Friday, November 30, 2018

Octopus Escapes and a House in the Sky

Today I'm featuring two books about animals. Both were published by Charlesbridge this year.
themes: animals, humor, homes

Octopus Escapes
by Nathaniel Lachenmeyer; illus. by Frank W. Dormer
32 pages; ages 2-5

Octopus waits. 
Guard closes gates.

What happens at the aquarium after everyone leaves for the day? In this story, octopus escapes. He slips and slides down hallways, turns and hides from the security guard.

What I like about this book: I am a big fan of "night at the museum" stories... and of octopuses. They are clever mollusks, able to open jar lids and squeeze through tight spaces. This midnight romp through the aquarium features fun to read aloud rhyming couplets.  The back matter (you knew I was gonna mention back matter!) is all about the amazing behavior of octopuses. They are brilliant problem-solvers and, YES, there are documented cases of octopuses escaping their tanks and cruising through aquaria since the 1870s. Though I don't think any of them went bowling...  The simple, cartoonish illustrations add to the charm.

A House in the Sky
by Steve Jenkins; illus. by Robbin Gourley
32 pages; ages 3-7

Animals, like people, often need a cozy place to sleep, a hideaway for escaping danger, or a sage place to raise a family. They need a house.

Steve Jenkins highlights fourteen different animals and their homes. From nest to shell, he shows a diversity of ways animals solve their housing problems.

What I like about this book: Each page features large, easy-to-read text telling something about an animal and its home. Perhaps the home is a shell that was found, or a case that is built of stick or stone. Some animals nest in trees, some underground, some build with clay, and one lives on the back of a whale! Short sidebars provide more information about the animal. For extra-curious kids (or parents who need a quick answer to all those questions) there's more information about each animal in the book.

I also like the realistic watercolor illustrations by Robbin Gourley. They invite one to linger on the page, searching for details.

Beyond the Books:
Visit an octopus. If you can get to an aquarium, check out the octopus tank. If there's no aquarium around, check out this video of an octopus escape.

What examples of animal homes can you find as you walk around your neighborhood or through a park? With leaves falling off trees, it might be easier to see bird nests. Perhaps there are wasp nests, holes chipped into trees, and other homes. Learn more about animal architecture here.

Today we're joining other book bloggers over at STEM Friday, where you can discover other cool STEM books. We're also joining Perfect Picture Book Friday, an event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copies provided by the publishers.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ last leaves

Seems like just yesterday we were marveling at how the sun peeked through yellow and orange leaves. With every wind, a few more leaves let go, spiraling and fluttering to the earth.

Friday, November 23, 2018

STEAM into the Renaissance with this series

Nomad Press has a fun new series out called Renaissance for Kids. The books in this series invite readers to dive into the Renaissance period and learn about inventors, thinkers, explorers, and artists. The series includes plenty of hands-on STEAM activities... Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math.

Each volume is 112 pages; ages 10 - 15
Titles include: The Renaissance Artists, The Renaissance Explorers, The Renaissance Inventors, The Renaissance Thinkers

Included in the volume on "thinkers" are Nicolaus Copernicus and Francis Bacon. "Being a scientist during the Renaissance could be a lonely business," writes author Diane Taylor. "There were no graduate students to hang out with, no research institutes to work at, and no conferences to attend."

Copernicus watched the night sky. He was an astronomer and noticed that not everything circled the earth once a day. Planets, for example, seemed to wander back and forth. He also suggested that the earth orbited the sun - a break with what people thought, that the sun went around the earth.

Francis Bacon is often called the "father of science". Born in 1561, he was a gifted and prolific writer. He was passionate about science, and thought deeply about how scientists can know when they have discovered the truth of something. He developed a scientific method:

  • make an observation
  • ask a question
  • form a hypothesis
  • conduct an experiment 
  • analyze the results

Sounds familiar to anyone who's taken a science class. But in the 1600s scientists didn't follow any sort of rigor that would lead to reliable results. So Bacon's ideas were novel.

STEAM projects in this book include drawing with linear perspective, building a supportive arch, and creating your own Utopia.

The "inventors" include Johannes Gutenberg (printing press), Leonardo da Vinci (artist and engineer), Gerardus Mercator (mapping the world), and Galileo Galilei (astronomy and math). These inventors opened up the world for exploration and sharing information.

Prior to a printing press, books were transcribed by hand, and few people had access to them. Once people could mass produce words there were bibles, flyers, news broadsides, and eventually pamphlets in which scientists could share their findings.

da Vinci's sketchbook contains designs for helicopters and submarines, airplanes and cars. Pretty cool, considering he died in 1519!

STEAM projects in this book include building a parachute, making a pendulum, making a map, printing, and playing around with mirror writing.

"Renaissance artists" introduces readers to Michelangelo, Raphael, Botticelli and more, and invites kids to make their own paint using eggs.

"Renaissance explorers" include Vasco da Gama, Ferdinand Magellan, and others. Among activities, kids can make a working compass, build a beacon, create and hourglass, and invent a travel board game.

What I like about these books: They include timelines for each person, provide great biographical details, and mention other scientists, inventors, artists, and explorers living at the same time. Sidebars present quick facts, additional information about the culture, and raise questions for curious readers.

Today we're joining other book bloggers over at STEM Friday, where you can discover other cool STEM books.  Review copies provided by publisher.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ leaving home

There comes a time when seeds are ready to leave home and head off on their own adventures. When milkweed pods unzip and open, the seeds take to the sky on silken parachutes. Bean pods snap open and pop their seeds out. Apple seeds have a different journey...

Grab your nature journal and a pencil and draw sketches of the seeds you find in your neighborhood.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Path to the Stars

Path to the Stars, My Journey from Girl Scout to Rocket Scientist
by Sylvia Acevedo
320 pages; ages 10 & up
Clarion Books, 2018

Rocket science is cool. It's not all about igniting rockets in your back yard - though that is what Sylvia Acevedo did. A lot of rocket science is math. OK, most of it's all about the math.

Her love of math is what led Sylvia to science. Her experiences as a Girl Scout provided the platform for her to build upon. Scouting taught her to create opportunities for herself. Scouting helped her plan for the future. It helped her develop entrepreneurial skills (so that's what cookie sales were for. I thought it was all about the Thin Mints!) and nurtured her self confidence.

What I like love about this book: I loved the scene where Sylvia wove fabric strips and newspapers into a sit-upon. I remember how, in Brownies, we made sit-upons to take to day camp. And net bags for dunking our dishes into steaming water. And how we carried something in our pocket...

Sylvia talks about working for badges, and wanting to do science. Back then, there weren't so many STEM badges, but she describes her experiments with plants and rockets to earn a science badge. Now girls can choose to explore plants, animals engineering, cyber-security, programming, robotics, and more. She tells a wonderful story about learning how to do regular car maintenance - things like changing oil, checking tire pressure, and replacing worn fan belts. Badges and scouting experiences taught her that she could take control of situations and be prepared for the unexpected.

The other thing she learned: aim high. Sylvia aimed toward space. She worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory as an engineer, testing equipment for a solar probe that launched this summer (it takes a long time to build a probe for such a mission!). She also worked on the Voyager 2 flyby of Jupiter.

In an epilogue, Sylvia writes about the heroes who inspired her: Clara Barton, Florence Nightingale, Helen Keller. Although Sylvia isn't working on space projects at this time, she's still aiming high. As  CEO for Girl Scouts of the USA, she is helping girls all across the country aim for the stars.

Sylvia was kind enough to answer Three Questions:
Archimedes:  First, a warm Girl Scout welcome to the blog. I took a peek at the STEM badges that Junior and Cadette scouts can earn. Have you been able to measure how STEM badges have expanded horizons for girls and young women?

Sylvia: I am excited to hear what the girls are doing in their projects. Girls are analyzing data and helping local agencies. They are learning how to make an impact in their community. For example, girls are asking how they can use technology to get their point of view across, and also taking a more critical look at such issues as cyber-bullying and how to protect themselves online.

We’ve seen a huge uptick in their interest, and projects, in robotics. One girl had done all the robotics badges. When I asked if she planned to go into that field, she replied no, that she was interested in fashion - perhaps using her knowledge to design wearable technology.

The important thing is that girls are using their STEM knowledge to help solve problems in their communities and larger world. For example, with all the technology in agriculture, what would happen to our food supply when internet-connected machinery doesn’t work?

Archimedes: I love the chapter where you describe doing projects for a science badge: planting tomato seeds, learning about levers, and doing a project with rockets. What made you decide to become a rocket scientist?

Sylvia: Scouting opened opportunities for me to take math and science. Back then, girls routinely didn’t take higher math electives. I liked math, so I took those classes. Math is structured and logical; it gives you the right answer. For me, math was a great way to calm down.

I used math to solve every day problems. Like the time I wanted a gym bag and, without money to buy one, decided to make it. So I drew the design and figured out how much material I would need. Math was so practical. And having a good sense for numbers and the math skills gave me a lot of confidence later on in the work environment.

Archimedes: When I was a scout, we mobilized for the first Earth Day. The critical environmental problems of our day were air and water pollution. What are girls doing to meet environmental challenges?

Sylvia: When girls have the technology and skills, they can take action to make the world a better place. STEM knowledge gives Girl Scouts a way to address issues without becoming overwhelmed.
For example, 16-year-old Shelby O'Neil noticed that plastic straws were endangering sea life. So she started a nonprofit, Jr Ocean Guardians, to help educate lower-grade level children about plastic and recycling, and has hosted beach cleanups with schoolchildren. Then she decided to take her campaign to the grown-ups. She identified several companies that use plastic straws, stirrers and cup lids, and wrote them letters.

Another scout, Caroline McGraw, has been working on a pollinator project in upstate New York. (She created pollinator meadows around solar arrays at the town hall and town highway department). We don’t tell them what challenges to tackle… but clearly they see the environment as a high priority.

You can find out more about Sylvia Acevedo at her website, and about Girl Scouting at their website. Today we're joining other book bloggers over at STEM Friday, where you can discover other cool STEM books. Review copy provided by publisher.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ blowing in the wind

Leaves don't just fall. They twirl, float, drift, or - in some cases - get ripped from their twigs and tumbled through the air. Some hold tight, like swimmers clinging to the edge of a pool, their ends fluttering in the air currents.

Check out this article on why trees let their leaves go.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Bugs Don't Hug & Little Whale

Last month I reviewed two books that focused on animal families. I'm revisiting the topic with a couple more. One is about how parents care for their young, and the other a tale about a little whale on a long journey.

Themes: animals, families, nature

Bugs Don't Hug, Six-legged parents and their kids
by Heather L. Montgomery; illus. by Stephen Stone
32 pages; ages 3-7
Charlesbridge, 2018

Mommy and daddy bugs don't give good-morning kisses. They don't tie shoes or untangle hair. And bugs don't hug.

Every spread introduces something parent bugs "don't do", from playing peekaboo to serving eggs and toast. But when you turn the page ... you discover that, yes indeed, bug parents are just like human parents. 

What I like about this book: I like the way Heather Montgomery uses compare-and-contrast to show the similarities and differences in parents. Maybe bugs don't bake birthday cakes, but they do make a cake for their babies. It's fun and best of all - surprising! The illustrations are cartoony and fun. And I LOVE the back matter (of course) - more about each of the insects featured in the book plus a note on scientific language. And a list of books to read for the naturally curious kids.

 Little Whale
by Jo Weaver
32 pages; ages 3-7
Peachtree, 2018

Gray Whale led her baby out of the shallows and into the warm southern sea.
"Where are we going?" asked Little Whale.
"Follow me," said Gray Whale.

With that, we're off on a grand journey - a migration from the southern sea to the far north. There will be danger along the way, and wonderful sights, and perhaps an adventure or two. But always, there will be mama whale there to guide, comfort, and help Little Whale.

What I like about this book: I like the tale of a journey. It's Little Whale's first migration, so we see things new to him. And, as with any journey with kids, there's the "are we there yet" questions that pop up. And Little Whale gets tired - so what's a parent to do? Beyond the tale of whales and migration, this is a story grounded in the love a parent feels for her child.  The monochromatic illustrations are soothing, and perfect for a bedtime read-aloud.

Beyond the books:

What kinds of things do your parents do for you? Do they tell bedtime stories? Give you rides to soccer practice? List three or four things. Now find out if there are any insect parents that do those sort of things - or other animal parents.

 Do all whales migrate? Where do they come from - and where do they go? You might want to make a map to show some of these migrations.

Make your own monochromatic art using paint. All you need is one color plus black and white. Check out this video if you need more help with that.

Today we're joining other book bloggers over at STEM Friday, where you can discover other cool STEM books. We're also joining Perfect Picture Book Friday, an event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. She keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. Review copies provided by the publishers.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ perspective

there is an entire world of creatures up there, living their lives...
   what do you suppose they see when they look our way?

Friday, November 2, 2018


Animal Zombies
by Chana Steifel
96 pages; ages 8-12
National Geographic Children's Books, 2018

(click here for scary music to accompany your reading)

I love a scary book that opens with a warning. And this one does: "Beware! You are about to enter the darkest, creepiest corners of our world. You'll collide with creatures that invade brains, drink blood, and even devour their own moms!"

If you're brave enough to turn the page you enter the Zombie Zone... you'll meet harmless ladybugs turned into monsters by parasitic wasps, zombie cockroaches and crickets and ants. Chana Steifel brings readers up close and personal to leeches and lampreys, aliens, body invaders, and the kraken!

But wait! There's more! We get to meet "mad scientists" who study bloodsuckers and body snatchers. Steifel includes profiles of  a nature photographer who has clicked photos of zombie spiders and infected insects. We also meed "bat man", a shark scientist, wolf man, and a bug scientist who loves book lice (and other really creepy crawlies).

But don't worry. Steifel has also included a handy list of items you'll need in your Zombie Emergency Kit. Pack your go-bag and you'll be ready for the zombie apocalypse - or the next hurricane, blizard, or wildfire.

And if you're lucky, you'll reach the last page alive and ready to head out and look for zombies in the real world.

Today we're joining other book bloggers over at STEM Friday, where you can discover other cool STEM books. Review copy from the publisher.