Friday, June 18, 2021

We Came Out of the Blue

Out of the Blue: How Animals Evolved from Prehistoric Seas 
by Elizabeth Shreeve; illus. by Frann Preston-Gannon
32 pages; ages 6-9
Candlewick, 2021

theme: prehistoric life, evolution, STEM

Life began in the vast empty sea, when Earth was young.

From single-celled microbes to dinosaurs and beyond, this book takes readers on a fantastic journey. First stop: the Edicaran period, 546 to 635 million years ago. Back then, the sea was filled with “strange and squishy creatures.” At the end of that period there was an explosion of diversity. Millions of years passed, through another couple periods and then: fish! insects! mollusks! It is the Devonian period (359-419 million years ago).

What I like about this book: It is wonderful storytelling about life, the universe, and extinction after extinction. And yet, some of those early animals survived to populate the land and change. I love the artwork, too.

This Friday is the start of Cephalopod Week, where folks celebrate cuttlefish, octopuses, and squid, so I had to ask Elizabeth One Question: What is your favorite cephalopod?
Elizabeth: Oh, this is a tough choice but I’ve got to say…ammonites! These amazing mollusks emerged over 400 million years ago, made it through the Permian Extinction 252 million years ago when 96% of marine species disappeared (phew!), and exploded into many different sizes and shapes during the Triassic. Ammonites swam backwards using their tentacles for jet propulsion, a seemingly inefficient technique that kept them zooming around for around 350 million years.

In fact, ammonites (ammonoids) are one of the most successful animals of all time. Over 10,000 different species once inhabited Earth’s oceans, and their distinctive shapes provide important index fossils wherever oceans once existed. Some were shaped like ice cream cones or paper clips, but most were spiral. These were the cinnamon buns of the prehistoric seas! Some even had spikes! Ammonites disappeared in the same extinction that wiped out non-avian dinosaurs 66 million years ago. But their fabulous cephalopod relatives live on, including squid, octopuses, and cuttlefish.

Beyond the Books:

Learn more about the geologic time scale here.  

Check out Elizabeth’s video introducing Out of the Blue and why she wrote it here. She’s made a series of videos about different creatures, from ancient to modern times. You can learn about the many creatures featured in her book at her collection of videos.

Learn more about cephalopods over at the Science Friday website. There are links to virtual tours and even a movie night - all happening over the next few days.

Elizabeth is a member of #STEAMTeam2021. You can find out more about her at her website.

Today we're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday, an event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Explore Outdoors ~ Shagbark hickory flowers


For a short time in the spring (late May through early June) it looks like someone has decorated the twigs of our hickory tree with green tinsel. These are the flowers on our shagbark hickory tree. For all the years I've watched our tree, I haven't paid much attention to the flowers. And yet I know they're there because every fall we've got hickory nuts. Turns out that shagbark hickories are monoecious - that means they have male flowers (the long catkins) and female flowers (tiny flowers at end of the twig). They depend on the wind for pollination.

You know what else is monoecious? Cucumbers, summer squash, melons, and pumpkin plants. If you grow any of those, take a look at their flowers this summer and see if you can tell which ones are the female flowers and which ones are the male flowers. 

Friday, June 11, 2021

There is Stuff Between the Stars!

Have you ever looked at the night sky and wondered what's between those stars? You aren't the only one.

theme: space, women in science, STEM

The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe 
by Sandra Nickel, illus. by Aimée Sicuro 
48 pages; ages 6-9
Harry N. Abrams, 2021

Vera always liked looking at the night sky.

She loved watching how the stars move, and started studying maps of the night sky. She even built her own telescope, using a lens and a cardboard tube. When she went to college, she wanted to learn more about the universe – but young women weren’t welcomed into the world of astronomy. That didn’t stop her from learning about the stars, and it didn’t stop her from studying on her own.

What I like about this book: Vera is persistent. We see her ask questions: do galaxies rotate around the center of the universe like the constellations circle the North Star? How do stars at the edge of the galaxy move? And could she create a women’s bathroom at the observatory where she worked simply by taping a skirt to the figure on the door? Over time, the male astronomers begin to accept Vera’s idea that dark matter stretched between the stars.

Also – there is Back Matter! The author’s note contains more info about Vera Rubin and how galaxies move. There’s a timeline of Vera’s life and a selected bibliography for curious young astronomers who want to learn more.

Beyond the Book:

Observe the night sky.
What do you notice? How does it change from one month to the next, from early night to late night? Do the constellations rotate around the North Star?

Learn more about Dark Matter over at NASA’s Space Place.

Sandra Nickel is a member of #STEAMTeam2021. You can find out more about her at her website.
Today we're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday, an event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's websiteReview copy provided by Blue Slip Media.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Explore Outdoors ~ Mayapples


One corner of my yard lies under dappled shade of maples and cottonwoods. A colony of mayapples lives there, and has thrived (and even grown) over the years. Mayapples are native to our area, so I am always delighted to see them bloom and grow.

In early spring, the leaves push up, like folded umbrellas. Then they open, two large, deeply lobed, leaves per stem. Eventually a white flower blooms - tucked in the axil of the leaves. Its petals look waxy, accented by the yellow stamens. The best way to get a good look is to lay on your tummy - or be a very small animal. Eventually they produce a small lemon-shaped fruit - a tasty treat for box turtles and other wildlife.

This week, keep your eyes peeled for:
  • white flowers
  • hidden flowers
  • plants with umbrella-leaves
  • flowers with lots of stamens