Friday, April 27, 2018

Drawing Butterflies and School for Bugs

It's the last week of poetry month, so I'm celebrating with another book featuring poems about bugs. And now that butterflies are flitting about, it's a wonderful time to dive into a new book about a naturalist who used art to study butterflies.
themes: art, nature, insects

The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian's art changed science
by Joyce Sidman
160 pages; ages 10-12
HMH for young readers, 2018

Maria Merian was born in the mid-1600s into a family of printers and engravers. As a girl, she watched her father and apprentices carve maps and illustrations onto copper plates which were inked and then pressed onto paper. She learned to mix pigments and make brushes. And she fell in love with insects - especially caterpillars.

In Miriam's time the silkworm was the only insect whose metamorphosis was well understood. But people still thought of it as "magical". So Maria began studying caterpillars, keeping them in boxes and jars, sketching and making notes as they developed. She also wanted to know more about the connection between caterpillars and their food plants. And she did all this at a time when women were not allowed to study science. Indeed, many were burned as witches for conducting similar kinds of studies.

What I like love about this book: It's about moths, butterflies, and caterpillars! What I love is that Maria's story is told in chapters that follow the life cycle of lepidoptera: egg, instars, molting, pupa, eclosing, expanding, flight... back to egg. Brilliant! I love how author Joyce Sidman shows the vital role women played as homemakers, business partners, yet they were never given the respect or power of the business role. She describes the realities of publishing books and painting in the 1600s, a time when wealthy men bought and read them. And she takes us with Maria on her adventures to South America to study insects.

Crawly School for Bugs: poems to drive you buggy
by David L. Harrison; illus. by Julie Bayless
32 page; ages 5-9
WordSong, 2018

Welcome hummers, tweeters, singers, diggers.... 

It doesn't matter whether you fly, leap, or crawl, this school welcomes you. There's just one Very Important Rule: don't eat your friends at school.

What I like about this book: Each poem focuses on a different bug, imagining how they would respond in various school situations. For example: aphids in math class. If mama has fifty babies and each babies have fifty babies, how many aphids do you get? There's camouflage class, stink bug class, and what's left of termite class. There are cricket lessons, report cards, and a serious moment when grasshoppers discover a recipe book...
   It's fine to eat
   the farmer's crop
   but eating US
   has got to stop!
Definitely more word play than entomology, but a fun way to invite bugs into your day.

Beyond the Books:

Go on a butterfly hunt - with a camera or your sketchbook. Try to catch photos of different kinds of butterflies and daytime moths. Sometimes nature centers host butterfly walks or moth nights for the public. Then use a guide book or online guide to find a picture of its larva. Using pencils, paint, or other media, create an illustration showing the caterpillar and butterfly, and Maria Merian might have done.

Check out cool photos of butterflies, moths, and caterpillars in field guides or online. Here's a link to photos of Lepidoptera and here's a caterpillar guide.

Write a buggy poem. During "poetry month", poet Amy Ludwig VanDerwater has been writing one poem each day using different poetry styles. Find one (or more) that you like and play around with words to share what you know about your favorite bug.

Cook up some grasshoppers? Here's how... or buy some online.

 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 provided by publishers.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ looking for Lepidoptera

One morning a few years ago, I discovered an Io moth outside my front door. Find out more about them at the BioKids website.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Earth Day!

Earth Day was born back in the last century - I remember our Girl Scout troop doing a trash cleanup at the park, and a party-like atmosphere.

In the past few years, Earth Day has focused on particular environmental issues. This year it's plastic. Plastic is a huge problem - there's a huge floating plastic island in the ocean, and plastic is killing whales and birds. You can learn more about this year's Earth Day here.
And here's a link for your own personal "plastic pollution" calculator.
Make this the year you decrease your dependence on plastic.
For me that means cutting down on the food packaging. Instead of putting peppers in a plastic produce bag I can carry my own "veggie" bag for fruits and vegetables that have their own skins. (This is harder to do with things like blueberries...)
What can you do this year?

Friday, April 20, 2018

The Buzz on Bee Books

Spring is here. Trees are flowering and dandelions are blooming, providing pollen for the native bees and honey bees. So this week I'm focusing on bees. And drop by on Sunday for Earth Day!

theme: bees, nature, environment

Turn this Book into a Beehive!
by Lynn Brunelle; illus. by Anna-Maria Jung
192 pages; ages 8-12
Workman Publishing, 2018

Bees... whether you love 'em or hate 'em, we need bees for our survival.

That may sound over-dramatic, but the truth is that bees are a keystone species. That means, writes author Lynn Brunelle, "plants and animals in an ecosystem depend on them for survival." That dependence includes us - because one third of the food we eat depends on bees for pollination. Think: blueberries, apples, almonds, cucumbers.

But there's a problem. Bee populations are in decline. Not just honey bees, but the hard-working native pollinators that provide millions of dollars worth of free labor to fruit farmers. If you've followed this blog for long, you know I am passionate about pollinators - especially bees. Bumble bees, carpenter bees, mason bees, leafcutter bees, digger bees...they are all too important to lose.

What I like love about this book: It introduces us to bees, pollination, and then invites us to make friends with two kinds of bees: mason bees and honey bees. It includes 20 activities and experiments that provide children and families a safe way to learn about our busy, buzzy neighbors. And BEST of ALL - you can turn the book into a beehive for native bees. Durable cover and instructions included.

The King of Bees
by Lester L. Laminack; illus. by Jim LaMarche
32 pages; ages 4-8
Peachtree Publishers, 2018

Henry and Aunt Lilla lived deep in the Lowcountry, where South Carolina reaches out and mingles with the saltwater for form tidal creeks and marshes.

Henry and his aunt live in a small house with a vegetable garden, a hen house, and beehives. He can't wait until he is old enough to help care for the bees. Henry wants his own coveralls and bee hat. He also loves the bees, their humming, and the stories Aunt Lilla tells about how the sister bees work together.

"Don't they have any brother bees?" Henry asks. Then one day the bees begin to swarm and Henry decides he'll help guide the bees to the new hive box Aunt Lilla is getting ready. Things don't go as planned and he has a closer encounter with bees than he expected.

What I like about this book: The warm, inviting illustrations that are so luscious I just want to walk into the scenes. The lyrical language and the gentle pace of the story - it is told on bee time, not fast human time. And the loving relationship between Henry and his aunt.

Buzzing Beyond the Books:

Go on a bee walk. Look at plants in yards and gardens, weeds growing along roadways... how many different kinds of bees do you see? Here's a "gallery of bees" over at the Great Sunflower Project. Just click on the photos to learn more about each kind of bee. Also check out this article at National Wildlife Federation - there's a great photo of different kinds of native bees.

Let part of your yard go wild - many of the plants we consider "weeds" provide pollen for native bees: asters, dandelions, yarrow, violets, mints, mullein. Or plant some native flowers for the bees - here's a link to get you started. You can find pollinator-friendly plant lists for your region at the Xerces Society site.

Learn more about Mason bees here.

And check out a video of honeybee waggle dance here. Then practice the steps so you can use the waggle dance to tell someone how to find the best flowers in your neighborhood.

Construct your own honeycomb of paper hexagons. All you need are some paper towel rolls. Here's how.

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 publishers

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ puddle reflections

Down at the end of the road there's a place where the school bus turns around. It's a dirt area, grass long gone from a year of heavy tires. After rain, puddles filling the muddy depressions. After rain, the silt is stirred up, the water too muddy to see the pebbles at the bottom. Instead, the puddle reflects the trees nearby.

What do the puddles in your neighborhood see of the world?

Friday, April 13, 2018

Leaf Litter Critters and Doodlebugs

Fun new books about bugs illustrate today's themes: insects, nature, imagination.

Leaf Litter Critters
by Leslie Bulion; illus. by Robert Meganck
48 pages; ages 8-12
Peachtree Publishers, 2018

Between soil's grains of weathered rock.
Beneath its veiny leaves in scraps,
Amid its ribs of rotting sticks,
Soil's litter critters find the gaps.

 Welcome to the brown food web - banquet table for decomposers of all classes (and orders). From bacteria to beetles these poems get down and dirty about how dead stuff gets recycled into compost.

What I like about this book: Everything, from end pages to back matter. There are cool new words scattered about to describe the work of decomposers: shredding, chewing, humus-pooing... totally fun to read out loud! Every spread has science notes (sidebars) that go into detail about such things as duff, number of nematodes in soil, how fungi eat, pseudoscorpions - I really like the pseudoscorpions! Each poem not only focuses on a different litter critter, but also highlights a different style of poetry - which is explained in detail in back matter. There are linked cinquain, traditional stanzas, free verse, tanka, and more.

I love the back matter - a glossary, poetry notes, and hands-on field explorations. And there's a fun comparison of sizes of the critters, some compared to an earthworm and others compared to the head of a pin. So one could actually determine how many tardigrades can dance on the pin-head. And I love the end pages, with roly-poly pillbugs and sowbugs that march right onto the title page. What fun!.

 Do Doodlebugs Doodle? Amazing Insect Facts
by Corinne Demas and Artemis Roehrig; illus. By Ellen Shi
32 pages; ages 4-9
Persnickety Press (CLO), 2018

Do dragonflies breathe fire?

No, but they do have a long toothed jaw that can capture prey. Written in Q & A style, this book explores some of the questions kids might ask upon hearing an insect's name.

Do horseflies gallop? Do stink bugs take baths? Do yellowjackets wear yellow jackets? The response to each question is "no" - until we get to doodlebugs. Turns out they do doodle!

What I like about this book: It's fun and funny. And there's back matter! Each insect gets a bit more up-close-and-personal attention.

Beyond the Books: 
Pick up a pencil and doodle. You know you want to!

Go on a leaf litter field trip. All you need is a place where leaves have collected over a season or two, and a few other things. Here's a great list of stuff you'll need and how to find the litter critters.

Write a haiku about one of the litter critters you find - or to the leaf litter itself. Here's how.

 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 provided by publishers.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Wednesday Explorers Club ~Science with (probably stale) Peeps

Science With Peeps began one year after Easter when the kids discovered that, though they loved marshmallows, they had not eaten the peeps. It was now ten days post-Easter and the peeps were getting tough (or as we gardeners like to say, hardened-off). Soon they could be used as hockey pucks.

"We could see how long they take to decompose in the compost bin," one kid suggested. OK, but who was going to collect that data?

"We could see how long they take to dissolve," said the other. (It takes longer than you think.)

"We could put them in the microwave," said one.
"And what?" I asked.
"Compare them to marshmallows."

First, it being science, we wrote a list of questions. Things like:
  • How long does it take for a peep to melt? 
  • How long does it take a marshmallow to melt? 
  • Does color matter? 
  • Does shape matter? 
  • Does staleness matter?
  • Does melting improve flavor? 
  • Can peeps be substituted for marshmallows in S'mores?
Then we tested them under various settings and... well, go do it and have fun.

We aren't the only ones to do Peep Science. NPR's Adam Cole used stale peeps to determine the speed of light. It's something you could do at home - here's a link to their video. All you need are stale peeps, a glass dish, and a microwave.

Friday, April 6, 2018

How many guinea pigs can fit on a plane?

"If each guinea pig sits on its own seat, then it just depends on how many seats are on the plane," says Laura Overdeck. It's a different matter if you're squishing them in as tightly as they can fit. And the fact is, she says, "guinea pigs are happiest when they're together with friends." She would know; she wrote the book, How Many Guinea Pigs can Fit on a Plane?

ages 7-11; Feiwel & Friends, 2017
The math gets a bit more complex and involves cubic space and how tightly you pack them. But for the sake of argument, let's go with 472,500.

Guinea pigs aren't the only critter calculations in the book. Overdeck demonstrates how one can compute the total number of dogs in the world - spiders, too - and whether hopping bunnies move faster than running people.

And that's just the Animal chapter. There's a chapter about math for your mouth (it includes chocolate), your life in numbers, math used to calculate things in nature, and tips for mental math.

But first, before the first problem is served, Overdeck treats us to a bite of pie pi. That's so we can figure out cool things like how much wrapping paper you'd need to cover a basketball, and how much space is inside that basketball. A fun, fun book brought to us by the mistress of the Bedtime Math series (see reviews here and here - and click on the Bedtime Math button over in the right column for today's problems!)

ages 8-12; Nat. Geo Kids, 2017
You can never have too many math games, so here's another book filled with games, puzzles, and information about your brain. Brain Bogglers starts with a page of puzzles to determine what "kind of genius" you are. Because there are different kinds.

Each chapter focuses on some aspect of how your brain works, and includes puzzles to challenge you. For example, how does your brain translate reflected light into images? And does it ever trick you?

Sometimes our body tricks our brain. Sometimes we know stuff that we don't know we know. (I know- confusing, right?) And sometimes we don't get top score because other animals are so much ... smarter?

Thank goodness the answers are at the back of the book!

Today we're joining the STEM Friday roundup. Review copies from the publishers.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ Rainy Day Fun

The world looks different in the rain. Clouds seem to hang closer to the ground. The earth smells greener, fresher. So if you've got some days of gentle rain, head outside for some Rainy Day exploration.
  • take time to notice the rain - what it feels like, smells like, tastes like.
  • rescue worms trapped in puddles. Gently pick them up and move them to earth. While you're at it, observe them as they crawl around in your hands.
  • if there's an overflowing gutter, have a leaf or twig race - or fold up some tiny paper boats and send them off on an expedition.
  • go on a nature walk. What animals do you see when it's raining? What do you see after the rain?
  • if you have a waterproof camera, take photos of the world during the storm. Can you catch raindrops splashing in puddles or on the sidewalk?