

Piaget thought that children’s development depended partially on physical growth and the child’s interaction with the environment (Mooney, 2013). Vygotsky considered that social and cognitive development were interdependent: that social interactions shaped learning, e.g. through play with peers or reading with parents (Mooney, 2013). During middle childhood, children are developing their sense of self-efficacy, becoming more physically competent and more capable of abstract thought (Mah & Ford-Jones, 2012). The practical focus of STEM (the disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), where how-to and experimental books are common, encourages the development of self-efficacy through both physical and intellectual engagement with the material.

Drawing on Piaget's and Vygotsky's theories (Mooney, 2013), part of my purpose for this guide will be to help parents to inspire their children, helping the children to construct their understandings of STEM by reading and then having the opportunity to experience the theory in practice through the kits or activities in how-to books. STEM readings and activities allow authentic learning through activities that synthesise the STEM disciplines (Pandora & Fredrick, 2017, xvii–xviii). Ideally, parents should be ‘scaffolding’ with the children by giving them information that supports their ability to grasp a new concept or skill (Mooney, 2013). Arguably, girls and minority groups may need encouragement to engage in STEM and foster an interest at this age (Pandora & Fredrick, 2017, p. 46).

Middle childhood is a key period for cognitive and physical development (Ministry of Children and Youth Services, 2017), and it encompasses an increasingly sophisticated vocabulary and reading comprehension (Kuther, 2018). Nevertheless, indicators of learning difficulties become more visible at this stage (Ministry of Children and Youth Services, 2017), and children who experience difficulties in reading in their early years often do not catch up to their age peers (Kuther, 2018). This is evidenced in Australia by NAPLAN scores, which show a wide range of reading abilities in children aged 7-9 years old (Australian Curriculum, Assessment, & Reporting Authority, 2018).

By understanding the developmental stages of these children, this guide will be able to provide parents with suitable options across a wide range of reading abilities and interests. In particular, the use of graphic novels and books on the Premier’s Reading Challenge will help vary the reading level of texts provided to suit the child.

Overview of reading guide purpose

Public libraries have a commitment to lifelong learning. Being able to read and write - literacy – is a foundation for other 21st century literacies and citizenship. Literacy (Australian Library and Information Association, 2006), and lifelong habits (Ministry of Children and Youth Services, 2017, p.5), begin in childhood (Australian Library and Information Association, 2006). Choosing texts that are relevant and engaging for children encourages them to persist with reading as an enjoyable passtime (Meek, 1988).

By providing a reading guide that includes both fiction and non-fiction STEM texts, parents and their middle primary-aged children will be exposed to triggers that will spark the children’s imaginations and foster hands-on exploration to whet their curiosity. By providing books with diverse characters, this will encourage all children to see themselves as future STEM professionals (Pandora & Fredrick, 2017, p. 46). The aim of this reading Guide is to open a window to these opportunities. Furthermore, by providing a reading guide that parents and children can experience together, this will enhance literacy opportunities at home, and lead to greater literacy achievement by children (Dearing, Kreider, Simpkins, & Weiss, 2006).

Nodelman and Reimer point out that "...literary texts offer children representations of the world and of their own place as children within that world. If a representation is persuasive, it will become the world that those child readers believe they live in." (Nodelman & Reimer, 2003, p. 128). Non-fiction texts, whose narratives are understood to be representations of the truth, are particularly important in this process of representations of the world becoming the believed reality of children (Nodelman & Reimer, 2003, p. 128). Histories and biographies have novel-like plots and tend to imply interpretations of featured people's motivations (Nodelman & Reimer, 2003, p. 129). Even science and nature books have plots, and photographs often used in these have disguised decision-making by the photographer about what angle to shoot from or what to leave out. Because non-fictional books claim to be non-fictional, they can reinforce ideological assumptions about individuals and society (Nodelman & Reimer, 2003, p. 129). In my book selection, I have chosen books featuring some female characters and non-white protagonists, thus reinforcing that STEM is for everyone.

Several assumptions can appear in STEM-themed literature for children, such as the primacy of the scientific method for understanding the world (Nodelman & Reimer, 2003, p. 132), and adults should encourage inquiry rather than saying that children should accept the science on any particular issue (Nodelman & Reimer, 2003, p. 132). As librarians, the inquiry-based approach with emphasis on projects and interdisciplinary focus of STEM complements how libraries teach research skills (Pandora & Fredrick, 2017, p. xix) The world has become increasingly complex, and librarians help young people grow their literacy and information skills, creating citizens of the future (Pandora & Fredrick, 2017, p. xxi).

The theme and its audience appeal

Children are often called 'natural scientists and engineers' (Tippet & Milford, 2017 p.S67), as they are inquisitive and observant. This inquisitiveness naturally lends itself to STEM explorations, from early childhood onwards (Tippet & Milford, 2017). A current trend in libraries is that they support parents in finding fun and engaging activities to do together with their children (Lopez, M. E., Caspe, M., & McWilliams, L., 2016 p. 1), and these resources aim to do so. Developing a reading guide about STEM gives the library an opportunity to support parents in exploring and developing their child's interests, particularly if the parent does not have a STEM background themselves (Petrovic, 2014). Additionally, STEM is a popular subject for library programs (Pandora & Fredrick, 2017), and science is often the largest non-fiction section in the library (Hamilton, 2009). A 'secret subject' of biographies for children is the child themselves: in retelling someone's life, the author is thinking about how the reader will be inspired by what the author has to say (Nodelman & Reimer, 2003, pp. 132-133), which is likely to hold true in fictitious biographies, such as Ellie, Engineer. Narratives that have science as a key part of the plot are better-remembered and more instructive than those where plot is added as a way to make the science more palatable (Régules, 2014). Books about science often give a glimpse into the working life of a scientist, such as At the Bottom of the World and allow readers to imagine themselves in their shoes (Hamilton, 2009).


Australian Curriculum, Assessment, & Reporting Authority. (2018). NAPLAN Achievement in Reading, Writing, Language Conventions and Numeracy: National Report for 2018. Sydney: ACARA. Retrieved from https://nap.edu.au/docs/default-source/resources/2018-naplan-national-report.pdf?sfvrsn=2

Australian Library and Information Association. (2006). Statement on libraries and literacies. Retrieved from https://www.alia.org.au/about-alia/policies-standards-and-guidelines/statement-libraries-and-literacies

Dearing, E., Kreider, H., Simpkins, S., & Weiss, H. B. (2006). Family involvement in school and low-income children's literacy: Longitudinal associations between and within families. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98(4), 653. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-0663.98.4.653

Hamilton, J. (2009). What Makes a Good Science Book? Horn Book Magazine, 85(3), 269-275.  Retrieved from https://www.hbook.com/2009/05/using-books/makes-good-science-book/

Kuther, T. L. (2018). Physical and Cognitive Development in Middle Childhood. In T. L. Kuther (Ed.), Lifespan Development: Lives in Context (pp. 250–281). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Lopez, M. E., Caspe, M., & McWilliams, L. (2016). Public Libraries: A Vital Space for Family Engagement. Cambridge, MA: Harvard College. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/pla/sites/ala.org.pla/files/content/initiatives/familyengagement/Public-Libraries-A-Vital-Space-for-Family-Engagement_HFRP-PLA_August-2-2016.pdf

Mah, V., & Ford-Jones, E. (2012). Spotlight on middle childhood: Rejuvenating the 'forgotten years'. Paediatrics & child health, 17(2), 81-83. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3299351/

Meek, M. (1988). How texts teach what readers learn. Stroud: Thimble Press.

Ministry of Children and Youth Services. (2017). On MY Way · A Guide to Support Middle Years Child Development. Toronto, ONT. Retrieved from http://www.children.gov.on.ca/htdocs/English/documents/middleyears/On-MY-Way-Middle-Years.pdf

Mooney, C. G. (2013). Theories of childhood : an introduction to Dewey, Montessori, Erikson, Piaget, and Vygotsky. Retrieved from Ebook Central ProQuest database.

Nodelman, P., & Reimer, M. (2003). The pleasures of children's literature Third ed. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Pandora, C. P., & Fredrick, K. (2017). Full STEAM Ahead: science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics in library programs and collections. Santa Barbara, California: Libraries Unlimited.

Petrovic, A. H. (2014). A Parent's Guide to STEM. Retrieved from https://www.inl.gov/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/A-Parents-Guide-to-STEM-English.pdf

Régules, S. (2014). Storytelling and Metaphor in Science Communication. Bookbird: A Journal of International Children's Literature, 52(3), 86-90. https://doi.org/10.1353/bkb.2014.0107

Tippet, C. D., & Milford, T. M. (2017) Findings from a Pre-kindergarten Classroom: Making the case for STEM in early childhood education. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 15(Suppl 1):S67-S86. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10763-017-9812-8

In The Library

Science You Can Eat
Gates, S. (2019). Science You Can Eat: Edible experiments for hungry minds. Great Britain: DK Publishing.
This how-to book has 20 science experiments, providing recipes with the science behind how it works and historical facts. Science You Can Eat answers common food-related questions, like 'why do onions make us cry?' and uses these questions to discuss broader science concepts, like plant defenses. The book has photographs of stages in recipes with numbers showing the steps, and bright colours, cartoons and highlighted circles to draw attention to interesting information. The layout is attractive and text is broken up into bite-sized chunks. Great to read but more fun to do the experiments included.

Ellie, Engineer
Pearce, J., & Mourning, T. (2018). Ellie, Engineer. New York, New York: Bloomsbury.
This fun read from the Premier's Reading Challenge is the first in a series featuring a kind, inventive and imaginative character in Ellie. In this early chapter book, Ellie and her best friend Kit invent things together, like a water balloon launcher so they can soak the noisy boys. Ellie plans to make a dog-house for Kit as a birthday surprise, with help from the boy and girl groups of friends in her neighbourhood. There are diagrams of inventions throughout the book, which appear to be drawn by Ellie 'herself': illustrator Tuesday Mourning. An appendix includes background materials on tools they used. This book has strong themes of friendship, showing that great things can be achieved by working together.

At the Bottom of the World
Nye, B., Mone, G., & Iluzada, N. (2017). At the bottom of the world (Jack and the geniuses). New York: Amulet Books.
In this early chapter book, a boy named Jack lives with his two genius foster siblings, who enjoy inventing robots. When their drone flies into the neighbour's backyard, they are invited, on the strength of the geniuses' inventions, to come to Antarctica to meet a scientist working there. Unfortunately, the scientist goes missing and it's up to Jack and his siblings to solve the mystery before an Antarctic storm sweeps in! All inventions shown in this fun adventure story are based on real science, and the book naturally slips in the science as part of the story. While Jack isn't a genius in the same way as his siblings, he has his own strengths and uses them to help save the scientist. Included in the Premier's Reading Challenge.

Stone, T. I. (2017). Click'd. Los Angeles, CA: Disney-Hyperion.
Allie, a seventh-grader makes an app for finding friends based on common interests while at a summer coding camp and enters it in a competition, hoping to beat her rival coder, Nathan. When Allie shares it with her school friends, she discovers it has a bug: oversharing personal information, putting friendships on the line. Can she accept Nathan's help to fix the app, or is he trying to sabotage her? The first in a series, Click'd is great for fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, who like reading realistic books about characters slightly older than themselves in far-off places. The book has some illustrations of the app, adding to the realism of the book.

STEM Bridges Kit
Call number: JKIT< br/>This kit, sponsored by the local university's engineering department, contains the K'Nex Education Introduction to Structures: Bridges set (207 pieces). Also in the kit are the K'Nex Education Teacher's Guide, K'Nex Education Building Instructions, a set of 54 hexagram weights to test your child's structures and the book Latham, D., & Vaughn, J. (2012). Bridges and tunnels: Investigate feats of engineering with 25 projects. White River Junction, VT: Nomad Press, a book for ages 9 and up with various bridge building experiments using common household equipment to give ideas of what to do with the K'nex pieces.

Code your own knight adventure : code with Sir Percival and discover the book of spells
Wainewright, M. (2017). Code your own knight adventure: Code with Sir Percival and discover the Book of Spells. London: QED Publishing.
This graphic novel how to book shows kids how to use the Scratch programming language to code their own video games, with colourful step-by-step instructions and breakouts for key coding concepts. An easy, kid-friendly start to coding, this book is one in a series that covers similar topics. If your child enjoys pirates or space adventures, the other books in the series are worth a look at, too.

SCOPE TV show: streaming
CSIRO (Writer), & Crotty, T., Harris, J., Murray, L., & Elliot, S. (Producers). (n.d.). SCOPE [Television series]. Sydney, NSW: 10 Peach. Streaming access: tenplay.com.au
This Australian TV show airs on 10 Peach and is co-produced by CSIRO, and a new fourth season is currently airing. This fun series has a variety of experiments for kids to try, which can be performed using readily available household materials, explains the science behind everyday life, such as the physics of waterslides, and showcases new and exciting developments in science, right around Australia. SCOPE also visits universities to borrow their resources for extra-exciting experiments.

Double Helix magazine
CSIRO. (2015-present). Double Helix.
This Australian magazine is published by CSIRO and comes out every three months, with a variety of experiments and science journalism, recipes, comics, contests and puzzles and upcoming events to enjoy. Readers can write letters in to the editor and share photos with others. It is an easy and fun read, if they are already interested in science topics or if they are simply curious. It also includes an Indigenous Science column with science being used by Indigenous people to solve problems across Australia: for example, recycling plastic to make 3D printing raw materials.

Prime Climb board game
Math for Love. (2014). Prime Climb. Retrieved from https://primeclimbgame.com/
This board game is for two to four players, aged 10+ (but can be played with simplified rules for younger players) and the object of the game is to roll the dice and add, multiply, divide or subtract from the place your pawns are on to get to the finish: 101. For younger players, operations can be limited to addition or subtraction, and the places are colour-coded to make it easier to play, using the colours instead of the maths. This game with a combination of luck and skill is great to spark the competitive spirit of play in children and adults alike.

Fractions in Disguise
Einhorn, E., & Clark, D. (2014). Fractions in disguise: A math adventure (Charlesbridge Math Adventures). Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge.

This advanced picturebook has an engaging story about a boy who collects fractions, and has to invent a Reducer machine to find the valuable 5/9 fraction, which has been hidden as a larger fraction: but which of his rivals took the fraction? Simple, colourful and bright illustrations help to ramp up the stakes and explain the maths in this entertaining tale, which is studded with fraction puns throughout. An appendix recaps how to reduce fractions.




CSIRO Calendar

Gulumoerrgin/Larrakia Seasons online interactive calendar


This website presents calendars used by Indigenous Australians, showing that the seasonal markers were divided by the availability of fruits and animals as well as the weather. Different calendars are shown for different language groups across the Northern Territory, and can be a good way to explore the local natural world. The calendars are presented in a wheel, with the English months on the rim and different colours for different seasons, with the wedges split into different subjects, represented by icons in silhouette that allow for guessing what the icons represent. Animations are played as the user changes the wheel to different seasons, representing what the Indigenous name of the season is. There are pop-up texts and interesting photographs, and sound clips of the Indigenous names can be played. The text is fairly short and is written at a level that children can understand with a grownup's help.

Cool Math 4 Kids

Cool Math 4 Kids


This United States-based website has a variety of interactive maths games to help drill addition, multiplication, division and subtraction. Games can be chosen based on what skill is needed to be practiced or on what looks like fun. There are aliens invading, speedcars racing, tanks crushing, dolphins feeding, penguins paddling, puppies canoeing, jetskis, planets and more! All games are colourful, have action, with sounds to accompany the action and provide feedback to players. There is no known author or publisher for this site, but it has been online since 1997. While children can enter their names to be placed on a temporary leaderboard, the privacy policy states that this is not retained.

Computer Science Education Week

Computer Science Education Week


This US-based website has a wide variety of activities designed to teach students from kindergarten to year 9 how to code their own games. Dfferent genres of game are offered, for example, having an Elsa character from Frozen and making her skate in a particular pattern to create a design, or a side-scroller platform game like Flappy Bird. The lessons are presented using real coding languages, such as Scratch for younger children and Python, Lua and JavaScript for older children. Lessons can be found based on age groupings and whether the child is a beginner or is already comfortable with coding. The hundreds of coding projects on offer deal with a wide variety of subjects, such as literature, politics and different branches of science, art, music, sport, robots, engineering, online digital safety, virtual worlds, fireworks, encryption, animation and much more.

Design Squad

Design Squad

Design Squad is an engineering website based on a US TV show on PBS about people solving problems through engineering. Design Squad has videos to watch, crafts to make which are graded into easy, medium and hard levels, and online games to play. Some less important videos are geoblocked, but those which supplement the crafts are visible from Australia. A login is required, but only a username is given to the site.

Curious Kids

Curious Kids

Curious Kids is a segment of The Conversation, a website which aims to provide informative journalistic articles written by academic experts. Curious Kids allows children (with their parents) to write in to The Conversation, and their question will be given to an academic expert to answer in an age-appropriate but rigorous way. Questions have included: do snails fart? or 'how do you know if your cat likes you?' or 'why do we lose our baby teeth?' Questions are often accompanied by videos and interesting pictures to help explain the answer. Some questions have also been turned into podcasts by the ABC, which are useful for long car trips. It's great to browse others' questions, and it's great for inspiring kids to sit down and have a think about what they really want to know.