Friday, May 29, 2015

A Rock Can Be

A Rock Can Be
by Laura Purdie Salas; illus by Violeta Dabija
32 pages; ages 4-7
Millbrook Press, 2015

theme: environment, poetry

A rock is a rock.
It's sand, pebble, stone.
Each rock tells a story,
a tale all its own.

I love Laura Purdie Salas's "can be" series (Water Can Be, A Leaf Can Be) so I was excited to see a new book about rocks. What fun! A rock can be a mountain, a fountain, a skimmer, a trimmer.

What I like love about this book: Laura's lyrical writing. The wonderful examples of what a rock can be. The invitation to go out and see for ourselves, to discover what else a rock can be.

I also love the back matter - four pages in which Salas explains how rocks are used to make fountains and play games, and how rocks are formed deep within the earth and erupt as lava. I love that there's a glossary and further reading (including a Rock and Minerals guide). What fun!

Beyond the Book:

Go on a Rock Hunt. There are rocks everywhere: at the beach, along the roadside, in a river, or in your backyard. Collect a few different kinds and look at them closely. What colors are they? Are they smooth or rough? Do they sparkle? What do they look like when they're wet?

Find out what your state rock - or mineral - is. My state rock is garnet.

Find out more about volcanoes. Here's a video of how volcanoes erupt (by USGS)

Dig for fossils. We often find brachiopods and crinoid stems in our garden. Some, luckier people, find trilobites or bits of dinosaur bone in their back yards.

Take a field trip - to a museum or mineral show. Draw a picture of any interesting rocks you find.

Dance to rock music. This doesn't have anything to do with geology, but your parents will be delighted if you ask them to turn on the radio to their favorite rock station and show you a few cool moves.

Today's review is part of the STEM Friday roundup. Drop by STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources. We're also joining 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 BooksReview copy from publisher.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Leaflets three, let it be! Plus - author interview

Leaflets Three, Let it Be! The story of poison ivy
by Anita Sanchez; illus. by Robin Brickman
32 pages; ages 4 - 8
Boyds Mills Press, 2015

You've heard the warning: leaflets three, let it be. Poison ivy! Who wants to come back from a walk in the woods all itchy and scratchy? But poison ivy doesn't just grow in the woods. Around here, you can find it in people's back yards, and growing along roadsides.

Poison ivy. Yuck! Who needs it? Lots of animals, writes Anita Sanchez. Like a rabbit in springtime. He's thin and hungry, and there aren't many plants growing yet. But poison ivy leaflets are tender and tasty. But rabbits aren't the only ones who eat leaves.

In the summer, poison ivy flowers. Bees collect nectar to make honey and aphids suck plant juices. The petals fall off and fruit ripens for birds and squirrels. Are we the only ones bothered by the plant?

I love the way this book follows the plant through a yearful of seasons. I love the gorgeous art: painted paper (watercolors and acrylics) cut and shaped by hand. And I love the back matter where we learn what to do if we've come in contact with poison ivy and how to get rid of it in your back yard without harming animals and insects. There's a cool "poison ivy look-alike" challenge (hint: not all plants that have three leaflets are poison ivy).

Author Anita Sanchez worked for 25 years as a naturalist at a nature center. She's been noticing that kids are getting out into the woods less and less. So I asked her a bit about writing the book and she graciously answered Three Questions:

Archimedes: What inspired you to write about poison ivy - do you have it in your back yard?

Anita: One of the things kids are worried about is getting poison ivy, and they don't really know what it looks like. So I wrote the book as a way to help kids feel safe when they leave the sidewalk. Plus, yes, I have lots in my backyard. I get itchy every spring if I walk around without paying attention. Maybe that's poison ivy's purpose in this world: to get us to slow down and notice the green world around us. I read that when a Cherokee saw poison ivy in the woods, he or she would say, "Hello, my friend. I see you." Once you know what it looks like, you can stay out of it. (note: Anita wrote a wonderful post about poison ivy on her blog, Unmowed.)

Archimedes: What sort of research did you do?

Anita: My main reference was a book called American Wildlife and Plants: A guide to Wildlife Food Habits. It's just lists and lists of which animals eat different plants, and it was compiled over decades by hundreds of wildlife biologists who studied what animals eat by dissecting their poop. It's incredible how many animals use poison ivy for food and shelter. There are more than fifty different species of birds that eat the berries - including my favorite singers, mockingbirds.

Archimedes: Did you learn anything that surprised you?

Anita: Poison ivy affects lots of human victims, but the plant itself is the victim of relentless insect predation. There are hundreds of species of insects that eat or lay eggs on poison ivy. There's even an infinitesimal critter called the poison ivy leaf gall mite (Aculops rhois) which lays its eggs on the leaves, resulting in a horribly mottled red surface that looks - poetic justice! - exactly as though the poison ivy plant has contracted a nasty rash.

That sticky sap that oozes out of the plant evolved as a defense against insects. It's a mere accident of evolution that the sap happens to be a powerful allergen for most humans... we're just collateral damage.

Archimedes: OK, question 3 1/2. Got a project coming out soon?

Anita: Next year I have a picture book biography of Linnaeus coming out. It's called Karl, Get out of the Garden! Carolus Linnaeus and the naming of everything.

Today's review is part of the STEM Friday roundup. Drop by STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources.  Review copy from publisher.

Friday, May 8, 2015

High Tide for Horseshoe Crabs & author interview

High Tide for Horseshoe Crabs
by Lisa Kahn Schnell; illus by Alan Marks
40 pages; ages 3-7
Charlesbridge, 2015

I love this book beginning with the endpages - which are scientific illustrations (with labels) of the dorsal and ventral side of a horseshoe crab (plus pedipalp details).

And then the title page, where you see a horseshoe crab scuttling up a beach. And then...

"It's starting. One spring night, the first horseshoe crab lunges onto shore."
Then... "They're arriving."
Later, "They're laying."
Until, finished, "They're leaving."

Who are "they"? Horseshoe crabs. Gulls and other shorebirds. Researchers and citizen scientists who've come to tag and count the crabs. And they're all converging on one beach in Delaware, on the day of high tide.

themes: animals, nature

What I like about this book - besides the endpages and awesome illustrations - is the way author Lisa K. Schnell layers the story. You can see it on the page below:

"They're arriving." Simple. Bold. Easy to read. Then a more detailed paragraph about how the crabs "crawl from the muck of their winter homes" and head toward Delaware Bay, where high tides will carry them far up the beach where their eggs will develop.

Another thing I love about this book is the back matter - and there's a lot. One page tells more about horseshoe crabs; another goes into detail about how the blue blood of horseshoe crabs is used by the medical industry to test for harmful bacteria on needles, pacemakers, and even in vaccines. There's a map, some resources for further investigation, and advice for where to find horseshoe crabs - and even how to get involved in crab counts.

Beyond the book: if you live near the east coast, head to a beach at high tide and look for these creatures of the ancient sea. OR, check out this video of horseshoe crabs.

Paint a picture or write a poem about horseshoe crabs and enter the "Horseshoe Crabs and the Arts" Young Voices competition (deadline June 15). Maybe horseshoe haiku is your calling? Or perhaps you prefer to capture crabs through the viewfinder of your camera... Check out this photo of crab-tracks, an entry from an earlier year.

Swim like a horseshoe crab. Normally, they swim upside down - but they have a lot more legs, plus gills and a tail to help them move about. You can take swimming lessons from this young horseshoe crab.

I met Lisa a few years ago at a Highlights Founder's science-writing workshop. Later, we shared what we were working on, so I've seen this book develop from an itsy-bitsy idea into an adult horseshoe crab. I caught up with Lisa last week and asked her Three & 1/2 Questions about her book.

Archimedes: What inspired you to write about horseshoe crabs?

Lisa: Early one morning I was walking along the beach and encountered a horseshoe crab. I had seen many, while growing up, but this time it caught my attention. It was returning to the water, such a simple action, and yet I could identify with this animal and its struggles. I wanted to learn more, but couldn't find much information. That really surprised me because these creatures are all around us, and we see them everywhere. So I started doing research and learned that they've been swimming in the oceans for about 500 million years! Then I knew I wanted to write something that would be fun and would get kids outside to look at something.

Archimedes: What sort of research did you do?

Lisa: I talked to a lot of scientists - horseshoe crab experts and bird scientists and statisticians. And I got to do some field work - I found a person doing crab tagging and surveying and asked if I could tag along. I didn't realize how many people would be involved - there were about 50 people on just one beach... kid, parents. They had taken training to become crab-taggers and counters for the surveys.

Archimedes: So I hear you mailed a couple of crabs to Alan, the illustrator?

Lisa: Goodness, no! Horseshoe crabs would go bad and stink. I sent him some molts - the shells cast off by juvenile crabs that are growing. I had participated in a "Green Eggs and Sand" educators weekend and the leader offered the molts to me. They helped Alan to see details of the crab - but because they were molts, it was an immature crab, not an adult.

Archimedes: Did you learn anything that surprised you as you researched your book?

Lisa: Most of the things I learned surprised me. Horseshoe crabs are unsung heroes - their blood is blue and has unique chemicals that make it ideal for use in the biomedical industry. Another thing that amazed me is that the crabs bury their eggs in the sand, and another crab might dig them up as she's getting ready to lay her own eggs. The exposed eggs begin to dry out - but they are eaten by birds and other animals. They're a high-protein food source and integral to the food web.

Lisa is busy with a new project (it's a secret) - but she has a website where you can see what she's up to.

Today's review is part of the STEM Friday roundup. Drop by STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources. We're also joining 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 BooksReview copy from publisher.

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Sky Painter ~ blog tour & author interview

The Sky Painter: Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist
by Margarita Engle; illus. by Aliona Bereghici
40 pages; ages 6-8
Two Lions, 2015

 theme: birds, art, conservation

opening: I love the bright wings of birds 
as they fly, wild and free, 
high above me.

Louis loves to watch birds. His father wants him to study to become an engineer, but Louis dreams of being an artist. A bird artist. But instead of killing birds and painting from skins, he wants to paint living, flying birds in their habitat.

Why I like this book: Ever since I moved to my home not-too-far from Ithaca, I have heard of the famous Louis Agassiz Fuertes. So I was doubly interested in reading Margarita Engle's new book. I wanted to learn more about this local art & bird hero.

I like the way the story is written - in verse - and that each page or two is headed by a title: "Bird Art"; "Learning"; "Letting Birds Live". Fuertes went on field expeditions to paint birds, so there is Alaska, the Caribbean, South America. And there are the gorgeous illustrations of parrots and waterfowl and more! This book makes me want to head outside with a sketchbook and crayons and look more closely at the birds in my habitat.

Beyond the book: Appreciate the birds in your neighborhood. No matter where you live, whether in the city or country, there are birds all around you. There are hawks and owls in cities, doves and chickadees in the country. What birds live around you? Learn more about them.

Check out the art of Louis Fuertes. Fuertes painted with oils and watercolors, and sketched in pen and charcoal. You can see some of his artwork archived at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology here.

Draw and paint birds you see. If you want some practice drawing birds before you head out "into the field" to capture live birds with your pencils or brush, here's some "how to draw a bird" advice. Mostly, though, you just have to do it. Practice observing and drawing will make you better.

I liked this book so much that I begged Margarita to answer a few questions. Which she did, most graciously.

Three Questions
 Archimedes: What inspired you to write about Fuertes?

Margarita: Independent thinking! Creativity! Originality! Instead of accepting the way things had always been done, Fuertes dared to try something new. He greatly admired earlier bird artists, but unlike Audubon, Fuertes lived in a time when people realized the need for wildlife conservation. Instead of killing birds and posing them, he decided to learn how to paint faster. As a result, Fuertes's paintings not only have a spark of life in the eye of each bird, they also include actions, behaviors, and habitats that were missing from the work of earlier artists. 

Archimedes: What sort of research did you do for this book?

Margarita: Some of my research happened while working on an earlier book, Silver People. I came upon mentions of Fuertes, which led me to look for books about his paintings. I should mention that I absolutely love travel and reading.... and I hope that teachers who use The Sky Painter will include field trips. Even a ten-minute walk around the most urban school campus will reveal small creatures that fascinate children. Once they've seen the iridescence of a hummingbird or the seed-cracking shape of a house finch's beak, they'll want to lean more.

Archimedes: Talk about his contribution to conservation. 

Margarita: Fuertes was one of the early members of the Audubon Society. He spoke to women's clubs about finding alternatives to feathers for decorating their hats. He led nature walks, and encouraged kids who visited his studio to do their own bird sketches. When he was a young child, he kept a bird hospital under the porch stairs and once tied an owl to the kitchen table so he could paint its portrait. As an adult he kept a loon in the bathtub so he could watch (and paint) duck feet in action. He aimed a telescope at the moon to watch night-flying flocks of migratory birds, and hid inside an "invisibility cloak" of leaves while painting flamingos.

Today's review is part of the STEM Friday roundup. Drop by STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources. We're also joining 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 BooksReview copy from Blue Slip Media

If you missed any of the Blog Tour stops - or want to revisit them - here's the list:

Mon, Apr 20
Library Fanatic
Tues, Apr 21
Kid Lit Frenzy
Wed, Apr 22
Unleashing Readers
Thurs, Apr 23
5 Minutes for Books
Fri, Apr 24
Teach Mentor Texts
Sat, Apr 25
Booking Mama
Mon, Apr 27
Tues, Apr 28
The Children's Book Review
Wed, Apr 29
Cracking the Cover
Thurs, Apr 30
A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust