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Perfect Pairs: Using Fiction & Nonfiction Picture Books to Teach Life Science, K-2

reviewed by Clair T. Berube - October 23, 2015

coverTitle: Perfect Pairs: Using Fiction & Nonfiction Picture Books to Teach Life Science, K-2
Author(s): Melissa Stewart, Nancy Chesley
Publisher: Stenhouse Publishers, Portland, ME
ISBN: 1571109587, Pages: 360, Year: 2014
Search for book at Amazon.com

There is a false war being waged in academia these days; the so-called war between liberal arts and STEM education. Those in the liberal arts camp claim that too much attention is being paid to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) at their expense, while those in the STEM camp complain that not enough of their students are engaged in their subjects, and therefore not being properly prepared for the job market. In reality, the answer is somewhere in between—a good education incorporates both liberal arts and STEM subjects in order that students have real and varied career choices upon graduation. So it was with pleasure that I read Perfect Pairs: Using Fiction & Nonfiction Picture Books to Teach Life Science, K-2. It was authored by Melissa Stewart, a writer who also holds a master’s degree in environmental journalism from New York University, and Nancy Chesley, who earned a master’s degree in literacy education from the University of Southern Maine as well as taught as a former classroom teacher, and science and literacy specialist.

The authors accurately point out in the introduction that many elementary teachers do not feel comfortable teaching science. Science is a subject that intimidates elementary school teachers more than many others. Most science specialists, or teachers holding science degrees, teach at the high school or middle school level, and they teach only science all day long. In contrast, many elementary school teachers have lower science self-efficacy than science teachers at the secondary level report, and science is only one subject of many that they teach throughout the day. Many elementary teachers who dislike science teach it using only worksheets and some even avoid teaching it altogether. Can anything be done to help elementary school teachers feel better about teaching science? Certain scientific topics are easier to teach than others according to Stewart and Chesley, for example students can easily learn about weather conditions, properties of matter, and light and sound. Other topics are harder to grasp for students since they cannot experience them firsthand, such as predator-prey relationships or habitat loss. Students need help and support with concepts such as these. Stewart and Chesley maintain that their book provides that type of support and helps teachers look forward to science, instead of dreading it. They believe that Perfect Pairs allows students to more fully explore topics not available to them via first-hand experiences.

The authors make it clear that Perfect Pairs is not meant to teach reading or literature; it is a science book meant to teach science. The book provides 7 or 8 lessons for grades kindergarten, 1 and 2; as well as pairs a fiction and nonfiction book with each lesson. The lessons have a science title that gives a good indication as to what the lesson is about. For example, Lesson K.1 is titled What Plants and Animals Need to Survive. The title of the books that accompany this lesson are The Salamander Room, by Anne Mazer and From Seed to Pumpkin by Wendy Pfeffer. One of the authors of Perfect Pairs (Stewart) has been pairing books with science lessons since 2006 as an author-in-residence visiting various elementary schools. She was excited to learn that students were learning real science with her lessons, and noted the enthusiasm of the teachers who were asking for additional lessons. The authors note that all books used in their lessons were in press at the time Perfect Pairs was published, and provided several avenues for acquiring the books.

The “Getting Started” chapter clearly states the authors’ lesson plan template, with an explanation as to how to implement each constituent part. They include: The Investigative Process, Engaging Students, Exploring with Students, and Encouraging Students to Draw Conclusions. This template draws on the 5E Instructional Model (Bybee et al., 2006) already familiar to most teachers.

Of course, no one these days can escape the pressure to enforce the standards put forth by each state and the federal government. There is a chapter titled Meeting the Standards where the Next Generation Science Standards, Eight Science and Engineering Practices, and Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts are provided along with examples. After the prefatory material, the book is subsequently divided into chapters; Lessons for Kindergarten, Lessons for Grade 1, and Lessons for Grade 2. At the end of each chapter is a bibliography of books used for each lesson. Appendix A provides an organized table containing the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts addressed in each lesson. Each chart includes the lesson, the disciplinary core idea, and the performance expectation. Appendix B includes reproducibles for lessons including worksheets and diagrams.

Each lesson starts with a Wonder Statement—an open-ended inquiry to invite learners to think about science. The statement is written out in a simple manner, i.e. “I wonder what plants and animals need to live and grow?” (Lesson K.1, p. 25). Another way each lesson links language arts and science is “the Wonder Journal”. This journal is modeled after field notes that are kept by real scientists. Under the wonder statement is the Learning Goal, stating what the students will learn. There could be more emphasis on Bloom’s Taxonomy (1956) in the learning statements; for my taste some of the goals are too broad and many have no measurable verbs in them. An example of a Learning Goal is: “In this lesson, students learn that animals need food and water to survive, while plants require water and sunlight. This lesson compares the needs of a salamander (animal) and a pumpkin (plant) as they live and grow” (Lesson K.1, p. 25). This particular Learning Goal does have a measurable objective with a verb from Bloom’s Taxonomy (“compare” which is in the comprehension/understand level of Bloom’s Taxonomy). Some of the other Learning Goals in other lessons are more vague. On the whole however, most are adequate. The next section is the NGSS Performance Expectations that lists which expectation the lesson addresses. Prep Steps are next and the numerical listing of instructional steps is useful. The instruction, which may include parts such as Engaging Students, Exploring with Students, and Encouraging Students to Draw Conclusions, is written out clearly. As a result a substitute teacher would know exactly what to do and how to teach the lesson from the script. Most of the lessons have data tables, Venn diagrams, and other tools used by real scientists, making learning more authentic.

One of the slight criticisms I have of Perfect Pairs is the lack of a separate and labeled assessment piece at the end of each lesson. Assessments are embedded in the “Encouraging Students to Draw Conclusions” section. Most school districts across America require teachers to evaluate each objective (in this case the “learning goal”) with real, measurable assessments, in order to ensure that the objective was met and learned. Most of the lessons do have learning goals measured by an assessment, but it is not a separate, well-defined part of each lesson. This is not a huge criticism, although it requires work to locate each lesson assessment or measurement. individual teachers can work with this in terms of their school’s lesson plan requirements.

Perfect Pairs: Using Fiction & Nonfiction Picture Books to Teach Life Science, K-2 is a well-written, welcome addition to the elementary teacher’s tool kit. Stewart and Chesley have done a good job ensuring content is appropriate and that the lessons meet the requirements for standards. It is important that students become scientifically literate and this book helps in that regard. There could be a clearer connection between objective and assessment, but overall, Perfect Pairs is a wonderful way to engage young children in high-quality science lessons, and to give elementary school teachers a tool to help them feel more self-confident as well as enable them to enjoy and look forward to teaching science.


Bybee, R. W., Taylor, J. A., Gardner, A., Van Scotter, P., Carlson Powell, J., Westbrook, A., & Landes, N. (2006). The BSCS 5E instructional model: Origins, Effectiveness and applications. Colorado Spring, CO: Biological Sciences Curriculum Study. Retrieved from


Bloom, B. S. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: Vol. 1. Cognitive domain. New York, NY: McKay.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: October 23, 2015
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 18204, Date Accessed: 1/26/2022 11:57:53 AM

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About the Author
  • Clair Berube
    Hampton University
    E-mail Author
    CLAIR T. BERUBE, PhD, Associate Professor of Education and Science Education, Hampton University is the author of several books and articles on STEM education. Dr. Berube teaches science methods to future elementary and secondary teachers. Some recent publications include the book "STEM and the City: the state of STEM education in the Great American Urban Public School System", Information Age Publishers, 2014, and "The X Factor; Personality Traits of Exceptional Science Teachers", Information Age Publishers, 2010.
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