Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Wednesday Explorers ~ Berries in the snow

Not everyone hibernates over winter. Birds, squirrels, and other animals head out to hunt for fruits, berries, tasty bark, and other yummy winter foods.

As you walk around this winter, be on the look-out for what berries and fruits you might find that could serve as food for animals. Around here there are always a few red multiflora rose hips, and sometimes dried grapes hanging on a vine.

What do you see in your neighborhood? Take your journal or camera along so you can draw a picture of the plant and berries - and then try to identify it later using a field guide.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Charlie Numbers celebrates Science and Diversity

Tomorrow is Multicultural Children's Book Day. So I'm taking the opportunity to share a novel that includes not only a diversity of characters, but a strong STEM component. If you are a fan of the TV series "Scorpion" (or the older "Numbers"), this will appeal to you.

Charlie Numbers and the Man in the Moon
by Ben and Tonya Mezrich
208 pages; ages 8-12
Simon & Schuster, 2017

Charlie Numbers is a smart kid. Fortunately he's got a gang of like-minded friends who, by banding together, manage to survive the hassles and bullying that middle school life can bring. We meet them in the early chapters, where they are hurrying to finish a project for school that involves baking soda and vinegar. And no, it's not a volcano.
When Charlie is approached by a man and woman who say they are from NASA, he is intrigued. They need a favor - and in the process he and his friends get drafted to compete in a national paper airplane contest at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. Soon Charlie and his friends find themselves caught in a mystery filled with corporate espionage and lots and lots of calculations regarding lift, thrust, resistance, and gravity.

In addition to the science, math, and engineering that are essential to the plot and fabric of this book, there is a fun cast of wonderfully diverse characters who make up the Whiz Kids. Charlie is a numbers guy who has never done anything practical like paper airplanes. Crystal is passionate about geology, Kentaro is a linguistics genius, Marion  is an artist, and Jeremy has mad math skills.

What I like about the book - in addition to the STEM that is woven through every aspect of the story - is the understanding that we work better when we work together. Teamwork is vital to solving engineering problems, even if it is paper airplane engineering, and a team with diverse skills and personalities brings more to the group - at least that's my opinion.

Author Tonya Mezrich graciously answered a couple questions about the writing process. Turns out she's been helping Ben behind the scenes as a researcher for his other books....and when I asked about inspiration for this book, she confessed that Indiana Jones may have played a part.

authors Ben and Tonya Mezrich
Tonya: We were both fans (of Indiana Jones) and loved to imagine kids solving mysteries in the same exciting action-packed way. Another inspiration is Encyclopedia Brown and Harry Potter. We love the idea of creating a modern day Encyclopedia Brown with kids solving mysteries in today's settings. We also love the magic element of Harry Potter. For Charlie, math and science is his magic.

Archimedes: What makes a book "multicultural" and how does that relate to your book?

Tonya: Our book has a strong Asian character, Kentaro, who is integral in solving the mystery. I am Asian and was always faced with the typical stereotype that I should be good at math and science. (note: Tonya is... she's a dentist!) I didn't want to portray Kentaro that way, so we had his skill set based on words and spelling. He is a Scrabble whiz - and also graces the cover of our book. We've gotten great feedback from the multicultural community about it, which has come as a pleasant surprise.

Tonya and Ben focused on paper airplanes for this book because they are something that any kid can make. Try their design for the super fast dart - and let me know if you have better luck sailing it than I do! Maybe my folds aren't crisp enough, but my plane keeps nosediving.

On Monday we'll be hanging out on Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with other  bloggers over at Greg Pattridge's blog, Always in the Middle - so hop over to see what other people are reading. Review copy provided by author.

A little more about Multicultural Children's Book Day:  It was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump into a Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. The mission of MCBD is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids' books that celebrate diversity on home and school bookshelves, while also working to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents, and educators.

MCBD has 28 Medallion level sponsors and 47 Author sponsors. The event relies on their impressive CoHost Team for hosting the book review link-up and spreading word of this event. Drop by the Multicultural Children's Book Day website for fabulous resources including free books for teachers and a free classroom empathy kit for homeschoolers, teachers, and others.

Remember to connect with MCBD on social media with #ReadYourWorld

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Wednesday Explorers ~ paper airplanes!

from: The Paper Airplane Collector, the New Yorker

This winter has been cold, cold, cold. So I've been on the look-out for fun things to do inside. So folding paper airplanes has become my thing to do when taking a break from writing (I have a nice, long hallway to aim them down).  Paper airplanes come in a variety of shapes and sizes and colors and kinds of paper. I build mine out of printer paper from the recycling bin - but I could just as easily fold them out of wrapping paper (also in the recycling bin) or out-dated flyers tacked to the post office bulletin board. 

There's only one problem. OK - two: my planes are inelegant constructions that tend to wobble and crash. But some folks understand the secrets of paper aerodynamics - how to balance the forces of thrust and lift against gravity and drag. At least my dent-nosed attempts have pretty designs....

This week try making a few planes. If you are a beginner, check out these sites for some helpful hints on how to make a fast plane and a bunch of printable designs. More experienced aerospace engineers can check out these origami designs. And drop by on Friday for a book review that features paper airplanes, math, and a mystery.

Friday, January 19, 2018

The Elephant Whisperer

Last week I shared half a handful of elephant picture books. Today's book is middle grade nonfiction.

The Elephant Whisperer
by Lawrence Anthony with Graham Spence
256 pages; ages 10-14
Henry Holt & Co, 2017

I love nonfiction that reads like an adventure novel! Lawrence Anthony ran the Thula Thula reserve - 5,000 acres of undeveloped bush in the heart of Zululand, South Africa. It was home to white rhinos, cape buffalo, giraffes, zebras, lynx, antelope, and other animals, but no elephants. Anthony never thought to have elephants, until he hears of a small group of elephants being given away.

They're "troublesome", he's warned. But he decides to take a chance on them and reinforces the fencing. They get out - many times - and Anthony decides he'll have to sleep with them to let them know that they are safe and this is their home.

In between the adventures of tracking down escaped elephants and capturing poachers, Anthony tells about elephant social groups. He describes each of the animals in the herd, their personalities, and a whole lot about animal behavior. One thing he emphasizes: elephants are smart. They are tenacious problem-solvers.

Eventually the herd starts visiting his house - especially after he's been away and is returning to the reserve. When they have babies, the females bring them to the house and "introduce" the babies to the human who is now an adopted member of the herd. Woven throughout the book is Anthony's life on the reserve - including some tips for gardening in elephant territory.

"These elephants taught me that all life-forms are imporant to one another in our common quests for survival and happiness," writes Anthony. "... there is more to life than just yourself, your own family, or your own kind."

Today we're joining the STEM Friday roundup - On Monday we'll be hanging out on Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with other  bloggers over at Greg Pattridge's blog, Always in the Middle - so hop over to see what other people are reading. ARC provided by publisher.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Wednesday Explorers ~ Rubber Band Science

We collect rubber bands around our house: red ones, blue ones, thick ones, thin ones, long ones, short ones. So one day we decided to test their flying ability.

Here's what you need:
rubber bands
yardstick or tape measure
markers (poker chips, masking tape, small post-it notes)

How far do rubber bands fly?
Make a starting line. Predict how far your rubber band will fly when you pull it back 6 inches.
Then snug one end against the end of the ruler and pull the band 6 inches. Let it fly. Have someone mark where it hits the floor.

Questions to explore:
1. How far do they fly when pulled 8 inches or 10 inches?
2. Compare rubber bands of different thicknesses. Is there a difference?
3. Does it get "tired" after lots of flying? Is it possible to stretch it out so it changes how elastic it is, and therefore how well it flies?
4. Do cold rubber bands fly better or worse than warmed rubber bands? To test, put a rubber band in the freezer for an hour and one of the same kind and size over a hot air vent or on top of a warm place for an hour. Then test their flight abilities.

Have fun!

Friday, January 12, 2018

Elephants everywhere!

So many books about elephants! I'm not complaining because elephants are smart, brave, social, and very cool animals. So if you've got an elephant-loving kid in your house, here are some new-ish books that will capture their imagination.
themes: nonfiction, animal families, STEM

How to Be an Elephant
by Katherine Roy
48 pages; ages 7 - 11
Roaring Brook Press, 2017

With flapping ears and whiffling trunks, the herd quickly relays the news. After 22 months of growing, a new baby is on her way.

There are so many things this young elephant needs to learn. She'll learn about the importance of family. She'll learn that her feet were made for walking. She'll learn about all the ways to use her trunk and how to communicate with distant families.

What I like about this book: It's info-packed, but so fun to read. Katherine Roy puts us right in the midst of a herd, so we get an intimate look at how young elephants grow up and the education they receive. I enjoyed learning more about the social groups of elephants, headed by a matriarch who protects them and leads them to water and food. Also the comparisons of young elephants to other youngsters who learn through play. Elephant children play games like "chase the enemy" with egrets, baboons, and other smaller neighbors; our children play tag and king of the hill. We need books like this to help our children understand how all life is connected, and how some species, like elephants, are keystone species for their ecosystems.

If you ever receive an elephant as a gift and need to weigh it, this book is for you.

Cao Chong Weighs and Elephant
by Songju Ma Daemicke; illustrated by Christina Wald
32 pages; ages 4-8
Arbordale, 2017

Nearly 2,000 years ago a curious boy named Cao Chong came up with a solution to a weighty problem. His father received an elephant as a gift. People marveled at its size and its long, flexible trunk. "It works like an arm and a hand," young Chong exclaims.

When they speculate on its weight, Chong's father puts up a prize for whoever can solve the problem. Scales won't work, and cutting the huge animal into smaller pieces to weigh isn't a humane solution. But Chong has an idea. It involves a lake, a boat, and  Archimedes' principle.

Why I like this book: Archimedes' principle - how can I not like it! Plus a creative way to introduce a complex idea to kids - and lots of back matter and activities.

How to Find an Elephant
by Kate Banks; illus. by Boris Kulikov
32 pages; ages 3-6
Farrar Straus Giroux, 2017

The best time to look for an elephant is on a dull day when clouds hover on the horizon looking like spaceships.

I did not know that! Apparently there are many things I don't know about finding elephants: you have to climb a tree; you should carry a flute; and if you find one, don't feed it pizza.

What I like about this book: This imaginative, playful, and very much NOT nonfiction book is plain fun to read. We head out with the main character on an elephant-finding expedition. The fun part: the elephant is there, hidden on the page or - in some cases - not hidden at all.

Beyond the Books:

Learn more about African Elephants. National Geographic has a great page full of photos and information here. You can find out more about how people are working to save elephants at Save the Elephants.

What's Archimedes' Principle? Well, it was SO neat that he jumped out of a bathtub and ran through town shouting "Eureka!" Find out more here. And try it yourself here.

Go on an Elephant Finding Expedition around your neighborhood. If elephants were there, where would they be hiding? Would they be camouflaged? Would they be hiding beneath the snow? Better yet, head to a zoo and check out what the real elephants are doing. Maybe you'll catch one of the trainers working with the elephants - using broccoli treats to get the elephants to raise one foot at a time for cleaning.

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 publishers.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Wednesday Explorers ~ What's that under the ice?

Credit, Guillaume Grosbois

 When Guillaume Grosbois and Milla Rautio visited Lake Simoncouche, Quebec, they didn't expect to see much life swimming about beneath the frozen surface. Certainly not bright red zooplankton!

But there they were - red copepods buzzing about in the dark water. Turns out these copepods spend their fall chowing down on algae and building up their store of fat for the winter.

You can learn more about these curious creatures, and watch a video of them here.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Scuba Diving Spiders and Hugs

There are so many cool animals living on our planet, and so many ways to introduce their stories to children. Here are a couple released last fall that I really enjoyed.
theme: animals, nonfiction

The Secret of the Scuba Diving Spider ... and more!
by Ana Maria Rodriguez
48 pages; ages 8 - 11
Enslow, 2017

Roger Seymour and Stefan Hetz, animal biologists, are scouting Germany's northern countryside for the one-of-a-kind diving bell spider, the only spider that lives underwater.

It's not an easy job: the spiders are only as long as one to three grains of rice; they're hard to find in the water; and they are becoming rare because of habitat loss and pollution.  But the scientists find their spiders and we learn how the spiders build their diving bells.

What I like about this book: It's got more than diving bell spiders. There are whistling caterpillars - they whistle warning calls to their buddies- as well as bats that jam signals from other bats, and zombie ladybugs. Yes! Zombie Ladybugs! And cockroaches because if you're talking extreme bugs, you can't leave the roaches out.

Informative, fun, filled with unexpected surprises about weird creatures - this book's all that plus a hands-on activity at the end. And it's filled with photos that will engage kids and draw them into the strange lives of these critters.

How Many Hugs?
by Heather Swain; illus. by Steven Henry
32 pages; ages 4-8
Feiwel & Friends, 2017

Since snakes have no arms, nor any feet, 
they can slither about very discreet.
But this lack of appendages surely would make
an awkward affair if a hug from a snake.

From critters with no legs to those with hundreds, Heather Swain counts hugs. Using rhyme, she answers questions every kid has asked: how many legs does a millipede have?

What I like about this book: It's fun. It's imaginative. And it's filled with math, especially division. For example, if you have two arms how many hugs can you give at one time? Just one - which is half of two.  As the number of  legs/arms increases, the math gets a bit harder. But the concept remains the same: H = L/2 (the number of hugs equals the number of legs divided by two). So.... that millipede with 750 legs? I'll leave the math to you.

The other thing I like - there's back matter. A spread of facts about each animal and its leggy relatives.

Beyond the Book:

Find out more about Diving Bell spiders. Check out this video. Then head over to Ana Maria Rodriguez's website where you can find a teacher's guide for the book. There are plenty more activities there plus a crossword puzzle.

How many hugs can you find in your neighborhood? Check out the animal wildlife living in and around you. Jot down each animal you see and how many legs it has. Then calculate how many hugs it could potentially give at one time.

Invent a way you could live under water. How would you collect and store air to breathe? 

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 publishers.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Wednesday Explorers ~ Icy sounds

It's been cold the past couple weeks, with ice forming in road ruts, coating gravel, or sometimes falling like glitter from the sky.

Last year around this time NPR produced a fun piece on how ice sounds like Star War blasters. Have fun! And spend some time listening to ice wherever you happen to be this winter.