Friday, April 27, 2012

Earth Month Book - Waiting for Ice

Waiting for Ice
By Sandra Markle; illustrated by Alan Marks
32 pages, for ages 5 – 9
Charlesbridge 2012

What if you went for a swim and when you came out of the water you couldn’t find your mother? That’s what happens to the young polar bear in Waiting for Ice, a true story about an orphaned cub who, despite the odds, survived on her own.

The young cub is trapped on Wrangle Island, with hundreds of other polar bears, waiting for the Arctic ice to come back. But the weather has been warmer than usual, and the ice is nowhere to be seen. The bears, who would normally be hunting from the ice floes, are running out of food and without a mother to hunt for her, the cub needs to learn how to get her own food.

Most orphaned cubs die of starvation, but this is one scrappy cub. She fights over fish, steals a mouthful of food when she can, and isn’t too proud to beg. She stubbornly fights to live, earning the name “Tuff” bestowed upon her by the scientists studying the island bears.

The book ends when the ice comes in, but the story continues. In an author’s note Sandra Markle explains that Tuff survives, returning to the island the following spring. She also writes about the impact of global warming on polar bears.

“I’ve always been fascinated by polar bears,” says Markle. (This is her fourth book on bears.) She ran across Dr. Nikita Ovsyanikov, the Wrangle Island polar bear scientist, while researching another book. “He told me about “Tuff” and her story stuck in my mind…and I was looking for a way to connect global warming and polar bear behavior.”

Like her other books, Waiting for Ice is grounded in research. Markle interviewed scientists, watched polar bears and read lots of studies. Accuracy is important, she says. At the same time it’s important for the story to be exciting for kids.

“We (writers) have to give kids a way to stand on the shoulders of the scientists so they can see farther,” says Markle. Having taught science, she knows that sharing information is only half the job of a writer. Or teacher. The other half is to help children understand that there is more to learn, and they can be the scientists of the future.

Markle tries to visit the places she writes about – she’s been to Antarctica three times, she says. But not Wrangle Island. So she learned some surprising things in talking with Dr. Ovsyanikov. “I didn’t know how the polar bears behaved when they were trapped,” says Markle. “Not being able to hunt from ice floes changes their behavior, as does the competition for food.”

You can read more about how Sandra Markle came to write Waiting for Ice here. And you can watch a video about the polar bears of Wrangle Island here.

Review copy provided by the publisher. Today’s post is part of STEM Friday –  a weekly round-up of children’s science, engineering, math and technology resources – and Nonfiction Monday

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

One Thing Wednesday - Plant a Tree

This Friday is Arbor Day, a day when schools, communities and homeowners plant trees to help make the world a better place. Trees help slow climate change by removing carbon dioxide from the air. A single tree can absorb a ton (2000  pounds) of carbon dioxide over its lifetime.

Trees help cool the planet in other ways, too. Neighborhoods with trees that shade streets and sidewalks can be 6 to 10 degrees cooler than neighborhoods without trees. That means people don’t need to use energy to run air conditioners. And shaded parking lots keep automobiles cooler, reducing emissions from fuel tanks and engines. Trees also block cold winter winds, attract birds and wildlife, purify our air, prevent soil erosion, clean our water, and add beauty to our homes and communities.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Red-tailed Hawk mama feeds chick

After a morning of snow and rain, the Red-tailed hawk mama fed her first chick. Thanks to Cornell for posting this awesome video.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Earth Day Birthday?

Update 04/23 @ 8 pm: First chick's baby photo snapped at around 3 this afternoon - see here.
One still pipping; one still in the egg. This is better than telly.

Update 04/23 @ 9 am: late yesterday we could see inside one of the eggs where a chick had chipped away a section. Haven't seen any chicks all the way out yet, but right now it's cold and windy and mama hawk is providing a down comforter. 

About quarter after noon (EST) nest-watchers noticed a beak poking out of one of the Red-tailed hawk eggs. Could we have an Earth Day Birthday? Nest-watchers are hoping so....

Watch live streaming video from cornellhawks at

Friday, April 20, 2012

Earth Month Book - A Warmer World

A Warmer World: From Polar Bears to Butterflies, How Climate Change Affects Wildlife
By Caroline Arnold; illustrated by Jamie Hogan
52 pages, for ages 7 -10
Charlesbridge, 2012
“In 1964 a biologist working in the cloud forests of Costa Rica found a tiny toad whose bright yellow skin shone like a jewel,” writes Caroline Arnold. Twenty-five years later the golden toads had disappeared. The warming climate had caused the cloud forests to move higher up the mountains, leaving the golden toads behind.
Shorter winters, earlier springs, hotter summers - can a small change in temperature really cause all this? A one-degree increase over 100 years may not seem like much, says Arnold, “but a little change can make a big difference.” Arnold highlights how some animals have adapted to climate change. Red foxes are expanding their range north, into new territory. But that means they are hunting the same prey as the Arctic foxes already living there.
Arnold started thinking about this book a few years ago when she was writing about pterosaurs. “I found an article describing the discovery in Antarctica of both dinosaur and pterosaur fossils,” she said. “It turns out that the world was so warm in the Dinosaur Age that there was no permanent ice at the poles!”
But, she emphasizes, “there’s a big difference between global warming then and the current trend. Now the Earth is warming at a faster rate than ever before, making it hard for animals to adapt.” Arnold has written about many of those animals in other books, and had learned how environmental changes are threatening their survival. This book, she says, gave her the chance to focus on the environmental issues.  
Arnold starts her book projects in the library, reading books and articles. She scours the internet for information and talks with scientists and other experts. “Whenever possible, I try to make my own observations about the animals,” she says.  One year she visited a penguin nesting colony in southern Chile, but more often she visits zoos and wildlife parks. She observed some of the animals in this book at Sea World and the San Diego Zoo.
“The neat thing about zoos is that you can see huge animals like these just inches away on the other side of the glass,” says Arnold. “I discovered that walruses are huge lumps.  They are a bit like your living room sofa with tusks.  And yet, they are surprisingly agile in the water.”
Every author – even those who have written scads of books – learns something new when they write. Arnold learned about “trophic mismatch”. That’s the scientific term for a mismatch between the light cycle and the breeding cycle of an animal, she explains. “For example, warmer temperatures are causing some birds to nest earlier. But their food supply depends on longer days, and isn’t ready when their hungry chicks hatch.
Review copy provided by the publisher. Today’s post is part of STEM Friday – a weekly round-up of children’s science, engineering, math and technology resources – and Nonfiction Monday.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

One Thing Wednesday - Recycle Stuff

Recycle paper, plastic and glass, and buy products with less packaging. This can save 1,000 lbs. of carbon dioxide a year. “Take a second look at everything you think is trash, says author Sandra Markle. “Instead of sending it off to a landfill, maybe your trash can become art, a toy, or something to help your local wildlife.” She’s got some neat ideas for recycling stuff into new uses here at her blog. I’ve invited Sandra back at the end of the month to talk about her new book.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Friday, April 13, 2012

Earth Month Book - North

North: the Amazing Story of Arctic Migration
By Nick Dowson; illustrated by Patrick Benson
56 pages, for ages 7 and up
Candlewick Press, 2011

Few animals live in the Arctic year around: polar bears, musk oxen, arctic hares, arctic foxes. It’s a bleak, icy desert in the winter, but come spring, it fills with life. Every spring, millions of animals – more than 180 species – set off from around the world on a long journey north.

Nick Dowson’s poetic text and Patrick Benson’s luscious illustrations invite readers on a journey across great expanses. We watch the warming days, the algae growing beneath the polar ice, changing the color of the countryside. On land, plants creep up through melting snow.

Gray whales swim from Mexico, a 5,000 mile journey up the coast of California, Oregon, British Columbia. Terns have a longer journey, flying from Antarctica to the northern pole. White cranes migrate from China, caribou from Canada.

By summer, “all day and night, the sun spreads light, warming soil and water.” Tundra flowers bloom in a rainbow of colors, and the air hums with bees and mosquitoes. The illustrations are brighter, more crowded with life. By September the flow of traffic reverses as packs and herds and flocks follow their food and the sun south.

The writing is as spare as the tundra, the illustrations as expansive. Dowson saves geographic details and a discussion of climate change for the back pages. The Arctic isn’t a continent like Antarctica; it’s 5.4 million square miles covering thousands of islands and the northern parts of North America, Europe and Asia. And it’s endangered.

Global warming, notes Dowson, has caused the ice to melt. That threatens the survival of polar bears. The warming ocean threatens plankton – the major food source for birds and whales and fish. He allows readers to draw their own conclusions.

Review copy provided by the publisher. Today’s post is part of STEM Friday – a weekly round-up of children’s science, engineering, math and technology resources – and Nonfiction Monday.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

One Thing Wednesday - Use Your Legs

Author Laurie Lawlor, who shared her book Rachel Carson last Friday suggests that we can all walk and ride our bikes more often. “Don’t ride as a passenger in a car if you can travel another way,” she says. Laurie rides the train Columbia College, where she teaches. She enjoys walking across “the Loop”. “It’s different from walking in the country, but still very full of discoveries about nature and people.” She keeps her eyes out for blooming flowers, soaring gulls, and the “plodding of persistent pigeons”.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Earth Month Book - Rachel Carson

Rachel Carson and Her Book that Changed the World
By Laurie Lawlor; illustrated by Laura Beingessner
32 pages, for ages 7-10
Holiday House 2012

It just seems natural to kick of Earth Month with a book celebrating the life of Rachel Carson, founder of the environmental movement. Laurie Lawlor begins with Rachel’s early life: a young girl creeping upon a Yellowthroat’s nest to photograph the eggs. She follows Rachel to the Pennsylvania College for Women where, Lawlor writes, she’d rather study stuffed birds than attend parties.

After her first year at college, Rachel returned to her home where “…a putrid smell lingered everywhere. Smoke clouded the sky. Pollution floated on the river.” This was a turning point in Rachel’s life; after taking a biology class she decided to become a biologist.

Jobs were not easy to find during the Great Depression – even for a woman with a master’s degree in biology. Eventually Rachel got a job with the Bureau of Fisheries, and began writing about life in the sea. She explored coral reefs and tide pools. She cared for a young child. Concerned about the declining bird populations, she eventually took on the chemical industry and published Silent Spring, the book that helped launch a new environmental awareness.

“Why Rachel?” I asked. One of the reasons, said Lawlor, is that Rachel Carson pursued a career in science when women were clearly not welcome in the field. “When she began her work on Silent Spring, she knew just how daunting the task was before her. She was going up against the powerful chemical industry in the United States.” Lawlor noted that despite Rachel’s numerous family demands and her fight with breast cancer, she resolved to finish Silent Spring, no matter what.

Lawlor did tons of her own research to bring Rachel to life for children. She read Carson’s books and letters to her friends, watched film clips of her testimony before President Kennedy’s Science Advisory Committee, TV interviews and more. Add it all together and it took Lawlor about three years to research, write and edit her book.

The work Rachel began needs to continue, says Lawlor. “I think that an adequate supply of clean water is and will be one of the key issues here in the United States and around the world.” Lawlor has become involved in her own region with a group of citizens working to protect the Mukwonago River in southeastern Wisconsin.

“I think that all of us need to take a more active part in understanding, appreciating, and protecting water in lakes and rivers and oceans and ground water,” says Lawlor. “It’s a resource that is essential for all life: people, animals, and plants.” Indeed, she wrote about a rare wetland in This Tender Place.

“It’s essential that we all understand where we live,” says Lawlor. People need to become more active in planning hearings as well as taking personal actions, such as cleaning up trash and conserving water. “Sharing nature with children is an important first step. Just getting outside and enjoying the wonder of what’s here – wherever we live.”

Lawlor thinks of Rachel Carson when she hears the first Wood Thrush of spring. “Her work was really a wake-up call. I hope that young readers will be equally inspired to discover Carson and think about what they can do to help save the environment.”

Review copy provided by the publisher. Today’s post is part of STEM Friday –  a weekly round-up of children’s science, engineering, math and technology resources – and Nonfiction Monday, hosted today at Ana's Nonfiction Blog

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

One Thing Wednesday - Change the Lightbulbs

One Thing Wednesday features one thing you can do to make the earth a better place. Today's idea: change a light bulb.

Which lights in your home do you use the most? Replace them with compact fluorescent bulbs. That's what author Caroline Arnold, who wrote A Warmer World, did in her home. If every American home replaced just one conventional light bulb with a compact fluorescent light bulb, we would save enough energy to light more than 3 million homes a year. Replace three bulbs with compact fluorescents and you can save 300 pounds of carbon dioxide – and $60 per year.

"And people should turn off the lights when they leave the room," Arnold reminds us. She'll be visiting for an author interview later this month.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Every Day is Earth Day

Welcome to Earth Month. Instead of just one single day, I'm celebrating the Earth all month long.

This year's theme: climate change. It's getting warmer. The average winter temperature here in NY is a couple degrees higher than 50 years ago.

Fortunately, there are some things that we can do to help stop global warming. Simple things that will have an effect on our homes, our towns and even places as far away as the South Pole. So every Wednesday I'll post one thing you can do to help stop climate change. On Friday's I'll feature books and author interviews, and you can always check the Environmental Tip of the day for more ideas of things you can do.