Picture of Melissa Stewart

Melissa Stewart

Author

Trained as both a scientist and journalist, Melissa Stewart is the award-winning author of more than 100 books for young readers. While gathering information for her books, Melissa has explored tropical forests in Costa Rica, gone on safari in Kenya and Tanzania, and swum with sea lions in the Galápagos Islands.

Melissa's Books

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Alligator or Crocodile?

Alligator or Crocodile?

How Do You Know?

Melissa Stewart
Alligators and crocodiles may look the same to you, but you might be surprised to learn just how different these animals are! Get a close up look at the differences between these animals with brilliant color photographs...Read More

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ISBN: 978-0-7660-5655-8
Binding: eBook
List Price: $24.60
Discount Price: $18.45

Amazing Eyes Up Close

Amazing Eyes Up Close

Melissa Stewart
Did you know that honeybees have more than two eyes? Or that a giant squid's eyes are bigger than dinner plates? AMAZING EYES UP CLOSE, in the ANIMAL BODIES UP CLOSE series, lets you learn all about how animals use their eyes to look for food and to stay safe...Read More

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ISBN: 978-0-7660-4369-5
Binding: eBook
List Price: $24.60
Discount Price: $18.45

Blue Animals

Blue Animals

Melissa Stewart
Who knew so many animals were blue?! Another title in the ALL ABOUT A RAINBOW OF ANIMALS series, BLUE ANIMALS lets new readers practice their colors with vibrant photos and simple text...Read More

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ISBN: 978-0-7660-4330-5
Binding: eBook
List Price: $24.60
Discount Price: $18.45

Butterfly or Moth?

Butterfly or Moth?

How Do You Know?

Melissa Stewart
How can you tell a butterfly from a moth? What is the difference? With colorful photographs and clear language, author Melissa Stewart shows young readers how to identify these animals using critical thinking skills...Read More

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ISBN: 978-0-7660-5564-3
Binding: eBook
List Price: $24.60
Discount Price: $18.45

Creepy, Crawly Jokes About Spiders and Other Bugs

Creepy, Crawly Jokes About Spiders and Other Bugs

Laugh and Learn About Science

Melissa Stewart
Who said science can't be funny?! Read some fascinating science facts about bugs, including butterflies, beetles, and bees. Then learn some seriously silly jokes! And the fun part? The section of the book that teaches you to write your own jokes about bugs! Get ready to laugh and learn about science...Read More

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ISBN: 978-0-7660-4452-4
Binding: eBook
List Price: $27.27
Discount Price: $20.45

Dino-Mite Jokes About Prehistoric Life

Dino-Mite Jokes About Prehistoric Life

Laugh and Learn About Science

Melissa Stewart
In DINO-MITE JOKES ABOUT PREHISTORIC LIFE learn about everything from early arthropods to dinosaurs and early humans. After reading all the silly jokes, follow author Melissa Stewart's directions to create your own jokes! Get ready to laugh and learn about science...Read More

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ISBN: 978-0-7660-4449-4
Binding: eBook
List Price: $27.27
Discount Price: $20.45

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Melissa's Latest Blog Entries

Why Teens Read


After reading Passionate Readers: The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child by Pernille Ripp late last year, I began asking educators why they read. They often said things like: “To escape, to relax. To connect with the characters in a book. To drift off into another world.”

These responses surprised me because I would answer this question very differently. I’d say something like: “To learn, to explore my interests and gain new knowledge. To engage with the world and understand how it works.”

And so I began to wonder how young readers would answer this question. I mentioned this to Kerry O’Malley Cerra, an author and high school media specialist in Florida, and she agreed to conduct a survey with the students she serves.

Based on responses from 200 students in grades 9-12, I created the word cloud above.

“Learn” is definitely a popular response, and we see words like “knowledge,” “interesting,” “ideas,” "information,” “explore,” and “discover,” which seem to indicate an interest in nonfiction.

We also see “escape,” “imagine,” “destress,” “relax,” and “calming,” which seem to be associated with fiction.

Students who said "entertainment" seemed to be referring to fiction, but "fun" was used by students who included keywords associated with both fiction and nonfiction.

Quite a few students read only for required assignments. But when I think about it, this is probably how I would have answered at age 16 because I hadn't discovered how wonderful nonfiction could be yet. That didn't happen until I was in graduate school.

“Pastime” represents students who read to pass the time because they have nothing else or nothing better to do.

One fairly common response that surprised me was “self-improvement.” These students were  reading to improve their reading skills.

It's also worth noting that many students see books as a calming alternative to screen time. 

What do you think? How would you respond to this question? Do the students' answers surprise you? This seems like a good topic to ponder over the summer.

My Favorite Research Story by Miranda Paul

Today we continue the series in which award-winning nonfiction authors discuss the joys and challenges of the research process with an essay by Miranda Paul. Thank you, Miranda.

I often ask readers, “How long do you think it takes to make a book?” Older students know that research and writing can take a year or more. But once, a child told me it only takes him 12 minutes. Imagine his face when I told him about my book’s 12-year journey

One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia was the first children’s book to chronicle the women of Njau, Gambia. At school visits, I show photos from my in-person interviews and artifacts like my scribbled notes in English and Wolof. Sometimes I bring my small stack of the video tapes, hard drive, and CF cards from my first digital camera. I demonstrate how I picked up, washed, dried, and cut plastic bags with the women. I admit to them that I failed almost every attempt at trying to crochet a plastic purse myself. Students love seeing how research meant cooking and eating and laughing and crying with Isatou and the women over several research trips to the village.

Nearly ten years after first buying one of Isatou’s recycled purses, I tucked away most of my research, thinking I was done. The book had been acquired and revised, and I’d sent off photos to artist Elizabeth Zunon.

Elizabeth wanted to make the illustrations as accurate as possible. But she needed to know more about Isatou’s first crochet hook—specifically, what was the hook made of?

Out came the research!

The photos I’d snapped showed metal crochet hooks that had been sent by a European volunteer. But my pictures were taken a decade after Isatou made her first recycled plastic purse. Could the hook have been plastic? I wasn’t sure.

Today, I’d whip out my smartphone and ask Isatou on WhatsApp. But back then, Isatou’s and my access to technology was more limited. 

I fired an email off to Isatou, but I wasn’t sure she’d reply before the deadline. I also reached out to Peggy Sedlack, the Peace Corps volunteer who worked with Isatou in the 1990s and supplied back matter photos. Alas, we couldn’t confirm what Isatou’s first crochet hook looked like.

Time passed without an email from Isatou (left), so I picked up my landline, checked the time zone in Gambia, and dialed Isatou’s number. Telephone service was not always reliable with my provider or within the Gambia, and my first two attempts got dropped. The lines crossed on my third try. Finally, the drawn-out beep of the international ring ended with a familiar voice.

We exchanged greetings and I asked Elizabeth’s question. Isatou told me about how she didn’t own a crochet hook back then and couldn’t buy one, but she spotted a broomstick and got the idea to whittle a piece roughly the same shape and size as the crochet hook she’d seen her sister use.

“Incredible, Isatou! Why did you never tell me that before?”

“You never asked.”

We laughed, and Isatou enthralled me with more tales of her resourcefulness. I was so engrossed, I forgot that I was paying for the call by the minute! Though I later got a pricey bill, it had been worth it. I reported the news to my editor, requesting to add a line to the book—even though the text was already “finished.”

In the hundreds of questions I’d asked over the book’s twelve-year journey from inspiration to publication, this one never would have crossed my mind if not for Elizabeth’s curiosity. Finding the answer wasn’t my biggest research challenge, nor is it the most fascinating, but it remains my personal favorite. Why?

Every time I read the line, “Isatou finds a broomstick and carves her own tool from its wood,” I’m humbly reminded to embrace the power of collaboration. Research isn’t a lonely venture. Listening and including others makes research stronger. Investigations aren’t always over when you think. Many facts aren’t documented in writing or media—they’re only tucked away in someone’s memory.

My new favorite research question became: What question hasn’t been asked yet?

As part of my One Plastic Bag author visits, I play a silly research game with large student groups. We do primary research without books or websites, just like I had to do. Student solutions and ideas play out differently at each school, proving that there are many valid paths to finding answers. Through the game, students also discover how to try more than one method to find the facts.

The Q&A portion that follows the game sparks many predictable questions—but I savor the outliers. I encourage educators to use prompts that spark outliers. To harness the collective curiosity of a hive mind, teachers might hold up a single photograph or artifact and have each student each write one question about it. There might be as many unique questions as there are kids. Intriguing questions are a great place from which to start research—because a good question is worth its weight in phone bills!

Miranda Paul is an award-winning author of books for children. She has received starred reviews and Junior Library Guild distinction for several titles, including One Plastic BagWater is WaterI Am FarmerNine Months, and Little Libraries, Big Heroes. Her book, Whose Hands Are These? was an ILA Teacher’s Choice and Speak Up was an NEA Book Pick. Miranda is a co-founding member of We Need Diverse Books. More at MirandaPaul.com.

Looking at Nonfiction with New Eyes by Lynn Burns Butler

Recently, Lynn Burns Butler, who has worked as both an elementary and high school librarian, let me know about some of the ways she has encouraged students to explore the nonfiction sections in the collections she’s managed over the years. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience, Lynn!

We librarians are creative and inventive creatures, and one of our greatest talents is helping patrons discover books they never realized they want. 

As a new librarian in the early 1990s, I worked in a small K-5 public school library with four sections—fiction (chapter books), everybody (early readers and picture book fiction), nonfiction, and reference. I was disappointed that many of the nonfiction books were never checked out.

One day a kindergartener came to me with Very Busy Spider by Eric Carle and asked if I had any books about REAL spiders to go along with it. When I helped her find one, she was overjoyed. I noticed other early elementary students making similar requests—nonfiction books connected with a fiction book they’d already chosen—and hatched a plan.


One weekend, I pulled all the nonfiction books with a K-2 reading level and relabeled them with ENF stickers—Early Nonfiction and grouped them by topic in a new section. Then I planned a simple lesson on “Real versus Not Real” for K-2 students.

First, I cut up some old issues of National Geographic and glued photos of insects, sharks, birds, and mammals on colored paper. Then I color copied the covers of some popular fiction picture books, like Corduroy by Don Freeman and The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, and mounted them on colored paper too.

When students arrived, I held up the images I’d prepared and asked if they showed something that was real or not real. We then discussed that some books are about real things in life and other are made up. The children had no trouble making this connection.

The next part of the lesson introduced the words “fiction” and “nonfiction,” and I had examples of each. I avoided using illustrated nonfiction titles to prevent confusion.

Next, I showed students the new ENF section and let them know that, while it’s great to read made-up stories about spiders and snakes, it’s also fun to learn about the real creatures. Nearly every single student checked out a nonfiction book that week. 

The next year I began buying more nonfiction, especially for the ENF section. I also began creating Buddy Book displays that paired fiction books with an animal character and a nonfiction book with factual information about the animal. Displaying Buddy Books was a natural progression from my “Real versus Not Real” lesson, and the students LOVED it. In fact, many of them began creating their own fiction-nonfiction pairings.

By the time I changed schools 6 years later, I clearly understood that I was free to rearrange my collection to best suit the needs of my students. For the remaining 10 years I served as an elementary librarian, I always had an Early Nonfiction section in my library. I truly hope the librarians who came after me kept that special section.

When I took a job as a high school librarian 5 years ago, nonfiction checkout stats left a lot to be desired. As I evaluated the section, I realized the shelves were choked and crowded. To increase their circulation, I did a massive weed.

As I pulled books, I kept reminding myself that since the school had curated databases and other online resources, I could afford to be picky about the nonfiction books in my collection.

Next, I did some rearranging to better meet students interests and needs. I pulled all the military books into one area, added red labels with gold stars to the spines, and created a SP COLL tag to go above the decimal number. 

I also created a special careers section. Not only did circulation of these books increase throughout the year, having all the books shelved together was a tremendous help when our senior on-level English classes did a career research project during the last 9 weeks of school.


After weeding and reorganizing, I was left with five large shelves that are perfect for nonfiction book displays. Here are some of the thematic groupings I tried this year:

·        This Is My Life: I Need Help, which featured books about anxiety, depression, relationships

·        Has This Happened to You? with books on bullying, date rape, internet shaming

·        Coding and Internet Security

·        Know Your Rights, including books on LGBTQIA+ issues and rights of teenagers

·        Do You Believe? which had books on Bigfoot, UFOs, aliens, the Bermuda Triangle, and other unexplained phenomena 

I love seeing the students peruse those shelves and talking among themselves. The best reward of all is when they turn to me and ask, “Can I check this out?”

Next year, my goal is to try some dynamic shelving in nonfiction. I love examples I’ve seen in other libraries and am excited to give it a try with my school’s collection.

Lynn Burns Butler began her professional life as a high school English teacher.  She taught junior high English, history, and geography, and served as a Teacher Consultant for National Geographic for ten years. Lynn also worked as an elementary librarian in San Angelo ISD for 16 years then spent 8 years working as a Publishers’ Representative selling books to school libraries. She is currently in her happy place as librarian at Taylor High School in Taylor, Texas. 

Opening My Eyes to the Power of Nonfiction by Kathy Renfrew

After reading this recent article on PLOS SciComm, Kathy Renfrew, an Education Specialist at the Wade Institute of Science Education in Massachusetts, responded on Facebook, admitting that as a young teacher, she did her students a disservice by focusing exclusively on fiction for literacy instruction. What led her to rethink her practice? Read on to find out.

My first year of teaching, I had just 15 students in a multi-grade 5/6 classroom in Peacham, Vermont. Seems like a dream, right? No, no, no . . . oh, so wrong.

Back then, I wasn’t totally into science yet. Like most elementary teachers at the time, my focus was literacy. I was so proud of my classroom library, which was organized in bins by Fountas and Pinnell reading levels.

For the 12 boys and 3 girls in my class, independent reading time didn’t go so well. Neither did instructional reading time. And I had no idea why.

Why didn’t reading aloud at Morning Meeting captivate my young audience?

Why couldn’t students find a book and settle down for silent reading time?

What was I doing wrong?

I’d like to say I quickly figured out the problem and came up with a solution, but the true a-ha moment didn’t come until a year when I had 11 students—including 9 very gregarious, extremely active boys.


Initially, silent reading NEVER happened in that classroom. The students couldn’t seem to find anything they wanted to read—even though I had more than 400 books, including books at a wide range of levels and many award winners.  

Then I read a report that made all the difference. According to results from the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), fourth-grade girls in all of the 30-plus participating countries scored higher in reading literacy than fourth-grade boys by a statistically significant amount.

When I dug further into this discrepancy, I found research showing that boys:

      value reading as an activity less than girls do

      often find reading boring/no fun

      have no time/are too busy to read

      like other activities better

      can't “get into” the stories

At this point, I knew I needed to make some big changes in my classroom. I started by talking with the boys. I explained that they had to read, but that I was willing to work hard to find texts they would enjoy.

Next, I asked them to complete a survey. The results revealed that they were most interested in reading books and magazine articles about real things, animals, and how things work. I immediately purchased a selection of science-based nonfiction and ordered subscriptions to Popular Mechanics, Sports Illustrated for Kids, and Science News.

Suddenly, things began to change at independent reading time. Students stopped acting out and constantly asking if they could go to the bathroom. There was no more fake reading. The students were genuinely engaged.

I also began using more nonfiction texts for instructional reading, and soon, the students’ scores on reading comprehension tests began to improve.

Since having that experience with my students, I have made finding great nonfiction titles a priority. One source that I’ve come to rely on is the
National Science Teaching Association’s annual Outstanding Science Trade Bookslist. These books have been carefully reviewed for craftmanship and accuracy by a committee of educators.

One great title I found through this list is Feathers: Not Just for Flyingby Melissa Stewart and Sarah S. Brannen. It has beautiful illustrations and an inviting scrapbook feel. Students love the idea of comparing feathers to everyday objects. It’s an excellent  source for discussing the link between the structure and function of animal body parts.


NSTA’s annual Best STEM Books list is another terrific source of high-quality, accurate nonfiction books. Here are two favorites:


Building Zaha: The Story of Architect Zaha Hadid by Victoria Tentler-Krylov
The innovative female British-Iraqi architect found clever ways to build inspiring structures that became famous around the world.

Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars by Laurie Wallmark and Brooke Smart

The brilliant American code breaker smashed Nazi spy rings, took down notorious gangsters, and created the CIA's first cryptology unit.

Today experts recommend that school, classroom, and home libraries offer children a 50-50 mix of fiction and nonfiction titles, and based on my experience, I can certainly see the value of that. If you are a parent, teacher, librarian, or caregiver of any kind, I urge you to think carefully about the books you make available to children—both boys and girls. Today’s nonfiction has so much to offer young readers.

Kathy Renfrew is an experienced educator who began teaching in Australia, and then moved to Vermont, where she taught for 35 years. Kathy served as a State Science Supervisor for the Vermont Agency of Education for 9 years. She now lives in Massachusetts, where she has been an elementary science coach, a virtual coach, and a science specialist for the Wade Institute for Science Education. Kathy was National Board Certified and a Presidential Awardee for Excellence in Science Teaching.

My Favorite Research Story by Laurie Ann Thompson

Today we continue the series in which award-winning nonfiction authors discuss the joys and challenges of the research process with an essay by Laurie Ann Thompson. Thank you, Laurie.

Many people assume the best research happens deep in the dusty nonfiction stacks at the library, on an ancient microfiche reader in an historical archive, or on site at some far away location. I’ve had great research experiences in each of those places, but my favorite research memory took place in a typical coffee shop.

I had been working for five years on the text that would eventually become Emmanuel’s Dream. I had read and watched everything I could get my hands on about how he had grown up in Ghana with one leg, then ridden a bicycle almost 400 miles to advocate for people with disabilities. I had interviewed native Ghanaians. I had pored over images, travel guides, and Google Earth. I had studied magazines, online forums, and organizations for people with disabilities. I knew the facts and had a solid structure, but the story still wasn’t working. It felt dry and lifeless. It needed something more. It needed Emmanuel.

For years I’d been searching for a way to contact him directly, but nothing had turned up. Finally, my diligence paid off. He reached out to me, through one of the organizations I had contacted previously, and told me he was coming to the United States. We were able to schedule an in-person interview! I booked my plane tickets and nervously began preparing my questions.   


I need not have worried. Emmanuel was open, kind, and eager to share his story. We chatted comfortably over afternoon tea for about three hours. (Thankfully, I recorded the conversation, so I could focus on the moment and transcribe the exact dialog later.) We talked about his childhood, his ride, and his hopes for the future. We talked about our children and the lessons we most wanted them to learn. We talked about how to stay hopeful and happy, despite life’s challenges. We talked about why we do what we do and about the importance of not giving up. By the end of the meeting, I not only had all my questions answered, but I had also made a friend. Emmanuel and I are still in contact to this day, all because of that one interview.

When I was a beginning writer, I thought interviewing experts was the scariest part of the job. I am naturally shy and introverted, plus it’s always been hard for me to ask questions and admit what I don’t know. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that most people are thrilled to talk about themselves and their work, especially when it’s for children. These days I look forward to connecting with experts every chance I get, and I am always rewarded. I recommend writers of all genres and ages conduct interviews as part of their research.

You may be wondering if students can conduct meaningful interviews as part of their own research projects. I believe the answer is a resounding “Yes!”

Writing a persuasive essay? Students can interview someone affected by the problem and/or someone responsible for making the decisions about it.

A personal narrative? Students can interview others to see if they remember details the student may have forgotten. Or perhaps the interviewees have a different view of the situation altogether!

A biography or report about an historical event? Students can try to find someone who lived during the same time period or even a descendant of someone who did.

Something STEM related? Students can look for an expert with knowledge in the field of interest or even a loosely related one.

Writers of all ages will find that most people are happy to share their knowledge and expertise. In the process, they’ll discover new details they haven’t found through their other research. They may be inspired to dig even deeper, once they realize how much they don’t know. They’ll probably feel more personally connected to their work, too. Trust me—an expert’s passion for their subject area is contagious! These human connections are some of the best ways to breathe life into nonfiction writing, for both the writer and the reader.

And who knows? The researcher may end up making a new friend in the process!

Laurie Ann Thompson writes to help young people understand the world, so they can make it a better place. She is co-author of the Two Truths and a Lie series and author of other award-winning nonfiction books for young readers, including Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story if Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, a picture book biography that received the Schneider Family Book Award and was an ALA Notable and CCBC Choice.

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Melissa's Award Winners

Why Are Animals Blue?

2009 SOCIETY OF SCHOOL LIBRARIANS INTERNATIONAL HONOR BOOK AWARD IN SCIENCE

Why Are Animals Blue?

Why Are Animals Blue?

An NSTA-CBS OUTSTANDING SCIENCE TRADE BOOKS FOR STUDENTS K-12 1997 2010 Selection

Why Are Animals Blue?