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.