Different categories of children picture books which have a scientific idea

We are looking at children picture story books which have a scientific idea. We identify different categories of such :

– Firstly book such as the Fish is fish by  Leo Lionni (1974) which is a attractively illustrated book based on everyday science. The reader in order to understand the significance of the story (why the fish can’t breathe of land?  for example) requires a level of biological knowledge.  It’s not written with the aim to inform primarily about the inherent biology but to enjoy an illustrated story. We call these type of stories ‘realistic fiction’ (Bruguiere & Triquet, 2014)

– Secondly, there are illustrated storybooks which are written with the aim of informing the readers about a science phenomena through a readable narrative such Frog in the house (Mather & Mirocha, 2011). There is a list of such books on the website: www.15degreelab.com

– Thirdly, books written to inform about science facts such Platypus (Withing & Jackson, M, 2015) with two levels of text: one a readable narrative and the other one an informative text,


– Fourthly, a book for informing the reader without a narrative and the illustrations are accurate representations (photographs or observation drawings) such as the book of bees (Socha & Grajkowski, 2016)


The each genre of these book requires a different pedagogical approach, we need explore.

Bruguière, C., & Triquet, E. (2014). ‘Realistic-Fiction Storybooks’ as a Resource for Problematic Questioning of Living Being with Pupils in Primary School. In Topics and trends in current science education. 9th ESERA Conference Selected Contributions. Contributions from Science Education Research, eds. Bruguiere, C,  Tiberghien, A and Clément, P. Ch. 7 (Part 5) pp.505-518. New-York: Springer.
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‘Pond’ in some fictional pictures books

In this section, we are getting to show how certain words describing the natural world are used in children’s literature: In which terms do the authors talk about them? Which pictures do the illustrators use to depict them?  To what extend these words offer potentialities to imagine story introducing biological concepts?  The first word we choose is ‘pond’

 Pond: ‘an area of water smaller than a lake, often artificially made: a duck pond’ (Cambridge Dictionary)

 Why do we start with the word ‘pond’?

My first surprise in London was to find there are so many ponds.  It is a real pleasure to walk around ponds right in the heart of London, in parks or in gardens. Sometimes you can see people swimming in there.  Many schools have also created artificial pounds in their schoolyard.   Are these ponds a testimony of the past when there were no water pipes and taps and so ponds were dug for the animals to drink from?  In fact some policemen are still riding horses in London …These ponds offer peaceful area where you can observe a rich community of organisms throughout the changes of the seasons. img_2457 Continue reading

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Scientific activities with Fish is fish

We propose here  two activities adapted to children (6-8 years old)

 The first activity focused on the topic of species/class membership

After reading the 16 first pages of Fish is Fish (without showing the illustration of the cover and the illustration of pages 16 and 17) the children are invited to adopt the point of view of the fish.

This activity is based on the double page (p.18) when the frog describes to the minnow the cow (p.9). The illustration is concealed.

Each child draws how they think the fish imagines the cow according to what the frog tells him. The frog description is: “Cows,” said the frog. “Cows! they have four legs, horns, eat grass, and carry pink bags of milk.”

The drawings are shown to the children and  content of the drawings compared by asking the children their opinions.

Notice the questions below are examples of possible ones you could use It’s up to you to choose the order of the questions. It depends of the context, the pupils, for example do they live in inner city areas or in the country?…

  • Have you ever seen a real cow? A picture? A film?
  • Which bits on your drawing belong to a cow (write dawn)
  • What have you put on your drawing that don’t tell frog?
  • Did you show “eat grass”? If not, why not?
  • Did you draw the “carry pink bags of milk”? If not, why not?
  • What another things have you shown?
  • Can you show me each one?*How many horns, udders (bags), teats, tails are shown on your drawings?
  •  What things tell you it’s a cow?
  •  So what does an animal need to have to be called a cow?
  •  Does a cow need black spots? If yes, why? If not, why not?


The author’s illustration in the book is shown and discussed: what do you thing about this illustration? Why the fish imagines such a cow? How can you imagine something unknown?.. Imagine you arrive in… an you meet..

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Ornicar, the platypus…


We gave our first joint presentation at the 2015 European Science Education Research Association  (ESERA) Conference in Helsinki.

We are exploring in this research the issue of the problematic tensions which exist between inclusion and exclusion, and the criteria of classification.

The French current curriculum recommends that the model of phylogenetic classification is used at every level of schooling. At primary schools in France classification is presented as interpretation of similarities and differences. The idea is to enable the pupils to identify the characteristics of living beings which form groups which share the same characteristics, thus laying the foundation for later learning of classification.

Our work associates the learning of classification with a questioning on the relevance of the criteria chosen. This particular research aimed at identifying how pupils understand the animal classification, used the storybook Mais où est donc Ornicar ?[1], to explore what is the knowledge in terms of group and criteria of the pupils and their reasoning in terms of inclusion and exclusion. The feature of this book is to introduce a “strange” animal, Ornicar, the Platypus to the children.

The pupils in this research were from three classes (10-11 years old). They worked with teachers who are committed in the French research group. We observed how the children responded to the story’s problem with which the characters in it are confronted: what group can Ornicar belong to, mammals or birds.

The data are made of 21 narratives produced by the pupils who have to imagine in the form of a text what the Platypus says to other animals.

The results show which criteria are used by pupils to classify the Platypus. The 9 narratives which consider a group of classification on the basis of a single criterion, concentrate the most numerous comments of inclusion and exclusion. These narratives which develop possible solutions for the inclusion of the Platypus in school work as exploratory tools to assist pupils in working out the concept of inclusion and exclusion, which characteristics are relevant to each grouping.

Bruguière, C., Charles, F & Tunnicliffe S.D. (2015). Classifying in primary school : is it excluded ? The case of the platypus. pp. 2709-2715. In J. Lavonen, K. Juuti,J. Lampiselka, A. Uitto et K. Hahl (Eds.), Science Education Research : engaging learners for a sustainable futue, ebook- ESERA 2015, Part 16 (co-ed. P. Kariotoglou & T. Russell, Science in the primary school), Helsinki, Finland.

[1] Glasauer, G. & Glasauer, W. (2002). Mais où est donc Ornicar ? Paris : L’École des Loisirs.





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What is ‘realistic fiction’ storybook?

We consider (Bruguiere & Triquet, 2012 ; 2014) that a ‘realistic fiction’ storybook :

  • Presents a significant relationship between the text and the image.
  • Refers to the reality not as an illustrative framework, but as a way to supply the scenario of the events of the plot.
  • Proves a fictional narrative both released from some constraints of the real world and inserted in the reality, with its own rules and logic.

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The purpose of this blog

fish is fish

A tadpole and a minnow are underwater friends, but the tadpole grows legs and explores the world beyond the pond and then returns to tell his fish friend about new creatures he sees…

Welcome to the Scientific Literacy blog which is the work of two researchers, Sue Dale Tunnicliffe and Catherine Bruguiere.  The purpose of this blog is:

  • to share stories with a scientific focus from different countries which allow children to interpret their everyday world.  For example: why the tadpole and the young minnow live in the same pound while as adult they stay in different environments? (in the book Fish is Fish, Leo Lionni 1981);
  • to propose science learning situations through using a story with the young children (from pre-school to about 8 years old) that can lead children to talk about the science that is everyday (or in action). These stories can  utilise children’s imagination and curiosity and can initiate a critical thinking as well as their observation and communication skills;
  • to develop an emergent scientific literacy based on everyday science in children’s stories;
  • to share our research work with other researchers in the field.
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What is scientific literacy?

In this post, we hope to define scientific literacy for you.  We begin with the following quotes from Jerome Bruner’s The Culture of Education (1997) to explain the importance of narrative form and interpretation.

It seems evident, then, that skill in narrative construction and narrative understanding is crucial to constructing our lives and a “place” for ourselves in the possible world we will encounter ( p. 40).

Our explanation will not exhaust the interpretive possibilities (p. 113).

Getting to know something is an adventure in how to account for a great many things that you encounter in as simple and elegant a way as possible (p. 115).

We forget at our peril that the great advances in Eastern Europe were led not so much by mathematicians and scientists (although they were there too) but by playwrights, poets, philosophers, and even music teachers (p. 117).

It is very likely the case that the most natural and the earliest way in which we organize our experience and our knowledge is in terms of the narrative form (p. 121).


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