Friday, November 28, 2014

A Boy and a Jaguar

A Boy and a Jaguar
By Alan Rabinowitz; illus. by Catia Chien
32 pages; ages 4-8
HMH Books for young readers, 2014

This is a true story about a boy, his connection to animals, and how he became the "Indiana Jones of wildlife conservation".

themes: nonfiction, autobiography, animals

"I'm standing in the great cat house at the Bronx Zoo. Why is this jaguar kept in a bare room? I wonder. I lean toward my favorite animal and whisper to her."

Alan Rabinowitz loves the jaguar. He can talk to her. He also loves his chameleon, gerbil, and snake. He can talk to them, too. The only animals he can't talk to are human. Alan stutters, and no one - not his dad or his teachers - can understand him. So when he talks to his animals, Alan promises that if he can ever find his voice, he will be their voice and keep them from harm.

When he grows up, Alan studies jaguars. But they are being hunted nearly to extinction. Alan knows he has to protect them - and that means talking to government officials.

What I like about this book: It is full of hope - for children and for animals. And I like that Alan tells his own story, and that he still talks to jaguars (and other cats). In an interview on NPR Alan says that all children go through periods in their live where they feel misunderstood or shut off from the human world - whether they have a disability or just something inside them that makes them different from everyone else. "I wanted this book to speak to all of those children because I don't think adults realize, unless you've gone through it as a child, what a lasting mark such pain leaves on a young person."

Beyond the book: Have you ever talked to an animal? Cats make wonderful listeners. So do toads (they don't hop away as quickly as frogs). If you do end up talking to an animal, what sort of things might you discuss?

Visit jaguars and other wild cats at a zoo.

Alan Rabinowitz is president and CEO of Panthera, a wildlife organization dedicated to protecting the world's wild cat species. You can learn a lot about jaguars and other wild cats at Panthera.

Watch In Search of the Jaguar (free feature-length documentary)

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. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Who's Sleeping in my Hickory Leaves?

Earlier this fall I discovered something sleeping in my hickory leaves. The underside of the leaves were covered with tiny fuzzy bumps - galls. Some insect, possibly an aphid, had laid eggs on the leaf and the irritation induced the leaf tissue to grow around it.

There are all kinds of galls: marble-sized knobs on the stems of goldenrod, fuzzy galls on the underside of a leaf, smooth round leaf galls, knot galls, galls that look like a bundle of needles or thin leaves... and the come in all colors: brown, red, gold, green.

The best time to collect galls is in the fall - you can find them on leaves and stems. If you want to see what comes out of the galls, collect the leaves or stem pieces and put them in jars with net over the top. Keep them in a cool area and take a look every day to see if anything has changed.

Check out some cool galls here and read about goldenrod galls here.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Animals, Animals, Animals

Today I'm reviewing a trio of books that fit together and provide a mix of fiction and fact. Our theme: animals

 Animals Work
by Ted Lewin
24 pages; ages 4-8
Holiday House, 2014

This easy-reader makes good on the title's promise. Each page features an animal at work. The text is simple subject/verb construction: "A dog herds. A horse carries." The illustrations show an animal doing its work, from herding sheep (dog) and lifting tree trunks (elephant) to mowing the lawn (sheep) and protecting the herd (llamas). Lewin includes the important work of a companion animal, too. At the back is a map showing where the featured animals live.

The World's Best Noses, Ears, and Eyes
by Helen Rundgren; illus. by Ingela P. Arrhenius
32 pages; ages 6-10
Holiday House, 2014

"Ears are for hearing, eyes are for seeing, and noses collect smells." But what are we trying to see? Or hear? And what is that stinky smell?

This book offers a fun look at the diversity of noses: long noses, short noses, funny looking noses. There are hedgehog noses and moth noses, elephant noses and shark noses and the very dazzling nose of the star-nosed mole. There are lizard ears and bunny ears, cricket ears and funny ears. We look at the biggest eyes and eyes on stalks, eyes that see at night and eyes that see hundreds of images at once. And then there's us. Humans. We're pretty average when it comes to eyes and noses and ears. Is there anything we do better than other animals?

A Night at the Zoo
by Kathy Caple
24 pages; ages 4-8
Holiday House, 2014

This is another easy-reader, with simple text and bold illustrations. "Sam and Pop are at the zoo,"  it begins. Pop takes photos with his cell phone and, when Sam gets hungry they get some popcorn and sit on a bench to rest. They fall asleep, and the zoo closes. Weird things happen once the people are gone... an ostrich snatches Pop's phone and somehow it ends up in monkey's hands. Eventually, Pop and Sam get the phone back and head home on the late bus. But wait! What are those photos?

Beyond the books: Are there any working animals in your neighborhood? The burros on my neighbor's farm protect her fallow deer from coyotes and other predators. A few miles away, a woman trains dogs to be reading partners for children in school and at the local libraries. And many people have cats to keep the mouse population down in the house and barn.

Visit a zoo with your sketchbook or camera. Take a close look at animal noses and ears and eyes - and draw some from different animals. What do you notice? You don't have to go to a zoo - you could observe mammals and birds and reptiles and amphibians that you see in your neighborhood. Even in cities you might find some interesting animals. In addition to cats, dogs, and birds some people report seeing deer, bears, possums and raccoons crossing city streets.

 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.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Birds On the Wing and On my Lawn

from wikipedia
The other morning I was awakened by turkeys chuckling beneath my window. They'd congregated on the side yard near the tall grass, and were making their way towards the hickory tree. This has been a good year for turkey - food has been falling out of the sky for weeks and we can't walk anywhere without smashing acorns beneath our heels.

Besides chuckling, turkeys purr, cluck and gobble. They even hiss, though I haven't heard that. You can hear turkey calls over at Cornell Lab of Ornithology's turkey page.

Not all birds hang out on my lawn; there are a number that flit, flap, and soar overhead. I've often wondered what it would be like to take to the sky. Now I don't need wings; I can open David Elliott's newest book, On the Wing
illustrated by Becca Stadtlander
32 pages; ages 3-7
Candlewick, 2014

theme: animals, nature

From hummingbirds to eagles, this book waxes poetic about birds from all over in all kinds of weather. There are Japanese cranes dancing in the snow, flamingos, bowerbirds, condors and puffins. Elliott includes a few backyard feeder-friends we might already know: woodpecker, blue jay, cardinal, crow.

The illustrations are luscious, with details of feathers and beaks right on down to the toes. Here's one of the spreads, featuring my favorite late-winter visitor.

 Beyond the book: Fill up a bird feeder and watch who comes to visit. Or visit an aviary. Take a close look at the birds you see: what do their beaks look like? Do they have feather crests? Are they brightly-colored or more earth-toned? What do their calls sound like? How do they act around other birds or around people?

Now try your hand at writing poetry "on the wing". Remember, poems don't have to rhyme, and they can be as short as a puffin's beak or as long as a peacock's tail.

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.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014