Friday, August 18, 2017

My Awesome Summer

My Awesome Summer,  by P. Mantis
by Paul Meisel
40 pages; ages 4-8
Holiday House, 2017

P. Mantis had a wonderful summer, full of bird-watching, hide-and-seek, fine food, sibling rivalry, and flight lessons. There are a few scary moment, like the time she almost got eaten by a bat, and narrowly escaping spider webs. But for the most part it was a summer to remember.

What I like about this book:
It's fun to read! Written from the point of view of a praying mantis, it's set up as diary entries. For example:
June 2
All the aphids are gone. I'm hungry. Growing so fast! I ate one of my brothers. Okay, maybe two. Fine dining? Or sibling rivalry? Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference. P. Mantis also reveals her most important trick: how to be still and look like a stick. This gets her out of a lot of dicey situations.

I also like love that what would usually go into back matter has been put on the end papers. Small-ish chunks of information about praying mantises and their ecology are accompanied by illustrations. The end pages are where you learn what mantises like to eat, how they use camouflage to hide from predators, flight, and laying eggs. That's where cool websites are and a very tiny glossary.

I like the cover, too. Who can ignore a face like Mantis's? Plus the monarda! Heading out to my garden to see if any of her cousins are hanging out amongst my flowers.

Beyond the Book:

Go on  a Mantis Expedition. Explore flowers and shrubs and tall-grass areas to see if there are any mantids hanging about. Remember to take along something to sketch with, or a camera. Things to observe:
  • how big are the mantids you find?
  • what colors are they?
  • do they fly?
  • watch their behavior for awhile. How do they hunt? 

What do mantids do during a solar eclipse? On Monday there will be an eclipse of the sun. If you live in North America you'll see partial or total eclipse. Check the Wednesday Explorer Club post for more. 

Check out this cool interview with StoryMakers. You'll learn how Paul Meisel met P. Mantis, and how he does his illustrations.

Read this Mantis profile over at National Geographic Kids.

Write about your awesome summer. When I went to school, every fall we had to write a story about what we did that summer. Don't wait. Get a head start ... and if you're feeling particularly creative, write a story from the point of view of an animal who spent the summer nearby. 

Today's review is part of the STEM Friday roundup. Drop by STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources. Review copy provided by publisher.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ Solar Eclipse Science!

photo from NASA - eclipse seen in space

The Solar Eclipse is coming - Monday, August 21 - and if you live anywhere in North America you'll see at least a partial eclipse. A solar eclipse is when the moon passes between the earth and the sun, blocking out part (or in a swath of lucky locations, all) of the sun's light.

We all know - or at least we should know - that looking directly at the sun can damage our eyes. This holds true for solar eclipses, too. So even though the moon will block the sun's light, you can't watch the eclipse by looking at the sun -

 UNLESS you have special eclipse-viewing glasses.

Eclipse viewing glasses have special filters that protect your eyes. Regular sunglasses are NOT adequate. If you don't have a pair of special eclipse viewing glasses, check your local library. Many libraries are providing glasses and holding fun eclipse viewing parties. Find out more about eclipse safety here.

Those of us who grew up in the last century (context: it was only 18 years ago) learned a cool - and cheap - trick for viewing solar eclipses: make a projector. Instead of looking at the sun, you project the sun's image on a sheet of paper (or a white wall) and watch the moon move across the sun's image. The easiest projector to make is a pinhole projector.

How to make a pinhole projector: Find a piece of cardboard in your recycling bin (clean pizza box, cereal box, large postcard, old spiral notebook cover, even a couple paper plates). Then use a thumbtack, nail, or even sharp point of a pencil to poke a small hole through it. With your back to the sun, hold the cardboard over your shoulder and project the image onto a piece of paper on the ground or a white sidewalk.

Eclipse Science: 

What is the best size or shape of hole for a projector? The suggested size for a pinhole is 1mm, with a perfectly round hole. Will larger holes project just as well? Punch or cut a series of holes of different sizes so you can compare them during the eclipse. Which ones provide clear images? Which provide fuzzy images?

Does hole shape matter? What if you cut a triangle or square?

Does distance of your projector from the ground matter? Compare images when you hold projector close to ground, knee distance, waist distance, shoulder distance... attached to the handle of a rake and held high above the ground...

How does the world change during a solar eclipse? Before the eclipse make some notes about the temperature, how the air feels on your skin, what the surrounding environment looks like, what bird and insect sounds you hear. Continue to jot down observations as the eclipse progresses, and especially when it reaches its darkest. 

More projectors: Got a cereal box? You can turn it into an eclipse viewer with a minimal amount of materials and time. Here's how. Or try making an eclipse viewer from a tube. Instructions here. (Experiment: does tube length matter?)

Remember: it's summer, so put on your sunscreen because you can get a sunburn even during an eclipse.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Birds and bugs

So... you may have noticed over the summer that I love bugs. Ants, bumble bees, clear-winged hummingbird moths, beetles of all colors and kinds! And I found a cool field guide perfect for kids who want to learn more about insects.

Ultimate Explorer Field Guide: Insects
By Libby Romero 
160 pages; ages 8-10
 National Geographic Children’s Books, 2017

This is so much more than a field guide. Introductory pages tell where to find insects, how to be safe around insects (avoiding stings, bites, and defensive chemicals), and how to protect insects. Each page introduces an insect, giving its scientific name along with notes about ecology and behavior and photos. There are text boxes noting things to look for, listen to, plus hands-on activities (how to draw a dragonfly), plus plenty of “Insect Inspector” side bars. Every few pages you’ll find an “Insect Report” focusing on specific features: wings, how to tell an insect from a “bug”, and the art of insect deception.

Helpful back matter includes a photographic “Quick ID Guide”, a list of books and apps for discovering more, a glossary, and index. And all of that is in a pocket-sized guide with tough, flexible covers.
Bird Braniacs
by Stacy Tornio and Ken Keffer;  illustrated by Rachel Riordan
104 pages; ages  5 - 13
Cornell Lab Publishing Group, 2016

The subtitle for this book is "activity journal and log book for young birders." It is meant to be written in, drawn in, shared with friends. Part activity book and part birding journal, Bird Brainiacs is the perfect book to tuck in a backpack, or toss in the picnic basket when heading off to the park. There are quizzes, “mad-lib” fill-in-the-blanks, games, nature challenges, personality questionnaires, word scrambles, and bird facts. I love the hands-on science stuff: a do-it-yourself bioblitz, bird count, and nest-watching. There are enough bird-log pages to get you started on a summer’s worth of birding plus some how-to-draw pages for the doodler in us all. I know the age range is for up to 13 years, but heck, this looks like fun for the whole family. 

Drop by the STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources. Review copies from publishers.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ Hummingbird Moths

The other day the teasel were busy with bumble bees. There, hovering with them was something else. It hovered sort of like a hummingbird, but the black and yellow stripes made it look like a huge bumble bee - plus hummingbirds don't have antennae.

It's a hummingbird moth, also called hummingbird hawk moth. Look closely and you can see a tiny tail fanned out beneath it. And if you hold still, you can hear them hum, just like a hummingbird (though a moth has never buzzed me yet). Around here they tend to visit monarda and teasels, and they also like phlox, honeysuckle, and verbena.

Here's a video showing a hummingbird moth collecting nectar

Want to learn more? Check out this article by the US Forest Service, and a wonderful collection of photos here.

As you head out on explorations this week, remember: things are not always what they seem. Slow down, look closer - and take notes.