Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ A Field Trip for Nuts!

This is the season to find all kinds of nuts: acorns, hickory nuts, walnuts, beech nuts. The black walnuts are falling, now, on the road. They're huge, green balls nearly the size of tennis balls, though they tend to break apart if you kick them too hard. Finding hickory nuts is always a race with the squirrels and birds.

Go out an look for some nuts. Draw pictures of what you find (or take photos). Sit quietly and notice what animals come to investigate the nuts.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Beauty and the Beak

Beauty and the Beak: how science, technology, and a 3-D printed beak rescued a Bald Eagle.
by Deborah Lee Rose and Jane Veltkamp
48 pages; ages 5-12
Persnickety Press, 2017

themes: engineering, animal rescue, nonfiction

In a huge nest of twigs, high above an icy cold Alaskan river, a Bald Eagle chick cracked open her egg.

At first she's covered in down. But soon her wings become longer and stronger. Bit by bit her feathers grow in. She's a teen, taking test flights, and then off on her own. She hunts, eats, and soon is ready to fly back to the land where she was born. But one day she is shot in the face. A bullet shatters her beak, tears her eye, and leaves her bleeding.

"Beauty" is rescued and taken to a wildlife center where she can heal. But she can't eat or drink because her beak hasn't grown back. Then Janie, a raptor rehabilitator, takes Beauty to a raptor center in Idaho. She works with an engineer to try something crazy: create a prosthetic beak for the eagle - and make it with a 3-D printer! But would it work? It did, and Beauty learned to eat and drink again on her own.

What I like about this book: This is a true story of how engineering and technology come to the rescue! That would be enough, but there are 16 pages of back matter packed with details about Beauty's beak and other prosthetic devices, as well as tons of facts about Bald Eagles.

I also like that this book comes out in the tenth anniversary year of the Bald Eagle being taken off the Endangered Species List. Even though they are no longer "endangered", Bald Eagles still face many risks - especially from human activity. People shoot them, or the eagles collide with cars, trains, or power lines.

Beyond the Book:
Listen to sounds made by Bald Eagles at Cornell Lab of Ornithology's website. You can also learn how to identify Bald Eagles.

Watch Bald Eagles via "eagle cam". Here's one in Washington DC. Season is over, now, but you can review the summer highlights.

Check out this post on "Wild Engineering."  And then head over to see this video about how the engineers created Beauty's new beak.

Then try your hand at engineering a prosthetic tail for fish! Download this pdf for some science and engineering fun.

Today we're joining the STEM Friday roundup. Drop by STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources. We're also joining others over at 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 from the publisher.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Wednesday Explorers Club - unseasonal observations

Walking through town the other day I saw some trees blooming. Even my forsythia is blooming again. It's October! Granted, we've had a lo-o-ong summer, but the red on trees should be leaves turning color.

Which brings me to phenology: the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena. According to the US National Phenology Network, "Changes in phenological events like flowering and animal migration are among the most sensitive biological responses to climate change. Across the world, many spring events are occurring earlier—and fall events are happening later—than they did in the past." 

You can help scientists by keeping track of flower blooms, bird migrations, insects emerging, and other natural phenomena by becoming a citizen scientist through Project BudBurst. All you need is a journal, a pencil, and insatiable curiosity. Despite its name, you don't have to wait until spring to make observations. You can start now. Have fun!

Friday, October 6, 2017

Super Women ~ Six scientists who changed the world

Super Women, Six scientists who changed the world
by Laurie Lawlor
64 pages; ages 8-12
Holiday House, 2017

"Imagine being a highly trained astronomer who's forbidden to look through a state-of-the-art telescope," writes Laurie Lawler. Or that you're an accomplished underwater cartographer not allowed on a research vessel, or a chemist not allowed to work in a research lab.

Not because you don't have the skills - but only because you're a woman. We're not talking about women in science hundreds of years ago, but within our lifetime. Absurd, right?

And yet, Lawlor has compiled half a dozen stories of real scientists who had to fight against gender discrimination to do their research. Her tales include:
  • Eugenie  Clark, known as the "shark lady" - an oceanographer who dives into the sea to study sharks and other creatures living in the deep. Her research helped people understand that sharks can learn. Scientist, explorer, Clark authored more than 175 scholarly and popular science articles and been a champion of ocean conservation.
  • Gertrude Elion shares the 1988 Nobel Prize in Physiology & Medicine with George Hitchings and Sir James Black. Her research contributes to drug treatment for cancers. But when she graduated in 1937 with high honors in chemistry, she was turned away from research labs because hiring a woman would be "too distracting".
  • Katherine Coleman Johnson served as a human "computer", one of a team of mathematicians who helped send Alan B. Shepard, Jr. into orbit around Earth. As an African American woman and mathematician, she faced many obstacles working in the brand new space agency, whose technical staff was mostly white and male. In 2015, President Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
  • Marie Tharp mapped underwater mountains, valleys, ridges, and plains. She was one of the first scientists to notice evidence for plate tectonics. Other researchers discounted her thoughts as "wacky ideas" and "girl talk", but eventually she convinced them. She worked with another researcher to create the world ocean floor map.
  • Florence Hawley Ellis wanted to be an archeologist, but men joked that she'd never find workers willing to follow her into the field. In addition to digging up artifacts, she collected information from Pueblo and Navajo elders about customs, stories, social organizations and more. She also noticed historical evidence of droughts and ongoing perils of climate change in the Southwest. 
  • Eleanor Margaret Burbidge is an astronomer who hunts deep-space objects. She viewed the first image of a quasar that was billions of light years from Earth. But in the early years of her career, institutes denied women access to telescopes because the living quarters were meant to be places where male astronomers wouldn't be bothered by wives or family. She finagled a way to live off campus and use the telescope and has contributed greatly to the field of astronomy.
The book is filled with photos, and complemented with a glossary where you can quickly look up "quasar".

Today we're joining the STEM Friday roundup. Drop by STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources. Review copy from the publisher.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ A Seedy Walk

Head out on a seedy field trip. Pull a large pair of old socks over your shoes and up your legs. Then head outside and walk through a weedy area - maybe next to a country road, or at the far end of a park, a hay field or even your garden.

You might be surprised by how many seeds "hitch" a ride.

When you get home, pull the seeds off your socks and take a close look at them - a magnifying lens will help. Can you figure out what plants they come from?

Sort them by what they look like. If you have some potting soil, fill up some paper cups and plant the seeds. Can you grow them into new plants?

Friday, September 29, 2017


by Joyce Sidman; illus. by Taeeun Yoo
32 pages; ages 4-7
HMH books for young readers, 2017

themes: nature, shapes

I love round things. 
I like to feel their smoothness. 
My hands want to reach around their curves.

Through the pages of this book a young girl explores things that are round in nature: seeds, eggs, berries... Round things spread. Round things roll.

What I like about this book: The diversity of round things! And the encouragement to look closer at the world around us. Also the reminder that some things that are round now were once jagged (like hills), and that some round things are ephemeral. And that some round things aren't round all the time.

There is also Back Matter! You know how I like books with Back Matter! Why are so many things in nature round? Joyce Sidman gives a few reasons including: round shapes distribute weight, round helps spread seeds or spores, and round things roll - which helps with distribution.

Beyond the book:

Make a list of all the Round things you can think of. They don't have to be found in nature.

Hunt for Round Things in nature. Now is a perfect time to find walnuts, hickory nuts, mustard seeds and other round things. Remember to check out the night sky for round things, too.

Do small Round Things roll the same speed as large round things? One way to test would be to roll them down a slope. Do they go as far? Push (or kick) them on a flat surface to get them started rolling.

How can you measure round-ness? Figure out a way to do it, then measure different things.

If you are watching the moon, how long does it take to get round? Draw a picture of it every night.

Today we're joining the STEM Friday roundup. Drop by STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources. We're also joining others over at 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 from the publisher.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Eye of the Storm

In the United States, 10 million people live in hurricane danger zones. Given the storms of the past few weeks, I figured now would be the perfect time to introduce Amy Cherrix's book - released this spring.

Eye of the Storm: NASA, drones, and the race to crack the hurricane code (Scientists in the Field Series)
by Amy Sherrix
80 pages; ages 10-14
HMH, 2017

Cherrix is no stranger to hurricanes, having survived the devastation of four major storms. So her first chapter, a story of a family caught by Hurricane Sandy (October, 2012) tingles with true life fight for survival.

Sandy, you may recall, was a "frankenstorm" - a combined hurricane-snowstorm. Thought it was classified as a category 1 hurricane (Irma was category 5, Harvey a category 4) it was much larger. Sandy measured 1100 miles across and affected 24 states, from Maine to Florida and as far west as Michigan and Wisconsin. While the coast suffered from rain and storm surge, inland areas were buried in three feet of snow.

The thing is, meteorologists can, using weather satellites and early warning systems, see hurricanes taking shape days - sometimes weeks - before they make landfall. Cherrix introduces us to the researchers behind the science and tools that meteorologists depend on. But first, she gives us a physics lesson in hurricane formation.

Did you know that Atlantic hurricanes are "born" in the driest place on earth? They come from the Sahara Desert, and some of that desert dust may affect the intensity of the hurricane. Cyclonic storms are forming all around the earth all times of the year. We may not be able to stop them from forming, says Cherrix, but we can certainly learn more about how they grow and change. And while she points out that we can't control the force (or intensity) of these storms, there are some who say that our contributions to climate change has done just that. "A warming planet means wetter storms, higher storm surges and more intense hurricanes, according to NASA's Earth Observatory," explains a recent article in the Houston Chronicle

Eye of the Storm reads like a science adventure. We meet the scientists who follow the data that their probes send back. Some of those are dropsondes, probes that fall through the storm and measure pressure, temperature, humidity, wind speed, and gps locations. They also send out thousands of rapid light pulses each second that scatter off particles in the storm and are bounced back to an instrument that reads the data. There are drone pilots on the ground and an in-air pilot to keep an eye in the sky.

At the end, Cherrix has an emergency preparedness checklist: an evacuation kit to put together before the storm, how to prepare for pet evacuations, and what to do after the storm. There's also a great list of apps for smart phones and tablets, and more.

Today we're joining the STEM Friday roundup. Drop by STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources. Review copy from the publisher.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ Aging Flowers

A field of flowery color is lovely to see ... but what happens to flowers as they grow older? Spend some time watching a few individual flowers. Capture them by painting their portraits or taking photos.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Can an Aardvark Bark?

Can an Aardvark Bark?
by Melissa Stewart; illustrated by Steve Jenkins
32 pages; ages 2-8
Beach Lane Books, 2017

themes: animals, nonfiction, sounds 

Can an aarvark bark?
No, but it can grunt.
Lots of other animals grunt too.

This is such a fun book, filled with barks, squeals, grunts, roars, and whines. Also bellows, growls, and laughs. Animals, it turns out, make all kinds of sounds. For all kinds of reasons - and Melissa gives us an inside look at what those sounds mean.

What I like LOVE about this book: The sounds! If you're reading it out loud, expect your listeners to bellow, roar, grunt, and bark along with the animals. Every page if filled with SOUND - and plenty of examples of animals that make those sounds. Did you know that frogs bark and rats chortle? OK, I've heard frogs bark and quack, but laughing? I haven't heard wild things laugh, chortle, or giggle with glee. But they do and Melissa gives us the facts.

The illustrations! Steve Jenkins does such spectacular work, and it's always fun to open up a new book filled with his cut-and-torn-paper artwork.

The structure! This is subtle and it took me a couple pages to realize what was going on - but then I discovered a pattern to the questions and the answers.I don't want to spoil the fun of discovering it yourself.

The best thing? Readers learn that animals use a diverse array of sounds to communicate their thoughts and feelings. Just like people do. This is the perfect book to share with a kid who dreams of becoming a translator for their dog, cat, snake, goldfish, or pet rock. OK, maybe not the rock...

Beyond the Book:
Learn to speak a foreign language: animal. Listen to the sounds an animal makes, and imitate them. If you don't have an animal living in your home, find a place where you can listen to animals: a pet shop, zoo, or even sitting on a park bench listening to - and watching - squirrels and birds. Write down the different sounds your animal makes.

What does your pet say? Hang out with an animal long enough, and you begin to understand their language. Sometimes it's sound; sometimes it's posture; sometimes it's a combination. Can you write a dictionary to explain what your animals mean when they bark, growl, purr, or whine?

Go on a listening walk. Early mornings or evenings are good times to listen to animals out and about. What do you hear? Frogs? Geese and ducks talking to each other as they migrate? Insects?

Learn to speak bird. Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a site dedicated to songs and calls. 

On Monday, head over to the GROG Blog for an interview with Melissa. She'll talk about her journey from idea to book (and how long it took!) and a few other things.

Today we're joining the STEM Friday roundup. Drop by STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources. We're also joining others over at 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 from the publishers.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ Strider Babies!

Strider babies at Baxter State Park (photo by Martha Mitchell)

About a month ago my friend and naturalist, Martha Mitchell, was exploring Baxter State Park in Maine. They were camping at the Northwest Cove campsite (you can get there by hiking or canoeing) when she saw a hatch of water striders. Like all members of the Wednesday Explorers Club, she had both her camera and her journal at hand.

page from Martha's field journal
"Tens of thousands of tiny young/ baby water striders skate on the calm water surface near the shore of the cove," she wrote. She measured the area they covered: 10 to 15 feet wide by 50 feet long. They were in constant motion.

"They move with the blowing wind and scatter when I stand or move... some hop on the surface... A hunting dragonfly occasionally dips to the water's surface for a meal. When the wind dies down, the striders move as a group to deeper water; then back toward shore when it picks up again."

As evening drew on, striders still covered the water's surface. Fish rose to the surface to feed, eating many of the striders, she noted.

The next morning the wind was gone. "The lake's surface is smooth - except for dimples like those made by raindrops. Looking closer... the dimples move." Water striders! still there, spread out across the lake. Martha paddled out onto the water, drifted awhile to watch the striders.

"They skated around in a seemingly random pattern, pausing only to change direction or take a smaller insect in its mouth. Periodically one would jump straight up into the air or dive beneath the water's surface. Striders that had captured small insects were chased by other striders who tried to steal the food."  

 More cool stuff about Water Striders:

Notes about life and ecology of water striders.
Seven Cool Facts about Water Striders.
video of water strider hunting flies

Friday, September 8, 2017

Counting with ants, sheep, and other wildlife

Themes for the day: counting, measuring, animals

Jump, Leap, Count Sheep! 
by Geraldo Valerio
24 pages; ages 2-5
OwlKids, 2017

One, two, three, here they come... Canadian animals.

This counting book has a twist: all the animals live in Canada. So kids are learning about their local wildlife as they learn the numbers.

What I like about this book: It's fun! The illustrations are stylized and imaginative, and may inspire kids (and adults) to try their hand at drawing local wildlife. Each page presents a number three ways: the numeral (3), the word (three), and the correct number of critters being introduced. But Wait! There's More! There are other elements on the page to count, such as the prey that mantids are hunting. The animals are also active, so active verbs are featured: hunting, jumping, swimming...

Sheep Won't Sleep
by Judy Cox; illus. by Nina Cuneo
32 pages; ages 4-7
Holiday House, 2017

Clarissa could not sleep. She tried everything: warm milk, reading, humming a lullaby - even her knitting. 

So she decides to count sheep because, as we all know, counting sheep helps you fall asleep. But the sheep get into things and tell her she needs to try harder.

"Try pairs of alpacas" one advises. So she does, counting by twos. When that doesn't work she tries counting llamas, then yaks, until her room is filled with woolly animals.

What I like about this book: The colors and designs of the wool coats of the yaks and other animals. And Clarissa's clever strategy that capitalizes on her knitting skills.

Ants Rule, the long and short of it
by Bob Barner
40 pages; ages 4-8
Holiday House, 2017

It's time... to plan the Blowout Bug Jamboree!

But first, the ants have to measure each bug. We don't find out why until the end, which is a big surprise for everyone.

What I like about this book: ants are pretty small, so how do they go about measuring things? A normal ruler is too big to handle. Not to fear: they use "ant units". For example, a caterpillar is four ants long. Through dialog, tables, charts, and graphs, the ants compare sizes of their buggy friends who are invited to the big party. I also like the collage art work, and the "ant rulers" that run along the bottom of some of the pages.

Beyond the Books:

Go on a Counting Field Trip. Take a walk through your neighborhood and count the animals you see: cats, squirrels, bumble bees, dogs, goldfinches. Take notes, and when you get home, create a chart or graph or table to represent your data.

Measure things without using a ruler. When I'm outside, I use my hands or feet. But there are many possibilities for measuring tools.

Counting Steps. Take a big person for a walk. Measure distances from a starting point and compare how far it is in kid steps to big person steps. Take different size steps. Have fun!

Car counting challenge. Next time you're on a long drive and getting bored, challenge people to count to 100 (or more) by 2s, 5s, 3s, 13s.... make it more challenging for older people.

Today we're joining the STEM Friday roundup. Drop by STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources. We're also joining others over at 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 copies from the publishers.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ Marvelous Mantids

A couple weeks ago I joined a group of like-minded curiosity-seekers on a "tracking expedition". It was a gentle afternoon walk up a creek to see what tracks had been left in the mud. We found plenty: raccoon tracks, coyote, herons, sandpipers, more raccoon... and those of us who love bugs got distracted by the flittering, fluttering, creeping, crawling, six-legged denizens of the creek-bank.

Among them, a praying mantis. Turns out that most of the mantids one sees in my neck of the woods (upstate NY) are from somewhere else. This one is a European mantis (aka: praying mantis), and an identifying feature is the cool underarm target that you can see. The mantis has spiny legs and sharp claws that prickle when it walks on your bare arm. But it really wants to hide out during the day, camouflaging itself in the greenery so it can ambush a meal and avoid becoming a meal.

They can hear (through a slit on the underside of the thorax, between second and third pair of legs) - and hear sounds in the ultrasonic range. Which is useful because they fly at night, when bats are hunting, and can detect bat echoes. You can read about that here. Cool, eh?

And those spiny legs? To help them hold onto their prey. Read more here.

Want to learn more about praying mantises? Grab your field notebook, a handlens, maybe a camera, and head outside to watch a couple. They have cool, triangular heads that make them look a bit like aliens. And cool mouthparts.

Friday, September 1, 2017

How to Survive as a Firefly

I thought I'd sneak in two more bug book reviews before the weather gets too chilly for bug observations. (You can find more insect book reviews and activities here)

How to Survive as a Firefly
by Kristen Foote; illus. by Erica Salcedo
36 pages; ages 5-10
Innovation Press

"Up and at 'em, larvae." The drill sergeant calls out his young troops to get them ready for life as an adult firefly. He's been in the trenches for a year and a half, and he knows a thing or two...

First, there's tricks to getting through metamorphosis.
"Met-a-more-for-what?" ask the youngsters. Oh boy. This bug's got his work cut out for him. Thing is, you've gotta get ready to change because you just can't stay a larva forever. And if you're a firefly larva, that means COMPLETE metamorphosis - turning into a pupa and....

"Can we get a snack first?"

Written in dialog, this is a fun, fun, fun introduction to insect morphology, physiology, and Photinus pyralis - fireflies for you two-leggers. There are lessons on bioluminescence, flashy facts, and lots of humor - and of course, a pop quiz at the end.

Back matter includes Frequently Asked Questions and an author's note in which Kristen promises that no actual fireflies were harmed in the creation of the book. There's even a glossary.

Bugs! (Animal Planet chapter books)
by James Buckley, Jr.
112 pages; ages 7-10
Time Inc. Books, 2017

What makes an insect an insect? Great question, and that's the first thing you'll discover as you read through this book. Factual information on body parts, where they live, how they outnumber us (10 quintilliun insects; 7 billion people - they've got us a trillion to one!), and where they live. Chapters include: insect life cycles, what they eat, how they move around, and "buggy sense". There are chapters highlighting dragonflies, mantids, beetles, mosquitoes and other flies, butterflies and moths, and ants, bees, and wasps.

I like the "Bug Bites" - double-page spreads that focus on such things as army ants, and extreme insects. "Fact Files" give readers more details about the topics, and there are plenty of fact boxes scattered throughout. Curious bugologists will appreciate the list of resources for further study, and for those who want fast facts, there's an index.

Drop by the STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources. Review copies from publishers.

Friday, August 25, 2017

More BUG Books!

One can never have too many books about bugs! Here are a few more from my book basket:

There's a Bug on my Book!
by John Himmelman
32 pages; ages 4-7
Dawn Publications, 2017

The best thing about summer is reading outside. That's what this book is all about: sitting on the grass with a ...
"Hey! there's a bug on my book! It's a beetle."

Okay, we can handle that. Just puff a breath of air on it to get it moving. Now, back to reading. Yikes! now there's a snake slithering across the page.

What I like about this book: it invites readers to tilt the book (so the snake slides back into the grass), to nudge a bug, to be patient while a slug meanders across the page. At the same time, John Himmelman shares observations about the insects, spiders, worms, and other .... what's that? A frog just plopped onto the page! Another thing I like about this book is the back matter. Four Pages! That's where you learn more about each critter that slithered, slimed, hopped, wiggled, and plopped across the pages of the book. There are also activities that explore how bugs move, habitat, and "design a bug". You'll find more buggy activities at the Dawn website here.

Explore My World: Honey Bees
by Jill Esbaum
32 pages; ages 3-7
National Geographic Children's Books, 2017

"Look, a honey bee!" Easy to read and understand, the text describes the life of a honey bee. There's nectar-collecting, loading up the pollen baskets (which, we learn, can be a messy job), and carting the food back home. The hive is a busy place, with so many sisters and a queen, and there's lots of work to do in hive as well. We see the bee life cycle, meet a newly emerged bee who is immediately given a task: clean your room! Back matter includes more details about honey, pollination, the waggle dance, and a maze.

You might wonder why NGK writes "honey bee" rather than "honeybee". That's because they're following the rules of entomology: a honey bee is a kind of bee, just like a house fly is a kind of fly. On the other hand, a dragonfly (one word) is not a fly at all.

Incredible Bugs (series: Animal Bests)
by John Farndon; illus. by Cristina Portolano
32 pages; ages 8-12
Hungry Tomato, 2016

This is a fun, browsable book with a table of contents so you can find what you're looking for fast (if you want). Sections include smartest bugs, communication, special senses, builders, tool users, teamwork, migration, and special skills. You'll discover maze-solving spiders, dragonfly flight instruments, and which bug can leap tall buildings in a single jump. Text is accompanied by cartoons and photos.

Drop by the STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources. Review copies from publishers.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ Smelly Bee Feet

There are bees all over my garden! Bumble bees, carpenter bees, tiny metallic green bees, hairy gray sweat bees, and lots and lots of honey bees. Which means, I have lots of bees to watch when I get tired of weeding.

One of the things I've been wondering is how bees can tell whether there's food waiting inside the flowers they're about to land on. Sure, honey bees dance out directions to their sisters about where the best nectar can be found - but what if another bee got there first?

Turns out that bees - at least bumble bees - can tell whether someone else has visited a flower by the stinky feet print left behind. Yup. Bees have smelly feet, say researchers at the University of Bristol. This means the bees can tell whether they've visited a flower before, and even whether one of their nest-mates has been there. You can read the entire study here.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Great American EclipseToday!

The Great American Eclipse is happening!

If you plan to view the sun directly, make sure you have special filters (eclipse glasses) that meet the  ISO 12312-2:2015 standard. Even with those, don't spend a lot of time looking at the sun.

The safest way to watch the eclipse is with your back to the sun. Make a projector and watch the images. If you project the image onto paper, you can trace projections of the eclipse over time so you have a permanent record of your day.

Here are Five Ways to View an Eclipse (from Science Friday)

Here's some Eclipse Science (from last Wednesday)

I'll be watching the eclipse using my favorite pinhole projector: a hole poked through a paper plate. (Though I might use the cereal box, too)

Have fun and be safe! Remember to put on sunscreen and don't look at the sun without your special eclipse filters.

Friday, August 18, 2017

My Awesome Summer

My Awesome Summer,  by P. Mantis
by Paul Meisel
40 pages; ages 4-8
Holiday House, 2017

P. Mantis had a wonderful summer, full of bird-watching, hide-and-seek, fine food, sibling rivalry, and flight lessons. There are a few scary moment, like the time she almost got eaten by a bat, and narrowly escaping spider webs. But for the most part it was a summer to remember.

What I like about this book:
It's fun to read! Written from the point of view of a praying mantis, it's set up as diary entries. For example:
June 2
All the aphids are gone. I'm hungry. Growing so fast! I ate one of my brothers. Okay, maybe two. Fine dining? Or sibling rivalry? Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference. P. Mantis also reveals her most important trick: how to be still and look like a stick. This gets her out of a lot of dicey situations.

I also like love that what would usually go into back matter has been put on the end papers. Small-ish chunks of information about praying mantises and their ecology are accompanied by illustrations. The end pages are where you learn what mantises like to eat, how they use camouflage to hide from predators, flight, and laying eggs. That's where cool websites are and a very tiny glossary.

I like the cover, too. Who can ignore a face like Mantis's? Plus the monarda! Heading out to my garden to see if any of her cousins are hanging out amongst my flowers.

Beyond the Book:

Go on  a Mantis Expedition. Explore flowers and shrubs and tall-grass areas to see if there are any mantids hanging about. Remember to take along something to sketch with, or a camera. Things to observe:
  • how big are the mantids you find?
  • what colors are they?
  • do they fly?
  • watch their behavior for awhile. How do they hunt? 

What do mantids do during a solar eclipse? On Monday there will be an eclipse of the sun. If you live in North America you'll see partial or total eclipse. Check the Wednesday Explorer Club post for more. 

Check out this cool interview with StoryMakers. You'll learn how Paul Meisel met P. Mantis, and how he does his illustrations.

Read this Mantis profile over at National Geographic Kids.

Write about your awesome summer. When I went to school, every fall we had to write a story about what we did that summer. Don't wait. Get a head start ... and if you're feeling particularly creative, write a story from the point of view of an animal who spent the summer nearby. 

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

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ Solar Eclipse Science!

photo from NASA - eclipse seen in space

The Solar Eclipse is coming - Monday, August 21 - and if you live anywhere in North America you'll see at least a partial eclipse. A solar eclipse is when the moon passes between the earth and the sun, blocking out part (or in a swath of lucky locations, all) of the sun's light.

We all know - or at least we should know - that looking directly at the sun can damage our eyes. This holds true for solar eclipses, too. So even though the moon will block the sun's light, you can't watch the eclipse by looking at the sun -

 UNLESS you have special eclipse-viewing glasses.

Eclipse viewing glasses have special filters that protect your eyes. Regular sunglasses are NOT adequate. If you don't have a pair of special eclipse viewing glasses, check your local library. Many libraries are providing glasses and holding fun eclipse viewing parties. Find out more about eclipse safety here.

Those of us who grew up in the last century (context: it was only 18 years ago) learned a cool - and cheap - trick for viewing solar eclipses: make a projector. Instead of looking at the sun, you project the sun's image on a sheet of paper (or a white wall) and watch the moon move across the sun's image. The easiest projector to make is a pinhole projector.

How to make a pinhole projector: Find a piece of cardboard in your recycling bin (clean pizza box, cereal box, large postcard, old spiral notebook cover, even a couple paper plates). Then use a thumbtack, nail, or even sharp point of a pencil to poke a small hole through it. With your back to the sun, hold the cardboard over your shoulder and project the image onto a piece of paper on the ground or a white sidewalk.

Eclipse Science: 

What is the best size or shape of hole for a projector? The suggested size for a pinhole is 1mm, with a perfectly round hole. Will larger holes project just as well? Punch or cut a series of holes of different sizes so you can compare them during the eclipse. Which ones provide clear images? Which provide fuzzy images?

Does hole shape matter? What if you cut a triangle or square?

Does distance of your projector from the ground matter? Compare images when you hold projector close to ground, knee distance, waist distance, shoulder distance... attached to the handle of a rake and held high above the ground...

How does the world change during a solar eclipse? Before the eclipse make some notes about the temperature, how the air feels on your skin, what the surrounding environment looks like, what bird and insect sounds you hear. Continue to jot down observations as the eclipse progresses, and especially when it reaches its darkest. 

More projectors: Got a cereal box? You can turn it into an eclipse viewer with a minimal amount of materials and time. Here's how. Or try making an eclipse viewer from a tube. Instructions here. (Experiment: does tube length matter?)

Remember: it's summer, so put on your sunscreen because you can get a sunburn even during an eclipse.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Birds and bugs

So... you may have noticed over the summer that I love bugs. Ants, bumble bees, clear-winged hummingbird moths, beetles of all colors and kinds! And I found a cool field guide perfect for kids who want to learn more about insects.

Ultimate Explorer Field Guide: Insects
By Libby Romero 
160 pages; ages 8-10
 National Geographic Children’s Books, 2017

This is so much more than a field guide. Introductory pages tell where to find insects, how to be safe around insects (avoiding stings, bites, and defensive chemicals), and how to protect insects. Each page introduces an insect, giving its scientific name along with notes about ecology and behavior and photos. There are text boxes noting things to look for, listen to, plus hands-on activities (how to draw a dragonfly), plus plenty of “Insect Inspector” side bars. Every few pages you’ll find an “Insect Report” focusing on specific features: wings, how to tell an insect from a “bug”, and the art of insect deception.

Helpful back matter includes a photographic “Quick ID Guide”, a list of books and apps for discovering more, a glossary, and index. And all of that is in a pocket-sized guide with tough, flexible covers.
Bird Braniacs
by Stacy Tornio and Ken Keffer;  illustrated by Rachel Riordan
104 pages; ages  5 - 13
Cornell Lab Publishing Group, 2016

The subtitle for this book is "activity journal and log book for young birders." It is meant to be written in, drawn in, shared with friends. Part activity book and part birding journal, Bird Brainiacs is the perfect book to tuck in a backpack, or toss in the picnic basket when heading off to the park. There are quizzes, “mad-lib” fill-in-the-blanks, games, nature challenges, personality questionnaires, word scrambles, and bird facts. I love the hands-on science stuff: a do-it-yourself bioblitz, bird count, and nest-watching. There are enough bird-log pages to get you started on a summer’s worth of birding plus some how-to-draw pages for the doodler in us all. I know the age range is for up to 13 years, but heck, this looks like fun for the whole family. 

Drop by the STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources. Review copies from publishers.