Friday, September 26, 2014

Plants Feed the Animals

David Hill/ creative commons
Last week I featured a review of Plants Feed Me. This week I'm featuring food that feeds the local wildlife: acorns. Acorns have been falling in such abundance that it's hard to avoid getting pinged in the head. At first we thought it was the squirrels - furious with us banning them from the bird feeder, they were ambushing us with acorns. But no, it's just a good mast year.

Mast refers to the edible fruit of woody plants - in this case acorns, beechnuts, hickory nuts. Squirrels aren't the only ones harvesting acorns; black bears, deer, raccoons, mice, bluejays, and turkeys eat them as well. The turkeys will walk up our driveway en masse, a pack of conventioneers with one thing in mind: eat the acorns!

Mary Holland writes about how birds and others eat the acorns in her wonderful field guide, Naturally Curious (review here). Deer, she says, crunch down on them with their molars and the shells left on the ground have a "distinctive mangled" look. Birds are somewhat neater, using their beaks to drill holes into the shell. A grackle secures the acorn and then uses its bill to bite down and cut the shell while turning it. In that fashion it splits the acorn in half, allowing the bird to eat the yummy nutmeat inside.

Turkeys, on the other hand, swallow acorns whole and their gizzard grinds them up later.

Squirrels and chipmunks tend to peel the shells into strips and leave middens - piles of acorn shells on logs or rocks. Mice are neater - opening acorns at the top and scooping out the insides.

So this week, when you're out walking beneath oaks, look for acorns - and signs of the animals who eat them. Drop by STEM Friday to check out books and resources other bloggers are sharing.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Plants Feed Me

Plants Feed Me
by Lizzy Rockwell
32 pages; ages 4-7
Holiday House, 2014

Theme: nonfiction, plants

Every gardening season is different, and this year things seem to be ripening later than last year. A couple weeks ago we had a bumper-crop of tomatoes and peppers, with melons and pumpkins coming in late.

So harvest season seems to be a good time to share a book about garden-fresh fruits and vegetables. Lizzy Rockwell begins with a picture of a child nose-deep in a slice of watermelon. "I am a plant eater," she writes. Then she takes us on a tour of the garden, showing the different parts of plants we eat: leaves, stems, roots, flowers, bulbs, tubers... and fruits.

Everyone knows that apples and blueberries are fruits. But tomatoes and pumpkins? Aren't they vegetables? Nope. If it's got a seed, it's a fruit. Speaking of which, we eat seeds, too: beans, rice, wheat, and nuts.

Beyond the book: are you a plant eater?

Go on a plant-part scavenger hunt. Check the fridge, pantry, and cupboards to find:
  • a tuber that you eat
  • a stem that you eat
  • a root that you eat
  • leaves that you eat
  • a fruit that you eat
  • a seed that you eat
  • a bulb that you eat
Where does your food come from? What plants are used in making the cereal you eat? the bread and crackers? the soup? Try to identify as many plants as you can that are in your meals. If you need help, read the ingredients label on packages.

Visit a Farm. If you live near a farm, drop by for a visit. During the fall many farms have markets with pumpkins and cider. Some have corn mazes and pumpkin patch tours.

You can see out what other bloggers are reviewing over at the STEM Friday blog. Today's review is also 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, head over to the Nonfiction Monday blog where you'll find more book reviews. Review copy provided by publisher.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Animal Teachers

Animal Teachers
by Janet Halfmann; illus. by Katy Hudson
36 pages; ages 4-8
Blue Apple Books, 2014

It's back-to-school time, so grab your lunch bucket and your notebook and your number-2 pencil and hustle out the door so you don't miss the bus. As you head into the classroom, did you ever wonder how animal kids learn? They don't go to school. Do they even have teachers?

It turns out that polar bears and penguins and chimps and elephants - animals of all kinds - do have a lot of lessons to learn. Animal Teachers provides a window into the wild classrooms of the animal world.

Young otters have to learn how to swim, and joeys (baby kangaroos) need to learn some self-defense skills. Fortunately their moms teach them these skills. Other youngsters learn by copying what the adults around them are doing. In this book we see young animals learning how to run, fish, and communicate. This is a fun book for kids just starting school - and kids who are learning at home.

What sort of things are you learning ~ and who are your teachers?
Drop by STEM Friday to see what other science books and resources bloggers are sharing. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Sea Turtle Scientist

Sea Turtle Scientist 
(Scientist in the Field series)
By Stephen R. Swinburne
80 pages; ages 10-14
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014

Leatherbacks have a tough life – only one egg out of a thousand will produce an adult sea turtle. Hatchlings no bigger than matchbox cars push themselves across the sand towards the ocean. If they’re lucky enough to make it without becoming a meal for some other animal, they’ve got more challenges in the sea.

In this book, Steve Swinburne takes readers to St. Kitts island, where Dr. Kimberly Stewart has spent her life studying the leatherback turtles. He takes you out into the field on a midnight search for nesting leatherbacks. There – in the red beam of Kimberly’s headlamp – it’s an 800-pound sea turtle.

“She shimmers as the last of the seawater runs off her huge frame,” writes Swinburne. “Facing away from the sea, the female leatherback uses her three-foot-long front flippers to throw sand.” Finally, after scooping a hole about 28-inches deep, the female leatherback begins to drop her eggs – “…wet, gleaming white eggs the size of billiard balls…” and one of the turtle-watchers races to count them. Meanwhile, another records measurements while Kimberly takes a blood sample and tags the female.

Swinburne fills the pages with photos – some of the nighttime field trip to tag the turtles – as well as turtle science, history, and an honest discussion of modern threats to the sea turtles. Fishing and habitat loss account for many deaths. Then there’s marine debris – like all that plastic that ends up in the ocean, and eventually in the stomach of a turtle.  Swinburne also includes a profile of an unlikely turtle ally: a former turtle fisherman who now patrols the island and protects the turtles.

There are plenty of sidebars, a chapter on how a community came together to save the turtles, and even a list of “must-haves” for your Turtle-Watching Toolkit. Backmatter includes a glossary, advice on how to adopt a sea turtle, list of resources, and an index.

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