Friday, June 30, 2017

Happy 4th of July!

Happy Independence Day!

Learn more about fireworks - and the chemistry behind their colors - here.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ Look Closer

Red Clover ~ a wildflower growing in abundance along our roads and in abandoned fields.Look closely, and you'll see that the flower head is made up of many tiny flowers. Look even closer and you might be able to count the petals (there are 5).

The leaves have white or pale green chevrons on them. Look closer and you'll see that the edges are fringed with hairs. Clover provides food for wildlife including pollinators and tiny caterpillars that dine on their leaves.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Three books on Animals

Who doesn’t love learning more about the secret lives of animals! Here are three books that give us a glimpse into the lives of elephants, foxes, and more.

Thirsty, Thirsty Elephants
By Sandra Markle; illus. by Fabricio VandenBroeck
32 pages; ages 3-7
Charlesbridge, 2017

It’s a hot, dry day in Tanzania when Grandmother elephant smells water in the distance. Mama, Little Calf, and the rest of the herd follow Grandmother’s lead. It’s been a long, dry season of drought, and the river they find gets smaller by the day. There’s barely enough grass for the zebras!

It’s so hot, and so dry that Little Calf drops from exhaustion. But finally Grandmother finds a waterhole filled with cool, thirst-quenching water. She remembered it from a long time ago. Back matter reveals the true tale behind this story and lots of fun elephant facts, plus resources for those who want to dig deeper.

The Secret Life of the Red Fox
By Lawrence Pringle; illus. by Kate Garchinsky
32 pages; ages 6-9
Boyds Mills Press, 2017

We have foxes living in our area; some nights you’ll see one running across the road and leaping through the fence into a field. But they’re secretive critters, so it’s nice to find a book that gives an up-close look at their lives.

This book opens as Vixen sets out on her hunt. She has a mate – they send wild foxy calls into the night – and it’s time to look for a den so she can provide a safe place for her kits. Eventually we see them, as they emerge to explore the world above ground.

Back matter includes more information about red foxes, a glossary, and books for curious kids who want to read further.

Whose Poop is That?
By Darrin Lunde; illus. by Kelsey Oseid
32 pages; ages 3-7
Charlesbridge, 2017

There are lots of books about animals: how they make homes and raise families, how they escape predators, and how they hunt. There are even books about what animals eat - but there aren’t very many about what comes out the other end.

Whatever you call it – poop, dung, scat – it comes in all sizes and shapes. And if you look at it closely, it can tell you a lot about an animal. This book presents footprints on one side of a spread, with the animal’s scat on the other. The reader’s job is to figure out the mystery animal. You don’t have to be an expert because with the flip of a page you learn whose scat that is and a bit about the critter. There’s turtle poop, owl pellets, and even fossilized dung.

Back matter includes the “scoop on poop” and some animal scat facts. That fossilized animal poop? That’s called a coprolite.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Two Truths and a Lie ~ Blog Tour & Author Interview

We’re on day 8 of the Blog Tour for Two Truths and a Lie. Thanks for dropping by to play…

Two Truths and a Lie
by Laurie Ann Thompson and Ammi-Joan Paquette
176 pages; ages 8-12
Walden Pond Press, 2017

When a nonfiction book begins with a warning that some of the stories included are not true – you know it’s going to be a wild read. The thing is, the authors point out, there are lies all around us. Truths, too. Anyone trying to keep up with political news knows that sorting fact from fiction is really important.

But lies aren’t partial to politics; you’ll find plenty of shady stories masquerading as scientific truths. Like stories about a fungus that infects insects and takes over their brains, creating bug zombies. Oops – that IS a true story.

What Laurie and Ammi-Joan (who likes to go by Joan) do in their book is play a game with readers. They present three wacky science stories and challenge you to figure out which one is fake. For example, one group of three animal stories features a chicken who lived without its head – and performed in a circus sideshow, a cave-dwelling salamander that looks like a dragon, and a tree-dwelling octopod that lives in rainforests.

Laurie Ann Thompson
Which two are true? Which is the lie? They tell you at the back, and give lots of source notes for the stories so you can do your own research. They also include a few words about how to tell truth from lie when reading articles online and in the paper. It’s like a guide to finding facts in the news world:
  • Stick to facts from well-known and respected sources, such as an established newspaper, museum website.
  • When perusing Wikipedia, remember to look at the reference section for citation of sources.
  • Train yourself to be skeptical when you read something that is surprising or hard to believe.
  • And use your common sense. Ask yourself who gains from this story? How does it fit with what you already know about the world?  Have you seen it on more than one news site?
Keep those tips in mind because in a minute we’re going to play an interview game called “Two Truths and a Lie” with authors Laurie and Joan. The rules are simple: I’ll ask three questions. They will each give two true answers and one lie. See if you can determine which ones are the lies (answers at bottom of post).

But first, an introduction.

Archimedes: Hi Laurie. Hi Joan. I gotta know, do you listen to the NPR show, “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me”? It’s a bit like your book, but in that show the panelists present 2 lies and a truth.

Laurie: Neither of us had heard “Wait, Wait” before we started working on this book, but now it's one of our favorite podcasts! Yes, it was partially because there is so much really weird but totally true stuff out there, and partially because of all the fake but believable stuff we were seeing, too.
Ammi-Joan Paquette
Joan: That’s right! The true stuff we were seeing was so unbelievable that it seemed like a ready-made challenge in believability. Would people be able to tell the difference?

Archimedes: Okay, let’s get started. Remember, readers: each author will give one fake answer and your job is to figure out which one it is.

Question 1: While working on this book, what is the most interesting researching experience you had, the weirdest interview, or most bizarre way you discovered a fact?

Laurie: There were so many, but one of my favorites is when I was looking for a specific article from Life magazine in 1945. I had scoured all of the online databases and couldn't find it. I was working from home, still in my pajamas, and decided to email the reference librarian at my local library to see if they had the issue I needed. Within five minutes I received a reply that they did have it... and an offer to photocopy the article I needed and send it to me! I told her what pages I needed, and within 10 minutes I had a PDF of the full article in my inbox. I hadn't even left the couch, and a thorny research problem was solved for me in 15 minutes. I LOVE librarians, and I LOVE King County Library System!

Joan: One of the most out-there interviews I had was with a curator at the Boston Atheneum. I was researching books bound in human skin and the Atheneum holds one in their collection. In the end, we decided to cut this article from the final book—since we are pointing students to online research, this was not a topic we wanted to spotlight!—but that interview certainly was fascinating and revelatory.

Question 2: Tell me about your daily writing routine.

Laurie: I'm not a morning person, so contrary to popular advice I tackle all of the distracting, smaller jobs first (with coffee!). Then, I take a short lunch break (usually a caprese salad). Finally, I'm ready to dive into an afternoon of focused writing time.
Joan: Most people might not know this, but I’m actually a highly advanced android—I know I look like a regular human, but in reality I don’t need to sleep, ever! (Or eat, but of course I do that anyway. Food, amirite??) For this reason, I can work equally well at any time of the day or night. For that reason, my routine can be a bit boring—but there’s lots of time for researching fun facts!

Question 3. Tell about how you came to be a writer - or at least think of yourself as a writer - and why nonfiction?

 Laurie: I was a software engineer until I had kids, then I decided I wanted to stay home with them. In my spare time while they were napping, I wrote a program that would read to them so my husband and I wouldn't have to read the same book 42 times in one day. Once that was up and running, I decided to see if I could build on what I had to make it write, too. It took awhile, but eventually it worked! Computers are very logical and like information, so getting them to write nonfiction wasn't too difficult. I haven't quite worked out the kinks with fiction yet, though. It still feels a bit too... robotic. Stay tuned!

Joan: I actually am a fiction writer—originally, the idea of writing non-fiction intimidated me. We had first thought that I would write the fiction stories and Laurie the non-fiction ones. Once we got started, though, we both found we enjoyed writing the opposite of what we were used to. For myself, the amazing and unbelievable non-fiction stories were the ones which had first sparked the idea for the book—and those have been by far the more enjoyable to write.
Today we're joining the STEM Friday roundup. Drop by STEM Friday blog for more science books and resources. Review ARC from publisher        

Joan’s answer to question #2 is fake
Laurie’s answer to question #3 is an outright lie 

Stops on the Blog Tour:

June 5 - Librarian's Quest       
June 7 - Flowering Minds                  
       Pragmatic Mom          
June 11 - Geo Librarian        
June 12 - Book Monsters
June 15 - Novel Novice 
            LibraryLions Roar
June 16 – here at Archimedes Notebook
June 20 - Writers Rumpus 
            The HidingSpot 
June 23 - Unleashing Readers            

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ meet the spittlebug!

No matter where I went last week - whether it was a walk down the road or following the bees through the tall grass where buttercups and yarrow are growing - there were plants covered with spitballs. Those spitballs are the foam homes of spittlebugs, immature froghoppers.

Spittlebugs are true bugs, related to aphids and cicadas. They have pointy beaks that they stick into stems and use to suck up the plant sap. They pump excess sap out, forcing air into it to make a bubble mass that will cover their bodies. These bubble homes protect the spittlebugs from parasites, keeps it from drying out, and also protects it from predators, such as ants.

What kind of plants do spittlebugs hang out on? Take a walk and find out. Look at pine trees and plants growing in weedy areas of your lawn or a park.

Where do they hang out? Look in leaf axils - where leaves meet the stems.

Do they like tips of plants? The middle of plants? The bases of plants? And does it depend on what kind of plant it is? Jot down the kinds of plants you find them on, and where they are on those plants.

Do they share their plants with other spittlebugs? How many foam homes do you find on plants? Are they close together or far apart?

How long does it take to make a spit-bubble home? To find out, gently remove a spittlebug (remember, they are babies) from its home and put it on another part of the plant. Then watch it start creating a new spit bubble home.

More on Spittlebugs here:
Great photos and info about spittlebugs over at Wild and Free Montana
and more at Missouri Botanical Gardens

Friday, June 9, 2017

Exploring Science through Poetry

Two recent books allow kids the opportunity to explore science through poetry. They tickle the imagination and make you want to learn more.

themes: nature, imagination, poetry

Cricket in the Thicket
by Carol Murray; illustrated by Melissa Sweet
40 pages; ages 6-10
Henry Holt, 2017

Cricket in the thicket, cricket.
Cricket in the house, cricket.
Cricket in the bedroom, not as quiet as a mouse, cricket.

Playful, whimsical verse about a diversity of bugs, accompanied with the wonderfully bright, bold illustrations of Melissa Sweet. Can you ask for more?

What I like love about this book: It's about bugs! Butterflies, bumble bees, dragonflies, and even the least-loved members of the tribe: cockroaches, mosquitoes, ticks... yeah, even ticks. While the poems may be whimsical - they are also factual, and for each arthropod there is a text-box at the bottom of the page with a cool fact about the critter. For example: dragonflies are not true flies, daddy longlegs are not spiders, and roly-polies are related to shrimp.

I love the illustrations! This one, of inchworms and ladybugs is one of my favorites - probably because they feature common insects we can find in the garden. Or in your front yard, back yard, playground, neighborhood park. And there is Back Matter: notes on each featured creature, plus a table of contents.
Thunder Underground
by Jane Yolen; illus. by Josee Masse
32 pages; ages 5-10
WordSong, 2017

Thunder under- ground.
That's the sound beetles make
when walking 'round.

These poems explore the world beneath our feet - both natural and man-made. We explore ant cities, fox dens, beetle mazes, subways, fossils, and plate tectonics.

What I like love about this book: The way Jane Yolen incorporates unusual aspects of nature. Did you know that plants talk to each other? Corn roots do - they send secret messages we can't hear. But they can be picked up by recording devices. In her end notes, Yolen notes that other plants make noise, too. What juicy gossip are we missing out on? I like that she includes plate tectonics and lava, and a pirate ship that sails across a number of pages.

And there is Back Matter: the notes where she explains in more detail about the natural features and creatures in each poem. There's also a table of contents.

Beyond the Books:

Write a poem about a bug. Or a fossil, skull, rock, tree, plant, or animal that lives in your area. There are so many kinds of poems to try: haikucinquain, or an acrostic. One thing to keep in mind: the best poems grow out of close observation. So take a good look at whatever you're going to write about. Look at it up-close. Look at it from a distance. Notice whether it smells, or moves, or makes noise. Most of all, have fun.

Explore science through art. Paint or draw or tear paper and glue it into a collage - to create a picture of something in nature. Maybe a ladybug. Or a flower. Be bold and try something new.

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 copies from the publishers.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ Meet a bug

photo by Colleen Wolpert, used with permission
This is the time of year you might find fuzzy pink-and-yellow moths clinging to your window screen or perched on the side of your house. At least that's where I find them. They are Rosy Maple moths. They spent the winter just below the surface of the ground, pupating, and in May and June they emerge.

The adults don't eat anything but spend their days mating and laying eggs. Those eggs will hatch into green-striped "maple worms" that munch on a variety of maple leaves (sugar, red, silver, box elder) as well as oak leaves.

photo by Colleen Wolpert, used with permission
According to Mary Holland, who wrote Naturally Curious, the caterpillars engage in possum tricks when handled. That is, they lie on their sides and curl their abdomen up under their thorax, pretending to be dead.

The Maple moths have a place in their local food web: they provide food for blue jays, tufted titmice, and black-capped chickadees. They also serve as hosts for parasitic flies and wasps.

So as you're out and about this spring, carry a magnifying lens along. If you come across this critter, take a close look at its antennae, wings, and furry body. Learn more about these moths here.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Plant Books are Sprouting Up all Over the Place!

Spring is when seeds swell and burst, the new plant pushing through soil and leafing out. Same with books, apparently.
theme: nature, plants, scientist 

  Karl, Get Out of the Garden! Carolus Linnaeus and the naming of everything
by Anita Sanchez; Catherine Stock
48 pages; ages 7-10
Charlesbridge, 2017

Karl Linne was in the garden again. He just wouldn't stay out of it!
Karl, get out of the garden!

Karl's mom dreams that he'll become a lawyer, or perhaps a minister. His father thinks he should apprentice to the shoemaker. But Karl loves spending time in the garden. He loves learning the plants, and watching the insects. So he tells his father that he wants to go to medical school.

Once there, he begins learning how to use plants for healing. There's a big problem though: with so many names for plants, how does he know which is the correct plant to use? Karl decides that what the world needs is a consistent system for naming plants (and other living things) - a system that will help organize life.

What I like about this book: It's a fun way to delve into the history of science, and also learn why we have scientific names for plants and animals. I also like that author Anita Sanchez includes some of the controversies about naming species - especially the idea of including humans. Imagine! Naming humans as if they were just another animal! Worse yet - lumping them in with mammals like groundhogs and cats! The very nerve!

Plants (a Reader - level 1)
by Kathryn Williams
48 pages; ages 2-5 years
NGK, 2017

Look around! There are plants everywhere!

This book is designed to be shared by two readers: an older reader who reads one side, and the just-learning-to-reader who reads the other. It opens with a tour of habitats where one might find plants: in the city, the rainforest, by the pond, and even in the desert. The next chapters explore what plants are, how they grow, and how people use them for food, fuel, and fiber.

What I like about this book: The photos help put the text into context, and show a diversity of examples when discussing fruits, for example. At the end of each chapter is an activity: a matching game, a problem to solve, or something to talk about. I also like the spreads are designed for two readers to share.

Green Green, a Community Gardening Story
by Marie and Baldev Lamba; illus by Sonia Sanchez
32 pages; ages 2-5
Farrar Straus Giroux, 2017

Green, green, fresh and clean.

Kids and adults rake and plant and water the garden. But when backhoes come in and dig the ground, the city grows. Everything looks like stone and concrete. but wait - there is a place where weeds grow through the mesh of discarded shopping carts.

Brown brown, dig the ground?

Soon everyone is working together to clear and rake and then the garden grows. and Grows. and GROWS.

What I like about this book: Plants grow everywhere! And with some work, kids and their adult friends turn a vacant lot into a community garden. I like the colors (green, green; brown, brown) and I LOVE the back matter - about how you can make your world more green. There are also notes about how you can help bees and butterflies by planting the flowers they need for nectar and pollen, and by not spraying your garden with chemicals.

Beyond the books:

Visit a garden. It can be your own, or a community garden, or a garden in a park or a botanical garden. Take along a sketchbook and draw some pictures of plants you find there. Paint or color them with the colors you see. Then go again in a few weeks and see what's changed - what colors are the plants now?

Plant some flower seeds in a pot, flower box, or garden. Watch them grow, and put them outside for the bees and butterflies to enjoy. Bees and butterflies like cosmos, bee balm, purple coneflowers, asters, marigolds, and calendula. If you have room, plant a few sunflowers - bees and butterflies like those, too.

Visit a farmer's market and buy some fruits. Fruits have seeds - so you might buy some strawberries (seeds on the outside) or peas (seeds on the inside) or peaches or tomatoes or even zucchini - they are fruits, too (even if your mom says they are vegetables)! Be adventuresome and try a fruit you've never eaten before.

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.