Friday, September 28, 2018

Hawk Rising and Desert Animals

Hawk Rising
by Maria Gianferrari; illus. by Brian Floca
40 pages; ages 4-8
Roaring Brook Press, 2018

themes: animal families, birds

Father Hawk stretches wide his wings.
You stretch your arms as Mars rises red in the sky.

Dawn is breaking and hungry chicks are waiting for their breakfast. Father Hawk is on the hunt! But catching food is harder than we'd think - and there are other dangers facing hawks.

What I like about this book: The alternating viewpoint between the child ("you") and the hawk. The reality of being a predator in a hawk-eat-rodent world. I love Brian Floca's muted watercolor illustrations. I love the suspense: will the hawk nestlings get a meal?

And, of course (!) I like that there is back matter. More details on the lives of red-tailed hawks: where they live, how they fly, what they eat (just about anything!) and tips on spotting a red-tailed hawk. Maria also includes suggestions for further reading as well as websites for learning more.

Over on a Desert, Somewhere in the World
by Marianne Berkes; illus. by Jill Dubin
32 pages; ages 3-8
Dawn Publications, 2018

Over on the desert resting in the hot sun, lived a tall mother camel and her little calf one.

Set to the tune of a familiar children's song, Marianne introduces readers to ten desert animals: camels, gila monsters, javelinas ..... real hot weather critters. Each spread introduces a new animal family as the number of young increase one by one to reach ten.

So why pair this book with the one above? Because hidden in one of the desert scenes is a hawk! In fact, each spread has an animal hidden in plain sight in the arid scene, but you might not find it until your second - or third - reading.

What I like about this book: It offers a wonderful opportunity to sharpen observation skills, plus we learn about desert life. I like that there's a map on each page that shows where these animals live.

The other thing I like about this book - and indeed, all Dawn books, is the back matter. There's a half page on desert facts, a challenge to find the "hidden" animals scattered through the pages, and more information about each animal family featured in the book. Plus there are activities to try!

Beyond the book:

What kinds of hawks do you have flying around your neighborhood? Here's how to distinguish a red-tailed hawk from other species.

Go on a hunt with a hawk! Here's a video from a hawk cam.

Make a hawk mask - or a mask of a desert animal.  

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 ARC's from publishers.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ Going to Seed

This year my purple coneflowers went to seed early. The runner beans have long pods drying in the sun. Sunflowers have disks filled with fat seeds set in spirals - and the birds have already discovered them! Milkweed pods are cracking open, leaving room for their seeds to take flight.

What kind of seeds do you find in your neighborhood? Some form sticky balls like burrs, that velcro to cat hair, socks, and sneaker laces. Some form parachutes, while other seed pods burst open, shooting seeds through the air. Go on a seed walk and draw pictures of some of the seedpods you find.

Who is collecting seeds? Around here, goldfinches cling to the tops of plants, pecking seeds from the centers. In some places ants collect grass seeds for the colony. What animals do you see collecting seeds?

Draw pictures of different kinds of seeds produced by plants in your neighborhood.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Belle's Journey

At the end of August, I headed out with a passionate osprey-watcher to check on a nest near Cayuga Lake. It was atop a high pole, on a platform built for ospreys who, the locals hoped, might repopulate the area.

Mother (Ophelia) and daughter were there, calling loudly for dad to bring home the fish. "I figured mom would have left already," said my osprey buddy. With the youngest able to fly and learning to hunt, there was nothing left to do - and dad ospreys are the ones who stick around until the last fledge is ready to live independently.

Osprey are hawks. Big hawks who thrive on fish. Some folks refer to them as fish hawks. They hang out in upstate NY, and in the northeast for the summer and, when fall comes, they fly to South America.

A lot of what we know about ospreys comes from researchers like Rob Bierregaard, who has been tagging young ospreys with radio transmitters and following their migratory paths. One of the cool things he discovered is that young ospreys - at least those on the east coast - tend to make their initial southbound journey over the ocean.

Five years ago Dr. B (as his students call him) was waiting for a young osprey to return to its nest so he could fit it with a backpack radio transmitter. A neighbor, seeing him there, suggested he write a book. So he did.

Belle's Journey, An Osprey Takes Flight
by Rob Bierregaard; illustrated by Kate Garchinsky
122 pages; ages 7 - 10 (and older)
Charlesbridge, 2018

The story of Belle begins with her parents, who return to their nest on Martha's Vineyard in March (brrrr!), and the two scientists who are scouting for active nests. By the middle of July, the young ospreys are nearly as big as their parents and they're stretching their wings. One day, while the birds are out hunting, Dr. B and his fellow researcher climb up and put a fish in the nest as bait. Then they cover the nest with wire mesh to trap the birds.

Success! They capture Belle, fit the backpack straps over her wings and sew the harness so the radio transmitter won't fall off in flight. The transmitter will send signals so the scientists can track her migration.

So here's the thing about a young osprey's first migratory flight: they don't have maps. Their parents have already gone, so there's no flock to join. They may run into danger, such as hurricanes, eagles,  or people who shoot at them. And the journey is long - three to four thousand miles.

What I like about this book: The story is written from Belle's point of view. We see her adventures during migration through her eyes. Chapters about the scientists are written from a different point of view. I like the back matter that gives more information about ospreys, migration, and what to do if you find injured birds. There are also lots of resources.

And I love the illustrations! Full color spreads are soft and inviting. Sepia-colored vignettes give us quick glimpses into the lives of Belle and the children following her journey. There's even a series of sketches illustrating how an osprey captures fish.

Check out this interview with Rob Bierregaard  over at the GROG blog.

You can find out more about Rob Bierregaard's research and osprey tracking here. There are links to interactive maps as well, and brief osprey bios.

Want to see what life in an osprey nest is like? Here's a birdcam from Montana, and this one in Georgia.

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

Friday, September 14, 2018

Spooked! Blog Tour and Author Interview

Spooked! How a Radio Broadcast and the War of the Worlds Sparked the 1938 Invasion of America
by Gail Jarrow
144 pages; ages 10 - 12
Calkins Creek, 2018

Mischief night is October 30, the night before Halloween. It's the night when older kids and teens head out to soap windows, TP trees, and other mischief. But on October 30, 1938, a radio theater company unwittingly perpetrated mischief on a national audience. They performed an updated production of H.G. Wells's science fiction novel, The War of the Worlds.

The novel portrays a martian attack on Earth - unrealistic, right? And yet, people tuning in late heard breathless announcers read alerts of an invasion. Because they hadn't heard the disclaimer at the beginning of the show, that this was an act of fiction, some people panicked. They piled in their cars and fled their homes. Others jammed phone lines, calling relatives for one last conversation. And some drove to the invasion site, hoping to get a look at the alien invaders.

 How could people be so taken in by a radio show? It was the depths of the depression, Gail Jarrow writes. Hitler is rising to power, and his invasions of European countries have Americans anxious. So if a person turned on the radio after the introduction, they might believe that the "program interruptions" they heard were legitimate alerts about invasions on American soil. Like the best propaganda and fake news, the radio drama contained just enough truth to make it believable.

This is a story of historical events, so why am I reviewing it on my blog? Because there are STEM connections. Fortunately, Gail had time to answer Three Questions.

Archimedes: How does the history connect with science, technology, engineering, and math?

Gail: I'm hoping that kids will think about the history of technology in communication. Right now, we live in a world where the technology - social media - is way ahead of human behavior and culture. Just look at the Internet. Back in 1938, that's what was going on with radio. People got their entertainment and news from the radio. As I studied this event in history, I kept seeing parallels in the way people responded to a radio broadcast and the way people respond to social media now. The biggest issue is confirmation bias (that we tend to believe "news" that conforms to our ideology or politics).

Not only is this a hazard when reading news presented on our social media, but it can also sway scientists, says Gail.

Archimedes: Most scientists try to avoid bias. So how would it affect their research?

Gail: Some researchers might be too quick to dismiss an outlier - data or observations that are different from what they expect - and label it as a mistake or sample contamination. Instead, they need to look carefully to see what is going on. People could have easily checked whether there was an invasion by turning their radio dial to see whether other stations were reporting the same breaking news. Some people did that, and even called local police or CBS. But too many people assumed that what they heard was the truth.

Even more interesting, the researchers from Princeton who studied the "panic" fell victim to confirmation bias, and their study has serious flaws. They relied on interviews from people who lived near where the invasion was purported to happen instead of interviewing people across the country. Their sample size was too small to extrapolate meaningful results for six million people, and they relied on poor statistics. To compound the problem, editors of textbooks didn't read the published study carefully, and included it in textbooks.

Archimedes: I can see how kids might be exposed to "fake news" and confirmation bias in history and social studies. But science?

Gail: Sure. Think about kids doing a lab - especially when it's a lab that has been done year after year, and they know the range of results they're expected to get. So if they get data that doesn't conform to what most people get, they think they've done something wrong. It's tempting to toss the data that doesn't fit the hypothesis - but that's not the right way to do science. Instead, they should include it - and so should scientists doing research. Students should read about our mistakes.

We ended our conversation with a discussion about how important it is to read news from a variety of sources - to boldly turn the dial (or click the channel-changer on the remote) to a different station in order to verify what we hear. And, if we can't verify a report, then refrain from posting it or sharing it.

"I hope young people will really think about the things they hear, ask good questions, and use their critical thinking skills," Gail says.She is currently at work on her next book, Poison Eaters about fighting danger and fraud in our food and drugs.

Want to listen to The War of the Worlds radio show? Here's the CBS original broadcast of Mercury Theater on the Air's production of War of the Worlds. Play length about 57 minutes.

Help teach your children (and maybe a few adults) how to sniff out "fake news". This School Library Journal article offers tools, resources, and context for what's happening in today's media.

Gail Jarrow has more great resources at her website.

Visit other stops on the Blog Tour! 

Wednesday, 9/12 KidLit Frenzy
Thursday, 9/13 Deborah Kalb Books
Monday, 9/17 Ms. Yingling Reads
Tuesday, 9/18 Middle Grade Minded
Wednesday, 9/19 Mrs. Knott’s Book Nook
Thursday, 9/20 Middle Grade Book Village (with guest post by Gail Jarrow)
Friday, 9/21 Always in the Middle        

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

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ Soccer ball science

Recreational soccer is in full swing now. So are the local school teams. And after a fantastic World Cup season, some kids have soccer on the brain. So now's as good a time as any to indulge in some soccer science.

 First, you need a soccer ball - and some others: a volleyball, basketball, and even a similar-sized beach ball. 

Now let's compare bounciness. Find a hard surface (a sidewalk, parking lot, or tennis court) for a bounce test. Hmmm - we need a way to measure how high balls bounce. how about taping a couple yard-sticks or tape measure to a fence, wall, or tree?

Testing time: Drop each kind of ball from a height of three feet and write down how high it bounces. Then, stand on a stool (or ask a really tall person) and drop each ball from six feet. Write down how high they bounce. Remember to do each bounce test three times so you get a fair idea of bounce height for each kind of ball. 

What do you notice?

So, if you're like my kids, you play soccer anywhere you have space: the back yard, school soccer field, packed earth driveway.... How does ball bounciness change with the playing surface? Try the bounce experiment on different surfaces. How does tall grass compare with mowed lawn? How does packed earth compare with a sandy surface?

OK - water break is over. Time to get back to the game!

Friday, September 7, 2018

Science Girls! Rachel Carson and Ada Lovelace

I love reading stories about real people - especially when those people use science to solve problems. Here are two women who have made big contributions to our understanding of the world around us.

Themes for the day: ecology, computers, biography

Spring After Spring, How Rachel Carson Inspired the Environmental Movement
by Stephanie Roth Sisson
40 pages; ages 4-8
Roaring Brook Press, 2018

It was dawn when the chorus began.
cheerily! fee bee! jurit jeroo!
Rachel didn't want to miss a note.

 Rachel Carson grew up surrounded by the sounds of nature. She paid attention to them season after season. So when spring sounded a little too quiet, she knew something was wrong. What was happening to the birds and insects who filled the air with song?

What I like LOVE about this book: I love that in the first few pages Stephanie R. Sisson has put the calls of birds and other creatures into speech bubbles. It's fun, and helps me hear the symphony of music Rachel heard around her. There's also a vertical illustration, so you have to hold the book a different way - which makes me take a closer look at the illustration and where the story is going.

I like the way Sisson portrays Rachel Carson - as a scientist who studied sea creatures but, when she noticed something was wrong, she used all her science skills to figure out what the problem was. She observed closely. She listened carefully. And she learned as much as she could by reading reports and articles - and then pulled the facts together into a narrative that explained how chemicals used to control insect pests were getting into the food chain and killing birds and other animals. The chemicals were making egg shells so thin that eagle eggs broke in the nest. And then Rachel did a brave thing. She wrote about it. She went to Congress and talked about it. Most of all, she inspired people to take better care of the earth.

I also like that there's back matter. (but frequent readers already knew that!)

Who Says Women Can't be Computer Programmers? The Story of Ada Lovelace
by Tanya Lee Stone; illus. by Marjorie Priceman
40 pages; ages 6-9
Henry Holt & Co (BYR), 2018

On the outskirts of a lovely village in County Kent, England, down a long driveway lined with lime trees, lived a young girl with a wild and wonderful imagination. As Ada was often left alone, she grew quite good at entertaining herself with interesting ideas.

Ada's mom, Lady Byron, worried about Ada's imagination, so she trained Ada to think like a mathematician. No poetry for her! And when Ada wanted to design a flying machine, Lady Byron gave her more hours of math studies instead of the bird -drawing books that Ada had asked for.

What I like about this book: We get a sneak peek into the life and times of the woman who created computer programming. Bored with high society and not terribly interested in the traditional role assigned to women in the early 1800s Ada preferred to hang out with thinkers - men like Charles Babbage who was inventing a calculating machine.

I love how author Tanya Stone brings in the math and computing power of the Jacquard loom, and how that served as an inspiration for ways to program a calculating machine. And, of course, there's ... Back Matter! Plus, consider this: if Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace had funding to build their machine, we would have had computers 100 years sooner! Think about how that might have changed history!

Beyond the Books:
Learn More about Rachel Carson. Here's one website that talks about Silent Spring. And drop by Stephanie Sisson's website to learn more about how she wrote the book.

What does your neighborhood sound like in the fall? Go outside and listen. Can you identify all the calls and sounds made by birds, insects, and other animals? Write the sounds down, and then go out again next month and see how the sound scape has changed.

Watch a Jacquard Loom in action. This video was filmed at the Paisley Museum, in Scotland. Check out the punchcards! As early as 1801 people were programming machines to do work.

Write a program (directions) telling someone how to draw a design you have drawn.

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 ARC's from publishers.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ Who's hanging out on the coneflowers?

A few weeks ago I was out counting pollinators on the coneflowers and monarda for the Great Sunflower project. When the woodchucks eat all the sunflowers, what's a bee-counter to do?

Anyway, there was a lot of activity: tiny metallic green bees, big bumbly bumble bees, sleek single-minded honey bees, sweat bees and more. All busy collecting pollen (and dropping pollen grains onto other flowers as they went flower-hopping). There were butterflies. And there were some interesting flies (Diptera). One was small and so hairy it looked like a teddy bear with a long beak. Others looked like wasps. And there was this guy, busy slurping up nectar from the coneflowers with his fat fly tongue.

It was bigger than most of the bees. It looked scary. Its abdomen pulsed. But it didn't act fierce like you'd expect a bald face hornet to. There were also bug buddies hanging around: spiders hiding on the petals and beetles chewing on the flowers.

What insects do you find hanging out on your flowers this month? Draw or take photos of what you see. If you're not sure what sort of insect it is, check a field guide. And while this guy - and other flower flies - won't sting, wasps and hornets do. And wasps and hornets sometimes hang out on plants hunting for caterpillars or looking for something sweet to drink.