Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ Sky views

The trees that frame our piece of the sky are changing with the seasons.
Look up!
What do you see now that is different from a couple weeks ago?
Find a tree that helps frame a piece of the sky and visit it over the summer. Notice what changes as we move from spring to summer to fall.
Take along your journal or camera to capture colors, clouds, flowers, leaves, insects, birds....

Friday, May 18, 2018

Eating Bugs with Rebecca Petruck

Boy Bites Bug 
By Rebecca Petruck
272 pages; ages 8 and up
Amulet Books, 2018

I love finding STEM-related fiction, especially when it involves insects! Boy Bites Bug is about middle school and growing up, discovering who you are who your friends are. It’s also about wrestling, racism, and respect. And, of course, bugs – some swallowed by accident, some on purpose.

This was the winter of the stinkbug invasion in our house, so I particularly loved the opening lines of the book: The intrusion of stinkbugs clumped on the ceiling in a back corner of the library, a splotch like crusty dried mud. 

Of course one of those bugs ends up in Will’s mouth! But instead of becoming an outcast, he becomes “bug boy”, and kids good-naturedly tease him by making up names for lunch items in the school cafeteria: French flies; maggot-aroni and fleas.

Turns out that people all around the world eat bugs as part of their meals. They’re a great source of protein. So Will decides to do a class project on eating insects, and enlists the aid of Eloy Herrera. Eloy agrees, in exchange for Will’s help with wrestling. As their friendship grows, Will’s friendship with Darryl cools. Darryl had called Eloy a racial slur, and seems jealous of the time Will spends with his new friend. Meanwhile there’s wrestling practices and… where did that box of live crickets come from?

I love that this book has back matter: a guide to eating bugs, and a few recipes. Author Rebecca Petruck even rustled up some grubs to taste test: waxworms in cookies, crickets in tacos, and earthworm jerky. Last week she graciously squeezed time between school visits to answer a few questions. 

Archimedes: This isn't a book about insects, but one about becoming a more thoughtful human. So what made you want to use entomophagy as one of the focal points? 

Rebecca: When I began thinking about a new novel, I actually started with the ideas behind edible insects. It took a while to find the story. It evolved naturally, I think, from the facts of edible insects being significantly healthier for the planet in that they use far fewer resources to raise while producing the same, more, and often better nutrients than “traditional” meats and many other food sources.

Our planet is experiencing climate change of a type not seen in millions of years, when Earth was not a homo sapiens friendly place. But, our country is not friendly to all homo sapiens either. Human rights are for everybody, no exceptions. I don’t recall a conscious moment of thinking, “These two facts go together.” It was that special alchemy of the brain making a connection.

We must respect the planet. We must respect each other. Our physical survival, as well as our emotional integrity depend on it.

Archimedes:  Tell us how you did your entomophagy research: what experts you talked to, field trips, events, publications? 

Rebecca: I immediately read The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook by David George Gordon, Edible by Daniella Martin, and National Geographic’s Ultimate Bug-opedia. All were invaluable in educating me and providing me with all sorts of cool buggy facts to use throughout Boy Bites Bug. 

I made dishes like cricket tacos and waxworm cookies from ingredients that arrived alive. I also sampled a variety of treats from several edible insect online shops. I interviewed leaders in the entomophagy community like Christina Socha of Bugs,Inc, and Stacie Goldin of Entomo Farms, who are making huge moves in the Canadian food market. And I follow an entomophagy group on Facebook with posts by leading chefs and edible insect advocates from around the world.

I think the biggest takeaway for me was how contagious their enthusiasm is. They genuinely love edible insects for their tastiness and feel passionately about insects’ healthfulness for our bodies and our planet. It’s a triple win!

Also, I went to Triton Middle School, where Boy Bites Bug is set. I was a seventh grader for a day, and I attended a wrestling team practice and later a tournament. Because a main character, Eloy Herrera, is Hispanic-American, I hired four Latinx middle school students in Minnesota to read an early draft of the manuscript, received notes from all, and was able to interview two of them. I also became a fangirl of Chef Enrique Olvera and modeled Eloy’s dad after him. (An episode of Netflix’s “Chef’s Table” features Olvera.)

Archimedes: What do waxworms taste like? (I haven't tried them yet)

Rebecca: They taste like soft macadamia nuts. In Boy Bites Bug, I describe the waxworms being overcooked in cookies and making the texture leathery and the worms a bit flavorless. That happened to me, too. Bake small cookies like the recipe recommends, and that problem is solved.

I ordered my waxworms from San Diego Waxworms. They arrived alive in two small containers of sawdust. That entire scene in Boy Bites Bug is pretty much a recreation of my experience.

Archimedes: I would feel bad about eating bee larvae. Are there any bugs you wouldn't eat?

Rebecca: I haven’t eaten bees because of the collapse of so many bee colonies, though there is a delicious-seeming recipe in Gordon’s cookbook called “Three BeeSalad.” I want to note that the first edition was printed in 1998, and the dramatic increase of colony collapse spiked in 2006. Responsible insect foraging and farming is as important to any entomophagist as the safe preparation and eating of insects.

As far as eating bugs, I’m game to try anything once. But I haven’t gone out of my way to track down dung beetles or cockroaches, both of which are edible. And I will never again eat earthworm jerky. Blech!

Head over to this page on Rebecca's website for some discount codes for edible insect online shops. You can also read the first five chapters of Boy Bites Bugs.

Thinking that you want to try eating some insects? Then check out this book:

Insects, An Edible Field Guide 
By Stefan Gates
144 pages; Ebury Press, 2018

This book covers more than 70 edible bugs from all over the globe. Part field guide, part cooking guide, it provides what you need to know before diving into dining on insects. It’s divided into sections by continent: northern Europe, southern Europe, Asia, Africa, North and South America, and Australia/Pacific Oceania.

The introduction includes safety issues (don’t eat arthropods if you have a shellfish allergy), and the environmental and nutritional benefits of chowing down on insect protein. While not a cookbook, it does introduce readers to a diversity of insects that you might not have thought edible.

 Today we're joining the STEM Friday roundup. Head over to see what other cool resources STEM bloggers are sharing. Review copies from publishers.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ What the Daffodil sees two weeks later

Last week I posted this photo taken from a daffodil's point of view. The photo was snapped on May first.

In the intervening days, the weather has warmed, rain has fallen, and the daffodil has grown older.

Now what does the daffodil see?

Friday, May 11, 2018

Flying Deep with Michelle Cusolito

Flying Deep
by Michelle Cusolito; illustrated by Nicole Wong
 32 pages; ages 5-9
Charlesbridge, 2018

theme: oceans, exploration, nature

Imagine you're the pilot of Alvin, a deep-sea submersible barely big enough for three.

This book takes you on an adventure down, down, down to investigate a site where underwater volcanoes erupted. Two miles below the surface of the ocean, scientist are studying the living things taking hold near the hydrothermal vents. Getting there is a bit tricky, because you could get trapped in nets - and you only have three days of air - and who would come and rescue you?

What I like love about this book: The adventure of a day in Alvin! The story begins with launch, and divers checking that the submersible is dive-worthy. Then the pilot and scientists go down, down, down. I love the cool creatures that scientists discover in the deep, deep sea! There are ghost crabs, six-foot tall tube worms, and dinner plate-sized clams. I love the language Michelle Cusolito uses to describe fish - an elusive eelpout - and the technology - they toggle the slurp gun into position. Slurp Gun! How can you not love science when you've got a slurp gun? Another thing I love: that illustrations include women as scientists inside Alvin and on the research vessel, reflecting the reality of the Woods Hole crews.

And of course, the back matter - and there is plenty for everyone. Michelle writes about underwater food webs at hydrothermal vents. Too deep for sunlight and photosynthesis, the creatures of the deep depend on bacteria and microbes to convert chemicals vented from inside the earth into food. Those microorganisms are in turn eaten by bigger animals. She also writes about her sources: Don Collasius, a former Alvin pilot, and Bruce Strickrott, a current Alvin pilot. Illustrator Nicole Wong writes about her research to get the illustrations correct - from the technology to how it moves underwater. There are Alvin Facts, a glossary, and a guide to the organisms Alvin scientists have found, along with sources for further exploration.

A conversation with Michelle

Michelle Cusolito met Alvin pilot Don Collasius when she was teaching fourth grade. When he explained how microorganisms around hydrovents converted chemicals to food (chemosynthesis) she was hooked. Then while doing PiBoIdMo in 2014, she jotted down "Alvin". A couple months later she'd typed up a draft that was, she says, riddled with mistakes.

Now it was time to tackle the research. Michelle checked out kid's books to read, visited websites for Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and NOAA, and interviewed Don. As he talked about piloting Alvin, Michelle paid attention to sensory details. "For example, Don couldn't stand up inside because the space was so tiny." She also paid attention to details about safety protocols and how the submersible was prepared for underwater trips.

Then Michelle went to visit Woods Hole. "They have a science center with a portion of one of the old Alvin dashboards," she said. "And models of tube worms and clams." She read interviews with pilots, met Bruce Strickrott, a current pilot, and even got to go inside Alvin when it returned home for maintenance. "Bruce turned things on, like oxygen, so I could hear the noises that the pilot and scientists would hear. And he showed me how the joysticks controlled Alvin's collecting arm."

After revisions, she verified things with Bruce, such as the language that pilots and divers use during launch. Michelle encourages nonfiction writers to talk to experts. "Most of the time they want to talk to you," she said. "They are passionate about their work. As for Bruce, he also wanted to make sure that both the text and illustrations are accurate." Experts are especially helpful when writing about a complex topic for children.

I usually don't review books prior to their launch date, but Michelle has a special give-away opportunity for people who pre-order a copy of Flying Deep through her local bookstore, Eight Cousins. They will randomly select 5 pre-order customers to receive a crushed Styrofoam cup that went to the seafloor on Alvin. You can find out more about how pressures at the deep crush cups, and more about Michelle at her website. 

Beyond the Book

Go on a video voyage with Alvin. Click here for a video by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Learn more at this page.

Check out pompeii worms in this video.

Explore hydrothermal vents near the Galapagos Island in this video.

Design an underwater vehicle for exploring. What would you include? Baskets for gathering samples? Long arms that you could control with a joystick?  

Today we're joining the STEM Friday roundup - and we're also joining others over at Perfect Picture Book Friday, an event in which bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. She keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. Review copy from publisher.