Monday, December 28, 2015

A Cartoon Prehistory of Life on Earth

When Fish Got Feet, When Bugs Were Big, & When Dinos Dawned: A Cartoon Prehistory of Life on Earth
by Hannah Bonner
128 pages, ages 8 - 12
National Geographic Kids, 2015

Given all the holidays, I'm hopping over to Monday to post a review of this fun book. This book is for kids who want to take a journey back in time ... to when life came out of the seas and onto land. It's a true story. As author Hanna Bonner says, "I didn't make up the plot... it was set in stone - the stone of the fossil record." But since fact is weirder than fiction, this tale includes plenty of bizarre plants and animals, dancing continents, and lots of fun cartoons. (well, OK, the cartoons aren't part of the fossil record.)

Way back, when Pennsylvania was covered by a shallow sea (430 million years ago plus-or-minus), there was a lot of life in that water: trilobites and coral, brachiopods that looked like clams but aren't related, and crinoids that look like flowers but aren't. There were also eurypterids - extinct relatives of scorpions, some reaching more than six feet in length. And there were bony fish that looked like armored tanks.

Bonner shows what it took for fish to become land animals, how bugs got their wings, and the beginning of dinosaurs. Back matter includes a timeline of life on earth, a vertebrate "family tree" and lots of activities for curious kids including a few on climate change and extinction. And, for parents - a dictionary of "how to pronounce the Scientific terms in the book" - because kids seem to have no problem with words like Eudimorphodon and Herrerasurus rolling off their tongues.

Today we're joining the roundup over at the Nonfiction Monday blog where you'll find even more book reviews. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Brain Games!

Brain Games ~ The Mind-blowing Science of Your Amazing Brain
by Jennifer Swanson
112 pages; ages 8-12
National Geographic Kids, 2015

"Your brain is the most powerful and complex supercomputer ever built," writes Jennifer Swanson. It's about the size of a softball, weighs about three pounds, and looks like a wrinkled up sponge - but it pretty much runs this show we call our body.

Every chapter focuses on a different aspect of the brain: how it creates memory, controls emotions, makes decisions, and solves problems. There are plenty of challenges (can you solve a Rubik's cube?) sidebars filled with fun facts and fancy words, and cool trivia. You'll learn about earworms - which are delightfully different from earwigs, but just as annoying - and why heart-pumping music helps you make better decisions.

I especially like the Brain Breaks - diverse puzzles and games that provide a break from reading and a chance to kick back and play - and the "try me" activities. Want to try an experiment right now? Smile. Yup, that's all: just smile. Smile for as long as it takes you to count to 10. Feel any better? (if not, smile longer)
What happens if you smile at other people? How do they respond? For a real challenge: try smiling instead of yelling at your brother... and observe what happens to you and to him.

There's even a section for people with busy busy crammed full busy lives - about multitasking. Our brain might do better if, instead of trying to do lots of things at once, we do one thing for a short period of time and then move to a different task (sequential tasking). Jennifer's "Rule of 20" goes like this: focus on one task for 20 minutes (set a timer). When it buzzes, take a breath, stretch your legs, then set the timer for 20 minutes and go on to a different task. Try this with your homework... your brain  cells will thank you. But remember Archimedes' Rule of 40: after 40 - 50 minutes of sitting, get up and move around for 10 minutes. Your body will thank you for that!

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 author & the folks at the GROG blog.

Monday, December 7, 2015

It's "Play Around with Computer Code" Week

It's Monday.... so why am I here? Because this week - December 7 through 13 - is Computer Science Education Week, and there are all kinds of fun things to do. 

It's also a great week to celebrate Grace Hopper and Ada Lovelace, two pioneers in computer science. 

Ada Lovelace was born in London on December 10, 1815. She had a talent for mathematics, and is often considered to be the first computer programmer. She also introduced the concept of repeating processes, or “looping,” using a computing engine. The programming language, Ada, is named after her.

Grace Hopper developed the first compiler for a programming language. She also popularized the term “debugging” - using used the phrase when she had to remove an actual moth from the computer.

What better way to celebrate than to learn how to write computer code? If you've never written any code before, don't worry. There are plenty of books and online resources to help you learn how.

One new book that I really like is Hello Ruby: Adventures in Coding. It's written and illustrated by Linda Liukas, a computer programmer herself. You can find a review of the book and interview with Linda over at Sally's Bookshelf - plus a link to Ruby's game page where you can play around with coding.

A really great resource is the Hour of Code site where you'll find some videos and puzzles to get you started. Use blocks of code to take two characters on a Minecraft adventure, build a Star Wars galaxy, ice skate with Anna and Elsa, and make flappy bird games and more. 

Go. Play. Have fun. In the process you'll learn a little bit about logic and spacial orientation and maybe even computer coding. Plus... I'm betting you'll spend way more than an hour.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Extreme Planet

Extreme Planet
by Carsten Peter & Glen Phelan
112 pages; ages 8-12
National Geographic Kids, 2015

If you're looking for adventure, this book opens up lots of possibilities. Tucked within the covers are photographs of some of the wildest places Carsten Peter has visited: volcanoes, caves, glaciers, and canyons.

But since it's winter, let's explore chapter 2: Glaciers and Ice Sheets. Greenland is cold and icy - a huge ice sheet one-to-two miles thick covers most of the island. This sheet was built up over thousands of years, with snow falling on top of older layers and compressing them into layers of ice. This ice pushes outward from its thickest region, says Carsten, like cake batter spreading out as you pour it in a pan. But a lot slower.

Each chapter includes current topics and science activities. In this chapter, Carsten addresses the issue of climate change and provides tips on things you can do to reduce global warming. He also includes a hands-on activity challenging readers to find fabrics that could keep them the warmest in an Arctic expedition.

Carsten writes - and explores - far away places. But, he says, there's a lot to explore right in your own community. Visit a nature center and learn about the plants and animals that live there. Learn what it was like before people settled in the area. Or settle down in your back yard and watch the wildlife that visit your part of the planet.

Today is STEM Friday. Drop by the STEM Friday blog for book reviews and other STEM resources.