Friday, December 22, 2017

Merry Solstice & Happy New Year

Archimedes is taking a winter holiday - will be back at the beginning of January with lots of new activities and reviews!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ Milkweed

Last month the milkweed pods dried and began to split open. They are filled with hundreds of seeds, each attached to a silky parachute that carries it on the wind. Not all the seeds blow away at once, so we find them clinging to the pods even as snow covers the ground.

The fibers of milkweed fluff are hollow, and trap air. They also have a waxy water-repellent coating. Those properties made it attractive for stuffing life preservers, so during World War II, children collected bags of the fluff.

It makes one wonder: could milkweed fluff be substituted for down as an insulation fiber? Here's a video of one man who's going to test whether it will make his mittens warmer. What could you use milkweed for? Perhaps a vest? Hat? A small pillow?

Friday, December 15, 2017

Forest World and Calpurnia Tate, Girl Vet

I love it when I'm reading a novel and find that the author has a passion for animals, nature, math - and has incorporated STEM into their story. Here are two recent books where the science and environmental issues are integral to the plot. If you're still seeking a gift for your science-loving kid, these fit well into stockings (and budgets).

Forest World
by Margarita Engle
208 pages; ages 10 & up
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2017

Edver isn't happy about being shipped off to Cuba to see the father he barely knows. He definitely isn't expecting to meet a sister he didn't know existed! And he most certainly didn't plan to capture a wildlife poacher.

But what we, the readers don't expect, is to be completely immersed in a Cuban jungle. In the first twelve pages, Margarita Engle introduces us to bee-sized hummingbirds, condors, zombie cockroaches, and the seemingly opposing forces of survival and conservation on a small island. And she does all this in poetry.

What I like LOVE about this book: tucked into every page is a connection to the world beyond humans. There's a discussion of convergent evolution and, later, biodiversity and the advantages of variability in a world being changed by global warming. Layered over this are the real-world concerns of kids: if their mama loves them, why is she off doing research, and what can they do to bring her home? Back matter includes a list of "truly cool biodiversity words".

A couple years ago I reviewed Engle's picture book about Louis Fuertes who, like Audubon, painted birds from life.

 Who Gives a Hoot (Calpurnia Tate, Girl Vet)
by Jacqueline Kelly
112 pages; ages 7-10
Henry Holt & Co, 2017

If you have a girl who wants to be a veterinarian- or who just loves wild animals - get this book into her hands. Eleven-year-old Calpurnia Tate - yes, the very same Calpurnia from The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate - explores the natural world around her Texas home. She learns about wildlife right in her backyard (or, in this case, a neighboring farmer's field) and helps the veterinarian mend their injuries. What's cool is that the book is set at the turn of the 20th century - the beginning of the 1900s - when veterinarians focused on livestock.

What I like about this book: Kelly's attention to details: mockingbird songs, what happens to a wet owl - those sorts of things. I also like the illustrations of Calpurnia's field notebook, and her "strong girl" attitude. She's not afraid to help an injured owl, even though it means catching mice for its meals. And she helps solve the mystery of what made the owl sick. A hint: it has to do with food chains.

 On Monday we'll be hanging out on Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with other  bloggers over at Shannon Messenger's blog, so hop over to see what other people are reading. Review copies provided by publisher.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ Christmas Bird Count

 Audubon's 118th annual Christmas Bird Count will happen this coming season beginning tomorrow (December 14) and going through Friday, January 5, 2018.

Even beginning birders are welcome to join in. The 24-hour count provide data that scientists use to understand how bird populations are changing over time.

Find out more about the Christmas Count and maps of count locations at this Audubon website.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Coder Academy

Coder Academy
by Steve McManus; illus. by Rosan Magar
64 pages; ages 7 & up
Kane Miller, 2017

This week is Computer Science Education Week, a perfect time to dive into some computer coding. Part activity book, part "training manual", Coder Academy introduces young readers to the basics of computer code. You won't be a programmer by the end of the book, but you will have a good idea of what kinds of jobs are available in computer technology. And you'll get some hands-on practical coding experience.

I like how Steve McManus introduces the topic:
Imagine an alien came to visit. If you wanted to tell it what to do, you's have to learn its language first. It's similar with computers.

 The first section challenges kids (and any adults reading the book) to think like a coder. There's a great activity on binary basics - learning it is as easy as 1, 10, 11 - and a quick introduction to different kinds of programming languages.

One way to use this book is to read through, doing paper-and-pencil (aka "offscreen") activities. Another is to get started with Scratch - a programming language available free from MIT. Following along in the book (and with a laptop or computer of some sort) you explore animation, character design, music, and even dabble around with HTML and building a website. There are some punch-out-and-build robots on the end flaps and a game at the end.

Like the other Academy books from Kane Miller, this one is a lot of fun - even if it is a bit more complex. Today we're joining the STEM Friday roundup - Review copy from the publisher

If you're looking for online coding activities, head back to Wednesday's post and check out the links.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ Explore computer code

This week is Computer Science Education Week, so flex your coder muscles and try some fun coding activities. Why this particular week? To honor two women who helped pioneer computer programming.

 Ada Lovelace was born on December 10, 1815. She had a talent for mathematics and is often considered to be the first computer programmers. She introduced the concept of repeating processes, or "looping". The programming language, Ada, is named after her.

Admiral Grace Murray Hopper was born December 9, 1906. She developed the first compiler for a programming language. She also popularized the term "debugging" - using the phrase when she had to remove a moth from her computer.

While computers are found in so many things we use, from cell phones to our cars (not to mention laptops!) - most of us have no idea what coding is. Here's the secret: "coding" is just another way of saying "telling a computer what to do".

Here's another secret: it's fun! The best way to learn about computer coding is to give it a try. So head over to the Hour of Code and check out all the coding activities. You can create a program in Minecraft, or Star Wars. You can write code to send Frozen princesses Anna and Elsa skating in a snowflake design, or create a Flappy Bird game.

There are coding activities for people from age 6 to 60 (or even older). Here's your chance to Boldly Go where you have not gone before! Give coding a chance - at least for an hour this week. And have fun!

Friday, December 1, 2017

Hello Ruby, Journey inside the Computer

Hello Ruby, Journey Inside the Computer
by Linda Liukas
96 pages; ages 4-8
Feiwel and Friends, 2017

theme: computers, technology

Ruby is a small girl with a huge imagination. Anything is possible if Ruby puts her mind to it. But today Ruby is bored.

Dad had promised that he would play with Ruby on the computer - but he isn't home. So Ruby decides she'll play with the computer by herself. But... the computer isn't working!

What I like about this book: Ruby falls into the computer like Alice falls into Wonderland. But Ruby's wonderland is full of bits and bytes, and she has to maneuver herself through a series of logic gates. She does have a trusty companion - a mouse - and meets many interesting characters along the way, such as CPU. And when things go wrong, Ruby has to do some troubleshooting.

Like the first book (Hello Ruby), the second half of this volume is an activity book jam-packed with things to do.

Beyond the book:
Crawl into a computer. In this video, author Linda Liukas explains how stories can help us understand the mechanics of a computer. That's why she made each component into a character in her story, to show how they interact with each other.

Play games with Ruby - Just head over to her website.

Read my interview with Linda (a couple years ago) over at Sally's Bookshelf.

And - Come back on Wednesday for some more coding and computer fun with the Wednesday Explorers Club! 

Today we're 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.