Friday, May 24, 2024

The Den that Octopus Built

The Den That Octopus Built 
by Randi Sonenshine; illus. by Anne Hunter 
32 pages; ages 4-8
‎Candlewick, 2024

theme: ocean, octopus, homes

This is the ledge of sandstone and lime, 
layered with shells cemented by time, 
that shelters the den that Octopus built.

Octopuses build dens. Not only that, they decorate around the outside – sort of like creating a garden. (Wait… isn’t there a song about that?) This octopus also decorates herself with shells to keep safe from predators, and nurtures her eggs that she keeps safe in her den.

What I like love about this book: I love the way Randi Sonenshine works “cephalopod” into her verse. Because, if kids can toss out long words like brachiosaurus, then cephalopod should be a piece of cake. I also like the way that the end of the book is a new beginning. And I especially like the back matter, where Randi discusses why octopuses is right (not octopi) and tentacles are not. She also talks about octopus suckers, smarts, and their short (not-so-sweet) lives.

I loved this book so much that I just had to reach out and ask Randi a Couple of Questions:

Me: In your author notes you mention that you were inspired by Rita. 

Randi: Yes, I was very fortunate to get an up-close and personal meeting with Rita, the resident Giant Pacific Octopus, at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta.
meet Rita!

Me: What did you learn from her? and how did you learn it (I imagine observation, but...)

Randi: My encounter with Rita allowed me to experience a lot of what I learned in my research through all of my senses. I watched her incredible powers of transformation in action: she went from a pale smooth, pinkish-purple to a highly textured bright rusty-red as she swam up for our visit. Her texture and color became even more pronounced when I was feeding her and she was “feeling me out” for the first time. It's hard to describe what I felt and sensed during that first “handshake,” to be honest. Feeling her suckers, which were smooth and cool, but not clammy, while looking each other in the eye/eyes was mind-blowing! This sounds a bit corny, but otherworldly is the best way I can describe it. There was a definite sense of cognition on an almost-human level, like a mutual acknowledgement and understanding.  I could sense her intelligence, and that's not something I could have learned from all of my reading, watching, and interviewing. 

Randi shaking hands with Rita
Me: What else can you share about your research for this book?

Randi: I learned so much fascinating information in my research, that I begged for another two pages of back matter. Alas, I didn’t win that battle, but I was able to include a section on hard bottom/cold-water reefs and the need for conservation efforts. I became especially interested in this topic when I interviewed Dr. Danny Gleason, a professor and researcher at Georgia Southern University and Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary, (which was the inspiration for the setting and illustrations by Anne Hunter). Cold water reefs aren’t formed from living corals like tropical reefs, but from sediments (sand, mud, and shell-fragments) impacted and cemented over time. That’s what inspired the first lines you quote.

Beyond the Books:

Find out more about octopuses. The best way is to meet one in person at an aquarium, but if you can’t do that, you can check out this video about octopuses.

Make an octopus from a paper plate, or a toilet paper tube. Check out ideas for papercraft octopuses here.

If you were an octopus, what sort of a den would you build? Draw a picture of what your octopus home would look like. I would probably build mine out of pillows and blankets so I could curl up and read a good book!

Randi is a member of #STEAMTeam2024. She’s written other books about animals that build: The Nest That Wren Built  and  The Lodge That Beaver Built. You can find out more about her at her website,

Today we’re joining Perfect Picture Book Friday. It’s a wonderful gathering where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Explore Outdoors ~ a field trip to Sapsucker Woods

 A couple weeks ago we headed up to Sapsucker Woods (Cornell Lab of Ornithology) for a wildflower walk. I can hear you asking: what about the birds? Oh, they were there - noisy and generally high in the trees where we couldn't see them. Meanwhile, the wildflowers were hanging around, close to the trail, showing off their prettiest blossoms and smiling for the camera.

wild geranium 

These are native woodland plants, found in eastern forests in North America. I think the leaves look like hands with fingers spread out.



 White trillium, another woodland native.











Jack-in-the-pulpit (above) and some fern fiddleheads (below)

Sweet woodruff - it looks like it's related to bedstraw, and it is.


a quiet spot to listen to frogs singing....

and then off to see the geese! Oh, look at those cute fluffy babies!

Friday, May 17, 2024

How to Ask a Caterpillar a Question

 One Long Line: Marching Caterpillars and the Scientists Who Followed Them
by Loree Griffin Burns;  illus. by Jamie Green
64 pages; ages 7-11
‎MIT Kids Press, 2024

“This is a story about unusual caterpillars, curious people, and fascinating conversations,” writes Loree Griffin Burns. The caterpillars are pine processionaries. The caterpillar watchers are Jean-Henri Fabre and Terrence Fitzgerald, one working in France, one working in America, their studies separated by nearly a century.

And the conversations … they were with the caterpillars. How does one ask a caterpillar questions, you ask? If you’re Henri you play tricks on them and observe how they respond. Henri noticed that the caterpillars walked head-to-rear. He noticed that they seemed to follow a strand of silk – except for the leader who was tasked with finding the way. What would happen if he took away their leader? Would a caterpillar always follow the one in front of them? And what would happen if he could get them to march in a circle? When Henri died, he thought he’d answered his questions. But…
   … there was more to find out. At the turn of the millennium Terrence Fitzgerald, an entomologist at SUNY Cortlan began asking his own questions of caterpillars. He’d studied other social caterpillars who used pheromones to communicate, and he wondered whether Henri’s pine processionary caterpillars might have used pheromones. Henri was not around to chat with, but he could ask the caterpillars. One question he asked was: if the leader didn’t lay down any silk, would the others still follow? Terrence would have to play some tricks to get the caterpillars to answer – just like Henri did. You can find out more about his research and watch a video here.    
I love how Loree brought Henri and Terrence’s experiments to life. I love how she showed their process of asking questions, testing, and repeating the tests to learn how the caterpillars do what they do. Most of all, I love how she shows that “Science is one long line of learning.” Henri Fabre wasn’t the first naturalist to wonder about – and study – pine processionary caterpillars. Terrence Fitzgerald won’t be the last. Questions about these caterpillars (and other caterpillars) will continue as long as there are curious naturalists.

It’s not just questions about caterpillars either. Scientists are asking millions of questions about whales and space and dinosaurs and trees and fungi. What sorts of things are you wondering about? And how can you answer those questions?  

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.