Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ nature outside the door

Last week it was so cold that everyone pulled on their snow hats! Even these prickly, old Monardas.
What do you see when you walk out your front door this week?

Friday, January 25, 2019

Animal Books!

Animal books are spilling out of my reading basket. After all, who doesn't like to read about animals? And the stranger, the better - right?

themes: animals, nonfiction, families

Weird Animals 
by Mary Kay Carson  
32 pages; ages 6 - 10 
Sterling Children’s Books, 2019

Slime-oozing slugs, red-lipped fish, spine-covered bugs, and tube-nosed bats. Weird animals are an awesome sight.

OK, I'm going to admit right here that I read this book because of its cover. I mean, look at those fish-lips! If you're looking for a weird animal, the red-lipped batfish has to be right up there in the top ten. 

But... why are its lips so red? Do they help it find a mate? Scare off predators? 

What I like about this book: Mary Kay Carson answers these and other questions about why animals have weird adaptations. For example, the Spiny Devil Katydid is covered with thorny-looking spines that make it hard for bats to swallow. The fluffy pink fairy armadillo is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. Instead of a tail it's got a kickstand to prop it up so it can fling dirt while digging.

I like the way the pages are laid out. 
Three color-coded words in the introductory sentence at the top correspond with color-coded text explaining why those adaptations work for each animal. Plus large photos of the critters. Plus there's back matter: a glossary of "weird words" and an index. And did I mention the end pages? Large portraits of some of the weirdest in the crew. Totally fun and I learned a lot, too.

Saving Fiona: The Story of the World’s Most Famous Baby Hippo 
by Thane Maynard 
48 pages; ages 4 - 7 
HMH Books for Young Readers, 2018

This is Fiona. She is a baby hippopotamus, but not just any baby hippopotamus. 

Fiona (yes, named after the lovely green Fiona of Shrek fame) is the first premature hippo to be raised by humans. This book celebrates her story - and that of the caring humans who helped her.

What I like about this book: Thane Maynard is the director of the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, so he writes with the authority of having been there. The zoo also provided the photos, so we get real behind-the-scenes glimpses of what it's like to raise a baby hippo. Fiona had parents, but she was born too early and needed additional help to survive. The team who cared for her created opportunities for Fiona to begin bonding with her parents when it was safe for her to do so. And they remained friends with Fiona, playing games and posting lots and lots of photos on social media.

Beyond the Books:

What is the weirdest animal you have ever seen? Draw a picture to show what it looks like,  and write down where you saw it.

Find out more about the red-lipped batfish here.

Fiona is famous and even has a fan club. Check out this video, and her Facebook page.

Today we're joining other book bloggers over at STEM Friday, where you can discover other cool STEM books. And we're 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, January 23, 2019

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ winter berries

Seems like every January I snap photos of red berries against the stark winter landscape. They are, after all, the most colorful things around, except for the blue jay hanging out in the depths of my forsythia. Rose hips, like these, look small but provide food and vitamins for birds that stay the winter.

Sometimes there are still wrinkly apples clinging to our tree, and dried beans hanging from the vines. What sort of winter fruits and seeds do you find in your neighborhoods?

Friday, January 18, 2019

Do Frogs Drink Hot Chocolate?

Keeping warm in winter is tough for those of us living in the colder parts of the world. I keep warm by pulling on an extra sweater, wearing fuzzy slippers, and drinking hot cocoa. So when I saw the cover of this book, I knew I had to review it! Because... hot chocolate and frogs! And because the cover is so inviting!

themes: animals, winter, nature

Do Frogs Drink Hot Chocolate?
By Etta Kaner ; illus. by John Martz
32 pages; ages 4-8
Owlkids, 2018

When it gets cold out, do animals turn up the heat?

Using a question-answer format, this book explores how animals survive chilly - and downright frigid - weather. Thankfully, the hot chocolate question gets answered right away. I'll save you the suspense: Frogs do not drink hot cocoa. They don't even try to keep warm. In fact, some of them turn into frogsicles during winter. Brrrrr!

What I like about this book: I love the diversity of strategies that are presented for keeping warm. Penguins snuggle, butterflies sunbathe, and some animals build snow dens (snow is a great insulator!). Things animals don't do: jump up and down, wear ear muffs, drink hot chocolate. Well, wild animals may not do those things, but I can think of one animal that does all three: humans.

32 pages; ages 3-7. NGK, 2018
Now that you know ways to keep warm in winter, it's time to head outside and explore the weather. This new book from National Geographic Kids introduces young children to all different sorts of weather, from Whoosh! of wind to the drip-drop of rain. There's a spread explaining how droplets can freeze in the clouds and fall to the ground as snow.

Given the variability we've seen in our winter thus far - freezing rain, snow, wind, rain, 26 degrees one day, 50 the next - this might be the perfect book to inspire the pre-K to first-grade crowd to observe weather around them. Back matter includes photos and short explanations of "wild weather" (floods, blizzards, hail) and the instruments that scientists use to study the weather.

Beyond the Books:
What do you do to stay warm in winter? Think about the clothes you wear, things you eat, activities, whether you hibernate...

Polar bears and penguins (and other cold-weather animals) have a layer of fat that helps them stay warm. How does that work? Try this: Fill a bowl partway with cold water and toss in a bunch of ice cubes. Put one of your fingers in the icy water. How long can you keep it there until it gets too cold?
Now, dry off your finger and coat it with a thick layer of shortening. Pop it back in the icy water. How long can you keep your finger in the water? Instructions here.

Keep a winter weather logbook. Some things you can keep track of in your book include: temperature outside, whether it's windy or calm, what the sky looks like, snow or rain or ice... and remember to write the date for each observation. You might also jot down any birds or animals you see outside.

Today we're joining other book bloggers over at STEM Friday, where you can discover other cool STEM books. And we're 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, January 16, 2019

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ nature break

How to Take a Nature Break:

  • Grab your sketchbook and pencil (in case it's cold enough to freeze ink)
  • Find some winter weeds
  • Draw one or two of them
  • Jot notes about them, or write haiku, maybe lines for a song
  • (if it's too cold outside, bring a few inside to draw)
Why don't we just take a camera, you ask?

Great question! Here's what I've discovered: when I draw something in nature, I slow down. Look more closely at the details. Jot notes about what I am observing. Things like: how tall it is, what it reminds me of. (The fruiting structures on the sensitive fern on the left remind me of tiny chocolate drops lined up on toothpicks.)

Winter weeds could be grasses, goldenrods, things with berries, plants with pods. You might not know what they are, but that's OK because there are places to find out. One of my favorite references is Lauren Brown's Weeds in Winter (updated and revised as Wildflowers and Winter Weeds)

Friday, January 11, 2019

Super Beaver and more ....

Somehow (and I am not at all sure how this happened!) my book basket is overflowing. So today I'm reviewing two animal books. First - an animal with superpowers!

Beavers (Superpower Field Guide) 
by Rachel Poliquin; illus. by Nicholas John Frith 
96 pages; ages 7 - 10 
HMH Books for Young Readers, 2018

I'm a sucker for field guides. The more, the merrier. This one is a bit different than the others, though. For one thing, this field guide focuses on only one animal - and a mammal, at that. Plus, it highlights superpowers.

Who knew beavers have superpowers? Obviously Rachel Poloquin - and she gets right to them early in the book For example, beavers have chainsaw teeth! They have the incredible scuba head. They have paws of power. These powers - and more - make beavers true Wetlands Warriors!

But first: an announcement from our sponsor, the rodent family. Beavers, it turns out, have lots of relatives - from mice to porcupines. One thing they all have in common: ever-growing teeth. Beaver's teeth are three inches long!. That's what makes them super. And powerful.

For each superpower, Rachel gives us the low-down. For example, the super unstoppable fur. It might not stop a speeding bullet, but it can stop rain, snow, sleet... if it stopped dark of night, beavers would make perfect mail-deliverers. If you count the number of hairs in a square inch (and apparently scientists have done this), beavers have 100,000 hairs. You have only 1,000 hairs per square inch on your head.

Beavers are amazing architects, building dams and lodges that withstand the test of time. If you want to learn how to build a dam, Rachel offers step-by-step directions. Also instructions for how to build your own underwater lodge. All you need are teeth like chainsaws, paws of power, and a place to build.

There are tons of fun sidebars, facts and maps, and the occasional quiz (with answers, of course). Plus a final section highlighting how beavers help create wetlands. In fact, scientists are thinking of putting beavers to work as a watershed management tool, restoring wetlands in dry areas. Check out this article and this one.

Now to some real cuties. Awww..... who doesn't love piglets and pugs! But behind those cute faces are warrior spirits.

Piglets vs. Pugs
by Julie Beer
64 pages; ages 6-9
National Geographic Children's Books, 2018

This is another animal face-off, complete with a boxing ring, fans, and sports commentators. And this time it's a head-to-head battle of the bulgiest.

First we meet the contestants. Each is introduced using their secret scientific name, and we learn a bit of their evolutionary history. Did you know that pugs are one of the oldest breeds of dog, getting their start in Tibet? They have long been a favorite of Royal Families. Pigs were domesticated more recently, within the last 10,000 years. But they also have their fans.

Flip through the pages and you find how each compares in IQ tests - OK, not real IQ tests, but intelligence testing of some sort. Author Julie Beer raises important questions: 
  • if put on a track, who would win?
  • who has the curliest tail?
  • which has the biggest mouth?
  • best sniffer - pug or piglet?
There's even a talent portion to this beauty contest animal face-off. Read well, because...
... there's a QUIZ at the end: Are you a piglet or a pug? 

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

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ ecological succession

Years ago a large tree fell down at the bottom of our hill. It was too big to cut with a chainsaw, so it sat. Through wind and rain and snow and hot summer days - soaking up moisture - and now it is getting hard to recognize. Mosses cover much of the top. Leaves fallen and composted year after year have created compost that now provide a place for grasses to root.

Over time the tree is going through phases of decay. Mosses, lichens, and fungi push into the bark, furthering the process of decomposition. Later, other plants will take their place. As the wood rots and cracks, small animals will move in, carving their homes and nests.

Each group of occupants changes the log - making it suitable for the next plant and animal inhabitants. The process is called ecological succession.

What will our neighborhood tree trunk look like in two years? In five? In another decade?

Do you have a fallen tree, old patch of cement,  or patch of crumbling pavement that is undergoing succession?

What's growing on and in it? Can you see lichens? Fungi? Mosses? Are their plant stems stretching across the surface? Stems and leaves sprouting from the cracks?

What kinds of insects and other animals are using it?

How does it change over the next year? Document what you observe using photos, drawings, and notes.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Elephants need friends

Like us, elephants need family and friends. Otherwise they grow lonely. Here are two books that explore different facets of being an elephant.

themes: family, friendship, animals

Maggie, Alaska's Last Elephant
by Jennifer Keats Curtis; illus. by Phyllis Saroff
32 pages; ages 4-9
Arbordale, 2018

Once, elephants lived in Alaska - two of them.

This award-winning book opens with Annabelle, an Asian elephant and Maggie, an African elephant who lived in a zoo in Alaska. They were good friends. When Annabelle died, Maggie seemed lost. She was so lonely that she adopted a tire. The keepers tried everything to keep her active and engaged, but Maggie seemed to fade. Eventually, they decided she needed to go somewhere else, where she could live with other elephants.

What I like about this book: Author Jennifer Keats Curtis is a wonderful storyteller. She weaves in a lot of elephant behavior as she introduces Maggie and her story. She shows zookeepers creating enrichment opportunities for Maggie, in an effort to keep her brain and senses engaged throughout her day. And when they realize it's time for her to go, they have another problem to solve: how do you move an 8,000-pound animal thousands of miles?

I also like the back matter, which includes more information about elephant herds, how zoos keep elephants healthy and happy, and a fun Q&A with a keeper.

While Maggie's story is about a real elephant, Randal's is not. Instead, it is an imaginative way to address the question: how do you know who you are and where you belong.

Randal, the Elephant
by Ciara Gavin
36 pages; ages 3-6
Persnickety Press, 2018

One day Randal and Clive sat watching the elephants.

Randal finds elephants fascinating. Clive, not so much. As Randal waxes eloquent about all the cool things elephants can do (take a bath with their noses!), Clive asks, "Why don't you become one?"

What I like about this book: To become an elephant, Randal will need to spend a lot of time with them and "think elephant thoughts". So off he goes. But even when he's with the elephants, he remembers his buddies back home. A fun part of this book is the letters and photos that Randal sends to his friends. I love that he comes back to his otter friends. And I especially love the ending where Randal and Clive are once again watching animals and Randal exclaims how majestic these new beasts are! I don't want to give away the ending - but it is fun, and unexpected.

Yes! There is back matter - "cool facts" about elephants (in case you want to become one).

Beyond the Books:

Find out more about elephants! You can learn more at the World Wildlife site .

Arbordale provides links to the back matter in Maggie, as well as a teaching activity guide here.

If you could be an animal, what would you be? Why? What would you do to learn how to think your animal's thoughts?

Visit some elephants in a zoo. What sort of enrichment activities have the keepers provided? Watch their behavior and see if you can tell who their friends are.

If you're looking for more books on elephants, here are some titles to check out (links to reviews)

Today we're joining other book bloggers over at STEM Friday, where you can discover other cool STEM books. And we're 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, January 2, 2019

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ Look Up!

How do trees share the sky?

This week spend more time looking at the world 
from a different perspective.

Welcome to a New Year of Wednesday Exploring! We'll head out on field trips, take nature breaks, ask questions, and meet cool bugs. So make sure you've got a nature journal, and sharpen your pencils. On Fridays join us for STEM book reviews and "beyond the book" activities.