Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Explore Outdoors ~ reflecting on the season


Head out our library door, down the block, turn right and, in a couple minutes, you come to Catatonk Creek. Look upstream, above the dam, and you see the seasons reflected in the water. Summer greens, autumn scarlets, and now the slate-gray of early winter.

Walk around your neighborhood and look for nature's reflections. You might be surprised by what you notice in ponds, pools, and puddles.

Archimedes is taking a winter break ~ I'll be back in January with new books and hands-on STEM stuff. Meanwhile... keep warm and cozy in your own little domicile. And have a 

Happy Solstice and a Merry New Year!


Friday, December 11, 2020

Survival handbook for plants

Pretty Tricky: the Sneaky Ways Plants Survive
by Etta Kaner; illus by Ashley Barron
48 pages; ages 7-10
Owlkids Books, 2020

theme: plants, animals, STEM

…would you believe there are plants that trick insects into being their bodyguards?

Plants don’t have brains, but they have adapted ways that fool animals – even humans! They have ways to defend themselves from harsh weather, being munched, and heavy feet that might step on their vines. One plant plays dead to discourage predators. Other plants fake leaf damage. Plants use deceit to manipulate pollinators into carrying pollen, and one plant produces smelly seeds that fool dung beetles into rolling them to new places. And some plants … hunt insects!

What I like about this book: I like how it’s divided into three sections: defense, making more plants, and food. Back matter includes details about how plants make seeds and how plants use sunlight to make food. An index, glossary, and list of selected sources round out the back pages.
But what I really like: the artwork!  The cut paper collages are filled with texture and color, and nicely detailed to inspire curious young naturalists to head out and look more closely at plants.

Beyond the Books:

If you were a plant and couldn’t run away, what would you do to protect yourself?
List some ways you could make yourself yukky, prickly, or otherwise unattractive to a predator.

Use cut paper collage to make a picture of a plant growing in or around your house. If it’s not in bloom, then find a photo to help you remember what it looks like. You’ll need scissors, colored paper, a piece of paper or cardboard for your collage, and glue. If you can’t find papers in the colors you want, raid the recycle magazine pile or paint your own paper to use for collage. Have fun!

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 publisher.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Explore Outdoors ~ First Snow


The first snow snuck in last week... feathery flakes slanting from the west. By the time I'd put away lunch dishes, the sun was out and the last remaining calendula was casting shadows. A splat of summer color left in this very late fall. One of the flower heads had gone to seed, so I collected them to plant next spring.

This week take a break to go outside - even if only for a few minutes. What plants have survived the season so far? What spots of color do you find in the landscape? Are flowers still blooming where you live? Are they going to seed? If so, collect some to grow in the spring.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Books that Ask Questions

Kids are full of questions. So are writers – and these authors have turned their questions into fun books about animal adaptations.
themes: animals, STEM, humor

Do Lizards Eat Ice Cream? How Animals Beat the Heat
by Etta Kaner; illus by Jenna Piechota
32 pages; ages 4-8
Owlkids Books, 2020

When it gets hot out, do animals wear flip-flops? NO!

So … how do animals beat the heat? They don’t eat ice cream. Or run through sprinklers. But some use their ears as fans, and some use sunscreen. From lizards to lungfish, elephants to ants, this book explores the ways animals have found to cool off in hot weather.

What I like about this book: It’s fun, with a straightforward structure. For each spread, one side asks a question and the facing page provides an answer with supporting text. The cartoon-like illustrations are bright. It’s a great companion to their earlier book, Do Frogs Drink Hot Chocolate .

Do Jellyfish Like Peanut Butter? Amazing Sea Creature Facts
by Corinne Demas and Artemis Roehrig; illus by Ellen Shi
36 pages; ages 4-8
Persnickety Press, 2020

Do starfish sign autographs? NO!

But they do use their arms to do other things… like pry open clams. In this book you discover the adaptive secrets of seahorses (No! they do not wear saddles), pilot whales (who have nothing to do with flying aircraft), and of course, the peanut-butterless jellyfish. 

What I like about this book: I like the playful questions, and the short answers. But in this book, the questions are presented on one spread, inviting readers to turn the page to discover the real answer. The art is fun and the tone of the text one of friends tossing one-liners to each other. I like that the authors include Back Matter, where they present more information about each of the sea creatures introduced in the book.

Beyond the Books:

Make a list of questions (silly or serious) about animals. And then find out the answers. Maybe you'd like to know things like: can chickadees sing the blues? Or how much wood can a woodchuck chuck?

What sort of adaptations do you have for warming up and cooling off? Do you drink hot cocoa? Put on extra layers of clothes? Wear a raincoat to keep dry? 

Today we're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday, an event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's websiteReview copies provided by the publishers.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Explore Outdoors ~ Look Up!


Winter skies offer an amazing display of clouds. Some are flat and dark, like slate. Some are puffy, cottony lightweights. Some look like dragons, others like fish scales. Some blow by too fast to capture, and others cling to the ground, or the tips of trees as if reluctant to let go.

This week do some cloud-watching. Capture their colors, shapes, impressions, poetry. These clouds? A school of fish racing away from something bigger and darker...

Friday, November 27, 2020

Plants Fight Back

 Plants Fight Back 
by Lisa Amstutz; illus. by Rebecca Evans 
32 pages; ages 4-8
Dawn Publications, 2020     

theme: plants, nature, rhyme

It’s tough being rooted when danger is near. So what do plants do?

When you’re threatened by danger, you can run away. Plants can’t. But they can fight back. Some use needles and prickers. Some use poison. Some exude sticky stuff to trap intruders. And some use disguises so hungry herbivores don’t recognize them. And, like you, some plants call for help!

What I like about this book: I love the attitude that author Lisa Amstutz imbues within these plants. They are feisty! They are sneaky! They are determined to survive! Each spread introduces a plant defense in verse, accompanied by a sidebar that gives more context. I particularly love the scene with cotton plants calling in the “air force”. When attacked by caterpillars, cotton – and other plants – release a mix of chemicals into the air. Those chemicals signal to wasps that “food for larvae” is available. The wasps lay their eggs inside caterpillars and, when the wasp larvae hatch they eat the caterpillars from the inside out. Gross but cool, right?

Beyond the Books:

What sort of defenses do the plants around your house use
? If you can visit a plant conservatory, look for plants with prickers and thorns, thick milky sap, spicy fruits (like a hot pepper), or other defenses.

Plants calling on insects for help sounds pretty weird. You can read more about parasitic wasps, and see a video, here.

Design a plant that can “fight back.” What superpower will your plant have? How will it work? Draw a picture of make a model of your plant.

Lisa Amstutz is a member of #STEAMTeambooks. You can find out more about her at her website.

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 publisher.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Explorer Outdoors ~ the little tree that might


The other day we were walking in the woods and came upon this tiny pine growing out of an old pine stump. Nothing in this forest is wasted. A tree feeds and houses a diversity of living things, even in its demise. 

This fall and winter, explore the places close to you: your backyard, the neighborhood park, flower pots and tubs on the balcony. Look for signs of new life growing out of old.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Marjory Saves the Everglades

Marjory Saves the Everglades: The Story of Marjory Stoneman Douglas 
by Sandra Neil Wallace; illus. by Rebecca Gibbon 
56 pages; ages 4-8
Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2020   

theme: environment, biography, STEM

Before airplanes and automobiles, a girl in gold-rimmed glasses sailed on a steamboat to Florida.

I don’t know about you, but after reading that first line I really want to know who she is and why she’s heading to Florida. And whether her parents know about this.

Whew! Yes, parents are there. And young Marjory, having bitten into sweet oranges, has developed a taste for the southern state. But she and her mom end up living in the north, where Marjory explores the outdoors and, eventually, college. And later, returns to Florida where she reunites with her father and writes for his newspaper, the Miami Herald.

Marjory wrote about how women should get the vote. And later, when developers began digging and draining the Everglades, she began writing about the environment. After a trip to the Everglades aboard a houseboat, she lobbied the National Park Service to include the Everglades as a park. She also began asking questions: were the Everglades really a swamp? She donned boots, grabbed a trowel, and began digging… to discover that what looked like a swamp was really a river. Slow-moving, but a river. Putting pen to paper, she began to write – and fight – to save the Everglades.

What I like about this book: This is the perfect book for kids who wonder if their voice will count. Marjory Stoneman Douglas may have been only one person, but she made a difference. I like that she shows how a person, no matter what their age, can learn new things, and use their skills to save what they love. There is also back matter: an author’s note, a brief introduction to Everglades species, resources, and tips for protecting the environment. The most important tip: NEVER GIVE UP!

Beyond the Books:
Where is your favorite place in nature? Take a few minutes to write about why you like it. If it’s close by, go visit and take some photos. Write about how this place is important to the local plants, wildlife, and people.

Take a virtual tour of the Everglades. You can find one here at the National Park site.

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 Blue Slip Media.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Explore Outdoors ~ Leaf Prints on the Road


Animals leave tracks - but plants? Maybe....

A few weeks ago - well, actually, quite a few weeks ago - the wind and rain whipped leaves from the trees. Heavy and wet, the leaves fell to the road, landing in mud. The next day things dried up and the wind blew the now-dry leaves into the tall grasses. All that was left were the muddy leaf prints. 

This week, discover the stories that plants and animals in your neighborhood leave behind. Maybe it's a pile of hickory nut husks, scat, slime trails, or tracks. 

Friday, November 13, 2020

A Guy With a Real Superpower!

"Smelly" Kelly and His Super Senses: How James Kelly's Nose Saved the New York City Subway 
by Beth Anderson; illus. by Jenn Harney 
40 pages; ages 7-10
Calkins Creek, 2020    

theme: biography, engineering, superpowers

 James Kelly smelled everything.

Even circus elephants a mile away. But what good was the superpower of super-smelling? And how would it lead to a decent job? When he went to New York City he discovered a need for his nose: sniffing out leaks in the subway system. Leaking water could cause a cave in. Leaking gas could cause an explosion. Soon, James had a new name: Smelly Kelly.

He did more than just sniff for stinks. He studied up on chemistry, finding a powder that could help him identify leaky pipes. He invented gadgets to help him listen through walls for the sounds of drip, drip, dripping.

What I like about this book: I’d never heard of Smelly Kelly, so it was fun to read about someone who used his superpowers in a different way. I like the fun – and funny – way Beth Anderson tells his story. And I love the loads of back matter!

Beyond the Books:
Do you have a superpower? What is it? And how can you use it for the good of your family and neighbors?

Smelly Kelly makes a stethoscope so he can listen to leaks in walls. Here’s how you can make your own stethoscope.

You can read about James Kelly and the underground world he inhabited here.

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 publisher.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Explore Outdoors ~ Feeder Watch

 When my kids were young, we set up a bird feeder and tacked the bird identification poster on the wall. We loaded a steel garbage can with bird seed and suet packets and made sure there was a field guide and binoculars on the windowsill. Then we signed up for Feeder Watch, a fun citizen science project through Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 

Carolina Wren by Ann Duvall (permission from CLO)

Back then, we filled out data sheets by hand and mailed them in at the end of the season. On days we weren't counting birds we came up with other things to study. Like how many kinds of birds made up the "feeder flock." And whether chickadees perching on the clothesline observed "social distance". And various ways to frustrate squirrels intent on raiding the sunflower seeds.

The cool thing was that, by observing birds at the feeder we were providing scientists with data that could lead to a scientific discovery.

This year, Feeder Watch begins November 14. If you are new (and even if you're not) there's a webinar on Thursday, November 19 to help you get started: Winter Bird Feeding 101 with Project FeederWatch. Dr. Emma Greig and Holly Grant will answer questions about feeders, foods, and the birds that frequent our yards. You can sign up here

Check out earlier posts for birdy activities here and here.

Friday, November 6, 2020

A Shoe for an Elephant

The Elephant's New Shoe 
by Laurel Neme; illus. by Ariel Landy 
40 pages; ages 4-6
Orchard Books (Scholastic), 2020   

theme: animal rescue, elephants, engineering

Animal rescuer Nick Marx peered at the injured elephant. 

It was a young male, orphaned and in bad shape. A wire snare had cut off his foot, which meant he couldn’t keep up with the herd. So Nick did the reasonable thing: he camped by the elephant, fed him bananas, and gained his trust. Then he moved him to a rescue center.

Nick introduced the young male, called Chhouk, to another elephant. But when she wandered, Chhouk couldn’t keep pace. Could the rescuers make a foot for Chhouk? 

What I like about this book: I like the way medics work on the problem of building a huge shoe that can take hundreds of pounds. I like how Laurel shows that nothing is easy; it took a few tires to eventually create a prosthetic foot that allowed the young elephant freedom of movement. There is great back matter, with photos and more information about elephants. And Nick, the wildlife rescuer, introduces the book noting that elephants “may look a little different, but they are people, too!”

Beyond the Books:
Chhouk and Nick Marx, courtesy of Wildlife Alliance.

Chhouk is an Asian elephant, an endangered species. You can find out more about them here.

Watch a video about Chhouk and his prosthetic foot here. And check out the posts about Chhouk at the Wildlife Alliance page here.

Chhouk isn’t the only animal to receive a prosthetic. Birds, cats, dogs, horses – many animals are helped by prosthetic limbs or beak extensions, or even a pair of wheels. Find out more here.

Laurel Neme is a member of #STEAMTeam2020. You can find out more about her at her website.

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 publisher.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Put on Your Parkas to Read this Book...

Life in a Frozen World: Wildlife of Antarctica 
by Mary Batten; illus by Thomas Gonzalez
40 pages; ages 6-10
Peachtree Publishing Company, 2020

Antarctica is the coldest, driest place on Earth, writes Mary Batten. Though it is covered with ice, Antarctica is the largest desert on our planet. That’s because it never rains there and when it does snow, that snow becomes part of the ice sheet.

“Yet in this extreme environment, life thrives,” Batten writes. Beginning at the bottom of the food chain – with algae and krill – she shows how life has adapted to that frozen continent. Algae, for example, have adapted to the low light conditions below the sea ice. And those teeny tiny krill, each no larger than a thumb, swarm in numbers so high that they can be seen from space. They are keystone species, Batten explains, because they play a key role in Antarctica’s food chains.

Scientists from all over the world are studying Antarctica to learn how climate is threatening the habitats and creatures living there. They are also studying how Antarctica affects weather, ocean currents, and sea levels on our planet. 

Back matter includes a map of Antarctica, some fast facts, a glossary, and some resources for curious naturalists. Batten also includes an author’s note about her work with the Cousteau Society and why the chaos of a warming climate is such a critical issue for our future.

On the outside, this looks like any other picture book. But open it up and you find it’s an adventure that appeals to older kids. Though a bit text-dense for bedtime reading,  I feel this illustrated book is a perfect fit for teachers and homeschooling families looking for up-to-date, authoritative information about Antarctica. It hits the shelves in November – a perfect month for an adventure into ice and cold.

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 copy provided by the publisher.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Explore Outdoors~ I found Orange Things!


Last week's challenge was to search for orange things. I found plenty of orange leaves, both on the trees and on the ground, and a patch of marigolds that somehow escaped the freeze. And I found these guys: milkweed bugs. 

They look reddish or orange, with black markings. The adults have wings; the nymphs don't. Yet. Milkweed bugs have piercing mouthparts and snack on milkweed pods, stems, and even seeds - though I think they leave the fluff for the mice and birds to use as nesting material. 

I managed to snag a few seeds before the bugs took over... and planted them in my garden so next summer I can have more milkweed! More monarchs! And, in late fall, more milkweed bugs!

If there are milkweed plants growing near you, check out the pods and stems for milkweed bugs.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Exploring a Rainforest

Over and Under the Rainforest 
by Kate Messner; illus. by Christopher Silas Neal
48 pages; ages 5-8
Chronicle, 2020

theme: ecosystem, rainforest, exploring

Into the rainforest we hike, through slivers of sunlight and dripping-wet leaves.

Hundreds of plants and animals make their homes in the tropical rainforest. But up, up, up – high in the canopy there is another world. This book takes us on a hike through a Costa Rican rainforest – clambering up rocks, walking high on bridges through the canopy over the course of a day. We meet bats and agoutis, butterflies and sloths. Parrot snakes hunt frogs and howler monkeys fill the air with their exuberant hoots and hollers.

What I like about this book: For those of us who can’t get to a rainforest, this is a great way to explore it. Back matter contains more details about the animals along with some suggested books and resources to check out. And Kate tells a wonderful tale of how this book came to be.

Beyond the Books:
Find out more about Costa Rican rainforest animals here.

Go on a virtual rainforest tour (in the Amazonian rainforest in Peru) here. It’s 20 minutes of walking and climbing, so pack a snack.

If you could be a rainforest animal, what would you be? Use a paper plate and markers to create an animal mask. 

Imagine you live high in the trees. Write down some of the advantages of living high in the leafy canopy. Can you think of any problems?

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 publisher.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Explore Outdoors ~ Orange Things

 This is the season of orange things: pumpkins, falling leaves ... even late-blooming marigolds in my garden.

This month, go on a search for orange things. 

  • What do you find? 
  • Observe from a distance. 
  • Observe close-up. 
  • What do you notice? 
  • How many different colors of orange do you find? 
  • Are your orange things plants? Animals? Fungi?

Friday, October 16, 2020

Exploring a Prairie

Today we're heading off to explore the Prairie. Just the word "prairie" sounds expansive and filled with tall grasses and flowers. 

Plant a Pocket of Prairie 
by Phyllis Root; illus. by Betsy Bowen 
40 pages; ages 5-8
U of Minnesota Press, 2014 

theme: ecosystem, plants, ecology

 Once prairie stretched for thousands of miles, an ocean of flowers and grasses, a sea of sky ….

…and a home for bison, burrowing owls, and butterflies. Almost all of the prairie is gone, but you could see what it might be like if you planted a bit of it in your backyard. Or balcony. Or along the street.

Phyllis Root describes what seeds you could sow, and the butterflies and birds and other animals that might come to visit. And if your tiny pocket garden should spread and grow bigger… who knows what might happen!

What I like about this book: Betsy Bowen’s illustrations are so airy that they capture the feeling of prairie. And there is plenty of back matter! There’s more about each plant and animal featured in the book – plus directions for planting a pocket garden of prairie plants. For explorers, there’s a list of places where you can find bits of preserved and/or restored prairie.

Beyond the Books:

Learn more about prairies. Check out this post to discover more about plants and animals living on the prairie. 

Go on a prairie field trip. If there’s no prairie nearby, try a virtual field trip. Here are two: Tucker Prairie in Missouri, and Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Kansas. Don’t forget to pack a lunch.

Pocket gardens get their name because they are small
. But what if you planted a garden in an actual pocket? If you've got a worn pair of jeans, the back pockets make fun hanging pots.

Looking for more books about prairie plants and animals? Check out these reviews here and here.

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 publisher.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Explore Outdoors ~ Some Bugs Hide

 Last week we were out walking and found a mantid on the road. It was bright green against the oil-and-stone, and easy to see. I love mantids; their triangular faces, spiky legs, and the way they blend into their environment.

After admiring her beauty, we put her down in the grasses off the edge of the road. Can you find our mantid?

Check out this page from the University of Kentucky for more info and photos of mantids. 

This week, head outside and look for signs of insects. You might discover a mantid egg mass, a goldenrod gall, mud wasp nests... admire, take photos, but let them be.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Everything is Connected

This month I’m diving into books about Earth’s ecosystems, starting with this one…

Biomes: Discover the Earth’s Ecosystems with Environmental Science Activities for Kids
by Donna Latham ; illus by Tim Casteel
128 pages; ages 9-13
Nomad Press, 2019

A biome is a life zone, with a distinctive climate and geology, specific water resources, and its own biodiversity. Some scientists say there are five biomes, others list six. Author Donna Latham presents nine: coniferous forest, deciduous forest, tropical rainforest, desert, mountains, temperate grassland, tropical savanna, tundra, and ocean. Regardless of how you sort them, the big point is that they are all connected, and a disaster that takes place in one biome (such as an oil spill) often affects other biomes.

What I like about this book: Each chapter presents a biome and the ecosystems within that biome. Readers get into soils, food chains, and plant and animal adaptations. There are fun sidebars with tidbits, QR codes to links (all links are listed at the back), and plenty of hands-on stuff to explore. Experiment with erosion, study the impact of salt on seed germination, make a terrarium, and explore your home turf. Oh yeah – and make sure to keep a notebook like a scientist does.

There are also photos and (yay!) comics. The tone is fun and informal while being informational. Back matter contains a glossary and metric conversion chart. This is a great “text” for kids who want to learn at home this fall and winter.

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 copy provided by the publisher.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Explore Outdoors ~ Deadheads


What is happening to the flowers? Mine have gone to seed. Sometimes birds eat the seeds, and sometimes the seeds fall to the ground and sprout in the spring.

Take a close look at flower seedheads this week. You are sure to discover beauty, and maybe - if the birds haven't beaten you - some seeds. Will those seeds grow if you plant them? Good question! Some seeds require a period of cold weather before they will germinate.

Friday, October 2, 2020

Fun New Series on Animal Adaptations

 theme: animals, nature, poetry

Let’s face it: animals are cool! And most kids I know love to read about animals. What’s even better than a book about animals is a whole series of books about strange and wonderful animal adaptations. 

by Laura Perdew; illus by Katie Mazeika
32 pages; ages 5-8
Nomad, 2020

Laura Perdew has written a whole bunch of books – well, at least five – about animals and their unique adaptations. They are fun and breezy, and a perfect way to introduce young children to the different classes of vertebrate animals: reptiles, birds, mammals, amphibians, and fish.

Did you know that some fish have antifreeze and that archerfish shoot their prey? That water-holding frogs can stay buried for two years? Perdew introduces readers to unsung heroes of the animal world: star-nose moles, blue-footed boobies, and thorny devil lizards. She sings the praises of salamander slime and whale earwax.

What I like about these books: In addition to highlighting animals and their adaptations, Perdew begins each book with a poem. There’s an acrostic, a limerick, haiku, cinquain, and free verse. Back matter for each book includes a glossary and activity that helps kids (and anyone else) learn more about the group of animals.

Beyond the Books:

Write some animal poetry. It could be a poem about one kind of animal, or about a group of animals. Here's a resource for poetry forms.

Observe animals in your neighborhood – or, in the winter, in a pet store. Try to find an animal from each class: mammal, fish, bird, amphibian, reptile. Draw a picture of your animals. What do you notice about them?

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

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Explore Outdoors ~ Colors of the Season

 The landscape's palette of colors changes with the seasons. This week the greens are fading as the trees show off their scarlet and gold, and flowers bloom with golds and purples.

This week check out your neighborhood for colorful signs of the changing season. Check out the leaves on trees...


the last blooms in your garden.

Friday, September 25, 2020

A True Blue Treasure Hunt!

Rare and Blue: Finding Nature's Treasures 
by Constance Van Hoven; illus. by Alan Marks
48 pages; ages 7-10
Charlesbridge, 2020

theme: nature, color, exploration

How do you find nature’s treasures, both rare and blue? Set off on a hunt!

This book takes readers on a nonfiction treasure hunt to discover eight species that are blue. Not only that, they are naturally rare, or threatened or endangered. And there’s a lot to discover: the Karner blue butterfly, a blue lobster, bluestem grass, and the Cerulean warbler.

What I like about this book: One spread introduces a habitat and presents a clue … leaving the answer to the mystery just beyond the page turn. For example, if you are hiking in a forest then listen carefully for the “zray, zray, zray, zreee…” It’s a cerulean warbler up in the tall trees.

There are so many other things to like in this book. The details about each plant or animal. The different ways of seeing blue: sapphire, cerulean, silvery, indigo. The illustrations that invite you to look and look again. The surprise ending that celebrates our “blue planet.” And, of course, Back Matter – where you can learn some cool words and discover more facts about the plants and animals featured in the book.

Beyond the Books:

Go on a Blue treasure hunt of your own. What blue animals and plants do you find in the nature around you? Maybe you will find Bachelor buttons in a garden, or an Indigo bunting perched on a branch. A zoo or arboretum might be good place to hunt for blue.

Look for little blue bugs. Scientists recently found a rare blue bee in Florida. Other people have found blue beetles and blue “roly-polies” or woodlice. So next time you’re in the garden or moving the compost or wood pile, pay attention to the little critters.

What’s your favorite color? Grab a thesaurus and find out how many different words there are for that color. Or visit the Color Thesaurus.

You can find a bunch of book-related educational activity pages here.

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 publisher.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

The best time for Spider Webs

This is the time of year I see a lot of spiderwebs. They're stretched between plants, fence wires, bridge railings - pretty much anywhere a spider can find a good hunting place. I've found that the best time to see them is early morning, when dew is still clinging to the threads.

This week head out on a spiderweb survey.

  • Where do you find spiderwebs?
  • How big are the webs you find? 
  • How far are they from other webs?
  • Can you find the spiders?
  • If you can, watch a web over a day. What do you notice?
  • Does the spider move her web each day?

Friday, September 18, 2020

Butterflies Belong Here!

As summer comes to an end, I’ve noticed tons of butterflies flitting around my garden and along the roadside: Monarchs, cabbage butterflies, sulfurs, blues, checkered, and cute, fuzzy skippers.

theme: butterflies, nature, environment

Butterflies Belong Here: A Story of One Idea, Thirty Kids, and a World of Butterflies 
by Deborah Hopkinson; illus. by Meilo So
68 pages; ages 5-8
Chronicle Books, 2020

Last spring, we took a class picture… I was a little like a caterpillar then: quiet and almost invisible.

When a girl moves to a new home, she learns all about monarch butterflies. But when she looks for them in the gardens of her neighborhood, they are hard to find. She hears about way stations – gardens filled with plants that monarchs like – and wonders if she could plant a way station at the school. All it takes is one person with an idea, says the librarian.

What I like about this book: I like that the main character, who remains unnamed, feels empowered enough to lead a class project in planting a monarch garden. It requires a plan, a presentation, and persistence. Planting flowers can sound so simple and small – but when it’s done to make the world a better place for butterflies, it’s huge. Back matter includes a guide to making a monarch way station, monarch facts, and resources for monarch activists of all ages.

Beyond the Books:

Do Monarch butterflies live in your neighborhood? Look for orange and black butterflies flitting around or nectaring at flowers. Then look closer to make sure it’s really a monarch. Here’s how to tell whether you’ve got a monarch.

Make a plan for planting a monarch way station. If you need some help, check out these articles here and here.

Draw or paint a picture of a monarch butterfly. Take a close look at its wings. Are they tattered? Maybe your monarch has been flying south for days.

Monarchs migrate in the fall. You can track the migration here.

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 publisher.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Berries, after rain

One thing about Virginia Creeper is that it likes to climb. Fence posts, trees, the speed limit sign where our road turns off from the highway...  in the fall, their leaves turn brilliant red, contrasting with the deep blue berries. Those berries are poisonous for people, but birds love them. Mary Anne Borge writes about birds and creeper berries over at her blog.

What kinds of berries do you see ripening on plants in your neighborhood? Do you have any trees in your yard that birds flock to for fall and winter snacking?

Grab some binoculars and head out to where the berries grow. If you've got some Virginia Creeper growing nearby, watch for these berry-nibbling birds:

  • Woodpeckers
  • Titmice
  • Chickadees
  • Nuthatches
  • Thrushes
  • Robins
  • Catbirds 
  • Eastern Bluebirds
  • Cedar Waxwings 

Friday, September 11, 2020

Meet Beatrix Potter

Beatrix Potter, Scientist
by Lindsay H. Metcalf; illus. by Junyi Wu
32 pages, ages 4-8
Albert Whitman & Company, 2020

theme: biography, STEM, nature

You may know this girl, or who she’ll become…

Maybe you remember Beatrix Potter’s tales and illustrations of Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail, and that rascally Peter Rabbit… those Two Bad Mice. But there’s more to Potter’s story than writing stories.

Did you know she collected hedgehogs, newts, and mice and drew detailed illustrations of these “pets?” Way cooler: she studied – and drew – fungi! She studied them under the microscope and even did some experiments, writing a paper about germinating mushroom spores. But when the scientific community ignores her discoveries, Beatrix tucks away her scientific paintings and begins drawing pictures of her bunny, Peter. The rest is history – or rather, herstory.

What I like about this book: Beatrix loves nature, and is lucky enough to find an adult to mentor her. Lindsay Metcalf shows us how serious Beatrix is about studying fungi. She turns the kitchen into a lab. She tries to present her discoveries to other scientists, but she’s got two strikes against her: she’s an amateur and she’s a woman.

And of course, I like that there’s back matter. Lindsay includes more details about Beatrix’s life, and a timeline. She also includes a fun list of books kids can read to learn more about Beatrix Potter.

 I caught up with Lindsay by email to ask her One Question:

Archimedes: Beatrix Potter loved fungi. Do you have a favorite group of organisms that you like to observe?

Lindsay: I am an equal-opportunity observer of all life in my backyard, especially since we aren’t traveling during the pandemic. I love spying through binoculars on the family of Mississippi kites roosting on dead branches across the street. I smile each time I witness butterflies drinking up my zinnias. And I reserve a ringside seat on my porch for every neighborhood hummingbird fight. (They can be aggressively zippy.) It’s fun to listen as the squirrels argue, chitter, and chase. I look for snail trails in the garden and pill bugs under rocks, marveling at how on earth these tiny crustaceans evolved to live on land. And I love to zoom in on the magical hidden world of lichens like Beatrix Potter might have, but I get to use my cell phone’s camera lens. I’ll bet she’d be amazed at that.

Beyond the Books:

Listen to the Science Friday podcast, “The Scientific Tale of Author Beatrix Potter

You can download an activity guide for the book here

Beatrix Potter loved to draw her pets and fungi. What would you like to draw? Grab some sketching paper and pencils and sketch a plant or animal that you are particularly interested in. Do you learn anything about this organism as you draw it?

Head over to Growing With Science to read what my colleague and fellow STEAM-teamer Roberta has to say about the book!

Lindsay is a member of #STEAMTeam2020. You can find out more about her at her website.

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

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Filling up for Fall

Seems like every morning I find stripped down pine cones on my porch. And those gorgeous, seed-bearing sunnies in the garden? Someone's been munching on them. I know goldfinches are sneaking seeds out here and there, but who is taking huge bites out of the seedhead? 

One morning, while minding my own business (in the tomato patch) I heard a rustling. Aha! Culprit uncovered at last!

The chipmunks are busy filling up for fall. This week pay attention to animals harvesting seeds and fruits from gardens and yards in your neighborhood. Look for:

  • squirrels collecting acorns, hickory nuts, and more
  • birds and squirrels on sunflowers
  • birds feasting on dried seed heads of garden flowers
  • birds and squirrels nibbling rosehips and other berries
  • scales and bits of pine cones