Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tuesday's View

The squirrels spend their days
rummaging through the leaves on the ground.
Are they looking for hickory nuts?
Or have they forgotten where they buried the acorns?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Celebrating Picture Books: Bag in the Wind

Recycling plastic grocery bags is great – but what happens when a bag falls out of the recycling bin? Find out in this final celebration of picture book month.

Bag in the Wind
By Ted Kooser; illus. by Barry Root
Ages 5 and up
Candlewick Press 2010

“One cold, windy morning early in spring, a bulldozer was pushing a big pile of garbage around a landfill when it uncovered an empty plastic bag.” That’s how poet Ted Kooser starts his story. This perfectly good bag – the color of the skin of a yellow onion, with two holes for handles – is picked up by a puff of wind and blown over the chain-link fence. From there it is blown into the lives of several people: a girl collecting cans; a store owner with a drafty door; a homeless man.

The story comes full circle when Margaret – the can-collector – uses it to carry home her purchases from a consignment shop. Only, she doesn’t recognize it because it looks like every other grocery bag.

Though this story has a lot more words than the usual picture book, the language is lyrical and makes for a good read-aloud. Plus Kooser includes a couple pages at the end about recycling plastic bags. Did you know that if you use reusable cloth bags instead of plastic bags, you could save over 22,000 plastic bags all by yourself? I didn’t.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Going on a Gall Hike...

Fall is a great time to look for galls. You’ll find them on twigs and stems – even on fallen oak leaves and amongst the needles at the tips of spruce boughs.

Galls can be round, like the marble galls on oaks. They can be hard or soft. Galls can look like pineapples or tiny dots.

What kinds of galls do you find in your neighborhood? How big are they? Are they at the tips of stems or in the middle? Are they pointed or fuzzy or spiny or smooth?

Is there anybody home? The gall-maker might be inside, but there might be other insects as well. The oak-apple, made by a tiny gall wasp, has been known to house seventy-five different kinds of insects – including parasites on the gall-making insect!

Collect some galls and place them in a jar with a lid or a terrarium with a top. Something’s sure to come out. If you can’t wait, take a sharp knife and slice the gall open – you might find a larva all snuggled up for a winter’s sleep.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Celebrating Picture Books: Sheila Says We're Weird

Week three of picture book month features a visit to some neighbors that live life a bit differently from what most kids perceive as “the norm”.  

Sheila Says We're Weird
By Ruth Ann Smalley; illus. by Jennifer Emery
Ages 7 - 12
Tilbury House 2011
Sheila’s neighbors don’t toss laundry in the dryer; they hang it on the line. Her neighbors use a push mower, plant a garden and toss used tea bags in the worm bin.

“That’s really, really weird,” Sheila says.

Sheila’s neighbors chop vegetables for soup instead of opening a can. They ride bikes to the library, patch their jeans and rake leaves on top of the garden to protect plants for winter. And it’s all weird, to Sheila. The funny thing is… Sheila never misses an opportunity to pick strawberries from the garden and she never turns down a bowl of hot homemade soup.

By the end of the book Sheila realizes that her neighbors are happy with what they have. And she wants to share! This is a great story to introduce simple things any kid can do to reduce, reuse and recycle. What a great introduction to the concept of “green living”.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Goldenrod Galls

Past the hickory tree, where we haven’t mowed since last year, grows a patch of goldenrod. Each fall it lives up to its name, producing bright golden flowers that keep the bumblebees and honeybees busy on warm days.

Look closely, though, and you notice weird things on my plants. Some of them have swellings on the stem – as though they swallowed a golf ball. A few have bunches of leaves that resemble flowers, tucked near the tops of stems. These are galls – deformities caused by insects.

Gall flies, moths and midges are responsible for the deformities in goldenrod. The adult insect lays its eggs on the plants. When the larvae hatch, they chew their way into the stem, irritating the goldenrod. In response, the goldenrod develops a swelling (ball gall) or the tight flower-like cluster that keeps the stem from growing.

When the weather grows cold, the larvae enter a state of suspended animation (diapause) and remain that way until spring, when they resume chewing a tunnel to the gall where they’ll pupate.

Over winter, though, a lot can happen to a gall. Downy woodpeckers and chickadees, hungry for protein-rich snacks, may poke a hole into the gall and chow down on the sleeping larvae.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Celebrating Picture Books: The Green Mother Goose

We continue celebrating picture book month with a trip to a favorite childhood character – Mother Goose. But this isn’t our grandmother’s goose. This Mama has gone green.

The Green Mother Goose
By Jan Peck and David Davis; illustrated by Carin Berger
Ages 3 – 6
Sterling Publishing, 2011
Everything in this slim green volume has been recycled, from the paper used to create the collage art to the nursery rhymes. Old Mother Hubbard shops with cloth grocery bags, Little Jack Horner changes all the incandescent bulbs to fluorescent and the Old Woman who lived in a Shoe has solar power!

Remember those three mice? Now they…
Search for clothes at the thrift store shops,
 Recycle the treasures at yard sale stops,
Catch water from rain and use all the drops.
Three wise mice!
I love Carin Berger’s illustrations created from found papers, ticket stubs, old newspapers and other recycled stuff. Even the pages of the book contain recycled wood and fibers! The book’s subtitle says it all: “Saving the world one rhyme at a time”.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Counting on Fibonacci

Last week I reviewed Swirl by Swirl, a book about spirals in nature. Continuing on the theme of math patterns in nature ... a long time ago mathematicians noticed that certain numbers show up in nature over and over again. Lilies have three petals. Shadbush and wild roses have five.

The math guys got excited because these numbers belong to a special series called the Fibonacci sequence, and they found them everywhere they looked. Starfish? Five arms. An octopus? Eight. Daisies? Thirteen petals or, in some cases, 21.

The Fibonacci sequence begins like this: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13 …. And there is definitely a pattern.* If you look around, you can find Fibonacci numbers. Cut open a cucumber or tomato and you find three seed cavities. Slice a pear cross-wise and you get that five-armed star shape – each of those arms is where seeds develop. Red pines have pairs of needles while white pines have clusters of five.

Of course, not everything grows in a Fibonacci pattern; mustards have four petals and star flowers have seven.

*(hint: 1 + 1 = 2; 1 + 2 = 3; 2 + 3 = ?)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tuesday's View

Oak leaves are raked. So are the maple and poplar.... 
but those hickory leaves are so stubborn!  
And the beech? Forget about raking beech leaves - 
they'll still be clinging to their twigs come spring.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Celebrating Picture Books: Feeding Friendsies

November is Picture Book Month. I’ll be joining in the celebration each Monday, reviewing fun books that have a science and nature slant. My first book is .....

Feeding Friendsies
By Suzanne Bloom
Ages 2 – 6
Boyds Mills Press 2011

I picked this book for its cover, but mud pie aficionados will pick it for Suzanne Bloom’s playful presentation of fresh-from-the-garden snacks.

“Lolly made a lovely, crunchy lunch from stems and leaves with flowers on top,” writes Bloom. Will she eat it? No – she made it for the butterflies.  A pair of Swallowtails, a Monarch, and a Red Admiral flutter above a salad piled high in a gardener’s straw hat.

Through the pages Lolly and her friends whip up delicacies for hoppy frogs and wiggly worms. When Nana finally calls them to lunch they see a table full of garden delights: carrot sticks, blueberries and blackberries, tomatoes fresh off the vine. Will they eat it? “Oh yes. Oh yes, yes, yes!”

“So what’s your best-ever never-fail mud pie recipe?” I asked Bloom the other day.

Referring to the garden delicacies in her book she answered, “Those are my best recipes for mud pie and dirt dessert. My geologist son, however, has informed me that the correct term is soil, not dirt. But,” she mused, “that just doesn’t have the same ring to it!”

I love Bloom’s books for their reading “fun factor” and Feeding Friendsies is no exception. I also love the way she brings the garden community to life - the butterflies and frogs and chickadees... and Bloom’s watercolors are pure delight.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Friday, November 4, 2011

STEM Friday - Swirl by Swirl

Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature
By Joyce Sidman; illustrations by Beth Krommes
40 pages, ages 4-8
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2011

 “A spiral is a snuggling shape,” writes Joyce Sidman. “It fits neatly in small places.” With that cozy beginning, Sidman and illustrator Beth Krommes launch us into a closer inspection of spirals in the natural world.

Spirals start out small and get bigger “swirl by swirl”. Sidman’s lyrical prose helps us understand how spirals are strong, protective, expansive. Krommes’ scratchboard illustrations capture the details: a tail twining around a twig; the way a chipmunk curls up to sleep overwinter.

From snail shells to galaxies, from the curl of an ocean wave to the twist of wild wind, spirals are everywhere. Sidman includes a couple pages at the end that explain more about the plants and animals featured in the book and shows how nature and numbers combine in spirally patterns.

I asked Sidman why spirals?

“I’ve always been interested in them,” she said, “why they appear and why we find them beautiful.” The trick, though, was to find a way to write about them….  “I wanted this to be more than a book about shapes. I wanted to understand why spirals work well in nature, in so many circumstances.”

So Sidman read and read and read. She also collected lots of photos and did a lot of thinking. Then, once she grasped the reasons for why spirals occur in nature she began organizing her book.

Even though Krommes was doing her own research for the illustrations, Sidman sent photos. The two sent ideas back and forth and the book grew in a collaborative fashion. “It was a lively, challenging, and unusual way to create a picture book,” Sidman said. “Usually the editor is the only link between author and illustrator; I loved being part of the whole process!”

You can’t help but learn something new when you work on a book. Sidman learned a lot about Fibonacci numbers, she said – but don’t ask her to explain them. The neatest thing she learned? “That butterfly tongues form spirals but frog tongues don’t!” 

This is part of the STEM Friday book round-up, hosted at Simply Science. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Tuesday's View

I love the way the clouds sneak up the valley
early in the morning. This is taken after sunrise
when the sky is still trying on colors for the day.