Friday, August 12, 2022

Mole and Vole are Friends

Expedition Backyard: Exploring Nature from Country to City (A Graphic Novel) 
by Rosemary Mosco; illustrated by Binglin Hu
128 pages; ages 5-9
‎Random House Graphic, 2022

Mole and Vole are friends, much in the way the Skunk and Badger are friends. Or Frog and Toad. They each have their cozy home and they go off on adventures together.

Vole’s attitude toward adventuring is … well, let’s hear Vole explain: “We could swim across a stream full of hungry fish…. We could climb the tallest tree in the forest and sway with the wind!”

Mole is the sort who carries along a sketchbook and prefers an adventure on the tamer side. “What if we went looking for a Swamp Milkweed flower?” Mole would love to draw one!

So Mole grabs their leaf-bound sketchbook, and the two friends set off. In five chapters, Mole and Vole share adventures in the forest near their homes, inside a house, and in the city… a place they didn’t intend to explore, but ended up there by accident. 

What I love about this book: Each page is divided into a few large panels, making it easy to follow the story. Some pages present a single illustration, such as a page from Mole’s sketchbook, and each chapter includes a spread that shows a birds-eye view of their adventure for the day. In the city park, we can follow their route around the trees, see the birds they meet, and even “hear” their calls – via the magic of speech bubbles.

I like that no matter where they are, they find nature to explore. They even go on a night adventure, and meet a whole new cast of friends. 

And of course, I love that there is back matter! In this case, it’s hands-on activities, including how to draw Mole and Vole, keeping a nature journal, getting involved in a community garden, and more.

Beyond the Books:

Make a simple nature sketchbook. All you need is paper, cardstock for the cover, a twig (in a pinch a pencil will do), a thick rubber band, and a hole punch. Here's how to do it.

Try your hand at creating your own graphic nature story. Learn how to make a 4-panel comic here. And you can find printable comic sheets here and here

Rosemary Mosco writes and illustrates the bird and moon science and nature cartoons. Her recent picture books are Flowers Are Pretty Weird! (reviewed here) and Butterflies are Pretty Gross! (reviewed here)

Thanks for dropping by today. On Monday we'll be hanging out at Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with other  bloggers. It's over at Greg Pattridge's blog, Always in the Middle, so hop over to see what other people are reading. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Explore Outdoors ~ Textures


There are so many things to see on trees: leaves, insects, bark, and lichens! The thing I like about lichens - aside from the fact that they are funky fungi - is the diversity of textures. You can touch them gently and feel that some are bumpy and crusty, some are bristly, and some are smooth and leafy.

This week take a closer peek at the trees in your neighborhood. Do they have lichens growing on their bark? If so:

  • What kinds of lichens do you see? Write notes or draw them in your nature notebook.
  • What colors are the lichens?
  • How would you describe their texture?
  • Are there two (or more) kinds growing together?
  • Take a closer look with a hand lens or magnifying glass.
  • What do you suppose ants think about as they walk through a lichen patch?

Monday, August 8, 2022

For the Love of Snails ~ by Marla Coppolino

I've had more slugs in my garden this year than ever. So when I found a slug hanging out atop a dandelion after a rain, I asked Marla (a snail expert) whether it was nibbling the flowers or trying to keep its foot dry. One question led to another and finally I asked if she'd maybe just write a little bit about snails for this blog. I'm so happy she did.
Peer down into a patch of weeds, under a decaying log, or sift through some topsoil, and you might have the chance to meet the often-misunderstood underdogs of the animal kingdom: the land snails.

Why snails, and what exactly are these squishy, slimy creatures, you ask? As a malacologist specializing in land snails and an artist who likes to draw them, I’m happy to tell you. 

I first discovered snails as a young child. I remember turning over the stones in my backyard, where I discovered the universe of tiny snails that lived beneath them. I was intrigued that they led a seemingly mysterious life and had a beautifully coiled shell. I had to learn more, and so began my lifelong quest.

Slugs are snails too, except that they evolved to not need a shell, or some have a drastically reduced bit of shell under the skin behind the head. So when I refer to snails, I really mean snails and slugs.

by Marla Coppolino
In their hidden lives, native snails do lots of unseen good for the ecosystem. First, they act as clean-up crews, making meals out of leftovers like old, rotted mushrooms, dead plants, and even dead animals. You’re more likely to find them if you do a careful search in their natural habitats, like meadows, undisturbed woodlands, and limestone outcrops, where they glean vital nutrients from these materials, like calcium and magnesium. 

In turn, snails and slugs become food for many other animals of the food web. Firefly larvae feast upon them, salamanders snack on them, even some mammals – like chipmunks and squirrels – munch them. For many birds, snails are an essential source of nutrients important for laying viable eggs.

Some snails and slugs can be real garden pests, but you’re unlikely to find the native snails in your vegetable garden. Snails that have been introduced from other lands are the ones with large appetites, doing much damage to your Swiss chard, cucumbers, strawberries, and other veggies and fruits under the dark cover of night. As much as I like to help others learn about the benefits of native snails in the ecosystem, so many questions come my way about how to get rid of garden pest snails. I’m not the expert here, but I can share one trick: I pick the little buggers off my veggies by hand every morning and drop them off at least 100 feet from the garden. Labor intensive, yes, but there’s minimal damage to my garden.

Why do I like to look for, talk about, write about and draw snails so much? Maybe it’s because they need someone to be their megaphone. Spending time with snails reminds me to slow down in life, in a good way, to stop, ask questions, and stay curious. I hope these amazing animals can do the same for both my children and adult audiences. 

Marla develops online courses at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, mostly to help people learn about birds, how to be stewards of nature, as well as fun things like drawing and painting birds. She enjoys researching and pulling together scientific information in a way that's broadly understandable and fun to learn. Marla also drew the illustrations for The Sound of the Sea, by Cynthia Barnett (W.W. Norton & Co. 2021). You can find out more about her art at her website,