Friday, April 25, 2014

Wild about Bears

Wild About Bears
by Jeannie Brett
32 pages; ages 6-9
Charlesbridge, 2014

themes: animals, nonfiction

There are bears around my town - North American Black Bears which can be any color from black to brown to cinnamon. They hibernate in the hills, emerging in early spring to scoop sunflower seeds from bird feeders and feast on unguarded suet left hanging for the woodpeckers.

In her book, Jeannie Brett introduces readers to the eight species of bear that populate our planet: the Polar bear, Brown bear, Spectacled bear, Asiatic black bear, Sloth bear, Sun bear, Panda, and the Black bears living in them thar hills. Each spread provides the scientific name, a list of common names, the size, and interesting facts about the bear's life. Sun bears, for example, spend their days sunbathing high amongst the tree branches, and dine on honey and snails and lizards.

Brett discusses the physical traits of bears and their behavior. At the back there's a map showing where bears live, a "habitat glossary", and a list of resources for curious naturalists who want to learn more.

Beyond the book:
Go on a Bear Hunt (but don't be afraid)...

Make a Bean Bag bear. All you need is a sock and some rice (or dried beans) and a few other things you can find around the house. Then decorate it with the features of one of the bears found in the book.

 Drop by STEM Friday to see what other science books and resources bloggers are sharing. 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 publisher.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Earth Week ~ Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Got an old pair of jeans hanging around? You know the ones I mean - the jeans with the ripped knees, or your favorite pair that just doesn't fit anymore....

Turn them into something else that you can use.
Make a book cover - or cover an old binder. Those pockets are great for holding pencils, pens, a flash drive.

If you have lots of pockets, you can turn them into pocket purses, or hang them on the wall to organize small things.

Jeans make great placemats and coasters. Cut off the legs and use the top part to make a satchel. Turn the legs into lunch bags.

 You can find these projects and more in Re-Craft: Unique projects that look great (and save the planet) by Jen Jones and Carol Sirrine (Capstone Publishers, 2011). In addition to jeans, there are projects that will turn old T-shirts into wearable items - and even a dog toy. If you don't have a dog of your own, you can always make a bunch for your local animal shelter - that is, if the gardener in your family hasn't already appropriated the T-shirts for tying up tomato plants...

Jones & Sirrine have ideas for recycling cans, bottles, and even CDs. They note that each month nearly 50 tons of CDs are tossed into landfills. "That's the weight of a herd of elephants!" CDs are also made of the hardest plastic to recycle. So they put on their creative thinking caps and came up with some cool uses for old CDs - and their cases.

The authors have an entire section devoted to crafts from natural materials: twigs, pinecones.... stuff you find laying around which - when you tire of it - can be tossed into the compost bin to biodegrade. That's nature's way of recycling. And there's an easy recipe for how to make your own 100% recycles paper for note cards and other art projects.

What will you  make out of the stuff hanging around your home?  Review copy provided by publisher.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Celebrate Earth Week - Explore Natural Resources!

Explore Natural Resources
by Anita Yasuda; illus. by Jennifer Keller
96 pages; ages 6-9
Nomad Press, 2014 (release May 13)

In this book you discover natural resources through hands-on activities. By the end of the book, promises author Anita Yasuda, you'll be able to design a wind-powered car, catch solar rays, build a composter, and be proficient in the 3 R's: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

Topics include: air, water, soil, energy, and conservation. There are plenty of new words to learn (humus, source recuction, VOC) and twenty-five hands-on activities that range from crafts (recycle a T-shirt into a cloth bag) to technology (build a turbine). You'll be able to calculate your "water footprint" - how much water you use each day - and cook a s'more in a solar oven you build out of a discarded box. There's even a recipe for natural pesticide that you can spray on your plants to keep pesky bugs away. It works - I used to use it to keep ants from invading my kitchen counter.

The book is due out in a couple weeks. While you're waiting, here's an activity from the first chapter:

Get to Know Who Lives in Your Neighborhood

  • Divide a piece of paper into six sections. Label each section with one of these headings: Birds; Reptiles; Insects; Mammals; Trees; Plants.
  •  Draw a picture from each category, or cut out an example from magazines, and glue it into its section.
  • Clip your page to a clipboard and take it - and a pencil - along on a walk through your neighborhood. If you have a camera, take it along too.
  • As you walk along, listen and look for the animals and plants on your list. Jot down what you see, or keep a tally of what's in your neighborhood.
  • Later - when you get home or visit a library - look up some of the plants and animals you discovered in a field guide or on the internet.
Review copy provided by publisher.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Earth Day Sound Scavenger Hunt

The best way to celebrate Earth Day is to head outside and get to know your natural neighborhood better. One way to learn more about the place you are a part of is to go on a listening scavenger hunt. The object: to collect as many natural sounds as you can find.

Here's a short list to get you started: 
  • the sound of a peeper, toad, or other frog
  • thunder
  • a sound made by leaves
  • a bird singing
  • a woodpecker
  • water running or dripping
  • a noise made by insect
  • call or noise made by a four-legged animal

Monday, April 21, 2014

Celebrate Earth Day with Poetry!

When you hike through a natural area - a wetland, national park, state forest - there's a creed: Take nothing but Pictures. Leave nothing but Footprints.

It's a reminder to tread the earth lightly, as we are but a visitor in wild places.

Earth Day is a good time to remember how we are part of the environment, not apart from it. To celebrate, I share the words of Marilyn Singer, with a poem from her book Footprints on the Roof (Alfred A Knopf, 2002). 


Out in the country I walk across towns
            I'll never see:
mazy metropolises
            under the earth
             where rabbits hide from foxes
                 foxes hide from dogs
                 full-bellied snakes sleep snugly
                        worms work uncomplaining
Where what you see is nothing –
what counts is what you smell
            or hear or feel
I try to tread softly:
            a quiet giant
               leaving only footprints
                        on the roof

You can find more of Marilyn's poetry - and her wonderful children's books, at her website. We're joining Nonfiction Monday, where you can see what other reviewers are writing about. Review copy from library.

Check back tomorrow - and all this week - for EARTH Week activities.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Ingenious Dung Beetles

Behold the Beautiful Dung Beetle
by Cheryl Bardoe; illus by Alan Marks
32 pages; ages 5-8
Charlesbridge, 2014

"Somewhere in the world right now an animal is lightening its load," writes Cheryl Bardoe. It could be happening in your backyard, on a farm, in a forest, or on a grassland. Dung beetles, it turns out, are found everywhere on earth - except for Antarctica. And they are very busy workers. They also waste no time locating the dung they depend on to feed themselves and their young.

Within seconds of a cow pie plopping to the ground, dung beetles are there. They all want a piece of that pie! Some shape bits of dung into balls that they'll roll to their nests. Others tunnel beneath the cow pat, filling nesting burrows with yummy dung for their young. And others just dive right into the dung before it dries up.

What's waste to one animal is treasure to the beetles - and they'll even fight over their share. Bardoe does a wonderful job showing us how dung beetles collect and move their resources, as well as giving us a glimpse of how the young dung beetles grow and develop in the poop-filled nest. There's great back matter - including tips on finding dung beetles and some fascinating facts. And the illustrations are great.

Check out what other STEM bloggers are reviewing and writing about over at STEM Friday. Review copy from publisher.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Smart Crows!

Some crows have learned that it's important to use the right tool for the job. For example: if you're hungry and want a tasty beetle larvae tucked inside a tree trunk, the right tool would be a stick. You hold the stick on your beak and poke it into the hole where there's a beetle grub. That irritates the beetle larvae which snaps its jaws tight on the stick. Then all a crow has to do is pull it out.

But what if food is in a small bucket with a handle? And it's stuck in a tube? A stick won't work - but a piece of wire might. In 2002 some scientists gave a female New Caledonian crow a bit of wire and that very problem She bent the wire into a hook that allowed her to grab the bucket handle and retrieve the food. She did it not once, but nine times in the subsequent ten trials.

Now, scientists in New Zealand have shown that crows can solve puzzles to get food. They offered crows food that was floating on top of water in tubes. The problem: the tubes were narrow, so only their beak fit in. And the water level was so low the crows couldn't reach the food. Fortunately, the scientists provided the crows with an assortment of blocks and other heavy items. The crows figured out that if they dropped the blocks in the tube they would displace the water, raising the food to a level where they could reach in and grab it with their beaks.

Crows aren't the only birds to use tools. The Woodpecker Finch (Galapagos Islands) uses a cactus spine to dig grubs out of holes. Egyptian vultures drop stones on ostrich eggs to break them. And some herons use breadcrumbs or insects as bait to lure fish into reach.

Are there any tool-using animals in your neighborhood? Drop by STEM Friday to see what other science books and resources bloggers are sharing.

Friday, April 4, 2014

A Vernal Pool is Not Just a Puddle!

The Secret Pool
by Kimberly Ridley; illus by Rebekah Raye
32 pages; ages 7-10
Tillbury House, 2013

"A shimmer. A twinkling. Do you have any inkling of what I am?"

Themes: animal, nature, nonfiction

You might walk right by a vernal pool and not notice it. Or you might think it's just a puddle in the woods. But vernal pools are more than puddles...

Opening: "I'm a watery jewel called a vernal pool. I sparkle, but that's not the only reason I'm precious. Many creatures of the forest depend on me."

In this book you meet the frogs and salamanders and birds and fairy shrimp that depend on a temporary pool. You see the life above and the life below the waterline. Along the way you learn what "vernal pools" are, the life cycle of frogs and salamanders, and how to go "pool hopping".

What I like about this book: I love the artwork! Rebekah Raye's illustrations make you just want to plunge right into a pool yourself. I like the way author Kimberly Ridley tells the story from the point of view of the pool itself. The text is easy to read, with rhyming words tucked in here and there, and alliterations sprinkled throughout. About fairy shrimp, for example: "Slim and frilly, they swim willy-nilly.... tickling me with their feathery feet."

There's a sidebar on each spread, so readers can learn how to tell the difference between frog and salamander eggs, what tadpoles look like, and the predators who use the vernal pool as a snack bar. And there's a helpful glossary at the back.

Beyond the Book: Spring peepers are usually the first frogs we hear around our area. It's a bit chilly for frogs at the top of the hill where I live, but my friends in the flatlands say they can already hear frogsongs at night. You can listen to the sounds of frogs from the Sandhills of Nebraska here.

Sing a Frog Song. One of my favorite counting songs is "Five Little Speckled Frogs". Sing along, or make up your own song about life in the vernal pool.

Go on a Listening Walk. Walk into the woods or find a place to listen outside for about 10 minutes. Write down all the spring sounds you hear. Which ones are made by animals? Can you tell what animals are making those noises? Are there any noises that aren't made by animals?

Play Vernal Pool Bingo. I borrowed this idea from UC Davis. Create bingo sheets that feature different plants and animals that live in vernal pools. This would be fun to play in the car while driving to a natural area - or while sitting near a pool.

Make a Vernal Pool in a Bin. Line the bottom of your bin with leaves - or paper leaves that you cut out of colored paper. Then pour in some hydrated water beads (a mix of blues and greens with clear beads would be neat). When you're out and about, look for some rubber or plastic frogs and salamanders that you can put in your pool. Or draw the animals you see in the book, and cut them out to put in and around your pool.

Drop by STEM Friday to see what other science books and resources bloggers are sharing.   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.

  On Monday we'll pool-hop over to join the Nonfiction Monday round-up, where you'll find all kinds of great nonfiction for children and teens.  Review f & g provided by publisher.