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.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ Be a Bird Scientist

Downy Woodpecker by Errol Taskin/Project FeederWatch

Hang a feeder in our yard and here’s who shows up to nosh on the goodies: blue jays, cardinals, chickadees, downy woodpeckers, goldfinches, hairy woodpeckers, juncos, mourning doves, nuthatches, red-bellied woodpeckers, sparrows, turkeys … and squirrels. Not everyone perches on the feeder; turkeys and doves strut and peck below, gleaning seeds that get dropped.

Regardless of where they feed, watching the birds is a lot of fun. Not only do you learn who is hanging out in your backyard, but birds can be entertaining. And by keeping track of birds that come to your feeder, you can help scientists.

How? Get involved in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Project FeederWatch. Beginning in November (once the bears are hibernating), you load up the feeders and a couple times a week count the birds that visit. Feeder Watchers submit data from November through April. That data helps scientists track movements of winter bird populations as well as long-term trends in the bird populations. The data has shown how some populations have expanded their northern range as the climate has warmed.

Beyond Feeder Watch:

  • What do the birds visiting your feeder do? Do they eat seeds or carry them away?
  • Watch where individual birds land, and write down where they hide their seeds. If they push seeds into bark crevices on the trunk of the tree, how high? Maybe some birds hide seeds near the top and others closer to the ground. If they cache seeds on branches, do they tuck them under bark chips on the upper side of the branches or the undersides? Do they hide seeds near the tips or closer to where the branches join the trunk?
  • Do different birds collect seeds at different times of day?
  • Does weather affect feeding behavior?

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Friday, November 17, 2017

Animals of All Kinds!

themes: animals, nonfiction, observation

Moose, Goose, Animals on the Loose: A Canadian Wildlife ABC
by Geraldo Valerio
40 pages, ages 2-5
Owlkids  Books, 2016

Here they come... Canadian animals running, jumping, swimming, and roaring your way! Now arriving....

Each spread introduces one - or more - wild animals from Canada.

What I like about this book: It's fun! I like the language: "big bold Bison" and "exuberant Muskox". I also like the cut-paper collage art. And there's Back Matter! Additional facts about the featured animals.

Wonderful Nature, Wonderful You
by Karin Ireland; illus. by Christopher Canyon
32 pages, ages 5-9
Dawn Publications, 2017

Have you ever spent a day in nature? Did you notice how peaceful it was? ... Everything moves at its own pace to do what it does best.

Using a variety of examples of how plants and animals exist in their natural environment, Karin Ireland assures youngsters that they can learn many things from nature. When it's time for a baby bird to leave the nest, it spreads its wings and flies. So, too, children can do what they set their minds to. Her gently encouraging words offer opportunities for children - and the adults who love them - to learn from nature.

"Fish don't try to grow feathers... Warthogs don't try to climb trees." Each animal is special and has its own natural way of living in our world. So do we.

Beyond the Books

Make a cut-paper collage of a wild animal you've seen. Maybe it's a bird that's visited your feeder, or a skunk that digs up your lawn at night, or a dragonfly. Use construction paper, newspaper, magazines, scrapbook paper, tissue paper, wrapping paper or any kind of paper you can find.

Find a natural spot where you can sit quietly and observe for about 15 minutes. Stay as still as you can and watch and listen to the plants and animals around you. What did you notice?

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 copies from the publisher.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Tall Tall Tree & a field guide

themes for the day: trees, nature, nonfiction

Tall Tall Tree
by Anthony D. Fredericks; illus. by Chad Wallace
32 pages; ages 3-8
Dawn Publications, 2017

Creeping, hopping, zipping
Throughout the redwoods green
Are many different creatures
Who are very seldom seen.

Waaaay up, high in the world's tallest trees is an entire world teeming with life. Most people don't get to see the animals who live in those tall, tall trees - but this book takes you on a field trip into that world.

There are lots of animals up there, living at skyscraper heights: eagles, bats, owls, salamanders. From one to ten, the author introduces us to some of the residents of the redwood tree.

What I like about this book: There are "hidden" animals on each page. For example, when our attention is directed to the slimy banana slugs, will we see the other animal up there in the tree? There's even a "find the hidden animals" challenge in the back matter - Yes! there is back matter! There is also additional information about the redwoods and some STEAM activities in the back matter.

Ultimate Explorer Field Guide: Trees
by Patricia Daniels
160 pages; ages 8-12
National Geographic Children's Books, 2017

This is a tree-mendous field guide, perfect for tree-huggers of any age. Introductory pages include "what is a tree?" and give a quick lesson on how to get to know leaves - as well as a warning about poison ivy so you don't accidentally pick any of those leaves for your collection. There are plenty of tree entries, each with a photo of the entire tree and close-up of leaf or needle, flowers, nuts, cones, or fruit. In addition to general information there are some fun facts.

Every so often there's a special feature that gives you a closer look at trees growth patters, flowers, seeds, or some other cool thing. One thing I wish they had included: photos of bark for each tree described - for those of us who go out tree-watching in winter. 

Beyond the Books:

What's your state tree? Find a photo of it. Was it featured on a stamp? Find out here.

What sort of animals use the trees in your neighborhood? Adopt a tree and keep track of the birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and insects that live on it or gather food from it. Draw a picture of your tree - and make a map showing how to find it.

Become a tree bark-ologist. Find two trees with different kinds of bark. Jot down your observations of each tree trunk: is the bark smooth or rough? is there a pattern? Make a bark rubbing and tape it in your field notebook. Or take photos.

Today we're joining the STEM Friday roundup - and 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 publisher.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ Make a spinner

This is an activity for those cold and windy days that you'd rather stay inside and explore "inside science". All you need are: a sharpened pencil, a couple rubber bands, and an old cereal box or similar cardboard. It’s also helpful to have a couple jar lids, an old CD, and some pennies.

Begin by tracing a circle on the cardboard, and cut it out. Poke a pencil through the center of your cardboard disk, and wind a rubber band around the pencil both above and below the disk. That will help keep the cardboard securely in place. Now all you have to do is spin your top on a flat surface. 

Now try this:
  1. Tape pennies on top of the cardboard. Is there a difference in how the spinner acts if you tape them close to the center or out at the edge?
  2. How does size affect the spinner? Trace different sizes of jar lids and plates and make many spinners to compare. Do they spin at the same speed? Do some stand up longer than others? 
  3. What happens if you poke the pencil through the circle somewhere other than the center?
  4. Does it matter where the disk is on the pencil? High? Low? Center?
  5. Will a square spinner work as well as a circle? What about a triangle?
  6. Here's how to make a penny spinner.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Books that Celebrate the Changing Season

Up here in the northern hemisphere, winter is on its way ~ in some places sooner, in other places later. Here are two wonderful books that celebrate the changing seasons.

themes: nature, seasons, animals

Goodbye Autumn, Hello Winter
by Kenard Pak
32 pages; ages 3-6
Henry Holt BYR, 2017

Hello, late autumn afternoon. Hello, leaves.

Two children walk through field and farm and town, as the season changes from fall to winter. They greet animals, trees, and birds as they pass. Cardinals and robins reply that they are ready to fly south. Clouds cover the sky; icicles reply that their job is to decorate the eaves of houses.

What I like about this book: it is a quiet, gentle passage from one season to the next. We see the children walking through different neighborhoods: a hillside, a rural road, the city street. Everywhere they go, they observe how the season is changing, and how the animals and plants are adapting to the coming cold. I admit to saying hello to woolly bears I come across while raking leaves - but unlike the tree frogs, my woolly bears don't seem to say much. Or if they are, I am not attuned to hearing their language.

I like that the children are observing nature in the town and in a city. This reinforces that nature is everywhere, not something "out there". And I like Ken's artwork. It is full of texture and you can "see" the leaves blowing across the page.
Winter Dance
by Marion Dane Bauer; illus. by Richard Jones
40 pages; ages 4-7
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017

(A snowflake spins through the air and lands on the nose of a fox.) "Winter is coming," says the fox. "What should I do?"

So fox sets off to find out what other animals do to survive winter. Birds fly south (I can't do that, says fox); turtles dive to the bottom of a pond and dig into the mud.  (Definitely Not For Fox!).

What I like about this book: It's a fun quest, because who doesn't want to know what other people/animals do when snow is on its way. I like seeing the world through the point of view of a fox. And I like the idea of foxes dancing to celebrate winter.

Note from the bug girl (me): As fun as this book is, curious young naturalists will want to further investigate behavior of "woolly caterpillars" they come across. In our area, the woolly caterpillars people see most are "Woolly Bears", larvae of the Isabella moth. Woolly bear caterpillars find a cozy place under leaves or hay mulch where they curl up and hibernate until spring. You can read more about them here and at Naturally Curious. White "woolly" caterpillars (tussock moths) overwinter in the egg stage.

Beyond the Book:

Go on a walk to bid goodbye to fall. What signs of the changing season do you observe? Smell? Feel? Look up - what does the sky look like? Are there lots of leaves? Look down; what does the ground look like? Jot down notes in your field notebook, or draw pictures, or take photos.

In a month, go on another walk along the same route as before. What has changed? Look up - what does the sky look like? Are there lots of leaves? Look down; what does the ground look like? Jot down notes in your field notebook, or draw pictures, or take photos.

Make up a dance to welcome winter. Maybe you want to jump and turn like a fox, leap like a deer, or strut like a turkey. How do the animals in your neighborhood move in winter?

Today we're joining the STEM Friday roundup - and 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 ARCs and copies from the publisher.