Friday, September 18, 2015

Let Nature Inspire your Thinking

Wild Ideas: Let Nature Inspire Your Thinking
by Elin Kelsey; illus. by Soyeon Kim
32 pages; ages 4-10
Owl Kids, 2015

theme: nature; imagination; engineering

Problems are like sticker burrs.
They poke.
   They prick.
      They nag.

But sometimes, writes Elin Kelsey, these problems spark marvelous ideas. For example, the hooks on burrs inspired one scientist to develop velcro.

So what can we learn from nature, she asks. If squirrels can learn to cross roads by watching people, what can people learn from watching squirrels? Some animals create safe "thinking areas" before tackling a new situation, while others dive right in. Some animals use tools to gather food, some use group strategies to hunt prey, and some learn survival lessons from their parents and elders.

What I like about this book: I like Kelsey's encouragement for us to "untame" our imaginations. She gives wonderful examples of animals doing things we least expect: counting, calculating, inventing... and even observing people to learn things, like when it's safe to cross a street. I also like the three-dimensional dioramas that Soyeon Kim created for illustrating the book. The burrs are huge and detailed, and she tucks children into unlikely places: a gorilla nest, fishing with whales, hunting with hyenas. What fun!

Beyond the book: There will always be problems that need solving, but if we open our eyes (and our minds) we might find answers in the natural world.

Take a problem-solving field trip. What sorts of things are animals in your neighborhood, park, or natural area doing? How do they build homes, hunt for food, share our humanized environment? Kelsey says squirrels watch humans; what can you learn by watching squirrels? Watching maple seeds twirl towards the ground? Leaves flutter in the breeze? Dragonfly wings? Ants?

Learn more about how animals solve problems.  Scientists who study animal behavior write articles, and some make videos. Surf the web and you'll find plenty of videos of crows using twigs and wires to get food out of tight spots. There's even one showing crows using a plastic lid to slide down a snowy roof. Owlkids has posted a bunch of podcasts by Elin Kelsey about different animals inventing tools and solving problems. They're each about 2 minutes long and guaranteed to help untame your imagination. And check out this short video about humpback whales using bubblenets to herd prey towards the surface for hunting.

Create a 3-D piece of art. Soyeon Kim built dioramas to illustrate Wild Ideas. Then she photographed them for the illustration.
 You can create dioramas, too. All you need is a box, paper, paints or crayons, glue... and your imagination. You could even incorporate leaves, burrs, and other things from nature. Here's an interview with the artist, Soyeon Kim (pdf).

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.


  1. I love this idea of natural problem solving, and those dioramas are so dynamic!

    1. I loved making dioramas in grade school. I wonder why I stopped?

  2. I would like to read this book. I didn't know squirrels watched human behavior when crossing streets -- wish the deer in my neighborhood would learn how to cross the highway. Love the diorama. I remember making something similar in school -- not so elaborate.

  3. Wow. This one looks great on so many levels. Can't wait to see the burrs.

    1. Go look at some burrs and then think how you would make a cut-paper illustration.... remember, you can curl paper.

  4. This sounds like a great STEM book we could use in our school library. Thanks!

  5. This is fascinating! I can imagine many students being inspired by the dioramas.

    1. If my kids were still young, they would want to make a diorama about a scene from a book. It's a good way to delve into the details of the scene.

  6. This looks fabulous. JUST requested it from my library! Thanks for the recommendation.