Friday, August 31, 2018

Extreme Survivors

Extreme Survivors, Animals the Time Forgot (How Nature Works series)
by Kimberly Ridley
48 pages; ages 10-13
Tilbury House, 2017

They're prowling around the planet now ... prehistoric beasts whose ancestors survived the catastrophes that wiped out the dinosaurs. Don't look now, but one might be lurking in your backyard...

That's an introduction that grabs your attention! Prehistoric beasts in the backyard? Absolutely. Also in the ocean, on the beach, sliming across a jungle floor. In the pages of this book, Kimberly Ridley introduces readers to ten creatures that have survived the centuries: the toothy goblin shark, the spiky tuatara, horseshoe crabs, tardigrades, and more. And she reveals their survival secrets.

Running throughout the book is a conversation about evolution - the gradual change in organisms over generations. Organisms that are better adapted to their environment tend to be preserved through later generations, Ridley explains. She provides examples of natural selection in action and discusses advantages of certain adaptations. Like the comb jellies that, more than 550 million years ago, were among the first animals to evolve skin and muscles. Even more important than having a primitive "brain", these animals had an anus - so food could go in one end of their digestive system and be excreted out their rear end. This adaptation allowed digestive tracts to develop, further allowing evolution of larger animals. Pretty cool, huh!

Of course there is Back Matter! More info on extreme discoveries, and a couple of nicely illustrated timelines plus quick facts on every animal: how big it is, what it eats, what eats it, when it appeared on earth. And for kids who want to dive deeper into the topic, Ridley provides a list of books and websites.

I caught up with Kim on the phone a couple weeks ago and she graciously answered Three Questions about Extreme Survivors.
Archimedes: You have worked as a science journalist, writing for Boston Globe and other publications. What did journalism teach you about writing books for children?

Kim: Storytelling and distillation. Writing about science is all about telling the stories. Then I have to figure out how to make complex facts and information interesting, entertaining, and fun while keeping it accurate. I look for ways to use engaging language that bring the story to life without anthropomorphizing.

Archimedes: How did you choose the creatures for this book?

Kim: After doing research, I had a list of 20 animals. So I made a huge chart on the wall - a timeline where I posted notes and facts. Then it was a process of elimination. I wanted the animals to be surprising, animals people might not have heard about. (so nix the cockroaches) I also wanted to show a fossil where I could. And I wanted to feature animals that were the focus of fascinating research.

Archimedes: Evolution seems to be a thread connecting all these different animals.

Kim: Absolutely. I wanted to put evolution front and center in the book. It is the basis for teaching life sciences, and an important topic in the Next Generation Science Standards. The point about these animals (extreme survivors) is that, while they may look similar to their ancestors, all organisms have evolved in some way. Over time, environment exerts pressure on animals, and those that survive are the best adapted.

Thank you, Kim! To learn more about Kimberly Ridley and her books, check out her website. She was featured on the GROG blog earlier this week where she talks about writing for a small press.

Today we're joining the STEM Friday roundup.   On any other Friday we'd be joining others over at Perfect Picture Book Friday, but it's summer vacation. PPBF will resume in September, but you can always head over to Susanna Hill's ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. Review copy from publishers.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ butterfly tongues!

Next time a butterfly drops by for a sip, edge closer and take a look at its long tongue. These guys don't need straws - they carry their own tubular sucking device which rolls up when they fly. Did you know that a butterfly's tongue is called a proboscis? You can learn lots more about butterfly tongues here - plus look at cool magnifications of the tongue.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Books about Bugs!

There are so many fun books about butterflies, beetles, and all other six-leggeds that I have a hard time keeping up! Here are three that crawled, climbed, and fluttered to the top of the book basket last week. Just in time for monarch butterfly migration...

The Monarchs are Missing: A Butterfly Mystery
by Rebecca Hirsch
56 pages; ages 8-12
Millbrook Press, 2018

One of the things we used to do with our kids was tag monarch butterflies as they began their southbound journey. In our neck of the woods that means heading out to the hayfields with net and tags in the first weeks of September.

Rebecca Hirsch begins her book with kids in the field, capturing monarchs to tag for the Monarch Watch citizen science project. The monarch butterflies they tag will head south on a journey of nearly 3,000 miles from across the eastern US and Canada to Mexico. How they do that is a mystery. What's not a mystery: that monarchs are in danger. Every hear fewer butterflies reach the forests in Mexico where they spend the winter.

Why are the monarchs disappearing? That's what scientists want to know, so Hirsch profiles scientists in the field. We learn how field scientists count butterflies, and how human land use affects monarch populations. Habitat loss, climate change, parasites ... these are just some of the issues that monarchs face. Fortunately, there are things people can do to make the world a better - and safer - place for monarch butterflies, from creating milkweed corridors to planting native flowers in our back yards.

Yay for back matter! Hirsch provides further reading, seed sources for butterfly plants, and plenty of ways kids (and adults) can get involved as citizen scientists.Want to get started watching monarchs? Check out her website here.

Bug Hotel
by Clover Robin
16 pages; ages 5+
Kane Miller, 2018

Bug Hotel is a lift-the-flap board book filled with discoveries. Maybe you're thinking bug hotels are made-up - but no, they really do exist. People build structures from natural materials such as straw, plant stems, wood, and stones. They provide places for insects to stay. Some people build hotels for native bees. Some people create hotels for toads. And some folks build fancy condos with rooms for many different critters to move into.

As you turn each page, you learn more about the bugs (bees, beetles, butterflies, even snails) and you see what sort of accommodations they appreciate. The back spread provides a list of materials and encourages kids to build their own hotel to help create a sustainable and safe place for backyard bugs to live.

Sure, it's written for the board-book audience, but this "older kid" had fun exploring the pages! Check out these cool bug hotels!

1,000 Facts about Insects
 by Nancy Honovich
96 pages; ages 8-12
National Geographic Children's Books, 2018

Insects are the most diverse, widespread, and fascinating animals on planet Earth, writes entomologist Bill Lamp, in the foreward. So it stands to reason that we should get to know them. Every spread focuses on some incredible aspect of the insect world: life cycles, stingers, migration, conservation. Want to know more about butterflies? Pages 78-79 contain 50 fluttering facts about them.

Information is presented in fact-boxes, with photos interspersed, making this a perfect browse for waiting for an appointment or riding in the car. I can only imagine the kinds of trivia contests it might engender!  

Today we're joining the STEM Friday roundupOn any other Friday we'd be joining others over at Perfect Picture Book Friday, but it's summer vacation. PPBF will resume in September, but you can always head over to Susanna Hill's ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. Review copies from publishers

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ take some non-digital "photos"

Here's something different to try: take some non-digital "photos" of flowers you see in your yard or around the neighborhood. AND you don't even need a camera!
  • your journal or some index cards
  • pencil and/or pen
  • colored pencils or watercolors 
Then head out and "snap photos" of flowers you want to remember. I call them "photos" because my goal is to make the drawing life-like. Here's some I did last week.

Most of the time I grab my camera when I want pictures. But last week I wanted to slow down and get to know my subject more fully. When I draw flowers - or bugs, lichens, feathers - I look at them in a different way. And when I take the time to color them in, I begin to notice even more details!

What sorts of things do you discover when you take time to draw "photos"?

I used water-colored pencils for bee balm (so I could use a finger and spit to smear the pencil to look like watercolor paints). I used regular colored pencils for the purple coneflower.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Here Be Dragons

Remember tales of knights and dragons? And maps where off in the corner fancy lettering claimed "Here be Dragons"? This trio of books introduces dragons and their smaller kin.

The Lizard Lady
by Jennifer Keats Curtis and Dr. Nicole F. Angeli; illus. by Veronica V. Jones
32 pages; ages 4-8
Arbordale, 2018

This book takes readers on a field trip through thick Caribbean forests in search of the endangered St. Croix ground lizard. The lizard doesn't live on St. Croix anymore because it was hunted to extinction by introduced mongooses. But the lizard does live on surrounding islands, and Dr. Nicole Angeli is on a mission to help them survive and thrive.

Dr. Angeli, known to all as the Lizard Lady, has to use all her senses to find these tiny, secretive reptiles. When she captures one, she takes it to her science shack where she can weigh it and make observations. Then she carefully returns the lizard to the spot she found it.

What I like about this book: the list of things the Lizard Lady carries with her when she heads off on a hike! Waaay more stuff than a notebook and pen. I also like the back matter. There's information and maps showing St. Croix and the surrounding islands in the Caribbean. There's additional information on the St. Croix lizard and its adaptation, as well as the invasive mongoose. And there's a great bio-note on Dr. Angeli.

You can learn more about St, Croix ground lizards here and here.

St. Croix lizards are just one of many threatened and endangered reptile species. Another is the Komodo dragon - not a dragon at all, but it sure looks like one!

Real Dragons
by Jennifer Szymanski
48 pages; ages 2-5
National Geographic Children's Books, 2018

Magical dragons may not exist, but many animals look like dragons. And some even do things a dragon might do. Some lizards have frilly collars, some have spikes, and some hiss when threatened by enemies.One even has saliva that burns like fire... and another can fly - or at least glide.

What I like about this book: it introduces a diversity of reptiles that share "dragon-like" features. The book is divided into chapters, there's a table of contents, and an activity at the end of each chapter. Here's one you can do right now: draw a picture of your very own dragon!

With all this talk of dragons, it makes sense to connect with a real live dragon ...

Dear Komodo Dragon
by Nancy Kelly Allen; illus. by Laurie Allen Klein
32 pages; ages 4-9
Arbordale, 2018

Leslie wants to be a dragon hunter when she grows up. She is really lucky, because a real dragon is her pen pal - a Komodo dragon living on one of the Indonesian islands. The story is told through a series of letters back and forth, in which Komo describes his life and family.

"My spiffy good looks come from the third eye in the top of my head," he writes. The illustrations are fun - I especially like Leslie's drawings of dragons, and the dragon-hunting tunic she wears. But when Komo is injured by a bigger dragon, Leslie realizes that she cares about her big reptilian friend too much to hunt him down.

"What can I do to help you and other Komodo dragons?" she writes. Komo replies, and the conversation on that topic is carried into back matter where there's a page about conservation. There is a fun page of dragon facts "by the numbers" and information on adaptations. Learn more about Komodo dragons here.

Today we're joining the STEM Friday roundup.   On any other Friday we'd be joining others over at Perfect Picture Book Friday, but it's summer vacation. PPBF will resume in September, but you can always head over to Susanna Hill's ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. Review copies from publishers.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ petals and prickles

Roses have thorns, and nettles have stinging hairs. Thistles use prickles along their leaves to keep hungry herbivores from snacking on them.

How do plants around your neighborhood defend themselves?

Friday, August 10, 2018

Itches and Boats ~ more summer books

Nothing says summer like mosquito bites or sailing a boat on a lake...

 Itch! Everything you didn't want to know about what makes you scratch
by Anita Sanchez; illus. by Gilbert Ford
80 pages; ages 7-10
HMH books for Young Reader, 2018

"You probably never give skin a thought," writes Anita Sanchez, "until it gets itchy." And then you can't stop scratching. But to understand why things itch, we need to understand how skin works and how our body reacts to stings and bites. 

In the following chapters, we are introduced to things that make us itch: lice! fleas! mosquitoes! bedbugs! fungi! and plants with spines, needles, and poisons. Yes - there are things lurking and growing in our backyards that will make us itch. 

What I like about this book: it's fun to read and full of unexpected (and cool) facts.  Even as she describes the pesky plants and bugs that bother us, Anita offers cool insights into their lives. We learn how fleas leap, how burrs inspired velcro, and how bedbugs talk to each other. Even better, she provides plenty  non-toxic alternatives for treatment. Did you know that a dab of minty toothpaste can soothe an itchy bug bite? She's even got a recipe for de-skunking! 

The writing is clear,and the illustrations engaging and sometimes humorous. I like the back matter, too: an author's note about the inspiration for this book plus the usual glossary, bibliography, and an index that's like having a quick-link to info.

Whose Boat? (board book)
by Tony Buzzeo; illustrated by Tom Froese
16 pages; ages 2-4
Abrams Appleseed, 2018

Using rhyme and labeled illustrations, this book introduces children to six different kinds of boats. There's a tugboat, a ferry, a fireboat, a Coast Guard boat, a lobster boat and, of course, the harbor master's patrol boat.

But what's fun for future engineers - and potential first mates - are the names of the things on the boats: hawser, kort nozzle, bridge, hull ...  These are real things on boats, and also cool words for kids to roll around in their mouths. There's a bit of interaction, with rhyming text presenting a clue and the answer under the gatefold. 

Today we're joining the STEM Friday roundupOn any other Friday we'd be joining others over at Perfect Picture Book Friday, but it's summer vacation. PPBF will resume in September, but you can always head over to Susanna Hill's ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. Review copies from publishers.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ Web Walk

The best time to go looking for spiderwebs is early morning, particularly as the fog lifts. That way droplets of water still cling to the spider silk, making webs easier to see.

We find webs everywhere: in the grass, between flower stems, between wires of a fence ... anywhere there's a place to anchor a line is a good place for a web.

Go on a Web Walk.

Grab your camera or sketchbook and pencil, and look for different types of spider webs. Orb webs look like wheels with spokes. Look closely - you might even see a spider sitting in the middle, waiting for breakfast to fly in.

Things to note: 
  1. where do you find the web - is it attached to plants, and what kind?
  2.  how big is it? bigger than your handspan? as wide as your longest finger?
  3. what time of day, and other weather notes.
  4. the habitat around you - is it a roadside? a garden? mowed lawn? an alfalfa field?
  5. draw a picture (or take a photo) of the web.
 Orb webs aren't the only kind of webs you'll find. This one looks like a hammock slung between chicory plants. Look closer and you might find another layer spun beneath.

Other webs you might find are sheet webs along the ground (spun by funnel-web weavers) and cobby tangled webs.

You can download a guide to spider webs here.

University of Kentucky has a cool spider ID chart here.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Tongues, Ears, and Armor: Animal Adaptations

 Animals are amazingly adapted to live in different habitats. Fish use fins and tails to move, birds fly, and cats pounce and bound on four feet. Here are three books that take a closer look at animal adaptations.

Terrific Tongues
by Marie Gianferrari; illus. by Jia Liu
32 pages; ages 4-8
Boyds Mills Press, 2018

You use your tongue for a lot of things: licking ice cream cones, tasting food, and helping shape the words you speak. 

But can you use your tongue like a straw? Moths do. They have long, tubelike tongues that roll up like garden hoses! Moths use their tongues to reach down into tubular flowers to sip nectar - I've watched them do this in my garden!

Some animals have tongues like swords, or windshield wipers.

What I like about this book: On one page, Marie sets up a situation. For example, "If you had a tongue like a washcloth, you might be a...." Turn the page and you discover what sort of creature has such a strange and useful tongue. I'm pretty sure our tongues seem strange to moths. Or frogs.

I love the bright, playful illustrations. I also like the back matter: one spread provides lists of things tongues do, and another tells more information about each of the animal tongues featured in the book, from forked snake tongues to radulas.

Animal Armor (Readers level 1)
by Laura Marsh
32 pages; ages 4-6
National Geographic Children's Books, 2018

OK, I'll admit that I was drawn to this book by the cover. Who can't love a pangolin? It is a mammal with scales! The scales are hard, made out of the same stuff as your fingernails, and provide protection when the pangolin rolls into a ball. But it's not the only mammal to use armor for protection. Porcupines have sharp spines called quills. Other animals wear armor too: snails have shells, reptiles have tough, scaly skin, beetles have hard-shell tops, and you never want to step on a sea urchin!

I love the photos and small text-boxes scattered through the pages. There's a fun spread of cool facts, and a pictorial glossary at the back.

Animal Ears
by Mary Holland
32 pages; ages 4-9
Arbordale, 2018

Ears are pretty important for an animal's survival. Hearing things provides information an animal needs to locate food, avoid predators, find a mate, or connect with family. And ears come in all kinds of shapes. Frogs have ears like big round drums. Rabbit ears can move in different directions to pick up sounds.

Through text and photos, Mary shows animal ears and how they work. 

What I like about this book, besides the wonderful photos, is the  back matter. There's an ear matching game, more information on how ears hear, and deeper insights into things ears are used for (not just hearing!).

Today we're joining the STEM Friday roundupOn any other Friday we'd be joining others over at Perfect Picture Book Friday, but it's summer vacation. PPBF will resume in September, but you can always head over to Susanna Hill's ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. Review copies from publishers.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ Summer Colors

Grab some colored pencils (or crayons or watercolors or....) and paper and head outside to collect colors. What colors are the flowers that grow in your neighborhood? What colors are in the grass and trees?What about butterflies and birds? Try to capture as many as you can.