Friday, November 27, 2015

A Trio of Animal Books for Early Readers

National Geographic Children's Books has a series of leveled readers for curious kids at every reading level. Here's a sample of three of their books about animals published this year.

Hoot, Owl!
by Shelby Alinsky
24 pages, ages 2-5
 level: pre-reader

Instead of a table of contents, the first page has a "vocabulary tree". In this case the list begins: animals. Under that: Snowy Owls. Then on one side a list with words related to Where they Live (snow, cold) and on the other side, What they Do (swoop, glide).

Easy-to-read text is accompanied by high-quality photographs. The last page in the pre-readers is devoted to an activity: pretending you're the featured animal and moving the way it moves, matching words to photos, drawing...

 Red Pandas
by Laura Marsh
32 pages; ages 4-6
level: 1 (starting to read)

This book opens with a table of contents and a question: Guess Who? Red pandas share the name of "panda" but, we learn, they are not any relation to the black-and-white pandas people are used to seeing.

Readers learn about life in the trees, what red pandas eat, and how they talk with each other. Large font text explains most of the material, with text-boxes for cool facts, new words, and even some panda jokes. There's even a panda centerfold - with Five Fun Facts and adorable photos of red panda babies.

The neat thing about books at this level is the "What in the World?" puzzle at the back: close-up photos with hints like "these are used for climbing." There is a word bank (words kids should be familiar with) and a photo glossary at the back.

Ugly Animals
by Laura Marsh
32 pages; ages 5-8
level 2 (independent readers)

This book is the antithesis of an animal beauty contest. Laura Marsh has rounded up some of the weirdest-looking creatures from air, sea, and land - even space!

There's a table of contents at the front and a photo glossary at the back. In-between are portraits of jumping spiders, tapirs, vultures, and bats. The text is more complex, with longer sentences and new words. There are plenty of text-boxes with cool facts, jokes, and "critter terms", and a centerfold featuring Five Ugly Frogs. At the back there's a quiz.

Kids who want to go beyond the book can become "Super Readers". National Geographic has a special Super Reader site with posters, activities, and games.
Today is STEM Friday. Drop by the STEM Friday blog for book reviews and other STEM resources.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Lichen-looking leaves me liking lichens

Foliose lichens

Lichens are an odd lot. They look sort of greenish and make their own food using sunlight, but they don't have flowers or leaves or roots. So they're not plants. They are a composite of two organisms: fungi and algae. Usually the algae is sandwiched in between layers of the fungi. They have a symbiotic relationship - both organisms benefit. The algae make food, and the fungi provide the structure and help retain moisture.
Fruticose lichen - bushy appearance

You'll find them everywhere - from the highest rocky tops of mountains to the rainiest rainforest. You may have seen crusty lichens clinging to rocks - they are the first colonists and secrete acids that gradually break down the rock surface, helping soil development. But it takes time; lichens grow really really slowly. A fast-growing lichen may add 1/2 inch a year.

Trumpet lichens
 Lichens will grow on just about anything that holds still long enough for it to attach to: tree trunks and branches, gravestones, old farm equipment, wooden picnic tables ... even sand dunes. If the sand is stable for a long enough period of time, a soil crust of lichens can form. That allows other communities of plants to move in and establish themselves over the top.

British Soldier lichen
Lichens do more than help the soil; they provide food for animals and insects, and birds use them in nest-building. People use lichens, too. Some lichens are used in dyes. When mixed with pine sap or urine, or burned to ash, they produce a range of colors from yellow to purple and reds. Some lichens are edible, used as food or to flavor food.

You might find lichens in your bathroom cabinets; lichens are used in toothpaste, salves, perfumes and deodorants. Some lichens produce chemicals that inhibit the growth of neighboring lichens - and scientists have found uses of lichen chemicals in herbicides as well as medical applications.

So what's not to like about lichens?
Today is STEM Friday. Drop by the STEM Friday blog for book reviews and other STEM resources.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Two Books about Animals

Arbordale has a couple of new books about animals this fall ~ one about instinctual behavior and one about food chains. They're both 32-page picture books aimed at the 4-8 crowd.

 The Hungriest Mouth in the Sea
by Peter Walters

"Who has the hungriest mouth in the seas of the south?" That's what author Peter Walters wants to know so he sets off exploring the waters around New Zealand, starting with the plankton that drifts with the tide and soaks up energy from the sun.

Using the refrain, "But look - a hungrier mouth in the seas of the South" he asks the reader who would be heading this way? His cut-paper illustrations give hints of the next possible link in the food chain. Kicking krill swarm and blue cod are out hunting, but neither is fierce enough to be the top in this habitat. Could it be the sharks? Pointy-tailed rays? The barracuda? Or is there something bigger out there waiting for supper?

The artwork is delightful and will inspire young artists to try their hand at cut paper illustrations, and the rhyming text is engaging enough to be read over again. Back matter includes a fun section on marine mammals that will have kids comparing their own bodies to whales. There's a predator-prey matching game and food web cards for a "Hungry Mouth" game.

They Just Know: Animal Instincts
by Robin Yardi; illus. by Laurie Allen Klein

"No one reminds a caterpillar to eat her leaves, or to make a chrysalis when she's old enough. Caterpillars just know." And once they turn into butterflies, they know how to fly - without even going to flight school.

Sharks are born knowing how to swim, frogs know how to sing, and baby sea turtles know how to swim across the ocean. Using simple text, the author helps children understand what instinct is. More challenging information about instinct versus learned behaviors is included in the back matter, along with a quiz about behaviors: learned or instinct? There's also some life cycle charts for those animals whose young look nothing like the adults (butterflies, frogs, ladybugs) and a matching game.

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

Friday, November 6, 2015

What in the World? Look Again

What in the World? Look Again: Fun-tastic Photo Puzzles for Curious Minds
by National Geographic Kids
48 pages; ages 8 - 12
National Geographic Kids, 2015

This is not your average book. For one thing, it's good for your brain. For another, the format is completely different: it's a 10-inch (plus a smidgen more) square. And that makes it interesting.

There are pages of amazing photos: birds, frogs, ocean creatures, unusual architecture, feathers, scales, stones and bones.... and more. Some close-up; some from a distance; some not even real. And all of them are pieces of puzzles - that's where the "good for your brain" part comes in.

Your brain, it turns out, is a muscle just like your heart and your biceps. You exercise your arms to get strong, and your heart to stay fit. So why not exercise your brain, too? Picture puzzles help strengthen your visual perception. They also strengthen cognitive skills - that's the ability to think and process new information.

This book has different kinds of puzzles. "What in the World?" pictures challenge you to think about what you're looking at. It might be a piece of a photo, like an animal's nose or a snake eye. Each puzzle has an anagram clue, in which the letters of the word(s) are all mixed up.

"Real or Fake" asks puzzlers to determine which photos are real and which are faked. It's not as easy as it sounds, especially in this age of digital photography. So be skeptical about what you see. "Take a Look" puzzles require time: you have to search for things in a large picture. Think: "I Spy" or "Where's Waldo".

"Up Close" puzzles are photos taken with microscopes. A scanning electron microscope can magnify something 50,000 times - so it may look a lot different than the way you see it in the real world. The challenge is to match a photo (like magnified pollen grains) with a flower.

"Hidden animal" puzzles challenge you to find spiders, butterflies, and other critters that blend in with their background - and that calls for attention to detail. "Optical Illusions" trick your brain, while "Double Takes" make you take second - and third - looks to determine what the differences are between two photos.

What makes this a STEM pick? Well, if you want to be a spy (or a biologist or an explorer or an engineer, astronomer, geologist) you have to be really good at observing and remembering details. And a good scientist doesn't believe everything he - or she- sees in a photo - especially if someone else takes the photo. Today's review is part of the STEM Friday roundup. Drop by STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources. Review copy from the publisher.