Friday, December 28, 2018

Go Fish!

This week I fished two books out from the depths of my "to be reviewed" basket.
theme: fish, nature, ocean

Just Like Us! Fish
by Bridget Heos; illus. by David Clark
32 pages; ages 4-7
HMH Books for Young Readers, 2018

People walk on land and need air to breathe. Fish, on the other hand, have fins and spend their whole lives underwater. So how could we be anything alike? 

Bridget Heos gives us the inside scoop. She reveals secrets of breathing underwater, and tricks of hunting for food. We learn how to hide from predators and how to make friends with fierce fish.

What I like about this book: It's fun! Between Bridget's zany section headings (Peanut Butter and Jellyfish) and David Clark's cartoony illustrations, we learn lots of stuff about fish and their underwater neighbors. We meet clown fish, sunfish, and cleaner wrasses. What I like about David's illustrations is the way he combines his cartoon fish with photos of real fish. And of course there's Back Matter - a glossary, and some web articles and books for curious icthyologists-in-training.

This book is in the same series as Just Like Us! Plants, and Just Like Us! Ants.

Of course, if we're talking fish we have to include sharks! Now out in paperback:

Face to Face with Sharks
by David Doubilet and Jennifer Hayes
32 pages; ages 7-10
National Geographic Children's Book, 2018

David Doubilet and Jennifer Hayes are wildlife photographers and researchers. They have spent hours swimming with sharks! According to Jennifer, not only do they like sharks, but sharks are their favorite subject to snap photos of.

What I like about this book: It's divided into four chapters, with the last one focusing on conservation. Shark populations are declining - and the researchers make strong arguments for why we should take action to help them. I also like the sidebars, including one on "how not to get eaten by a shark". Back matter includes actions kids can take to help sharks, and shark facts.

Beyond the books:
Make your own "Go Fish" deck of cards and play some games. You can find some cards to print and color here - and check out their shark game, too. You can find rules for "Go Fish" here.

Create or design your own fish. For ideas, check out the Erie Art Museum's "Go Fish" project.

Visit an aquarium - or a pet store - and sketch a few fish. How are they alike? How are they different? Check out this Fish Page from National Geographic.

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

Friday, December 21, 2018

Happy Solstice!

Today at 5:30 pm marks the Winter Solstice -
the "official start" to winter in the Northern Hemisphere.

Ways to Celebrate the Solstice:

Have fun exploring winter ~
see you next Friday with another book review.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Explorer Academy: The Nebula Secret

Have you ever thought it would be fun to be an explorer? Maybe one of those folks who jaunt off on a National Geographic expedition to uncover lost civilizations or discover new species? If so, then you'll like the Explorer Academy series coming out from National Geographic Children's Books.

The Nebula Secret 
by Trudi Trueit
208 pages; ages 8-12
released Sept. 2018

Twelve-year-old Cruz Coronado looks like the typical surfer dude. When we are introduced to him, all he wants to do is catch one more wave before he hops aboard a flight headed 4900 miles east to Washington DC. He's been awarded a coveted spot at the elite Explorer Academy. The school where his aunt teaches, next to the institute where his mom did secret research before she died.

When he reaches the school there's orientation. But first, a gold band is attached to his arm. It's synched to the school's computers to allow access to classrooms and labs. It also monitors all of his vital functions.

Before he can head out on expeditions, Cruz and his classmates have skills to learn. That means class time and lab time - though these labs include virtual reality simulations that can allow the students to explore different habitats and technology before heading into the field. But someone is sabotaging the simulations and putting students in danger. When Cruz learns that his mother's death was no accident, he worries that someone is trying to kill him as well.

Cruz finds himself at the center of an international search for a missing formula that only he can decode. Fortunately, he's got a posse of friends who he trusts, and some technology that links him with his good friend back home. And an aunt who understands that pizza is an essential item.

What I like about this book: there are maps, a code, and tons of technology. Some of it sounds like futuristic dreaming, but the tech in the story is inspired by real National Geographic explorers and their research. For example: 4-D printing and drone bee-bots. Back Matter (yay!) reveals the "truth behind the fictional" technology and also real explorers whose work inspired the adventures.

Want to know more? Visit to test your code-breaking skills, check out the wristbands, wearable computers, and other technology and meet real-life scientists. You can also read the first chapter of The Nebula Secret and preview the next book in the series.

On Monday we'll be hanging out at Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with other  bloggers. It's over at Greg Pattridge's blog, Always in the Middle , so hop over to see what other people are reading. Review copy provided by publisher.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ Close Encounter with a Comet!

In mid-December a comet named Wirtanen (46P) will be approaching the sun. And it may be bright enough that we’ll be able to see it without a telescope or binoculars. So make sure you’ve got lots of layers on, grab a thermos of hot cocoa, and head out to watch the sky.

Comets are dirty snowballs. Only much, much bigger! They are left over from when the stars and planet were formed billions of years ago. Comets begin their existence as huge chunks of rock and ice floating around in the Oort Cloud. That’s a cloud of icy bodies located about 186 billion miles from the sun, way past Pluto and its Kuiper Belt buddies.

The thing about comets is - you don’t see them until they’re close. When a comet comes near the Sun, the heat warms it up and causes the ice to sublimate. That’s a nifty word that describes what happens when ice turns into steam without becoming water first. Ice boiling off as steam releases dust and gas, too. All of this creates a thin atmosphere around the snowball nucleus as well as a tail. The tail can stretch millions of miles! Then the comet goes around the Sun and heads back into space. After a while we lose sight of it.

The last time 46P/Wirtanen flew by was in April of 2013. This year the comet will approach the sun on December 12 and fly closest to the Earth a few days later, on December 16. According to astronomers, this fly-by will be close, by comet standards - around 7.1 million miles away. That’s about 30 times as far as the moon’s distance from Earth.

Find out more! Check out this video and read more here.

Friday, December 7, 2018

These Books are for the Birds!

The annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count is starting next week. Here's two books to inspire young readers - and potential bird-counting citizen scientists.

themes: nature, birds, conservation

Finding a Dove for Gramps
by Lisa J. Amstutz; illus. by Maria Luisa Di Gravio
32 pages; ages 5-7
Albert Whitman & Company, 2018

Mom and I slip silently out the door. Today we're going to count birds.

It's just Jay and his mom this year, because Gramps has "flown south" for the winter. They've got everything they need: woolly caps, bird guides, binoculars, and a clipboard.

What I like about this book: Lisa Amstutz plunks us right into a bird count. You can almost hear the snow crunching underfoot, the calls of chickadees and jays, the rat-tat-tat of woodpeckers drumming on a tree.  You can almost see that flash of yellow (kinglet) and a tufted titmouse "all dressed up in his suit and top hat." You can feel your toes freeze and, at the end, the warmth of a mug of hot cocoa.

I like how she sneaks in one brief sentence connecting Jay and mom's activities with how scientists will use the data.  Most of that info is at the back where there is plenty of Back Matter! There is more information about the Christmas Bird Count, and how to join plus a bird count check list you can copy and take outside when you do your own bird walks.

And there is the search for the dove.

Counting Birds, the idea that helped save our feathered friends
by Heidi Stemple; illus. by Clover Robin
32 pages; ages 4-8
Seagrass Press (Quarto), 2018

Frank Chapman loved birds.

He worked at a museum. and wrote books and articles about birds. He even started a magazine dedicated to birds. But not everyone cared about conservation. One Christmas tradition was to hold a bird competition, where hunters counted how many birds they shot. The winning team was the one that bagged the most birds.

Frank had a different idea: count the birds without shooting them.

What I like about this book: This book is like a field trip that starts at Frank Chapman's home and ends with counting birds in the field. Clover Robin's collage/cut-paper artwork pays incredible attention to detail. And of course there is Back Matter! You can learn more about Frank Chapman and how to get involved in the Christmas Bird Count and other birdy citizen scientist projects. And Heidi Stemple shares her personal story of owling and bird counting.

Beyond the Books:

Get involved in the Christmas Bird Count! Details are on the Audubon website. If the holidays are too busy for you, check out the Great Backyard Bird Count (on President's Day in February) or FeederWatch, which you can do on your own schedule. All of these provide data that tell scientists how birds are doing, so they can help protect birds.

Make a paper plate bird mask (directions here). For wings, keep it simple: pin streamers of ribbon or crepe paper to sleeves.

Watch winter birds hanging out in your back yard or neighborhood. Here's a list of 40 birds you might see, and here's the Feederwatch list of 100 common feeder birds you might see.

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

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ Counting Birds for Science

Photo by D. Brezinski, USFWS (Public Domain)
If you've followed this blog for a while, you know that I count native bees and other pollinators for the Great Sunflower Project.

But during the winter, there aren't any bees buzzing about. But there are a lot of birds active in the area. So this winter I hope to count birds - and the annual Christmas Bird Count is coming up soon!

Every year thousands of families head outside to tally up the birds they see on one of the days of the Christmas Bird Count. The Christmas Bird Count is a citizen-science bird census that has been going on for more than 100 years. People volunteer to count in a 15-mile diameter census area, and counts happen over a 24-hour period.

This year's Christmas Bird Count will happen between the dates of Friday, December 14, 2018 through Saturday, January 5, 2019.

The data collected during the Christmas Bird Count is used by scientists to understand more about distribution of bird populations and ecology. For example: how are different species responding to a changing climate?

Become a Citizen Scientist! To find out how you can get involved in this year's Christmas Bird Count, check out the official Audubon site here. You'll find a link to a map and other information. Then contact the leader for the group in your area, dress warmly, and remember to pack a thermos of cocoa along with your binoculars.

Drop by the blog this Friday for a couple reviews of recent books about the Christmas Bird Count!