Friday, July 3, 2015

Fourth of July Science


About a thousand years ago a Chinese monk stuffed gunpowder into a piece of bamboo and tossed it into the fire. He wanted to make a noise loud enough to scare away ghosts.

If you head out to a fireworks display tonight, you'll get more than a big bang. The designs and colors we see in the sky are a result of chemistry. Inside the fireworks are pellets of the sparkly stuff that burns in the sky. The pattern you see in the sky results from how those pellets are placed inside the firework. They may explode outward in shapes that look like fronds of a palm tree or a brittle star. Or they might snake across the sky. You can read more about patterns here.

The colors come from burning different metal salts: barium chloride for green, lithium carbonate for red, copper compounds for blue, and sodium - like the salt you shake onto your potatoes - for yellow. Here's a handy color chart.

Have fun on the fourth, and remember: it may look like a fireworks show but it's Science in the Sky!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Woodpeckers!


Woodpecker Wham!
by April Pulley Sayre; illus. by Steve Jenkins
40 pages; ages 4-8
Henry Holt & Co, 2015

Swoop and land.
Hitch and hop.
Shred a tree stump.
Chop, chop, chop!

I love listening to the woodpeckers in spring, as they drum on the dead trees in the woods around me. I don't like it when they cling to the side of my house and chip away - but those are the little downy woodpeckers and they fly away when I knock on the wall.

So I was especially excited to get a copy of this book to review. I love April Pulley Sayre's lyrical verse combined with Steve Jenkins's awesome cut paper artwork. Sayre shares the details of woodpecker life: communicating by drumming on trees, flaking off bark to find insects hiding in the nooks and crannies, preening, flirting, excavating a nest. We get a good look at woodpeckers up close and personal. Plus, now I know who gets my cherries before I get out there with a basket...

Jenkins populates his illustrations with a diversity of woodpeckers. We meet red-bellied and red-headed woodpeckers, downies and sapsuckers, flickers and pileateds.

I especially love the back matter - and there is plenty of it: six pages filled with info about woodpecker tongues, interesting behaviors, dining etiquette,and nest-building. There's great information about how we can help woodpeckers by making sure they have habitat to live in, and advice about how to find a woodpecker - especially handy for those who don't live in wood houses adjacent to forested landscapes.

Want to learn more about woodpeckers? Check out this quick guide at Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Today's review is part of the STEM Friday roundup. Drop by STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources. Advanced review copy from publisher.