Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday - Beastly Bionics - 8.12.2020

Wednesdays I join Alyson Beecher from kidlitfrenzy and other
#kidlit bloggers to share wonderful nonfiction picture books.
The intention of today's blog post is to give professionals that work in the
education field new nonfiction reading material and ideas to use 
with students to promote a love of reading nonfiction materials.

Let's say you're building something but you've come to a roadblock, what do you do?
Think about animals, of course!

You've heard of bullet trains, right?  Those sleek trains that travel super fast actually had a problem.  When going through tunnels, an air pocket would form around the front of the train.  As the train exited the tunnel going those ridiculous fast speeds, the air pocket would collapse, making a gigantic booming sound!  How did engineers fix this problem?  By looking at the beak of a kingfisher bird!  The streamlined beak was a perfect model for the bullet train.

Jennifer Swanson's latest book is full of other examples of how animals have helped solve problems, inspire new ideas, and give healthy solutions... just by being them!

Beastly Bionics:
Rad Robots, Brilliant Biomimicry, and Incredible Inventions
Inspired by Nature
written by Jennifer Swanson
published by National Geographic Kids

Many grade levels study animal adaptations, as well as have a science standard about engineering.  This is the perfect book to have on hand to look at some real life examples.  We know rattlesnakes squeeze their prey, right?  How can we use that information to help us in real life?  Scientists found a way to use this information when using a robot to pick up fragile objects.  I bet everyone is familiar with LED lights, right?  Guess which flying friend helped engineers construct the perfect light?  Fireflies!  

I did laugh at one of the animals mentioned because I can't believe this animal inspires anything other than annoyance - the Canadian Goose!  However, scientists studied their flight formations to think of ways of using drones in a more precise flight fashion!

Luckily for us, author Jennifer Swanson stopped by to answer a few questions!

I know the words "bionic" and "mimic", but I've never put them together!  Tell us more about biomimicry.

Biomimicry is the science of studying nature (animals  and plants) and then mimicking its most innovative and helpful attributes to create something that will help humans. In a nutshell, it is inventing using nature as your inspiration. Need to solve a problem? You don't have to invent something from scratch, take a look at how nature may solve the same problem. It's possible that there is something in how nature handles this issue that you could use to solve the same problem you have. Cool, isn't it? 

I loved how you divided the information on each page into categories - some include "Design Dilemma", "Building Bionics", and "Helpful Additions".  I can imagine this helped frame some of the writing, but did it also help organize your research?

Yes, in a way. I tend to write about pretty technical topics, which means that I have to come up with unique and creative ways to present the material so that kids (of all ages) will understand it. For that, I like to break things down into smaller bits of information. I also found that if you set up a pattern of how you are explaining things, then it's easier for people to understand if you change the topic, or in this case the biomimicry example. The pattern of showing the same bits of information in different examples makes it easier to follow the complex robotics that it took to make all of these creations.

I think this book will make a great addition in makerspace places.  What ideas could you give teachers and librarians to connect the book and makerspace?

My tag for this book is, "Get Outside and Get Inventing!" The idea that could be used for makerspaces is to get kids thinking creatively about animals and plants. In this time of covid, it can be difficult to get groups of kids together to work on one project. So, instead, use the ideas in this book-- biomimicry-- to encourage kids to go outside, or look outside their window. Or even look at other books, or some of their cool animal toys. Have them ask themselves, "What awesome thing does this animal have or do that could be helpful to humans?" Is it a long tail or trunk that grasps things? Is it the ability to be very sticky and keep things stuck together? Is it that it can change colors and hide? The next question is, "How would you make that using robotics?" Kids can draw their creations, make them out of paper, cardboard, modeling clay, or even robot parts if they have them. I did a fun talk about this on School Library Journal's Instagram Live Here:

Can you tell us a secret about creating the book?  I love finding out things from an author that we might never know about the book!

The secret of this book is that about 80% or more of these inventions are not completed. Many of them may become reality one day and others may only just end up being cool ideas. This is a bit strange for a book to do, but I felt it was very important to do a book about this just the same. I wanted to give kids a peek inside the real life research and technology that is taking place NOW. That is the exciting part about technology. The imagining, the thinking, the trial and error. It's all a process and one that is really exciting to see. I'm hoping that kids will read this book and get inspired to come up with their own designs. And then, maybe they will create them! Or they will realize that their idea doesn't quite work the way they want it, so they'll have to change their design. That is the secret to this book--how curiosity leads to invention! 

Which invention-animal pair did you find the most fascinating?

Honestly, I loved them all. If I have to pick one, though I'd say the poison dart frog. The fact that it keeps its poison hidden beneath the top layer of its skin and only has it come out when it is attacked, is just COOL! To use this idea to help de-ice airplanes in flight? Brilliant! I love how engineers and scientists think. 

Thank you for stopping by, Jen!  
Be sure to find a copy of this book for your future engineers and scientists.  There is so much to explore!

More about author Jennifer Swanson:
Science Rocks! And so, do Jennifer Swanson’s books. She is the award-winning author of over 40 nonfiction books for children, mostly about science and technology.  Jennifer’s love of STEM began when she started a science club in her garage at the age of 7. A huge science geek, Jennifer encourages kids (of all ages) to engage their curiosity and DISCOVER the Science all around them! You can learn more about her and book her for speaking engagements and school visits at


  1. This looks really cool, Michele. Love "biomimicry" (even if my spellchecker doesn't.

  2. This looks fabulous! Can't wait to see it!

  3. Biomimicry is so cool!! Behind on my reading, but looking forward to this one, Michele!