Friday, June 28, 2019

Explorer Academy ~ The Falcon's Feather

Explorer Academy: The Falcon’s Feather
By Trudi Trueit
208 Pages; ages 8-12
Under the Stars (National Geographic imprint), 2019

This is the much anticipated (well, at least on my part) next installment of the Explorer Academy adventures. We met Cruz Coronado and his friends last December. Now they’ve set sail aboard the Explorer Academy ship Orion to continue their studies at sea.

Cruz, born and raised in Hawaii, is used to spending time on the water. His shipmates … not so much. And, as a way of welcoming Cruz aboard the ship, his Aunt Marisol has left him a postcard bearing a coded message.

The Orion is bound for the shores of Iceland and Norway, where the students will continue their studies. Meanwhile, Cruz is on a personal mission to find clues his mom left behind – clues that will help him uncover a secret that could lead to cures for hundreds of diseases. And Nebula Pharmaceuticals will do whatever it takes to keep that secret buried. Fortunately, Cruz’s friends know about his mission and will stick by his side.

As we sail with the young explorers, we learn some sailor speak: port, starboard, bow, stern, aft, fore. And we learn that this is no ordinary research vessel; it is fitted with hydroponic gardens and a mini-sub named Ridley, after the endangered turtle. There are maps – so we can follow the vessel from Chesapeake Bay to Reykjavik, Iceland via Bay of Fundy and the Norwegian coast – and codes to crack. Plus adventures galore, including getting trapped in an ice cave.

Once again people Cruz trusts turn out to be working with the evil Nebula company, and we end with a problem that will lead us to the next adventure (titled The Double Helix).

Like the first book, this one has an awesome section of back matter that explains the truth behind the fiction. You’ll learn about submersibles, speaking whale, glaciers, bioluminescence, and more.

What’s really cool? There is an activity book for kids who want to be more involved in the Explorer Academy. It begins with a letter welcoming the reader to the Academy and is broken into six missions that require you to use your best code-breaking skills. Combined with Explorer Academy adventures, it makes for a perfect summer of …. adventuring!

Thanks for dropping by today. 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 copies provided by the publisher.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ desert plant field trip

I found this relative of a common garden weed (curly dock) in Arches National Park. Some people call it wild rhubarb, and cook it up. It is also used as a dye plant - as is the more common garden variety.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Orca Scientists!

Today is Summer Solstice – that point in the year where the northern hemisphere is tilted towards the sun. The result: longest day of the year, shortest night of the year.

June is also Orca Awareness Month and, at the end of May, Orca scientists celebrated the birth of a new calf to the J-pod off the coast of British Columbia, Canada. So the perfect time to share this book (that had found a great hibernation space at the bottom of my book basket!).

The Orca Scientists (Scientists in the Field Series)
by Kim Perez Valice; photos by Andy Comins
80 pages; ages 10 - 12
HMH Books for Young Readers, 2018

In the early 1970’s Dr. Mike Bigg, a marine mammal scientist, pioneered a method of photo identification for orcas. He found that the dorsal fin “saddle patch” for each whale was unique, like fingerprint in humans. And that allowed him to follow individual whales and their pods.

Today, Ken Balcomb and other whale researchers use those techniques as they continue the research on resident and transient orcas off the coast of Washington state and southern Canada. Ken is the founder  and principal investigator for the Center for Whale Research at Friday Harbor. From May through October, he and other scientists keep track of who’s swimming with whom.

Despite their name of “killer whales”, over his 40 years of observing Ken’s never seen any of his whales kill anything other than the fish they eat. And they eat a lot – about 5% of their body weight in fish each day. Unfortunately, a decreasing fish population creates problems for the whales. They have to travel greater distances to find food, and that means less time for socializing, playing, and resting.

What I like about this book:

  • Reading this book is the next best thing to being in a boat with the whale scientists.
  • We really get to know some of the personalities and lifestyles of the orcas. 
  • We get side ring seats to a mother whale teaching her calf how to hunt. Hint: it’s similar to how mother cats teach their kittens.
  • We learn about other environmental issues that put orcas (and whales in general) at risk – such as the pollution. And we get a close-up view of scientists taking blubber samples to determine levels of PCBs and DDY. Unfortunately, even banned chemicals remain in the environment for a long time.
  • There are great sidebars that help explain things like why orcas are black and white, and the Samish naming ceremony for the whales.
  • There’s a great chapter about Tucker, the detection dog who works with the whale scientists. Tucker's job: to locate whale scat.

There are a lot of unanswered questions, but it’s not too late to make a difference. Check out the Orca Network and Whale Research Center for more information.

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, June 19, 2019

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ desert plant field trip

Some desert flowers look so dainty that you wonder how they can survive. Here are two more from Arches National Park, UT.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Just Like Rube Goldberg

Just Like Rube Goldberg: The Incredible True Story of the Man Behind the Machines 
by Sarah Aronson; illus. by Robert Neubecker
48 pages; ages 3 - 8
Beach Lane Books, 2019

themes: invention, imagination, biography

Question: How do you become a successful, award-winning artist and famous inventor without ever inventing anything at all?

If your name is Reuben Garrett Lucius Goldberg, you do it in very circuitous manner. First, you get a degree in engineering and work for a city department of water and sewers. Then you quit and get a job cleaning the newspaper office. And in your free time you draw until the editor finally gives you a job. Then an earthquake crumbles the city around you, so you move across the country and do it again. And somewhere along the way you start inventing “screwball contraptions” – complex machines that use chain reactions to perform a simple task.

What I like love about this book: I have heard about Rube Goldberg my entire life, but it wasn’t until I read this book that I learned he was the son of Jewish immigrants. And his father didn’t want him to go into art. I knew Rube had designed all manner of silly machines that could do everything from exterminating a mosquito to hailing a street car. But I hadn’t put his cartooning into context: he began inventing his cartoon contraptions during the age of invention.

I like Robert Neubecker’s art. This spread in particular – a maze of pipes through which the text of the story runs. And I love that the end pages contain drawings of Rube Goldberg’s machines. I also like the back matter – more information about Rube and a short list of selected sources.

Beyond the book:

You can learn more about Rube Goldberg here

You may have seen a Rube Goldberg machine featured in a TV ad, like this one.

Try your hand at designing and building your own Rube Goldberg machine. Here are some ideas to get started:

  • A contraption that helps you get across water.
  • A way to do one of those pesky household chores.
  • Invent a way to get up or get down.
  • A squirrel-proof bird feeder.

You can find some helpful hints on making Rube Goldberg machines here.

Next Wednesday author Sarah Aronson will be chatting with me over at the GROG Blog. Come on over and join us!

Today we're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday, an event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website . Review copy provided by the author.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ desert plant field trip

Yucca is one cool plant. Look at those creamy white flowers, and those sharp, pointy leaves. The leaves look like they're fraying on the edge... let's look closer.

Turns out those fibers are useful. But first you need to soak the leaves, pound them with a wooden mallet, and rinse away the pulp. The remaining fibers can be twisted into threads. Yucca fibers and threads have been used in making cordage, sandals, mats, clothing, nets, and baskets. You can learn more about natural fibers here.

In my garden there are milkweed plants that produce wonderful fibers. What plants do you have in your neighborhood that could be used for fiber?

Friday, June 7, 2019

Reading about Reptiles

While I was walking around Dead Horse Point a couple weeks ago, a fat lizard scurried across the trail and under a shrub. That reminded me that I had a cool lizard book to share. So today's themes are animals, reptiles, and nature

Like a Lizard
by April Pulley Sayre; illus. by Stephanie Laberis
32 Pages; ages 4-8
Boyds Mills Press, 2019

Can you run like a lizard? Sun like a lizard?

What about pushups? Or dashing across water like a lizard? If you could live like a lizard, you’d have lots of choices about how to behave. That’s because there are about 6300 kinds of lizards living on Earth, and each of them is adapted to its habitat in certain ways. April Pulley Sayre presents an inside look at how 28 lizards make their living.

What I like about this book: I love that each page asks the reader to compare their life with that of a lizard – and each page features specific lizards doing their thing. Like frill-necked lizards showing off their collars, and geckos climbing twigs. I like the bright and realistic illustrations – I never knew about some of these lizards! Plus the cover image: who can resist a face like that? And I like the back matter where lizard secrets are revealed. Most of all, I like April’s message that lizards and people can live together in harmony.

The Truth About Crocodiles
by Maxwell Eaton III
32 Pages, ages 4-8
Roaring Brook Press, 2019

These are crocodilians. Some people call all of them crocodiles. We’ll call them crocs. 

Using text, cartoons, sidebars, and dialog balloons, Maxwell Eaton III introduces readers to the croc families. They include crocodiles, alligators and caimans, and the gharial. Just like lizards these reptiles have armored skin, four legs, breathe air using lungs, and are ectothermic (what people call “cold-blooded”). Mostly they’re at home in the water.

What I like about this book: the crocodile jokes, the breezy illustrations, the birthday girl (who has to deal with all these sassy crocs), and the handy list of things to avoid when traveling in croc country. Hint: don’t camp next to the water! And even though there are plenty of info-packed sidebars throughout the book, there is back matter – a “croc-o-file” of fast facts, a map, and some resources for further research.

Beyond the Books:

Find out more about reptiles here and here.

Go on a reptile field trip. Maybe you live in an area where geckos or horned lizards call home. If not, then check out the reptile house at a local zoo or pet store. Look for photos of different kinds of lizards online - here's one source.

Check out the picture book about crocodiles over at Sally’sBookshelf.

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/ARCs provided by publishers.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Wednesday Explorers Club ~ desert plant field trip

This month we're going on a field trip to the Canyonlands area of Utah. While walking around Dead Horse Point in May, I found cacti beginning to bloom. Such dainty blooms atop prickly pads! But those spines are important adaptations. Learn more about cactus adaptations from this post about cactus spines (U of TX).