Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Explore Outdoors ~ Colors of the Season

 Last week I was out walking and the bright splash of red against green caught my eye.

 Right now the greens are bright, the leaves crisp, the berries shiny. But soon - maybe by next week - they'll be covered by a blanket of snow, or exposed to icy winds. By spring, they'll be mouse-nibbled and winter-weary.

What plants sport reds and greens in your neighborhood?

Monday, December 5, 2022

Geology in Action at Fagradalsfjall volcano, Iceland by Leslie Barnard Booth

Most of my ideas for picture books are inspired by questions my children ask. My debut nonfiction picture book, A Stone Is a Story, was inspired by a question my older daughter, then age 7, asked one evening at dinner.

“Where do rocks come from?” 

On its face, this question might seem simple, but it’s not! It led to a fascinating dinnertime conversation about Earth’s formation and structure, the rock cycle, and deep time. In fact, Earth’s rocks have always been here. They have been here since Earth formed. But they don’t stay the same. They are continually transforming. They melt, harden, break apart, and recombine as they move through the rock cycle. 

That’s why it was so wonderful, when, in 2021, I got to see rock transform right before my eyes. 

Summer in Iceland

USGS, public domain
That summer, my family traveled to Iceland for my husband’s work. For 3 months, we lived in a small cabin on a wind-whipped hill along a fjord in northern Iceland. During our stay, we learned that the nearby Fagradalsfjall volcano was erupting – and that it was possible to hike to a nearby ridge to see it in action. 

Known for its geothermal pools and bathing culture, Iceland is one of the most volcanically active places in the world. Iceland sits along a seam in Earth’s crust where two tectonic plates meet. These two plates, the Eurasian Plate and the North American plate, are slowly drifting apart, causing magma to well up between them. This magma sometimes erupts at the surface as lava. We decided that before we made the journey home, we had to see this geological phenomenon firsthand.


To view the Fagradalsfjall volcano, we drove several hours to the Reykjanes Peninsula. We parked in a roped-off field among many other vehicles. People from all over the world had come to Iceland to see this natural spectacle, and many different languages swirled around us as we walked toward the stark, treeless mountains looming ahead. Together we marched, locals and tourists, young and old, up a ridge marked with stakes by Icelandic authorities. 

photo of Leslie's older daughter standing at the edge of the Fagradalsfjall lava flow. 
photo by Leslie Barnard Booth

We finally came to a fresh lava flow made up of still-steaming black rock, and we thought we must be close! But after several hours of hiking, we still hadn’t glimpsed the volcano. My daughters were getting tired. The mist had thickened around us. We were damp and cold. We kept hiking up, only to hike down, and then straight up again. We started to wonder if the volcano would even be visible today. Maybe it wouldn’t. Maybe the sky wasn’t clear enough. Maybe this whole torturous trek was in vain!

So we sat. And ate lots of Nutella. My younger daughter seemed to perk up. “Let’s go a little farther,” she said. “To where those people are sitting.” She pointed to some people on a ridge in the distance.

A Rock Is Born

Once again, we hiked down, then up again, toward that distant ridge. That’s when we heard the roar of the volcano, and saw its fiery light flashing through the mist.

Fagradalsfjall volcano. photo by Berserkur/Wikimedia Commons

We made it to the place my younger daughter had pointed out. We sat among people from all over the world, and watched as bright orange lava fountained into the air and poured downslope, scabbing black as it snaked into the valley, where it pooled and steamed and hardened, turning to rock.

As we made our way back down the ridge, my older daughter picked up a rock at the edge of the lava flow. Very recently, this rock had been a liquid. It had been magma flowing deep belowground, then lava surging into the air, and now it was a hard gray fragment she could hold and admire. And just like that, she held in her hand the answer to her question.

Photo Credit: Kristal Passy Photography

Leslie Barnard Booth is a member of STEAM Team 2023. Her book, A Stone Is a Story will hit bookstore shelves next summer.  You can learn more about her book – and find educational resources on the rock cycle and geology – at her website,

Friday, December 2, 2022

Crunch! Slurp! Yummy Bugs!

Bugs for Breakfast: How Eating Insects Could Help Save the Planet 
by Mary Boone 
208 pages; ages 9 and up
Chicago Review Press, 2021

Mary Boone got interested in breakfasting on bugs back in 2013, when the United Nations issued its report about using insect protein to feed the world’s growing population. Then, while traveling to Vietnam and Cambodia, she had the opportunity to snack on fried grasshoppers at a local market. She was hooked, and wanted to learn more… and just about a year ago her book Bugs for Breakfast hit bookstore shelves. Somehow, my copy burrowed down into the hidden depths of my book basket… 

Here's what I like about this book:

1. Mary introduces the topic of entomophagy (eating insects) in a way that makes sense for kids who might be interested in trying out some cricket snacks – and for those who want to know why moving from conventional animal protein to insect protein makes environmental sense. She writes in a conversational way, tossing in the occasional joke (watch out for cricket legs caught in your teeth!) and points out that many people around the world incorporate insects – from mopane worms to cicadas to beetles – into their daily meals.

2. One chapter compares insect farming to conventional livestock farming. For example, the amount of land (space) and time required to produce 490 pounds of beef could be used to produce 1.3 million pounds of edible insect protein. Cattle require a lot more water to convert grass to meat than crickets do – and cows produce tons more methane than insects. Lest you wonder, yes, insects fart.

3. You’ll find nutritional information and recipes, along with the assurance that you’re already eating bugs. Yep, the USDA allows a certain amount of “bug parts” in food. Not only that, some foods rely on insect by-products – like the bug shellac used to make shiny chocolate coatings on certain candies.

4. There’s a whole chapter devoted to answering the question of whether incorporating insects into your diet can help save the world. The short answer: yes. And there’s a hands-on guide for how to raise your own crickets.

I had One Question for Mary ~

Me: How have you incorporated entomophagy into your diet? And do you think it has made a difference in your corner of the world?

Mary: I'm a big fan of cricket powder -- much more so than whole insects. I use it in smoothies and I sub it for some of the flour when I make cookies or banana bread. Do I use it all the time? No. It's expensive. Right now, most cricket farms are really small and labor intensive. When we get to a point where farms can scale up and they're able to automate some of the production, I think prices will come down and cricket protein will become more appealing to more people. Is what I'm doing making a difference? I think so. Every time I share a cricket-powder cookie or chips or bread with someone, I like to think I'm getting them to consider their own diets and opening their eyes to the whole issue of farming and sustainability. It's baby steps, but that's how most movements begin.

Mary Boone has written more than 60 nonfiction books for young readers. You can find out more about her, and download a teacher’s guide, at her website 

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.