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!

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.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ Orange things

Leaves changing color on trees!
Lichen on a rock!
Pumpkins in the garden!

What kinds of orange things do you find as you explore your neighborhood or park?

Take along a camera or sketchbook and capture the colors of orange you find this month.

Here are a few that I've seen:

Friday, October 26, 2018

Something's Rotten!

Something Rotten, A Fresh Look at Roadkill
by Heather L. Montgomery; illus. by Kevin O'Malley
176 pages; ages 9-11
Bloomsbury Children's Books, 2018

This week and next I'm highlighting the scary and gross in science. After all - it's Halloween season! A perfect time to read about what scientists are learning from roadkill.

Author, Heather Montgomery warns that her book is not for squeamish souls; this book is full of parasites, intestines, and bloody bodies. It's not for reckless readers either, because it's filled with things you shouldn't do unless (and until) you are an "authorized, bona fide, certified expert." And it's definitely not for the tenderhearted because it's full of death and tragedy.

But it is one of the most entertaining - and informative - books about roadkill that I've read.

Every book has a starting point. For Heather it was a squashed snake. With tire tracks. A rattlesnake. She started asking questions that led her to David Laurencio, the archivist of the DOR (Dead on Road) collection at the Auburn University Museum of Natural History. Every specimen bears a toe tag with an identification number that references a file. A file filled with notes about where the animal was found, when, how it was killed, its gender, and DNA information.

Turns out, scientists can learn a lot from dead animals. By mapping where animals are killed, they get a better idea of where the animals live. Are they migrating as climate change affects their traditional range? Analysis of stomach contents reveals what the animals are eating. This is important information for conservation scientists.

Throughout her book, Heather introduces us to many scientists - a snake scientist, a scientist studying genetics of coyotes and wolves, a roadkill ecologist - as well as people who salvage roadkill for the meat. Some folks use roadkill to feed animals, others grind it up for burger and slap it on the grill.

What I like most about this book: that there are things we can do to decrease death-by-car. As Heather notes: if we can wage huge campaigns to save sea animals from plastic straws, we can take positive action to reduce animal deaths on our highways. One thing everyone can do - starting now - stop throwing food out your window. It's like baiting the road.

Things I love about this book: Footnotes! At the bottom of most pages are extra notes that, in other books, would have been text boxes and sidebars. This is fun. Back Matter! There are lists of books, videos, other resources. There are directions for how to do your own bugsplat windshield bug count. There is a list of citizen science projects, like this one.

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

Friday, October 19, 2018

Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers

Today's books celebrate the small, the slow, and the really, really stinky!
Themes: animals, adaptation, nonfiction

Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs
by Melissa Stewart; illus. by Stephanie Laberis
32 pages; ages 4-8
Peachtree Publishers, 2018

Everyone loves elephants. They're so big and strong. Everyone respects cheetahs. They're so fast and fierce. 

But this book isn't about those guys. It's about animals that people tend to overlook. The tiny animals. The slo-o-o-ow ones. The stinky critters we'd rather not get too close to.

What I like about this book: The language is fun: "puny peewees"! Lively verbs like skedaddle and skitter. I like that some of the animals featured are clumsy - like the western fence lizard that sometimes falls off a tree branch. The animals too tiny to capture for supper. And that characteristics we might think of as weaknesses are actually adaptations for survival.

I also like the illustrations - the animals retain their factual appearances but Stephanie Laberis endows them with expressive faces. And there's back matter - a spread with more information about each animal.

Stinkiest! 20 Smelly Animals (Extreme Animals series)
by Steve Jenkins
40 pages; ages 6-9
HMH Books for Young Readers, 2018

Whew! Some animals produce strong smells...

 They put stinky liquid on rocks or branches to mark their territories. They use odors to defend themselves. And some are smellier than a skunk!

What I like about this book: We get to meet twenty different animals that embrace bad odor, from stink bombs to smelly threads to yukky slime and smelly bird farts. Each page introduces one or two stinky critters and shows where in the world they live.

Back matter includes a glossary and bibliography.

Beyond the Books:

Make a list of the animals (pets included) that live in your neighborhood, local parks, or city zoo. What are the tiniest ones you've seen? Which are the slowest movers? Are any of them stinky?

Could any of the underdog adaptations (smell, slowness, small size) be useful to a superhero? Create a superhero with an unexpected superpower and tell how they use it.

Check out some of the activities in the teacher's guide - and the map - at the Peachtree website.

Today we're joining the STEM Friday roundup - and we're also joining other reviewers 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 the publishers.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ late bumblers

With all the rain we've had into fall, my cosmos keep on blooming. And blooming. Good thing, too, because there are a couple of bumble bees that hang out in the garden. Last week they were stuffing their faces with pollen - and getting it all over their legs, too.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Books about Animal Families

Two recent books reveal family life among the animals. Themes for the day: animals, families, nonfiction.

Meet My Family! Animal babies and their families
by Laura Purdie Salas; illus. by Stephanie Fizer Coleman
32 pages; ages 5-9
Millbrook Press, 2018

My parents both take care of me. 

Written from the point of view of animal babies, they introduce us to their families. The tundra swan cygnet lives with both mom and dad, while a raccoon kit has never met its father.

What I like love about this book: Large text on each page introduces the animal baby and its family. Smaller text adds detail about where they live (a den or nest), whether they have siblings, and how parents interact with the young. Wolves play, for example, while some frogs give their kids piggyback rides.

At the same time, facing pages highlight comparisons and contrasts. A foal is an only child, whereas piglets have lots of brothers and sisters. Beaver kits live in one place through their childhood, while orangutans move to a new nest each night.

Best of all ~ the large text, read by itself is a long, lyrical poem about animal families. Plus there's back matter: a glossary of what animal babies are called in their home ranges, and a map showing where the 22 animal families live. And did I mention the awesome illustrations? I love that the cover resembles a family album.

He's Your Daddy: Ducklings, Joeys, Kits, and More
by Charline Profiri; illus. by Andrea Gabriel
32 pages; ages 3-8
Dawn Publications, 2018

Baby animals, wild or tame,
Don't always have their daddy's name.

For example, a puppy's father is called a dog, while a kit's dad might be a beaver. 

What I like about this book: Rhyming couplets describe animal characteristics. The illustrations portray the habitats that provide homes for each animal family. In addition, illustrations show the range of jobs animal dads do - from bringing worms to nestlings to romping through the backyard. My favorite, though - the green frog dad leaping from a log. Back matter includes more information about each animal plus activities to engage curious young minds.

Beyond the books:
Compare baby animals to their adult parents. Find photos of animal babies and adults. How are they alike? And how are they different? (For example, Bird babies and parents have beaks and wings. But hatchlings don't have all their feathers...)

What would it be like to live in an animal family?  Choose a favorite animal and imagine you are one of the young. Draw a family portrait. Describe what your day would be like. Would you go to school? What would you eat?

Does your family keep albums of family photos? If so, spend some time looking at them. Do children and parents look similar? If you have a camera, take photos of your family and make an album.

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, October 10, 2018

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ Bird activities

photo from NPS
Depending on where you live, birds may be gathering into flocks and heading toward warmer climes, or they may be arriving from parts north. So this is a good time to be watching the sky.
  • What birds do you see around your neighborhood this week?
  • What bird sounds are you hearing?
  • What are the birds doing?

By watching birds, and keeping track of their behaviors, you can help scientists collect important information. One fun way to keep track of birds visiting your neighborhood is to take part in FeederWatch. As a "feeder-watcher" you count birds for science! Feeder Watch runs from Nov. 10 - April 3 this year.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Plants ~ Just like us!

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

 Themes: plants, ecology, nonfiction

People think, talk, and walk around. Plants do none of these things. So how can they be anything like us?

Well, writes Bridget Heos, they can communicate with each other and wear sneaky disguises. And plants even wage war. In this addition to her "Just Like Us" series, she gives us an up-close look into the secret - and not so secret - lives of plants.

What I like about this book: On each spread we get to see one specific way in which plants are similar to people. One spread focuses on what plants eat, another on the importance of drinking water. There are a couple spreads that detail how young seeds are sent on their way - some by hitching a ride, others by air or sea. David Clark's vibrant and humorous illustrations are fun and engaging.  A glossary and bibliography provide more for the curious kid.

Beyond the Book:
Plant some garlic. Believe it or not, most gardeners plant garlic cloves in the fall, before the soil freezes. That gives them a head start so they can produce nice heads of garlic ready to harvest in the fall.

separating leaf pigments, Playdough to Plato
Sow wildflower seeds. If you take a look at garden flowers, many have gone to seed. In fall, wind and rain knock seeds to the ground and, come spring, they'll be first to start growing. Some gardeners take advantage of this and shake their plants to spread seeds for spring flowers.

Separate pigments from fall leaves. Collect leaves of different colors: orange, reds, yellows, green. You'll also need some glasses (or jelly jars), coffee filters (cut into strips), rubbing alcohol and a few other items. Directions for doing leaf chromatography are at Playdough to Plato and you can watch a video here.

Hint: tape your filter paper strips to pencils that sit across the top of the jars.

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.