Friday, November 29, 2013

Feathery Finery

photo provided by Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Sometimes the clothes we choose to wear can let people know how we feel. If we want to catch someone's eye, we can put on a jaunty hat or dress up our duds by adding a bright scarf (or tie). Or we can go for the late-November "I just want to be cozy" layered look.

Birds do the same thing, but with their feathers. They can ruffle their feathers, preen their feathers, shake and rattle their feathers. They can raise their feathery crests or fluff up their feathers to look large and imposing.

Now is an excellent time to get outside and watch some feathery friends... and to encourage you, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Celebrate Urban Birds project is running a  Fascinating Feathers contest. This is an opportunity for you to send in your photos, artwork, poems, stories, videos and audio recordings of birds.... birds that seem irritated, out of sorts, all spruced up, or just pretty. Categories for photos (and artwork) include: best dressed, most bizarre, most functional, and most camouflaged. Check out the rules at Celebrate Urban Birds - and then grab your camera or your sketchbook and head outside to capture some images of some birds around your neighborhood. The contest ends on January 15, but you can keep snapping pictures of birds, drawing bird portraits, writing bird poetry, and learning their secret songs all winter long.

Today is STEM Friday - head over to the STEM Friday blog to see what other people are talking about in science.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Cranberries ... the Other Ink

Ages ago, before computers and gel pens and bottled inks, people made dyes and inks from plant pigments. The thinking probably went something like this: if it stains my fingers I can probably use it to draw, paint, write or dye something.

Cranberries, like blueberries, cherries and other fruits, produce finger-staining juice that works well for making ink. But you might have noticed that they're not as soft as other berries. Drop a strawberry on the floor and it bruises. Drop a cranberry and it bounces.

What you need:
cranberries - a cup will do
strainer and wooden spoon
salt and vinegar - about 1/2 teaspoon each

What to do:
1. Before you make cranberry sauce, put a cup of the cranberries into the freezer. This will help them release their juice.
2. When you remember them, take the cranberries out of the freezer. Let them thaw in a strainer placed over a bowl.
3. Use a wooden spoon to squash the cranberries against the strainer, forcing the juice out.
4. Add a pinch of salt and a bit of vinegar to help keep your ink (or dye) from fading.
Now use your ink to write a letter or make potato prints or paint a card.

You can use other berries, too. Staghorn sumac berries grace the tips of branches of the trees lining my road. They're a nice red color. I wonder if I can make ink out of them...

Today is STEM Friday - head over to the STEM Friday blog to see what other people are talking about in science.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Postcards from Space? That's Impossible.... Or is it?

Postcards from Space: the Chris Hadfield Story
by Heather Down
32 pages; ages 4 - 8
Wintertickle Press, 2013

"Some people say Col. Chris Hadfield is the coolest astronaut ever," writes Heather Down. He's walked in space. He commanded the International Space Station. He made tons of videos and even wrote postcard from space.

OK. Maybe not postcards. I mean, there's no post office in space. But he has sent hundreds of photos of the earth as seen from the Space Station... and those are almost as good as postcards.

This slim paperback combines some of Hadfield's awesome photos with snippets of his life in a short biography of a modern day spaceman. Hadfield knew from a young age that he wanted to be an astronaut, so he worked hard to make his dream happened. He played with math and science, learned to fly planes and eventually became a test pilot. He also played guitar and skied. In 2012 he went on his third mission into space. He had lots of work to do: experiments to conduct; repairs and maintenance on the space station; and keeping up with physical training - because muscles and bones can become weak in zero gravity.

One thing Hadfield did was to take photos and share them with people on earth. (The book has lots of those photos, but unfortunately they don't have captions.) He also made plenty of videos about science things in space, such as whether tears fall and what happens when you try to wring out a washcloth. He even made a video about brushing teeth in space. The best thing he did, though, was help us see how cool space is - and how much there still is to learn about this final frontier.

Here's how to make a peanut butter and honey sandwich (and lots more videos).

And check this site to see some of his best "postcards" (because we know there really isn't a post office aboard the space station - not even one on a satellite).
 And if you're really interested in learning more about Hadfield and the things he learned while training as an astronaut and living in space, check out his hot-off-the-press autobiography, An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth. It's a bit thicker - almost 300 pages - and a whole lot heavier, but that's gravity for you.

Today is STEM Friday - head over to the STEM Friday blog to see what other people are talking about in science, technology, engineering and math. And if you're looking for more space stories, head over to Sally's Bookshelf to read about an earlier space hero, John Glenn. Review copy of Postcards From Space provided by publisher.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Recycle Your Pumpkin into a Bird Feeder

photo by Amy; used with permission ( Home Happy Home)

You know those pumpkins that have been sitting on the porch for the past week? Now that the trickers are gone and the treat basket's empty, it's time to recycle the jack-o-lantern. Here's one idea: make a Bird Feeder. All you need are:
  • a hollowed out pumpkin cut in half (or the bottom part of a jack-o-lantern)
  • some twine
  • tacks or staples
  • birdseed

Here's what you do:
  • Cut your jack-o-lantern in half (or cut and clean an uncarved pumpkin). Clean out soot and wax with a damp cloth and let dry.
  • Use your knife to thin the edge of the shell so birds can get a good grip.
  • Take two long pieces of twine or fat ribbons or rope or strips of recycled blue jeans and tack them to the bottom of the shell. Then bring them up four sides and tie at the top so the shell sits in the strings like a hanging planter. 
  • Hang the pumpkin feeder and fill it up with bird seeds, peanuts, those pumpkin seeds you saved and never roasted...
... and don't be surprised if your birds - or maybe the neighborhood squirrels - take a nibble or two out of the pumpkin.

Check out more resources, book reviews and sciency things-to-do at STEM Friday.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Celebrating Skeletons on Day of the Dead

Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons
by Sara Levine; illus. by TS Spookytooth
32 pages; ages 5 - 10
Lerner Publishing, 2013

"Have you ever wondered what we would look like if we didn't have any bones? It wouldn't be pretty," begins Sara Levine. Bones are important, she says. They hold us up. They store fat and minerals. They (with help from our muscles) allow us to run and jump and climb trees.

Coupled with Spookytooth's clever illustrations, Levine shows what you might look like if your tail bones kept going, or your neck bones (think: giraffe). She shows what your skeleton would look like if you had Very Long Fingers, or no leg bones at all. And she even shows what you might look like with no bones at all... an Invertebrate!

What I like about this book: the X-ray view of animals with their bones all shown. I also like the beginning where Levine compares two vertebrate skeletons and labels major bones. I love the imaginative way she introduces her ideas: "what kind of animal would you be if we took away your leg bones but kept your arm bones?" On the following page there's an illustration, complete with the bones we know and every so often an * with some additional animals that would fit into that category.

I also like the back pages where Levine tells more about bones and vertebrates. She gives great hints for how to determine what class an animal belongs to, whether it's a bird or a fish or a mammal... And she includes a glossary and resources for curious naturalists who want to learn more.

Beyond the book: There are lots of sciency things one can do, like labeling bones on a skeleton or playing a matching game - and Lerner provides those free resources for the book at their website. But since today is the Day of the Dead, there are lots of other things one might want to do while learning about bones and skeletons.
Art: create a skeleton out of Q-tips or glue different kinds of Pasta to a black sheet of construction paper.
Food: mix up some sugar candy mix and make candy skulls for Day of the Dead. Or bake some gingerbread men cookies and decorate like skeletons.
Games: use a small (clean) bone - something from a chicken or a small vertebra from another animal and play a game of "bone, bone, who's got the bone" (using rules of "who's got the button). OR have someone leave the room and hide a bone. When "it" returns, use clapping to indicate when he is close to the bone.

Today's review is part of the STEM Friday round-up. Check out the other science books and resources reviewed this week.
Today's review is part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday), an event in which bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. She keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. Review copy provided by the publisher.