Friday, June 29, 2018

Back from the Brink ~ Saving Animals from Extinction

 Back from the Brink: Saving animals from extinction
by Nancy F. Castaldo
176 pages; ages 10-12
HMH Books for Young Readers, 2018

"We are not alone on this great spinning planet," writes Nancy Castaldo. "Alongside us are countless creatures with whom we share the earth's space and resources. Sometimes we collide, and when we do, it's usually the animals that lose out."

In the introduction, Nancy discusses preservation, the Endangered Species Act, and how humans can work together to help repair some of the damage done to wildlife populations. Individual chapters highlight whooping cranes, gray wolves, bald eagles, the giant Galapagos tortoises, American alligators, California condors, and American bison.

Having never had the opportunity to visit the Galapagos, I was intrigued to learn about the tortoises. They are big - weighing 500 or more pounds - and live a long time. One tortoise, owned by Charles Darwin in 1835, died in 2006! These tortoises are crucial member of their ecosystems, Nancy writes. They help distribute seed for plants that, in turn, provide food for birds and lizards.

 The problem: goats. Goats introduced to the islands have destroyed the forests that provide important shade and moisture for the tortoises. People brought goats to the island; people can help remove them so the island ecosystem can recover and provide a safe home for the tortoises. Nancy shows how that is happening on one of the island, allowing tortoises to come back from the brink of extinction.

I love the way Nancy ends with a Call to Action. There are specific things that people - even kids - can do to help preserve wildlife. For example, planting native plants could help save endangered butterflies. Making sure your microtrash (bottle caps and other small plastic bits) ends up in the trash bin keeps plastic out of the mouths of wildlife. Preserving wetlands in your area will help the birds and other wildlife that depend on those habitats. Reducing the use of herbicides and other pesticides will keep birds - and humans - healthier.

Today we're joining the STEM Friday roundup. Review copy from publisher.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ rainy day maze

One afternoon, the kids in the Lego Club at the local library constructed marble mazes. This one is a garden maze, but there was a fruit stand, a bridge, a tall maze, and an underground maze.

Cool thing #1: all you need is a bunch of blocks, a base, and a marble. And when you get tired of the maze, you can move the blocks to create a new maze. Here's one in motion.

Cool thing #2: if you don't have Legos, you could raid the recycling bin for cereal boxes, corrugated cardboard, or maybe the cover of a discarded hardback book. Instead of clicking blocks on a base, you'd need to glue maze walls. Or use a stapler or duct tape.

Cool thing #3: if it's a sunny day, you can make a maze outside for your friends to follow. Think about how you might get help mowing a maze, or lining up hay bales (or boxes), or using stones or cement blocks - even pine cones - to outline a maze.

The hard part: creating the maze so you (or a marble) can travel from one end to the other, and including false trails that end in a road block.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Activity books for emerging scientists, engineers, and explorers

Summer is here! If you've got a road trip planned - and even if you don't - you may be looking for a fun activity book that keeps kids involved in STEM exploration over the summer. Here are three that provide for lots of open-ended investigation.

Iggy Peck's Big Project Book for Amazing Architects
by Andrea Beaty; illus. by David Roberts
96 pages; ages 5-8
Abrams, 2017

 Do you like to build things? Doodle? Dream up new creations? If so, this book is for you! Graph-paper-ruled pages are filled with engineering and architectural challenges, ideas, and things to imagineer (that's like imagining and engineering all smooshed together).

The book introduces the story of Iggy Peck and then gets you started with a list of things that might be useful for architectural designs - from rubber bands and paper clips to boxes, plastic bottles, and a T-square. There's a great show-and-tell about balance, rhythm, and movement in design, and then you're on your own to design a new city hall, school, or haunted house. There's a similar book for emerging engineers called,  Rosie Revere's Big Project Book for Bold Engineers.

My Steam Notebook
by Darcy Pattison
156 pages, ages 6-10
Mim's House, 2017

Don't let the subtitle, "150 years of primary source documents from American scientists" fool you - at its heart, this is an activity book. There are indeed documents, photos of pages from scientists' notebooks and photos. One scientist loved to keep lists, another went on an ant safari and drew maps. As for STEAM, that refers to Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math.

After introducing a scientist and his or her notebook, there are a few pages that are blank on one side and graph-paper-ruled on the other for you to jot notes, draw observations, make maps, record data... in effect, turn this book into your own scientist's notebook. There's a fill-in-the-blank table of contents at the front, and a make-your-own glossary at the back, for new words you discover as you explore your world.

Doodle Journeys
by Dawn Devries Sokol
160 pages; ages 8-12
Amulet Books, 2018

This fill-in journal is just the right size for tucking in a travel bag or backpack, which makes it the perfect thing to take along whether traveling by car or plane (or sail boat, canoe, bicycle, foot). It's designed to dip in anywhere, and use during more than one trip.

Introductory pages include items you might want to pack in a "travel tool kit" - things like pens, colored pencils, glue stick, tape, small scissors, a small ziplock to collect stamps, receipts, candy wrappers, etc. for collage.... stuff that could easily fit into a pencil pouch.

The book is divided into three chapters: Doodle Drills to get you going; Imaginary Trips for the creative mind; and Real Journeys for in-real-life adventures - even if it's just a walk to the library. You can fill the pages with drawings and observations of plants, animals, buildings, and other things you see, as well as use Dawn's prompts.

So go. Get a journal or an activity book. Explore new ideas, new places, and fill the pages. Review copies provided by publishers.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Books to welcome summer

theme: summer, wildflowers, night

Summer officially begins next week! Here's a fun pop-up book to kick off vacation:

by David A. Carter
12 pages; ages 3-5
Abrams Appleseed, 2018

The summer day is long and warm...

Each spread in this book features brief text and depicts plants and animals that children might see during the summer.

What I like about this book: It's fun! When you turn the page, a plant or tree pops up (plus the squash that vines from one side of the spread to the other). Birds, animals, fruits, and the occasional feature are labeled, and there is plenty of detail to explore on the page. It almost begs kids to get up and head outside to explore summer. My recommendation: tuck this one in your picnic basket.

 Ultimate Explorer Field Guide: Wildflowers
by Libby Romero
160 pages; ages 8 & up
National Geographic Children's Books, 2018

I love the NGK field guide series. They are sturdy field guides that are just the right size for tucking into the pocket of a back pack. It's not as detailed as the Peterson guide, but it makes up for the lack of entries with vibrant photos and is organized in a fun way that groups flowers by the sorts of questions one might ask. For example, one chapter highlights invasive flowers, another one draws your attention to petal shape.

The front pages introduce wildflowers, how they grow, and where to find them. Front matter is where you'll find a diagram of flower parts, a checklist of things to take along on a flower hike (remember a hand lens!), and some tips on protecting wildflowers.

Flowers are introduced by common name, scientific name, and a paragraph of general information about the species. In addition to a photo, there are often drawings that show basic features to help with plant identification. Plus lots of wildflower watching tips.

Nature's Lullaby Fills the Night
by Dee Leone; illus. by Bali Engel
40 pages; ages 3-7
Sterling, 2018

Moths with powdery wings do soft gently stir the air aloft.
Their flitter-flutter lullabies barely whisper, "Close your eyes."

Spiders spin, crickets sing, tree branches shuuush in the breeze. The lyrical language paired with dark blues of a night world will certainly bring calm after a busy day.

What I like about this book: It's quiet - a lullaby that celebrates the night world. Drifting parachutes sprinkle seeds, night creatures sing, and all around us the mama and papa birds and fish and deer tuck their young in, and snuggle up for a good night's sleep.

Beyond the Book:
Show how summer looks, smells, sounds, and feels. Draw pictures, cut photos from a magazine, and create a collage or map for the season. Add labels where needed.

Go on a listening walk. You can do this during the day or at night, in the city or in the country. Notice the different sounds you hear.

Get to know your wildflower neighbors. The best way to learn who they are is to take a field guide with you, so you can compare petals and leaves of flowers to the descriptions in the guide book. There are some online guides. Here's one, and here's another.

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, June 13, 2018

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ flight of the dandelion

If every seed were a wish, how many wishes can one dandelion grant?
And how far would those wishes fly if you blew them on their way?

Friday, June 8, 2018

Ants and Spiders! Oh my!

theme: bugs, nature, nonfiction

Spiders and ants are becoming more active around – and sometimes in – my house. So this is a perfect time to share these books that were released last fall.

Just Like Us! Ants 
by Bridget Heos ; illustrated by David Clark
32  pages; ages 4-7
HMH Books for Young Readers, 2017 

Did you know that ants have been farming for longer than humans? And that in addition to raising crops, they herd (and milk) animals? Ants also build roads, sew, and construct rafts to survive floods. 

What I like about this book: On each spread, Bridget Heos introduces a different way in which ants are like us. She uses plain language, tinged with humor, to show how ants live in communities, delegate chores, and deal with traffic. An ant’s first job is often that of a babysitter – just like us! Babysitter ants feed their young charges, and give them baths. They’d probably raid the fridge if ant nests had refrigerators. Another thing ants do is wage war on other colonies. Meanwhile, the queen and loyal helpers carry the larvae and flee to safety.

I also like the artwork. David Clark’s cartoonish illustrations add a touch of humor while showing the details we need to know. Occasionally he integrates photos of real ants doing real work.

Spiders! Strange and Wonderful 
by Laurence Pringle; illustrated by Meryl Henderson
32 pages; ages 7 - 10
Boyds Mills Press, 2017

…there may be several spiders close to you. One may lurk under a chair. Another hides in the corner of a window. Oh, and there may be one in a little silk web, up by the ceiling. 

Spiders live everywhere, except Antarctica, and they are so focused on living their own lives that they really don’t want to have anything to do with us. They have lived on this earth for a long time – at least 380 million years. Most of them survive by eating insects. That’s good for gardeners who don’t like pests nibbling spinach leaves; not so good for the pests. 

What I like about this book: Laurence Pringle explains how spiders are related to other arachnids, shows their anatomy, and talks about their secret weapon. He introduces different kinds of webs, and spiders that don’t have webs. The illustrations are a wonderful way to learn how to identify certain spiders. I love the up-close portraits of spider faces and eye patterns – it’s hard to see those on live spiders. Back matter includes a glossary, further reading and, of course, websites! 

Beyond the Books 
What do ants in your area like to eat? Some ants prefer grease, some sugary treats, and others would rather nosh on seeds. If you find an ant community in your yard or local park, you can do a food preference test. Turn a paper plate upside down and put it on the ground about a yard from the ant’s home. Put samples of various foods around the edge of the plate: sesame seeds, barley, dabs of honey, butter, and peanut butter. Which food attracts the ants? 

Check out this video of ants, by David Attenborough (Life in theUndergrowth, BBC) 

Can you jump as far as a jumping spider? They can jump anywhere from 10 to 50 times their body length. Measure your height (body length). Then do some jumps, and measure how far you went. How far would a jumping spider jump if it were as big as you? 

Scientists have taught a spider to jump on demand. They hope that what they learn from their spider, Kim, can help them improve the form and function of jumping micro-robots. You can watch the video here.
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 copy from publishers.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ Spy on Spiders

Not all spiders have websites. Ambush hunters hang out, waiting for lunch to land next to them. Sometimes they even blend in with the flowers and buds they hide on. Then, when a fly or be comes too close - watch out! - the spider lunges.

What sort of spiders do you see stalking prey, waiting for fly-by take-out, or otherwise hunting for their meals? Grab your field journal and something to draw with and head out to Spy on Spiders.

Check out this post on grass spiders.

Friday, June 1, 2018

STEM Books for the Beach

theme: beaches, animals, STEM

On Gull Beach (On Bird Hill and Beyond series)
by Jane Yolen; illustrated by Bob Marstall
36 pages; ages 4 - 10
Cornell Lab Publishing Group, 2018

As I was walking on Gull Beach,

I saw a starfish within reach

While visiting a beach in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, a boy finds a starfish. But before he can pick it up a gull snatches the sea star and flies away. The boy gives chase… will he be able to rescue the sea star before it becomes gull lunch?

What I like about this book: Gulls toss the sea star from bill to bill to bill, leading the boy on a merry chase across the dunes. Along the way, illustrator Bob Marstall makes sure readers see the shells, dune grass, crabs, and other shore birds that the boy misses – because he is so focused on his rescue quest. I also like that the boy doesn’t want to keep the starfish, and shows respect for the life on the beach.

And there is back matter, which I always like! For curious naturalists, Jane Yolen provides information on gulls, sanderlings, and more shore birds. She also clarifies the use of “starfish” and “sea star” and introduces a cast of crabs as well as the horseshoe crab (which is not a crab). Best of all, there’s a list of ways you can help make our beaches a better place for people and wildlife.

How to Code a Sandcastle (a Girls Who Code book)
by Josh Funk; illustrated by Sara Palacios
44 pages; ages 4-8
Viking, 2018

It is the last day of summer vacation. Which means today is my very last chance to build a sandcastle!

Pearl has been trying to build a sandcastle all summer long, but things keep happening to them. Today, though, she’s got the perfect plan and the perfect building partner – her trusty, rust-proof robot buddy, Pascal. All she has to do is tell Pascal what to do, and how to do it.

What I like about this book: I like the fun way Josh Funk introduces coding. When Pearl tells Pascal to build a sandcastle, he doesn’t know what to do. Pearl realizes she needs to give her robot more specific instructions, so she figures out the steps needed for castle construction and, through trial and error, creates the code that tells Pascal what to do. Then, because she is tired of repeating the same instructions, she figures out how to create a loop of code so Pascal will continue doing the same thing over and over and over again.

I like the personality illustrator Sara Palacios imbues in Pascal. It? He? is delightful! And I love the clever way Josh codes “the end” and his dedication. This book will make you want to get a bucket and plastic scoop and head to the beach to code your very own sandcastle.

Beyond the Books:

Look for gulls. We think of them as living along the coast, but you can find gulls around lakes, ponds, even farmers’ fields. Cornell Lab or Ornithology lists 15 on their All About Birds site (hit “see more birds” to see them all. Check out this video of Laughing Gulls at the beach. And learn about more shorebirds here.

Learn more about ocean habitats. The National Park Service page allows you to explore many types of ocean habitat.

Visit the GROG Blog for an interview with JoshFunk about coding and castles.

Write your own instruction for building a sandcastle. Then go build it. It doesn’t matter whether you’re building your castle in a sandbox or at the beach, just have some fun. No sand? Then code a castle for natural construction materials in your habitat: stones, hay, pinecones, twigs….

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 copy from publisher.