Friday, November 27, 2015

A Trio of Animal Books for Early Readers

National Geographic Children's Books has a series of leveled readers for curious kids at every reading level. Here's a sample of three of their books about animals published this year.

Hoot, Owl!
by Shelby Alinsky
24 pages, ages 2-5
 level: pre-reader

Instead of a table of contents, the first page has a "vocabulary tree". In this case the list begins: animals. Under that: Snowy Owls. Then on one side a list with words related to Where they Live (snow, cold) and on the other side, What they Do (swoop, glide).

Easy-to-read text is accompanied by high-quality photographs. The last page in the pre-readers is devoted to an activity: pretending you're the featured animal and moving the way it moves, matching words to photos, drawing...

 Red Pandas
by Laura Marsh
32 pages; ages 4-6
level: 1 (starting to read)

This book opens with a table of contents and a question: Guess Who? Red pandas share the name of "panda" but, we learn, they are not any relation to the black-and-white pandas people are used to seeing.

Readers learn about life in the trees, what red pandas eat, and how they talk with each other. Large font text explains most of the material, with text-boxes for cool facts, new words, and even some panda jokes. There's even a panda centerfold - with Five Fun Facts and adorable photos of red panda babies.

The neat thing about books at this level is the "What in the World?" puzzle at the back: close-up photos with hints like "these are used for climbing." There is a word bank (words kids should be familiar with) and a photo glossary at the back.

Ugly Animals
by Laura Marsh
32 pages; ages 5-8
level 2 (independent readers)

This book is the antithesis of an animal beauty contest. Laura Marsh has rounded up some of the weirdest-looking creatures from air, sea, and land - even space!

There's a table of contents at the front and a photo glossary at the back. In-between are portraits of jumping spiders, tapirs, vultures, and bats. The text is more complex, with longer sentences and new words. There are plenty of text-boxes with cool facts, jokes, and "critter terms", and a centerfold featuring Five Ugly Frogs. At the back there's a quiz.

Kids who want to go beyond the book can become "Super Readers". National Geographic has a special Super Reader site with posters, activities, and games.
Today is STEM Friday. Drop by the STEM Friday blog for book reviews and other STEM resources.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Lichen-looking leaves me liking lichens

Foliose lichens

Lichens are an odd lot. They look sort of greenish and make their own food using sunlight, but they don't have flowers or leaves or roots. So they're not plants. They are a composite of two organisms: fungi and algae. Usually the algae is sandwiched in between layers of the fungi. They have a symbiotic relationship - both organisms benefit. The algae make food, and the fungi provide the structure and help retain moisture.
Fruticose lichen - bushy appearance

You'll find them everywhere - from the highest rocky tops of mountains to the rainiest rainforest. You may have seen crusty lichens clinging to rocks - they are the first colonists and secrete acids that gradually break down the rock surface, helping soil development. But it takes time; lichens grow really really slowly. A fast-growing lichen may add 1/2 inch a year.

Trumpet lichens
 Lichens will grow on just about anything that holds still long enough for it to attach to: tree trunks and branches, gravestones, old farm equipment, wooden picnic tables ... even sand dunes. If the sand is stable for a long enough period of time, a soil crust of lichens can form. That allows other communities of plants to move in and establish themselves over the top.

British Soldier lichen
Lichens do more than help the soil; they provide food for animals and insects, and birds use them in nest-building. People use lichens, too. Some lichens are used in dyes. When mixed with pine sap or urine, or burned to ash, they produce a range of colors from yellow to purple and reds. Some lichens are edible, used as food or to flavor food.

You might find lichens in your bathroom cabinets; lichens are used in toothpaste, salves, perfumes and deodorants. Some lichens produce chemicals that inhibit the growth of neighboring lichens - and scientists have found uses of lichen chemicals in herbicides as well as medical applications.

So what's not to like about lichens?
Today is STEM Friday. Drop by the STEM Friday blog for book reviews and other STEM resources.