Friday, April 14, 2017

On Duck Pond

by Jane Yolen; illustrated by Bob Marstall
32 pages; ages 3-5; Cornell Lab Publishing Group, 2017

themes: nature, environment, observation

As I walked by the old Duck Pond,
Its stillness as the morning dawned
Was shattered by a raucous call:
A quack of ducks both large and small.

What starts as a quiet morning walk is disrupted by whistles, chitters, and chatters of ducks. Incoming! Trout and turtles scatter. Frogs leap from their lily pads. Herons fly away.

Written in lyric couplets (and the occasional triplet), Jane Yolen describes a single moment in the natural world. The text is grounded in careful observation as she describes the diversity of animals that live in and around the pond. You can almost hear them plop into the water. You can almost smell the wetness.

Bob Marstall's pastel-flavored illustrations show so much duck diversity. Look closely- there are seven different kinds. He also includes details of other wildlife: a red-winged blackbird perched on a limb, a raccoon.... kids will have fun finding the not-ducks on each page.

What I like love about this book: aside from the lyrical language and awesome art? I like the back matter: notes about ducks and birds and exploring ponds. There are photos and additional information about the birds and animals so kids can learn to identify common species in their area. Also the challenge to look more closely to find all seven different duck species.

Beyond the book:

Visit a pond or wetland. Sit quietly and observe the birds and animals that share that habitat. Listen to their songs. Take along a sketchbook and some colored pencils and collect the colors of the animals you see.

How many kinds of ducks are there? Check out this page from Cornell Lab of Ornithology - if you click on the ducks it will take you to a page in their online guide where you can also listen to their calls. (click on "see more birds" and more ducks will show up!)

Play around with this duck puzzle.

Sing a duck song or two. Here's one with actions: All the Little Ducks go Upside Down

Today is 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.We're also joining the STEM Friday roundup. Drop by STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources. Review copy provided by publisher.

** Spring Break** Archimedes Notebook is taking a Spring Break for a couple weeks. Be back in May.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ spring flowers


gaywings
Early spring is the perfect time to watch the season grow, from bud to bloom. So this week grab a hand-lens or magnifying glass to take a closer look at some buds and "fantastic" flowers growing around you. Some of the things to look at:
  • If you're looking at buds, do they grow by themselves or in groups?
  • Are the flower buds smooth? hairy? covered with scales?
  • On your plants and trees which comes first: flowers or leaves?
  • How many petals are in your flower?
  • Can you see the parts where pollen is?
  • Are there any insects visiting the flowers? 

Remember to draw sketches and jot down notes, including the date and weather.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Fantastic Flowers


by Susan Stockdale
32 pages; ages 2-6;   Peachtree Publishers, 2017

theme: nature, imagination, nonfiction

Flowers in shapes that surprise and delight. 
Upside-down pants,
   a parrot in flight.
 
If you follow this blog long enough you know that I have a soft spot in my heart for bugs of all types. Jumping spiders, bumble bees, fast-running beetles, striders skating across a pond. So when I saw the cover of Susan Stockdale's newest book with laughing bumble bee orchids on the cover, I knew I Just Had To Review It! 

Then I opened the covers to find spider flowers on the end-papers!


Fantastic Flowers is a rhythmic, rhyming romp through the flower garden. The cool thing is, these flowers look like something else: ballerinas, monkeys, spoons - and, of course, bugs. The illustrations - vibrant, bold, acrylic paintings - are botanically accurate with a touch of whimsy. Susan told me that she had them checked and double-checked with her botanical experts.

What I like love about this book: The words. The art. The vibrant imagination that explodes off the page. The curiosity. And, of course, the back matter: photos and notes about the actual flowers that inspired this wonderfully fun book.

Beyond the book:

Go hunting for unusual flowers. If there are greenhouses nearby, see if they have any orchids growing. Or look through books of flowers. You can find lots of photos of unusual flowers online. What do you think they look like? Lips? Dancers? Give them names that describe them.

Draw or paint some fantastic flowers of your own. Use photos of real flowers to inspire you. Paint flowers on large pieces of paper or cut-open paper bags. Paint flowers on small scraps of paper or the backs of envelopes. Brighten up your world with fantastic flowers of your own.

Plant some flowers - in a garden or in a container. Draw pictures of your flowers as they grow. Measure how tall they are with a ruler and keep track of their height each day. Make sure they get plenty of sun.

Check out my interview with Susan about how she paints flowers - over at the Grog Blog. And hop over to her website to see more of her art.

Today is 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.We're also joining the STEM Friday roundup. Drop by STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources. Review copy provided by publisher.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ flowers


It's spring ~ a perfect time to check out the flowers in your neighborhood. Here in upstate NY the first things to bloom are dandelions, coltsfoot, and flowers on the trees. Go out for a walk with your camera or sketchbook and capture the colors and shapes of spring flowers around your home. And then check back in on Friday for a review of a fun new book, Fantastic Flowers.




Friday, March 31, 2017

Bugs! Bugs! Bugs!

Spring is here - and in some places there are lots of bugs flitting and flying and crawling about. Here are two books to celebrate the insects - and other arthropods - in your neighborhood.

Insects, the most fun bug book ever
by Sneed B. Collard III
48 pages; ages 9-12
Charlesbridge, 2017

Earth is a great place to live. But, says Collard, if you look at all the animals on our planet, it becomes clear that insects dominate the life on Earth. Scientists have catalogues nearly 1 million species of insects, and they haven't come close to finding all of them.

Collard gives us the basic body plan for bugs, and then goes into details about how well they can see (some see ultraviolet light), how fast they can fly (35 mph for dragonflies), how tough they are (ironclad for some beetles). He points out the hairiest and the hungriest, tells us the secrets of insect communication, and gives us an inside view of "growing up insect",

As promised, this is a fun bug book. We learn about insects' favorite foods - some will dine on tacos from a dumpster while others prefer sweet nectar - and there's an entire section devoted to the "party animals". Some bugs are very social. Collard introduces us to "good" bugs, those that we use for dyes, food, medicine, and pollination services. He introduces us to "bad bugs" that chew up crops and damage homes. The key thing: insects are essential and play a vital role on our planet. So if we want to do right by our six-legged buddies, we should be planting more gardens - and throwing out the pesticides.

Creepy Crawlies: tiny creatures, amazing powers
by Richard and Louise Spilsbury
128 pages; ages 7-12
Scribo, 2017

Divided into five chapters, this book gives kids a close-up look at ants, bees, dragonflies, and spiders. One chapter is filled with "frightening fun" - scary statistics and a quiz.

In each chapter you'll learn the basic body parts for that bug, its "superpowers", and get introduced to some diversity in the group. For example, in the chapter about bees you learn about stingers, compound eyes, and living with a queen. Then you get to meet killer bees and leafcutter bees.

The cool thing about dragonflies is how their aquatic larvae use jet propulsion to get around. And some spiders can run - 70 times their body length in a second! That's like running 10 times faster than Usain Bolt.

We're joining the STEM Friday roundup. Drop by STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources. Review copies provided by publishers.




Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Wednesday Explorers Club - Meet a Bug

  
Ladybugs found in and around Ithaca, Cornell collections
A sure sign of spring at our house is the ladybugs that gather in sunny windows or fly about the kitchen banging into the ceiling light. Over winter, ladybugs found cozy places to hide beneath bark, inside cracks, under house siding - one year an entire clan claimed the inside the curl of a rag rug I'd left hanging on the clothesline.

Ladybugs are beneficial; they eat aphids, mealybugs, and other pests, and brighten up the day. But they have their drawbacks: they have a bitter odor (which you will discover if one lands in your cocoa) and they bite (but tiny bites, and not too often).

We have a lot of ladybugs here in New York state - around 90 species. But over the past 20 years, some of our native species have become harder to find. One of these is the nine-spotted ladybug, once so common that in 1989 the NY State legislature adopted it as the official sate insect. But by 1993 scientists couldn't find a singe nine-spotted lady anywhere in the northeast.

While native populations declined, introduced species had no trouble establishing themselves. The seven-spotted ladybug was imported from Europe to help fight pests in farmer's fields. A more recent immigrant is the multi-colored Asian ladybug - the one you are more likely to find in clusters inside your home. These imports range in color from pink to orange and sport anywhere from 0 - 18 spots on their hard outer wings.

If you do find a bunch of ladybugs in your house, help them get back outside. If you have a lot, put a clean bag in your vacuum and suck them up - then release them outside.

And if you love ladybugs, get involved in the Lost Ladybug Project.  It's a fun way to learn more about this bug-of-the-month and help scientists learn more about ladybug populations.

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Science of Science Fiction

The Science of Science Fiction
by Matthew Brenden Wood; illus by Tom Casteel
128 pages; ages 12 - 15
Nomad Press, 2016

I grew up on Jules Verne, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Heinlein and Star Trek. In the intervening years I have seen: flip phones (Star Trek communicators), voice-activated software, jet packs, robots, and more.

So I loved the timeline at the beginning of this book - a date where an idea was introduced in a sci-fi story, followed by a date when that technology was first used. For example, in 1870 Jules Verne wrote about Captain Nemo piloting an electric sub in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. In 1954 the first nuclear sub, appropriately named USS Nautilus, was launched.

Topics in this book include cloning ancient creatures (Jurassic Park, anyone?) robots, androids, artificial intelligence, life on Mars, aliens, faster-than-light travel, and time travel. Text is augmented with cartoons, short sidebars, fast facts, and questions.

What I really like are the hands-on investigations. You can extract your own DNA, calculate the likelihood of intelligent life in the universe, and play around with centripetal force. My favorite, though, is measuring the speed of light using a microwave, a bar of chocolate, a ruler, and a calculator. Who can resist an experiment that involves chocolate?

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

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Wednesday Explorers Club - Making Oobleck

A couple weeks ago I posted a review of  Charlotte the Scientist is Squished,  - so I thought it would be fun to do some experiments using the scientific method. The "Scientific method" is an outline (or flowchart) that describes how scientists develop hypothesis, test their ideas, and come to conclusions.


Our experiment: making Oobleck. All you need is water and a box of cornstarch. Warning: do not dispose of cornstarch experiments down your sink; they could clog your drain. Wrap them up and throw them away.

Question: What happens if I mix cornstarch in water?
Hypothesis: If I make it thick enough, it will probably be gluey.
Experiment: Start with 1/2 cup water and 3/4 to 1 cup cornstarch. Pour the water into a bowl, and then add the cornstarch. Stir well.
Observe and record:
  • What does it feel like? 
  • Can it stretch? Bounce? 
  • Can it pour? 
  • Is it solid? 
  • What happens if you pour it onto a cookie sheet and hit it with a hammer?
  •  What happens if you put it into the refrigerator? 
  • What happens if you add more cornstarch? More water? 
  • What if you divide it in half and leave one part out in the air and another part inside a ziplock bag? 
  • How long does it last? 
  • Does it get moldy?
Analyze: This is where you draw some conclusions about this non-Newtonian  fluid that acts liquid when you gently put your hands into it, but acts solid when you squeeze or hit it.
Share Results: Scientists write articles. You could take a photo of your oobleck and write a brief note about it and give it to a friend.

You can find more things to do with oobleck here. Find out more about non-Newtonian fluids here.


Friday, March 17, 2017

Beastly Brains

Beastly Brains
by Nancy Castaldo
160 pages; ages 12 & up
HMH, 2017

Do animals think? Solve problems? Do math? Understand the concept of fairness?

You bet, says Nancy Castaldo, and she offers up a wealth of examples shoeing how animals think, talk, and feel. In one chapter she describes and experiment in which scientists gave monkeys tokens that they could use to buy treats. The monkeys quickly learned to take advantage of "sales" (when they could get more than the usual item for the same cost). They also stole tokens from others.

Other scientists wanted to know whether dogs feel jealousy. So they tested pairs of dogs. One was asked to "shake" without any reward. Then another dog joined them and when it "shook" paws it was given a treat. Do you think the first dog kept giving her paw when asked to "shake"? No! She went on strike! Unfair!

Castaldo has filled this volume with stories that will amuse you, make you think, and maybe even inspire you to test your own pet's intelligence. There is a wonderful section at the back ("Inquiring Minds Want to Know") that outlines how you can do your own animal intelligence studies. There are also tons of other resources: places where your pets can get involved in studies, organizations that advocate for animals, videos and books, plus a glossary and source notes.

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


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ changing seasons


What a difference a week makes. Only seven days ago things were bright and sunny. But early Tuesday morning this week we had white flakes falling out of the sky at a furious rate. Could be it's just the Ides of March. More likely it's the confluence of a storm moving north hitting a low pressure coming southeast out of Canada - and BOOM - a blizzard.

What changes happened in your area in the past seven days?

Friday, March 10, 2017

Charlotte the Scientist is Squished

Charlotte the Scientist is Squished
by Camille Andros; illus by Brianne Farley
40 pages; ages 4-7
Clarion Books, 2017

themes: investigation, science

Charlotte was a serious scientist.

She's got a lab coat, protective glasses, a magnifying lens, and a clipboard for important notes. What she doesn't have: space to do her experiments.What does she expect? She's a rabbit, so of course she's going to have lots of brothers and sisters living with her.

So Charlotte puts her scientific method to use to solve her problem. She starts by asking a question. Then she forms a hypothesis: If I can get rid of my brothers and sisters, I will have room to be a scientist. To test her hypothesis, she conducts an experiment - or two - which don't quite end the way she hoped.

Time for Plan B: if she was going to get some space, she would have to go there. To space. And when she gets there, she has lots of room for all her experiments. There's only one problem: Charlotte misses her family.

What I love about this book: what a fun way to introduce kids to the scientific method! There's great  back matter, including a list of the steps of the scientific method. I also love the end papers, which are blueprints of her space lab. And I like how Charlotte finds the solution to her problem.

Beyond the book:

Do Science!  Make some kites and fly them in the March winds. Experiment with kite shapes and tails, size and weight, materials (can you make a kite out of stuff from the recycling bin?). Try flying kites under different conditions. 

Keep a Question Notebook - someplace you can write down questions you have. Like how do birds fly when it's windy, and can you teach bumblebees to drink sugar water from a jar lid?  Leave some room beneath the question so you can scribble ideas for how to find out the answers. Then use the scientific method to find the answers.

Meet the Author: Scientists sometimes get their ideas from strange places. Author Camille Andros says she got her idea for this book while in the shower. Here's an interview with the author.

Today is 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 provided by publisher. It should hit bookstore shelves early next week.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Caroline's Comets

March is Women's History month, so I thought I'd kick it off with a true story of a woman in science:

Caroline's Comets, a true story
by Emily Arnold McCully
40 pages; ages 6-10
Holiday House, 2017

In 1786, Caroline Herschel became the first woman to discover a comet. She was also the first woman to be paid for doing scientific research.

Weaving Caroline's memoir and correspondence into the text, Emily McCully takes us into the life of an early astronomer.

Caroline's father was the first to show her the stars; her mother taught her the practical skills she would need. But then, when she was 22 years old, her brother William invited her to join him in England. In addition to helping around the house, he needed some help recording his astronomy observations - and some help building a telescope.

So Caroline became his assistant inventor. She pounded and sifted dried horse manure so her brother could build a mold for making the mirror. Their first telescope magnified things 6,000 times. That might not seem like a lot these days, but back in the 1700s it was astronomic.

They discovered that the Milky way was made of stars. They discovered a new planet (Uranus). And then, as the King's Astronomer, William began a sweep of the sky.Caroline discovered nebulae and star clusters and two new galaxies - and all the while she did needlework, kept William's accounts, and cleaned all the equipment.

Then, December 21, 1786, Caroline discovered a comet. McCully fills the pages with wonder, discovery, and comets. She also includes great back matter with a timeline, glossary, and additional notes.

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

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ Skeleton hunting


Early spring is the perfect time to look for skeletons on your lawn - leaf skeletons, that is. We usually have a bunch of leaves that don't get raked up before the snow, and so they sit all winter, in the damp and cold. Decomposers - fungi, bacteria, and small insects - get to work eating the soft tissue of the leaves.

What's left is a network of tough veins. These make up the transport system of the tree: they provide a way for newly made sugars to be carried to the roots for storage. They carry water from the trunk to the cells of the leaf.

Go on a leaf skeleton hunt. The best places to look are wet spots in your lawn, or a pothole or other puddle that has been around since fall. What kinds of leaf skeletons can you find? Our oak leaves take longer to break down, so we rarely find oak leaf skeletons. But the aspen leaves seem to degrade well. If you want to preserve your skeletons, you may have to dampen them before pressing.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Spider Sketching

Last week I reviewed books about predators and prey, so this week we're taking a break from books to study local predators. One predator that you might find - even in the winter - is a spider.

Spiders aren't very active this time of year - at least in the northern part of the US where the weather is cold and snowy. Nope. Most of 'em are snugly ensconced beneath layers of leaves, or hanging out in the northeast corner of my bathroom (because it's warm and humid and there's usually an errant fungus gnat cruising about).

If you can't find any spiders around your house, you can always look online. Check out spiders with Bill Nye.

In the next town over, six-year-old Zuri has been busy drawing bugs. Some are imaginative multi-legged mini-monsters, and others resemble sketches you might find in any field journal. But the other day he emailed me a spider - OK, a drawing of a spider, complete with annotations.

Zuri likes drawing spiders because there are so many species and he likes to learn about them. The drawing he sent me isn't any particular spider; it's a "generic" spider. 
Even so, he paid attention to small details, like the hairs on the legs. They act as sensors, he notes on the drawing.

If you like spiders and you're stuck inside on a snowy day, why not draw a bunch? You can copy from photos in a field guide or from online sources (there's gorgeous photos at Spiders rule). Spend time closely observing the photos, and check out details: Can you see their eyes? What do their legs look like? Are there spikes or stripes or dots or zig-zags? What do their feet look like? Their fangs? Are they smooth or hairy?

Want to learn more about spider anatomy? Here's a great resource. Then go on a spider hunt around your house. You might find some dried-up spider remains in the windowsills, or live spiders lurking behind the stove. Draw pictures of those, too. But above all - have fun!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Predators, Prey, and Conservation


Rise of the Lioness: restoring a habitat and its pride on the Liuwa Plains
by Bradley Hague
56 pages; ages 8-12
National Geographic Children's Books, 2016

The Liuwa Plains are in Western Zambia - a perfect habitat for zebras, wildebeests, and lions. Back in 1972, the plains were declared a national park. But as the 20th century drew to a close, the plains were radically changed:
  • cultural traditions that protected the environment were stripped away.
  • the food chain was devastates.
  • years of war led to increased poaching.

In less than a single human generation, Liuwa's ecosystem collapsed and by 2003, when peace finally settled, there was only one lion left: a lioness called Lady.

The thing about animals is that they don't just live in their environments; they shape them, too. And the Liuwa Plains without its top predators was "the environmental equivalent of tearing down a dam or blowing up a road," writes Hague. The loss of the lions created a trophic cascade, affecting the behavior of almost every animal in the habitat.

This book follows the scientists who studied Lady and figured out how to rebuild the local ecosystem. That meant reintroducing animals, including lions - easier said than done. But after many years, the Liuwa ecosystem was restored. This is a story of perseverance, patience, and pride.

If you're interested in learning more about predator and prey interactions check out:

Explore Predators and Prey! with 25 great projects
by Cindy Blobaum
96 pages; ages 7-10
Nomad Press, 2016

After introducing what predators are, and their prey, this book jumps right into strategies for hunting  and hiding. If you don't want to be eaten you might try camouflaging yourself, or disguising yourself with odors.

If you're a predator you might adopt certain strategies, such as stalking, or use tactics like echolocation. Or you might wait in ambush to attack some unwary snack walking by.

Every chapter is loaded with hands-on activities to try, and lots of fun facts, new words, and even a few jokes.

Today we're joining the STEM Friday roundup. Drop by STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources. Review copies provided by publishers.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ Scavenger Hunt


The season is tilting away from winter, but there's plenty of "winter" stuff to see outside. So head out on a scavenger hunt - but instead of collecting things, you'll be observing them, taking photos or drawing them, looking closer.... getting to know the winter-ish plants and animals around you.

Things to take on your hike:
a hand lens
a sketchbook and pencils
camera

Scavenger hunt list of things to look for and observe:
  • icicle or frozen puddle
  • cluster of needles
  • a pine cone
  • winter weeds
  • animal tracks (what are they and where do they lead?) 
  • clouds
  • birds flying
  • berries
  • a nest (don't touch)
  • dead leaves clinging to a tree
  • snowfleas at the base of trees
  • a cocoon on a twig or side of house, or beneath leaves


Friday, February 10, 2017

Faraway Fox

Faraway Fox
by Jolene Thompson; illus. by Justin K. Thompson
32 pages; ages 4-7
HMH, 2016

themes: nature, animal stories, nonfiction

This was the forest where I lived with my family. We used to race through the undergrowth and rest under the great shade trees after playing all day.

Faraway from his family, Fox wanders the same forest he grew up in. He remembers beautiful trees and streams. But the landscape he travels through is unfamiliar, filled with cars and houses, and paved over.

What I like about this book is that is shows wildlife in an urban landscape. It also highlights the challenges a fox - or any other wild animal - faces when trying to return to their familiar habitat. This fox is lucky, because he won't have to dodge cars while crossing a busy highway. Instead, people have engineered a better solution to help him get home.

In an author's note, Jolene Thompson discusses human encroachment into wild animal habitats, and some of the things people are doing to minimize the impacts. Wildlife crossings have been built under highways and over highways to ensure that animals aren't cut off from the resources they need. She provides resources for people who want to learn more.

Beyond the book:

Go on a wildlife hike. What wild animals live near you? We have foxes, deer, coyotes, and lots of squirrels. There are even coyotes and deer in New York City (though you have to be out at dusk or in the evening to see them).

Design a critter crossing for crabs. Or turtles. Or deer. Then check out these examples of animal road crossings from around the world.

Get involved in Citizen Science, doing a salamander crossing. Information here. If you don't live near salamanders, ask your local fish and wildlife officers what sort of critter crossings they are working on.

If you're looking for humorous animal stories, check out Sally's Bookshelf. Today is 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.We're also joining the STEM Friday roundup. Drop by STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources. Review copy provided by publisher.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ sky-watching


Last month I took a photo of these trees from my back porch. I thought it would be fun to look at the treetops and sky over a year, and compare what I see. It looks like a black-and-white photo, but that's just because it's snowing.

There's nothing dramatic happening yet - buds and leaves are still asleep. But when things are bare, you tend to notice things that you didn't before... like the squirrel's nest up in the treetop. What do you see when you look up in the branches of the trees in your neighborhood? And how does the sky change how the world looks?

Friday, February 3, 2017

Architect Academy

Architect Academy
by Steve Martin; illust. by Essie Kimpimaki
64 pages; ages 7 & up
Kane Miller, 2016

Part activity book, part "training manual", this book presents architecture in a fun way. In the first pages you'll get your trainee architect badge and a peek at what's in store: you'll learn about famous buildings, create designs for buildings, develop math skills architects need, and carry out special projects.

The first "assignment" is to design your very own dream home, complete with floor plans and a model. Then it's off to site plan review and drawing plans to scale. Congratulations! You are now a Qualified Draftsperson and ready for construction. But first, some math.

This is a perfect book for the kid who likes to build. It brings together diverse aspects of architecture and construction, including discussion of materials, climate, and design. You can even build a bridge (punch-out parts on the jacket). Kids will be introduced to eco-architecture, landscape architecture, and naval architecture. At the back is a pull-out game, poster, and lots of stickers you can use to mark your progress through the academy "lessons".

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, February 1, 2017

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ meet a bug


Meet the Mourning Cloak butterfly. It's one of the few insects that sticks around for the winter, hibernating in tree cavities, beneath loose bark, or in unheated buildings. They'll hide away anywhere they fit as long as the place protects them from winter winds and keeps then out of sight from predators - birds and squirrels.

Mourning Cloaks overwinter as adults. The spend the winter in "cryo-preservation", replacing water in their bodies with glycerol which acts as an antifreeze. You can read more about Mourning Cloaks and other critters that spend the winter as icicles here.

When the weather warms, the Mourning Cloaks will flit about, looking for mates. You might even see them out in the snow!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Mission to Pluto

Last week I reviewed a couple books for junior space-cadets.


Today we're headed to outer space with scientists in the field. 


 This addition to the Scientists in the Field series goes boldly where no person - or spacecraft - has gone before! (click here for appropriate music)


Mission to Pluto: the first visit to an ice dwarf and the Kuiper belt (Scientists in the Field)
by Mary Kay Carson; photos by Tom Uhlman
80 pages; ages 10-12
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017

It takes a lot of work to get to Pluto: teams of scientists and engineers, mission control specialists who keep your vehicle on track, and time. Nearly ten years of time - even if your spacecraft is tiny. That's why the folks at NASA had to build a craft that was durable, and could take care of itself.

In 2005, when they were building the New Horizons spacecraft, engineers knew it would need a power source. Solar panels make electricity for most satellites and space probes, "but a sunny day on Pluto is about as bright as twilight on Earth," writes Mary Kay Carson. So New Horizons carried its own power source: plutonium.

The whole craft is about the size and weight of a grand piano (1054 pounds) to allow it relatively "speedy" travel. Even so, scientists knew it would take more than nine years to reach Pluto, so they programmed in a hibernation mode to save on power.

New Horizons reached Pluto in July of 2015 - when it took samples of atmosphere as well as lots of photos and sent them back to Earth. But the mission was not finished. Right now, the New Horizons spacecraft is on its way to the Kuiper belt - a band of rocky and icy objects out past Neptune. Scientists believe the Kuiper belt has more than 100,000 miniature worlds with diameters larger than 62 miles. Some of these "dwarf planets" are nearly the size of Pluto.

Once it reaches the Kuiper belt, New Horizons will fly by KBO ( Kuiper Belt Object) MU69. Scientists want to know what sorts of rocks and ice a Kuiper belt object are made of, and whether they have moons. The projected arrival date is sometime in 2019. But New Horizon's journey won't stop there - it will keep on going (like a certain bunny), and sending information and signals to Earth until its plutonium runs out.

Author Mary Kay Carson captures the excitement of space discovery in her stories about the scientists and the spacecraft. She includes plenty of graphs and illustrations, as well as 2-page "Mission Briefs" that detail specific aspects of the Mission to Pluto. Back matter includes a glossary and resources for learning more about New Horizons, Pluto, and KBOs.


Today is STEM Friday! Drop by STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources. Review copy provided by the author.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Books for Space Cadets

There are lots of fun books for future space explorers. Here are two that fell into my book basket recently.

To the Edge of the Universe, a 14-foot fold-out journey
by Raman Prinja; illus. by John Hersey
36 pages; 8-12 years
Carlton Kids, 2016

theme: nonfiction, space

Look around you. Wherever you are, whoever you are, you are on planet Earth.

Above earth is an atmosphere, and beyond that the space station and the moon, the sun, 8 planets, an asteroid belt, supernovas, more galaxies until you reach... the edge of the known universe.

What I like about this book: The pages are connected in a long, long, long (14-foot long) mural that takes you from the earth's surface to the edge of the universe. On the reverse side  are facts, graphs, charts, constellations... answers to the questions you'll be asking as you explore the universe.

I also love the interaction required for this book. You can unfold the entire mural - indeed, you could (if you want to) cut it off the cover and tape it to the wall. It's just plain fun.

On the Space Station (a shine-a-light book)
by Carron Brown; illus. by Bee Johnson
36 pages, ages 4-8
Kane Miller, 2016

Take a trip in a rocket and zoom far from our planet to visit the astronauts who live and work in a space station.

This book begins with the astronauts boarding the rocket that will take them to the space station. Once there they are busy with work and eating, exercising, and sleeping. After six months, they return to earth.

What I like: This book is also interactive; each page holds a secret. Hold the page up to the light, or shine a flashlight behind the page and the secret is revealed. It might be something simple, like what happens to a bag of candy when it's opened. Turn the page to read more.

Beyond the books:

Make a map ~ get a large piece of paper and make a map of the universe. Maybe it will be the sort of map you can use to help you find your way when you take off on an adventure.

Check out what's at the edge of the universe in this PBS video  and what happens if you go there.

Explore the planets at this NASA page.

Learn how astronauts sleep in space with this video by Astronaut Chris Hadfield. Now create your very own space station sleeping pod.

Today is 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.We're also joining the STEM Friday roundup. Drop by STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources. Review copies provided by publishers.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ freezing soap bubbles

Frozen bubble (CC use by Max Pixel)

Can you freeze a bubble? Sure. All you need is some heavy-duty winter-weather bubble mix and a wand or large straw. And a day when the temperatures dip below freezing. Here's one recipe for bubble mix:

  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cup liquid dish-washing detergent
  • 1/2 cup white corn syrup
Adding corn syrup to the soap bubble recipe creates a sugar polymer and a stronger bubble that can survive freezing temperatures.

Head out and try blowing bubbles. Sometimes they will freeze in the air. If that doesn't work, coat a porch railing with a bit of soap solution and then blow a bubble on top of that. Or blow a bubble and attach it to pine needles or winter weeds.


As the bubbles freeze, it looks like bits of frost or snowflakes are forming and growing. What's happening is that the soap bubble is made up of three layers: a thin layer of water molecules squished between two layers of soap. The water layer freezes first, and at lower temperatures than the soap layer.

More Things to Do
  • Make bubbles using bubble mix that has been cooled in a refrigerator for 15 minutes or so, and compare with bubbles made using room-temperature mix.
  • Try adding sugar to some mix. Does it help bubbles form faster?
  • Poke a frozen bubble. What happens? 
  • Try to take photos or videos of your bubbles
  • Compare bubbles made with a straw versus those made with a wand.
  • What happens if you put a drop of food coloring in the mix?
  • Try capturing a bubble and putting it in the freezer
If you live where it is warm: blow a bubble on a plastic plate or jar lid and put it in the freezer. What happens?


Friday, January 13, 2017

Listen to Our World

Listen to Our World
by Bill Martin & Michael Sampson; illus. by Melissa Sweet
40 pages; ages 4-8
Simon & Schuster Kids, 2016

themes: animals, nonfiction

In the morning, Mommy gives us wake up kisses and says, "Good morning, little one. Can you hear the sounds of our world?" 

Through the pages we visit different habitats and listen to the animals that live there: monkeys, parrots, gila monsters. Sometimes the sounds we hear are calls and songs, sometimes they are the clicks and thumps of movement.

What I like love about this book: The sounds. The diversity of featured creatures. The diversity of the mothers and children. The way the book ends with being tucked in and listening to hush, hush sounds. And then there's Melissa Sweet's art. I love collage art, and these illustrations fill me with joy.

I also like the back matter. For each animal there's information about where they can be found, what sort of habitat they live in, and a bit about their natural history.

Beyond the Book

Go on a listening hike. What sorts of noises so the animals in your neighborhood make? Go for a walk and... listen to the birds, cats, dogs, people, even the flies trapped inside on a winter day. Write down the sounds they make - or try to record them. Can you imitate their sounds?

Make some art! Use bits of left-over holiday wrapping paper and cards to create some animal collages of your own.

Listen to whale sounds here. You can learn more about Penguins and listen to their sounds here.

Today is 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 F&G from publisher.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Wednesday Explorers Club



Welcome to a new year! This year I'm doing something new with my Wednesday page; I'm turning it into an "explorer's club". That means you'll find different things here each week. I'll continue with occasional five-minute-field trips and "wordless Wednesday" photos, but be open to adventure. Be prepared to meet a "bug of the month", and every now and then I'll challenge you to "look closer".

For this week - check out the sky above you. I'm not sure why, but I think our winter sky has a different look that the summer sky: not as soft. Maybe it's the cold air... If you have a camera, take photos of your sky from one particular place - maybe once a week, or a couple times a month. Who knows what you might discover.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Animals by the Numbers

Animals by the Numbers: a book of animal infographics
by Steve Jenkins
48 pages; ages 6-9
HMH, 2016

How much do all the humans on earth weigh? Without adding up everyone's weight, we have to make an estimate, and that comes to around 350 million tons. That's a lot, right?

So how much would all the insects on earth weigh? Best estimate of that comes to 100 billion tons - about 15 tons for every person on earth. To help put these huge numbers into context, Steve Jenkins creates infographics - charts, tables, diagrams, and graphs that illustrate information.

He uses bar graphs to compare how fast animals swim, fly, and run and how far animals jump. There are pie charts and "thermometer" graphs, maps and a very cool decision tree illustrating the sorts of things that might run through a small animal's mind when another creature approaches: does it look dangerous? Does it see me?

What I like about this book: it presents facts about animals in a fun way. Sure, you could read a page telling how fast different animals run, but a chart comparing those speeds makes you think about information in a different way. The way he presents the information is as fun as the questions he explores: how fast do critters have to flap their wings to stay airborne? How many hours a day do animals sleep compared to their waking time?

And, for us writers, Jenkins includes a pie chart showing how he spent his time making the book (5% spent staring into space).  Today's review is part of the STEM Friday roundup. Drop by STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources. Review copies provided by publisher.