Friday, September 28, 2012

Tiny Creepy Critters - Read All About 'Em

A couple weeks ago I was digging up potatoes and found lots of worms. One was so big I thought at first it was a skinny snake! As noted a couple weeks ago, worms are good guys in the garden: they help aerate the soil and break down plant material so it decomposes.

Worms aren't the only garden soil dwellers that help turn dead leaves into nutrients for plants. There's a whole bunch of "yard monsters" that are too small to see. Trillions of them. All at work in your yard right now - at least according to Karen Leet. She would know; she wrote an entire book about them.

There are fungi and bacteria, spider mites and compost critters. She's even got a chapter titled, "poop, pets, and pests"! While some of these too-small-to-see creatures are helpful, others are downright dangerous, disease-causing dirt-dwellers.

Invisible creatures don't just lurk in your yard - they hang out in your home, too. Jennifer Swanson writes about uninvited guests you might find in your kitchen or bathroom, in your bedroom and even living in your carpets. From bread mold to carpet beetles, from fleas to bed bugs she'll have you re-thinking your aversion to vacuuming - not to mention scratching your ankles.

These two books are part of Capstone's new "Tiny Creepy Creature" series. Two other books, Food Intruders and Body Bugs round out the set. They're written with third and fourth-graders in mind, but at a level that will interest older children. Each book manages to cram a lot of useful info and close-up photos into 32 pages.

Check out other STEM Friday resources here  Review copies provided by the publisher.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Bees Don't Need Maps!

I love maps. I may even be a "maphead" - and in fact am reading a book by that very title by Ken Jennings (Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks). Bees, apparently, don't need maps - though they do use landmarks. Instead, they do some back-of-the-antennae figuring that optimizes their routes. You can read about it here.

Friday, September 21, 2012

A Book to Celebrate Fall: Butterfly Tree

Butterfly Tree
By Sandra Markle; illustrated by Leslie Wu
32 pages, ages 4 – 8
Peachtree Publishers, 2011

This weekend marks the beginning of fall. From here on the days grow shorter – at least on this half of the earth. Down under, days are getting longer. Down under is where Sandra Markle lives, a wonderful writer and author of Butterfly Tree.

Perhaps you’ve noticed the Monarch butterflies – they’ve been all over my garden sipping nectar from the flowers and getting ready to hit the road… the skyway of migration. Too soon they’ll be gone, heading south to Mexico. It’s a long journey, too far to fly at one stretch. So they’ll have to make a few rest stops on the way.

And that’s what Markle writes about…. A magical moment when a young girl and her mother discover Monarchs just hanging out. The story begins one afternoon in early September, when Jilly sees something way out over Lake Erie. It looks like it’s raining black pepper from a clear blue sky, but as it comes closer it becomes a shimmery orange cloud. Is it smoke from a faraway fire, she wonders? Or the breath of a dragon?

Jilly and her mom follow the mysterious cloud into the woods, dark and deep. They find a tree covered with orange leaves that, when disturbed, explode in a flutter of wings. It’s Monarch butterflies; hundreds of them.

Markle writes a warm memory of a mother and daughter  - and a dog named Fudge - exploring nature. For us nature geeks she includes a map and resources at the back. This is a great book to share for the season.

The illustrations are every bit as wonderful as the story. Leslie Wu’s paintings have a soft, dream-like quality that evokes “memories”. 
Check out other "Fall" science books and resources at STEM Friday. Review copy provided by publisher. And check out Sandra Markle's fun science blog.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Tuesday's View

 I started Tuesday's View last fall to see what the world outside my window looked like over a year. Taking a picture each week has helped me pay more attention to the world around me.

 I like looking back to see how the landscape changes through the seasons. Winter sky has a different quality than spring ...

 ... and the photos bring back warm - and chilly - memories.

 As much as I love my "Tuesday View", I am ready to try something new. I want to take a closer look at the things, living and non-living, that share the world I live in.

So look for "Wordless Wednesdays" starting in October - where I'll share photos or journal entries of neat things I find in my backyard, along the roadside or even on an old bridge.

Care to join me? Just head out with your notebook and a pencil, or grab a camera and look closely at the world around you. Come on! It will be an adventure.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Field Trip to a Bridge

Aspen seedlings
 You wouldn't usually find aspen seedlings growing on a bridge. But our bridge - the one on Main Street that links one side of town with the other - has trees growing on it. Flowers, too.

You see, our bridge is closed. Has been for months. The Dept. of Transportation has deemed it unsafe to drive on at any speed - though it's perfectly usable for bicycles and skateboards and just walking across. So they plan to tear it down this fall, sometime soon, and begin building a new bridge.

fleabane asters
Meanwhile, things have started to grow in the cracks and crevices. It makes me wonder what the bridge might look like if it were allowed to undergo "succession" over the next couple decades. Would we have a forest growing across the river?

Here are a few more flowers I saw this week:
small flowered willow herb

What sort of things do you find growing between the cracks of sidewalks and along the sides of the roads in your town? What plants are moving in on abandoned parking lots? Do you have an old bridge that's closed? What's growing on it?

Take a camera or a sketchbook and some colored pencils and spend some time checking out what's living in the cracks and crevices of your neighborhood.

Check out other STEM Friday posts here.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Another good book: Yucky Worms

Yucky Worms
by Vivian French; illustrated by Jessica Ahlberg
32 pages; for ages 5-8
Candlewick Press, 2009
I love books about gardens, so I had to get my hands on a copy of Yucky Worms. Not that worms are yucky – they’re great garden helpers and, during this season, they’ve got extra work in the compost pile.

In this book worms are gardening friends. They eat rotting leaves, dead insects, bits of old flowers. In the process they help aerate the soil and leave behind marvelous castings (aka “worm poop”). But being a worm can be dangerous: there are all sorts of predators that love worms for breakfast.

What I love about this book – aside from it being about worms – is the nifty sidebars that get kids “up close and personal” with worms. Juicy bits of info like how worms move and that they have five hearts and use stones and dirt to grind up food in their stomachs. At the back there’s even a section on “How to be a Wormologist” with hands-on activities.  

Right now is a good time to check on worms… I know they’re active in my garden because every now and then I find a worm hole all plugged up with bits of leaves. If you have a compost bin you’ll find them there, too, helping to turn kitchen scraps into food for the garden.

Check out other STEM Friday resources here. On Monday head over to the Nonfiction Monday Round-Up.  Review copy of this book provided by the publisher.