Friday, February 22, 2013

Cabin Fever Cure- Cool Animal Names

Cool Animal Names
By Dawn Cusick
80 pages; ages 8 and up
Imagine Publishing, 2011
You’ve probably heard of catfish and zebrafish, but have you hears about rabbitfish and lizardfish? What about catbirds and rat owls, or giraffe beetles and goat moths? And peacock frog? How do animals get these crazy names, anyhow?

That’s what Dawn Cusick wondered when she started collecting weird animal names. She’d be reading along and up would pop an interesting name: porcupinefish, or tiger moth for example. So she’d scribble the name on a slip of paper and toss it in a file. That file grew, and grew, and after 20 years she knew she’d have to do something with all those names – like make a book.

There are more than 250 animal names in this book – including lions (tamarins) and tigers (salamanders) and bears (cat bears), oh my! There are parrot snakes, which don’t talk, and snake-birds that do. It’s a fun romp through pages filled with photos and stories about how the animals got their names.

Check out other cool science resources at STEM Friday. Review copy from publisher.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Cabin Fever Cure - Snow School

Snow School
By Sandra Markle; illustrated by Alan Marks
32 pages; ages 4 - 7
Charlesbridge Publishing, 2013

Only the hardiest plants grow high on the slopes of the Hindu Kush Mountains in Pakistan. It’s a harsh place, where snowflakes dance in the wind, even in May. This is where Sandra Markle takes us on her newest adventure – to spend a year with twin snow leopard cubs.

Like any cat, big or little, snow leopard babies need to learn how to survive in the wild. Their mother teachers them important lessons: how to not get eaten by eagles; how to mark their hunting spots; how to stalk and pounce and kill their dinner.

I like the way Markle structures her story around these lessons - it brings us right into the lives of a snow leopard family. One thing I noticed is that snow leopard cubs stay with mama for a long time.

Sandra: That’s right. In such a harsh habitat, raising young cubs is a two-year job. So females who are raising young don’t breed every year. They have their babies in the spring – May or June – a good time because it’s warmer and when the female has to leave her cubs to hunt, she’ll find food more quickly and can then return to guard and nurse her cubs.

Archimedes: As part of your research you watched videos and talked to scientists. Did you ever get to watch a snow leopard?

Sandra: I love it when writing my books gives me an excuse to get close to wildlife and watch them in action. That didn’t happen while working on Snow School – I was living in New Zealand at the time there weren’t any zoos with snow leopards close by. But even scientists who study snow leopards have a hard time seeing them in the wild. Dr. Tom McCarthy, the snow leopard expert I interviewed for this book, said that the cats are now so rare and the terrain so rugged that he went seven years without spotting a single snow leopard!

Now I’m back in the US and have a chance to go visit snow leopards at the San Diego Zoo. And I’d like to suggest to parents that, next time they go to a zoo, they take along a book about one of the animals that lives there. Read it aloud at the zoo – and then imagine that you are scientists trekking into the wilds to see that animal up close.  With your child, think of three things that story makes you want to discover about the animal.

Archimedes:  What inspired you to write this story?

Sandra: When I watched some footage of a snow leopard hunting in the wild I wondered, “How in the world do snow leopard cubs grow up and learn how to survive in their rugged mountain world?” 

Archimedes:  What is the biggest threat to snow leopards? And what can we do to help?

Sandra: The biggest threat is people trying to make a living and raise their own families in the same rugged part of the world as the snow leopards.  The nomadic yak-herders need to make money, and snow leopards sometimes attack their herds if other prey is scarce. So an organization, Snow Leopard Enterprises, trains the local people and provides them with equipment to make beautiful items using wool from their livestock. The Snow Leopard Trust purchases these handmade items and sells them through their online store.  In order to participate, the herders must agree to protect the snow leopards and other wildlife living in their area – but they also learn how to keep their livestock safe from leopard predation.

You can read more about snow leopards at Sandra’s blog. And check out what other people are posting on STEM Friday. Review copy provided by publisher.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Cabin Fever Cure - Animal Show-offs

Got Cabin Fever? No problem - just grab a cool book and find a warm spot and everything will be all right.
Weird and Wonderful Show-Offs
by Margaret McPhee
64 pages; ages 6 & up
Kingfisher, 2011

Another book brimming with bold, bright photos, and perfect for browsing. There are three main sections: colorful creatures; animals of the land, air and sea; and courtship and mating. Each spread focuses on a specific "show-off" adaptation, with an introductory paragraph and extended captions that accompany the photos.

Warning Colors, for example, opens by explaining that some animals are brightly colored to warn predators "I taste bad". Captions under the photos of poison arrow frogs explain how the frogs accumulate toxins and release those poisons through pores in their skin. Other photos illustrate orange and black patterns of butterflies, ladybugs and other insects that warn of bad tasting chemicals. The occasional question is posed (answers given at bottom of the page) and there are some great close-ups.

McPhee shines a Spotlight on noteworthy animals and behaviors. For example, she spotlights butterflies, hummingbirds, and giant beetles. She also shines a spotlight on how animals draw attention to themselves using sounds and signals. Think crickets, cicadas and grasshoppers. And there are any number of photos featuring showy feathers, tails, and antennae. And - just in time for Valentine's Day - there's a section on gift-giving. Did you know that some insects offer bits of leaves, seed tufts or silk balloons as tokens of true love?

 Check out more science resources over at STEM Friday. Review copy provided by publisher.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Cabin Fever Cure - Animal Snacks

Halfway to spring is a dangerous time: it looks bright and sunny outside, but the frigid temperatures sometimes keep us cooped up inside, where it's warm. And that can lead to Cabin Fever.

The best antidote to Cabin Fever I can think of is a book. So this month I'll post reviews of books that are sure to cure the winter blahs.

Animal Snacks
By Dawn Cusick
96 pages, ages 6 & up
Early Light Books, 2012

No, it’s not a cookbook showing how to prepare snacks for your pets. This is a book that celebrates the diversity of things animals eat. From birds to snakes to jellyfish to moose, Dawn Cusick details the diets of creatures from all corners of the animal kingdom. Each page is loaded with color photos depicting iguanas eating cactus, turtles eating sea anemones, fish eating crabs, crabs eating coral, snails eating frog eggs … and more.

Think all birds eat the same thing? They don’t. Hummingbirds like sweets, finches prefer seeds, bluebird nestlings feast on grubs, and gulls go for the seafood buffet. Squid go for shrimp, geckos dine on grasshoppers, and badgers eat just about anything.

Cusick introduces the book with a brief explanation of food chains, defines a host of terms including “producer” and “consumer”, provides a smorgasbord of delectable photos accompanied by minimal text. This book will have young nature lovers browsing, grazing, and coming back for second helpings.

What inspired her to cook up this delicious feast of photos?

Dawn: One day a student asked me what starfish eat. (Dawn teaches biology at a community college). So I went looking for a photo… and somehow got hooked on the idea of presenting a whole book about the things animals eat.

Archimedes: What about other books, like Animal Eggs. Do they start with photos or with an idea?

Dawn: A little bit of both. Often when I’m doing photo research I’ll find interesting pictures that just don’t fit with that particular project – but I know that they might make a food story down the line. And sometimes the books are inspired by a question. Animal Eggs, for example, grew out of some research I was doing on the economics of bad mating decisions in katydids.

So in that case I was inspired by the research. I started seeing animal eggs everywhere, and that led to searches for photos which, in turn, raised questions for additional research – such as, how many colors do eggs come in?

Archimedes: You said you collected about a thousand photos for this book… how do you organize them into concepts (for example: Gecko snacks, or beetle snacks)

Dawn: I get really big index cards and fold them in half to represent the pages. Then I map out the photos and ideas I want to illustrate. I clip them together with a huge binder clip and carry them around with me. If I find a cool, new photo I can pencil it in and then search for more photos as I go along. My goal, with Animal Snacks, was to show diversity with photos of as many different kinds of animals – and their favorite foods – as I could.

 Check out other science resources at STEM Friday. Review copy provided by publisher.