Autumn and harvest time go hand-in-hand with independent reading time. My first BookPage blog post of this school year provided an introduction to STEM, STEAM and STREAM for parents. (Read it here.) Now I want to suggest two novels that parents and children can enjoy together, and which offer wonderful connections for math and science for third- through sixth-grade readers.

In 2010, Aaron R. Hawkins, a professor of electrical engineering at Brigham Young University, published his debut novel for children, The Year Money Grew on Trees. Hawkins said he was inspired by his own memories of growing up in New Mexico and working on his family’s orchard. I’ve been recommending this delightful title as a read-aloud to parents, librarians and teachers ever since I reviewed it for BookPage five years ago.

The Year Money Grew on TreesThe year is 1983. Jackson Jones, the book’s 13-year-old hero, has the chance to obtain an apple orchard—but only if he can earn $8,000 from the crop. Jackson convinces his sisters and cousins to help. The book’s humor—and magic—is in watching Jackson and his team learn about pruning, irrigating and fertilizing, to say nothing of trying to figure out the economics of their new business. The author has included maps and illustrations of mechanical equipment and irrigation systems, along with mathematical calculations.

The Year Money Grew on Trees is a wonderful book for budding farmers, engineers, businesspeople and just plain lovers of apples. Check out Hawkins’ website for pictures of some of the equipment used here.

Another debut novelist, Jacqueline Kelly, received a Newbery Honor for her first book, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (2009). (A sequel, The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate, has just been released.)

Evolution of Calpurnia TateLike The Year Money Grew on Trees, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is historical fiction—only it’s set a bit earlier, in 1899 Texas. Here, the STEM connections are most strongly related to natural history and botany, for Calpurnia’s grandfather is a devoted follower of Charles Darwin, whose book The Origin of Species was published in 1859.

Each chapter in The Evolution of Calpurnia Tatebegins with a quotation from Darwin. Calpurnia, the only girl among six brothers, dreams of becoming a scientist herself someday, to her parents’ dismay. Calpurnia tries to fulfill her mother’s expectations that she learn domestic arts, but the truth is, she much prefers exploring the natural world with Grandaddy. One of the highlights of the novel is the duo’s discovery of a new species of plant “heretofore unknown.”

This is a wonderful book for young scientists and plant lovers—both girls and boys. It also complements many nonfiction books on botany, Darwin and the natural world available at your library.

This fall, grab an apple (or some warm homemade applesauce), curl up and read!