Friday, July 3, 2020

Explore Summer ~ book reviews return in August

Archimedes is taking the month of July off to count bees and explore fungi. And to snack on the black-capped raspberries growing in and around the day lilies.

Join me to Explore Summer this month. Want to count bees? Then check out the Great Sunflower Project to see how you can get involved. Or maybe you'd rather get involved with Bumble Bee Watch. If you're looking for more things to do, check out the list of summer activities to the right.

Explore Outdoors and Friday Book reviews will return in early August! So pack some sandwiches, grab your nature journal, and head outside for some summer fun.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Explore Outdoors ~ Flies

I'm ending our month of bugs - I mean, insects! - with one last post. So slip on your garden boots and grab a magnifying glass and head out to look for FLIES!


You'll find flies just about anywhere: lazing about on a sunny porch railing, buzzing around a pile of trash, and even collecting pollen from flowers. So head outside to check out the flies in your backyard and neighborhood. Flies are a diverse group, as you can see here. Find flies that:
  • look like a wasp
  • are metallic
  • have long legs
  • are as big as a bumble bee
  • hang out on fruit
  • are tiny
  • look like giant mosquitoes
If you have a camera, capture them in photos. Or draw some pictures and share them with your friends.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Bugs are in Danger!

One last bug book for the month!

Bugs in Danger
by Mark Kurlansky; illus. by Jia Liu
176 pages; ages 8 - 12
Bloomsbury Children's Books, 2019

“If we care about the health of our planet, we can’t choose which animals’ lives we want to save,” writes author Mark Kurlansky. “We have to care about them all.” And that includes insects, because they play an important role in the earth’s ecology. But there’s a problem: populations of fireflies, bees, butterflies, and ladybugs have been declining.

Kurlansky divides his book into four parts. In part one, he introduces the insect world, shows how bugs fit in and highlights their diversity. He talks about the biggest threats to insects: habitat loss, invasive species, pollution, and climate change. Then he talks about how insects evolved with plants – not just bees, but butterflies, beetles, and flies. And he shares the secret of why it’s so hard to sneak up on a fly.

Part two focuses on bees. There are a lot of kinds of bees, he writes. About 25,000 bee species have been catalogued and scientists have discovered another 40,000 that have yet to be named. He takes a close look at bee life, focusing on honey bees – which were introduced into North America in 1622 by Europeans.  At that time there were somewhere near 5,000 native bee species. Unfortunately, Kurlansky doesn’t address the impact of introduced honey bees on native bees. This is a shame, because native bees pollinate many of the crops we eat.

In the third part, Kurlansky introduces beetles as pollinators and beneficial (pest-controlling) insects. Native ladybug populations are in decline even as gardeners and farmers seek alternatives to insecticides. Even fireflies are vanishing.

Part four is all about the leps: butterflies and moths. He highlights monarchs, introduces endangered species, and discusses efforts to save butterflies. In the final chapters he mentions more insects that are endangered: dragonflies, grasshoppers, stoneflies. Individual insects may be small, but their impact in ecological systems is profound. A decline in insect population affects entire food webs.

The biggest problem, by far, is the impact of humans on natural ecosystems. There are, fortunately, things everyone can do to keep the world a safe place for bugs:
  1. stop squashing bugs when you see them!
  2. grow flowers to attract pollinators.
  3. if you have fireflies, turn off floodlights at night.
  4. Stop Using Pesticides!
  5. leave leaf litter and twigs on the ground beneath trees.

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.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Endangered Pollinators

 Pollinators are keystone species in natural ecosystems. But habitat loss, climate change, and use of agricultural pesticides contribute greatly to population decline and disrupt ecological interactions.

One of these endangered pollinators is the Rusty Patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis). They formerly inhabited the eastern coast of the United States and extended west through the Midwest towards Minnesota and North Dakota. Now you can find them only on a fraction of this region.

From bees to butterflies to bats - and even birds - you can learn about endangered pollinators, and the plants they associate with, over at the Pollinator Partnership - and even download a full-sized poster.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Explore Outdoors ~ Looking for Lepidoptera

Not only is this month "Bug Month" for Archimedes  - it's #pollinatorweek!

Today we're Looking for Lepidoptera ~ butterflies and moths. 

 There are so many kinds of butterflies and moths, as you can see here. See how many different kinds you can find: 
  • small
  • large
  • fancy
  • plain
  •  night-flier
  • act like hummingbird
  • larva
  • feathery antennae
As always, if you have a camera, capture the butterflies, moths, and caterpillars you see in photos. Or draw some pictures and share them with your friends.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Things Kids Can Do to Help Pollinators

There's lots of fun stuff for kids over at the Pollinator Week website: yummy things to bake (and eat), a pollinator puzzle, and a tip sheet for Five Things Kids Can Do to Help Pollinators.

It doesn't take much to be kind to pollinators ~ mostly treat them the way you would like to be treated: with respect.

What that means, in people-terms is:
  • Give them space. When you see bees or butterflies or hummingbirds busy collecting pollen or nectar, it's OK to watch them. But make sure you're not crowding them. And definitely don't try to touch them when they're working.
  • If your family uses poison sprays on the lawn or in the garden, ask them to stop. Sure, that spray may kill weeds, but it also harms pollinators. And when you can, buy organic fruits and vegetables.
  • Plant some flowers for the pollinators - native species, if you can. If you're not sure what to plant, contact your local cooperative extension. And if you're planting a butterfly garden, remember to include host plants for caterpillars to eat (we grow milkweed in our garden).

Monday, June 22, 2020

Welcome to Pollinator Week

This week is National Pollinator Week ~ a time to celebrate pollinators and spread the word about what you can do to protect them.

Pollination happens when pollen is moved within a flower or is carried from one flower to another of the same species. It leads to fertilization which leads to apples or tomatoes or...

Here's the stuff you need to know: pollination is necessary for healthy and productive native and agricultural ecosystems.

Did you know that:

  • About 75% of all flowering plant species need the help of  animals to move their heavy pollen grains from plant to plant for fertilization.
  • About 1,000 of all pollinators are vertebrates such as birds, bats, and small mammals.
  • Most pollinators (about 200,000 species) are beneficial insects such as flies, beetles, wasps, ants, butterflies, moths, and bees.

You can learn all about pollinators over at the Pollinator Partnership website where you can also download this cool poster.

And download fact sheets and more.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Beetle Battles!

Beetle Battles: One Scientist's Journey of Adventure and Discovery 
by Douglas J. Emlen
176 pages; ages 8 - 12
Roaring Brook Press, 2019

Doug Emlen has been obsessed with big weapons for as long as he can remember: mastodon tusks and triceratops horns, moose antlers and all other sharp and dangerous things on display at the natural history museum. Now, a professor of biology in Montana, he continues with his passion, studying antlers, horns, tusks. It just so happens that those weapons belong to beetles – and some of the species “…so small that their weapons only become apparent with a microscope,” he writes.

In this book, Emlen takes us into the field as he determines to find a bizarre animal to study in an exotic location. And that meant searching for beetles. The cool thing about beetle weapons: they come in so many sized and shapes. Some are stubby, some long and slender, some like crowbars, some like sabers. They may look small to us, but relative to their body size, beetle weapons can be huge. For example, mammoth tusks represent 3% of the animal’s body weight; a beetle’s horns can be 30% of its body weight.

Emlen’s book begins with great hopes to study a rhinoceros beetle – but (as happens in science) he could not find a large enough population to study. So he switched to dung beetles – of which there is no dearth of supply! Emlen takes readers along on his adventure to Barro Colorado, where we learn what it takes to “do science.” His days are filled with designing experiments, collecting data, analyzing date, rethinking the experiments (when they don’t work), and doing it all again.

What I like about this book: I like the journal entries interspersed through the book, and the wonderful photos. I like his no-nonsense tips on collecting monkey dung. And I really like how he follows the logic of animal weapons to military weapons and the arms race. There’s a wonderful chapter in which he compares his “sneaky beetles” to cyberhackers.

In Which Doug Reflects on Science and Writing

A couple months ago, between zoom classes and research, Doug Emlen found some time to share his thoughts on beetles and science. Turns out that he was born and raised in the Finger Lakes region of New York, and went to Cornell University. We chuckled about the fact that he is now “out west” and I, raised in the west, am now living a few miles away from his alma mater.

Smithsonian Archive
“My goal in writing Beetle Battles is to reach people and make science fun,” Doug said. He wrote to middle graders because he figured they might be interested in digging into the tough stuff. And confessed that he learned a lot in the process. (It’s definitely not the same as writing a text book!) Along the way, he discovered his writing voice.

“When someone suggested re-writing a section, I did it,” he said, noting that he had to invest time and energy into learning how to tell a narrative story. And sure, there’s a lot of science in this book – the topic is evolution of weapons – Doug wanted to make it an adventure.

“I had fun with this project,” Doug said, admitting that he rewrote the book a few times. But each time he found what worked better. What kept him going was the desire to make his story accessible to fourth through seventh-graders. “I feel it’s important that more of us [scientists] find a way to reach this age group.” He especially feels this urgency because of the level of science denial he sees in our society.

Writers are often told to “show, not tell,” but that “showing” turned out harder to do than Doug expected. There were so many questions along the way: should he give priority to the science or to the narrative. He chose the narrative, showing what it is like to be a scientist.

“I wanted to help kids understand the day-to-day life of a scientist in the rainforest, and how the rainforest smells.” While his journey as a scientist didn’t begin until he was in college, his curiosity was whetted when he was a kid traveling with his father, also a biologist. The cool thing about science, he says: “Basic research turns out to be important in ways you don’t expect.” Who would have expected research on dung beetles to reveal a deeper understanding of the arms race?

You can find out more about Doug and his dung beetle research here – in an interview he did with NPR’s Terry Gross a few years ago.

Find out more about Doug’s childhood here.

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, June 17, 2020

Explore Outdoors ~ Bees!

This month, Archimedes is focusing on bugs ... I mean, insects! So slip on your exploring shoes and head out to a garden - or anywhere that flowers are blooming - and spy on some bees. Just stay far enough away that you don't bother them.


Bees are a diverse group, as you can see here. When you find bees at work, remember: don't crowd them. See how many different kinds of bees you can find: 
  • loud buzzing bees
  • metallic bees
  • tiny bees
  • huge bees
  • bee covered in pollen
  • bee with pollen on its legs
  •  bees that crawl inside flowers
  •  bees that hang out on sunflowers
    If you like to watch bees, think about becoming a Citizen Scientist. You can help scientists by counting pollinators for the Great Sunflower Project.
    As always, if you have a camera, capture bees in photos. Or draw some pictures and share them with your friends.

    Friday, June 12, 2020

    What's the Buzz?

    This month, Archimedes is focusing on insects of all types. Today it's one of my favorites: BEES!

    Where Have All the Bees Gone? Pollinators in Crisis
    by Rebecca E. Hirsch
    104 pages; 12 - up
    Twenty-First Century Books/Lerner, 2020

    Bees are disappearing, and it’s not just honey bees. Bumble bee populations are in decline, too. For those of us who like to eat, this is a problem because bees pollinate 75 percent of the fruits, vegetables, and nuts grown in the United States – about $3 billion worth of crops each year. Plus, they pollinate plants and fruit trees that provide food for birds and other wildlife.

    In this book, Rebecca E. Hirsch dives right into the pollinator crisis. Sure, there are lots of animals that pollinate plants – birds, bats, beetles, and butterflies – but bees are the most efficient. And that pollinating efficiency is important to farmers and gardeners. Some flowers, such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants hold onto pollen so tightly that only bumble bees can shake it loose using a high-pitched buzz.

    What would gardens and orchards look like without the work of native pollinators? Hirsch describes apple orchards in Sichuan, China, where decades of pesticide use has killed off the the natural pollinators. Now orchardists have to pay people to climb ladders and hand-pollinate the blossoms.

    She devotes a chapter to the research on bumble bee decline and another chapter to the problems that neonicotinoids presents to wild bees. Even at low doses, neonics are harmful because they are long-lived and mobile. Bumble bees exposed to neonics in farm settings produced fewer queens, and another type of wild bee laid fewer eggs.

    Hirsch includes a chapter on bee evolution and a chapter on bee diversity, highlighting a year in the life of a bumble bee. She concludes with two chapters devoted to bee conservation and positive action people – and kids – can take: plant gardens for pollinators; engage in citizen science bee counts; and encourage organic farming and gardening. Back matter includes a list of online resources and links to citizen science projects.

    You can read an interview with Rebecca here - and look for an upcoming interview in STEM Tuesday next month.

    Here are some ways you can Bee active:

    Get to know your local bees. Most bees are so intent on collecting pollen that they won’t notice you, so you can get close enough to get a good look. If you have a camera, click bee pics so you can identify them later. Make sure to jot down notes: Is the bee as big as your thumb? Smaller than your pinkie nail? Skinny or fat? Smooth or furry? Striped? And definitely note time of day, as some bees are early risers. 

    Create a bee-friendly spot for local pollinators. The easiest way to help native bees and other pollinators is to plant flowers that provide nectar and pollen. Just as important: eliminate the use of pesticides. Here’s a quick guide to bee plants, and – surprise! – some may already be growing in your lawn (a great excuse to not mow): asters, bee balm (monarda), cornflower, cosmos, dandelions, elderberry flowers, forget-me-nots, goldenrod, hyssop, harebell, indigo (wild), joe-pye weed, jewelweed, knotweed (aka: Pennsylvania smartweed), lupine, mints, mullein, nasturtiums, oregano, purple coneflower, poppies, queen Anne’s lace, red clover, sunflowers, thistles, violets, wild mustard, ox-eye daisy, yarrow, and zinnias.

    Become a Citizen Scientist. You can help scientists learn more about native bees by counting bees and other pollinators in your yard or neighborhood. Bumble Bee Watch is a collaborative effort to track and conserve bumble bees in North America. The Great Sunflower Project relies on volunteers to count the number and types of pollinators visiting plants (especially sunflowers). Learn more about pollinator conservation at the Xerces Society.

    Wednesday, June 10, 2020

    Today let's amplify black scientist voices

    In support of #ShutDownSTEM, I am not posting my regularly scheduled bug photos. Instead, I want to introduce you to an entomologist you probably haven't heard about. 

    photo from Wikipedia
      Margaret Collins was known as the “Termite Lady” and was also a civil rights activist.  While teaching at Florida A&M, she would take her family on collecting trips in Everglades National Park. Later, she moved to Washington, DC where she taught at what is now the University of District of Columbia. She also became a research associate at the Smithsonian. She was so dedicated to the cause of civil rights that she put her career on pause for five years. In the publish-or-perish world of science, that's one heck of a commitment! 

    The wonderful folks over at Ask an Entomologist have posted a great story of her life, with plenty of links - I encourage you to read it here

    Friday, June 5, 2020

    Bugs Everywhere!

    Bugs Everywhere 
    by Lily Murray; illus. by Britta Teckentrup
    32 pages; ages 6 - 9
    Big Picture Press (Candlewick) 2020

    theme: bugs, nature, observation

    The world is alive with bugs. There are millions of different species. In fact, there are so many that no one knows the exact number.

    After explaining what arthropods are, author Lily Murray describes where they live, what they eat, and some of their survival tricks. She highlights honeybees as an example of social insects, and Madagascan sunset moths as a migratory species. There’s a fun spread about bug parents, and one about bugs and people.

    What I like about this book: I love the illustrations! Britta Teckentrup is a fine artist with a fine eye for arthropod detail – down to the jointed appendages. I also like the challenges to readers: find the tortoise beetle hiding somewhere in the book; find the wasps raiding the beehive. I like that there is an entire spread about the evolution of arthropods – they’ve been around for ages! And I really like that the last page highlights the importance of bugs in the ecosystem, and what we can do to help protect them.

    Beyond the Books:

    Go on a Bug Safari. All you need is a camera (for capturing bugs of all types) or a sketchbook. Your mission: find as many different types of arthropods as you can.
    Note how many legs they have (they need 6 or more).
    Look at their colors and patterns. Do they blend in or stand out?
    What sort of place do you find them – in water? in grass? under stones?
    How do they move?

    Follow a bug. If you find a beetle or a spider – or even a bumble bee – off on a journey, follow along (but not too close). Where do they go? What are they doing?

    Listen to the sounds bugs make. Here are some recordings to get you started.

    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, June 3, 2020

    Explore Outdoors ~ Beetles!

    This month, Archimedes is focusing on bugs - er, insects! So put on your bug-hunting shoes and start looking. Today it's BEETLES!

     Look for Beetles in your backyard and neighborhood. Beetles are a large and diverse group - you can see different kinds here. Find beetles that are:
    • round
    • long
    • striped
    • spotted
    • glow-in-the-dark
    • big
    • small
    • red
    • green
    • swimming in water
    Take photos of the beetles you meet, or draw pictures of them.

    Friday, May 29, 2020

    Get to know the trees...

    If you can’t get out for a walk in the woods, then check out these “armchair” forest walks. One takes you high into the tree tops, the other deep into the woods.

    theme: trees, animals, habitat

    The Forest in the Trees 
    by Connie McLennan
    32 pages; ages 4-8
    Arbordale Publishing. 2019

    Deep in the woods near a foggy sea, there’s a hidden forest in the trees.

    Coast redwoods are the world’s tallest trees, stretching up, up, up nearly 380 feet into the sky. To get that high in a city, you’d have to climb to the 37th floor of a skyscraper. If you could climb up into a redwood tree, you’d find … more redwoods growing! New trees growing up from the branches of the old tree. And on those branches, soil collects, ferns and moss sprout – even elderberry shrubs take root. Salamanders and squirrels, butterflies and birds make their homes in this forest in the sky.

    What I like about this book: It’s fun to read, with one level of text building layer upon layer using “the house that Jack built” structure. A second level of text is found in sidebar boxes, additional information for older readers and parents who want to know more about the animals and plants living high on the redwood’s branches. And there is back matter: four pages of activities and challenges “for creative minds”

    Can You Hear the Trees Talking? Discovering the Hidden Life of the Forest 
    by Peter Wohlleben
    84 pages; ages 8 - 10
    Greystone Kids, 2019 (English reprint edition)

    Let’s go on a journey of discovery. 

    This book is a walk through the woods, broken into seven chapters. We begin by exploring how trees work, how they grow, then learn about friends and enemies, animals that live in and around then, and what makes trees awesome and important. Peter Wohlleben devotes each full spread to a single question: how do trees drink? Do trees make babies? Can they talk? What are trees afraid of, and are some trees braver than others? Do they sleep? Can they make it rain?

    What I like about this book: It is a perfect mix of information and discovery. I love the one-question quizzes scattered through the pages, the “Look” sidebars inviting you to notice something, and the “Try This” activities that provide some hands-on STEM activities to explore the forest around you. I also love that the pages are edged in green, giving one the feeling of having fallen into the deep, deep woods.

    Beyond the Books:

    Play Tree Bingo. You can download these cards from Mass Audubon – or make up your own tree bingo cards for a family walk.

    Go on a tree seed safari. Some trees produce fruit. Others make pods, or prickly balls, nuts, or samaras that helicopter to the ground. Some trees make their seeds in summer, others in fall. Check out what the trees in your neighborhood do.

    Make a neighborhood tree guide. You might need to collect leaves to press, or draw pictures or snap photos … and you might even need a field guide to help identify the trees you find. But once you’ve gotten to know your neighborhood trees, figure out a way to share them with other people. Here’s one way.

    Today 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, May 27, 2020

    Explore Outdoors ~ tree blossoms

    Just outside our Town Hall are some flowering trees. So last week I took some "blossom portraits" ~
    What are some things you notice about the flowers?
    How many petals do they have?
    What about leaves?
    What do you notice about tree blossoms where you live?

    Friday, May 22, 2020

    ICK! a delightfully disgusting book

    ICK! Delightfully Disgusting Animal Dinners, Dwellings, and Defenses 
    by Melissa Stewart
    112 pages; ages 8 - 12
    National Geographic Children's Books, 2020 (releases June 23)

    Some of the coolest things in science are also gross – so leave it to Melissa Stewart to dig deeper until she has enough to write a totally disgusting book about things slimy, smelly, and altogether ICKY! Things like animals that eat poop, squirt blood from their eyes, fling their feces – or weaponize their farts.

    But, she warns, “don’t be too quick to say ick!” There’s a good reason that baby pandas eat their mom’s poop … or that cockroaches eat the fingernail clippings left on the bathroom floor. As for building a home, animals use the resources at hand. For white-nest swiftlets, that means layering thread upon thread of sticky saliva against a cave wall until a nest is formed. If that sounds yucky, you’ll want to skip the section about the bone-eating snot flower worm. And yes, that is really its name.

    And you know how toads eat flies? Turns out there are flies that eat toads. Alive. Pretty disgusting, right?

    Like many of Stewart’s books, this one began years ago. While on safari in Kenya and Tanzania she watched a mother black-backed jackal vomit up partially digested food in order to feed her pups. The following day she learned that some antelopes regurgitate and re-chewe their food as many as four times to extract every possible nutrient from the plants they eat. So of course, she began jotting a list of animals that vomit their dinners … and kept adding to it until she had enough examples to make a book.

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

    Archimedes: As gross as this book is, are there any tidbits you left out that were just too ... disgusting?

    Melissa: Every disgusting detail I could possibly unearth ended up in the book, but there were places where I had to tone down my language a bit. My awesome editors, Shelby Lees, encouraged me to go all out in the rough draft. Then, during revisions, she let me know when I needed to rein it in.

    Right at the end of the process, Shelby and I were surprised by a mandate from someone higher up. We had to limit the number of times we used the word "fart."

    We didn't have to eliminate it completely (Thank goodness!), but we did have to use it very sparingly. This was especially tricky for the spread about the western hooknose snake, which makes a farting sound to defend itself. If you read the text, you can see all the creative synonyms we came up with. It actually turned into a fun challenge.

    Field trip time: keep your eyes open for disgusting and gross things in nature. Maybe you'll see a mama bird clean out the nest (that is disgusting!) or watch a wasp sting a caterpillar and then roll it into a gooey ball to carry home for hungry larvae. Even if you are limited to your back yard or balcony, there are plenty of revolting, unappetizing, nasty, odious, and yucky things happening all around you - all you have to do is pay attention.

    Melissa is a member of #STEAMTeam2020. You can find out more about her at her website, and make sure to drop by her blog, Celebrate Science, where she talks about writing, nonfiction, and science (of course). Review copy provided by the publisher.

    Wednesday, May 20, 2020

    Explore Outdoors ~ Flowers!

    We had a break in the clouds, so I took my camera for a walk. And I was not disappointed. My neighbors have beautiful gardens.

    Head out (being mindful of safety and distance) and visit some flowers growing in your yard or around the neighborhood. Take photos, draw pictures, write a poem... enjoy their beauty.

    Thursday, May 14, 2020

    Hugh knows what to do....

    Erosion: How Hugh Bennett Saved America's Soil and Ended the Dust Bowl 
    by Darcy Pattison; illus. by Peter Willis
    34 pages; ages 6 - 12
    Mims House, June 2020

    "Earth is a rock with a thin covering of soil. Once, people thought that the soil, or dirt, would be there forever," writes Darcy Pattison.

    But in the 1930s, dust storms threatened to destroy America’s farms. The wind whipped soil away from fields, carrying it in thick, dark clouds from farmland into cities – even Washington DC. But Hugh Bennett knew how to save cropland, and he began teaching farmers about contour plowing and other soil conservation techniques.

    What I like about this book: I like the fun internal rhyme of “Hugh knew what to do.” And the fight to pass a law creating the Soil Conservation Service. Too often we forget that soil is alive, and an integral part of our food production. Darcy includes back matter, too, with a story about the power of a water drip.

    I emailed Darcy last week and she had time to answer One Question

    Archimedes: Is there a take-away from Bennett's work that we can apply to current agricultural or environmental problems?

    Darcy: Bennett was a man who deeply understood the earth, soil, agriculture, water and how everything is interconnected. Our situation today would be familiar to him. For example, across the globe, we have a major shift of water resulting in shortages and droughts in some areas, mixed with larger storms and floods in other areas. We need balance, and that only comes from looking at our environment globally as Bennett did. We need to listen to the scientists, who like Bennett, know what to do. We need to let them take action.

    Bennett also knew how to step into a disaster and bring back balance, starting small. His team set up small projects, and within a couple years, they brought back farmlands from disaster. When I look at our mounting problems, he gives me hope. Hope that even small efforts matter, and hope that balance can be restored.

    Darcy is a member of #STEAMTeam2020. You can find out more about her and the books she writes at her website. Review copy provided by the publisher.

    Wednesday, May 13, 2020

    Explore Outdoors ~ Ways of Looking at a Dandelion

    Some people look at dandelions as weeds. Others look at them as food. Tender, young leaves are delicious in quiche!

    This week look at dandelions in as many different ways as you can:
    from a distance
    close up
    as young plants
    as elders
    with neighbors
    as stems (or leaves or...)
    as food
    as flowers

    For inspiration, check out Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, by Wallace Stevens.

    Friday, May 8, 2020

    Borrowing ideas from Nature

    Engineers get some fantastic ideas from nature. So today I’m sharing two books about engineering and biomimicry.

    Beastly Bionics: Rad Robots, Brilliant Biomimicry, and Incredible Inventions Inspired by Nature
    by Jennifer Swanson
    96 pages; ages 7 - 10
    National Geographic Children's Books, 2020 (releases June 23)

    Bionics is engineering that is inspired by biology and nature. Sometimes engineers copy designs from nature, such as how gecko toes stick to walls or how bees fly. Using their understanding of structure and function of living things to engineer new things is the heart of biomimetics.

    Author Jennifer Swanson fills her book with biomimicking inventions. For each, she shows the animal that inspired the invention, the challenge engineers were trying to overcome, how they created the technology, and cool stuff they added that were not present in the original animal. Bionic inventions have been designed to aid in search and rescue, doing such jobs as finding people trapped in the rubble after an earthquake or other disaster. Body armor and helmet designs protect people working in dangerous condition, and solar scales, LED lighting, and other inventions help people live better lives. Some eco-engineers look to nature for ideas in architecture, such as designing heat-and cool-efficient buildings based on termite dwellings.

    Every now and then, Swanson highlights a creature, showing how engineers have incorporated their adaptations into human technology. From bee robots to sharkskin-inspired swimsuits to “geckogripper” adhesive for use in space, this is one amazing book about engineering, technology, and nature.

    I especially like how Swanson ends, focusing on “bionics in your backyard.” Ideas are all around us, she says. “All you have to do is think, imagine, and engineer it!”

    Last week I sent my internet bees to ask Jennifer One Question:

    Archimedes: Do you have a favorite bionic invention?

    Jennifer: There are so many. But one of the coolest inventions in this book is the Fascinating Frog Skin. Think of the poison dart frog: it keeps its poison on a second skin, under the first one. The poison is only released when the frog feels threatened. Now think of de-icing an airplane. What if an airplane had a double skin like the poison dart frog? It could release chemicals from the second skin through the first one to de-ice the plane... while it is IN the air! How cool is that? It's like making the airplane (sort of) come alive. I love this idea!

    This must be the year for bio-engineering because this month another book was released.

    Nature Did It First: Engineering Through Biomimicry
    by Karen Ansberry; illus. by Jennifer DiRubbio
    32 pages; ages 5-11
    Dawn Publications, 2020

    Have you ever walked your dog through a weedy field and, when you got back home, found burrs stuck on socks, in fur, and in your hair? The tiny hooks on those burrs inspired an engineer to invent Velcro. Using rhyme, author Karen Ansberry introduces the nature behind technology. From burrs to bats, geckos to pill bugs, she shows how seven plants and animals inspired fasteners and adhesives, canes, blades, robots and more. Back matter includes a biomimicry challenge.

    Jennifer is a member of #STEAMTeam2020 and also the creator of the STEM Tuesday blog. You can find out more about her at her website.

    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 publishers.

    Wednesday, May 6, 2020

    Explore Outdoors ~ scavenger hunt!

    This week let's head out on a scavenger hunt to find Green Things:

    •     Find leaves with different shapes: long, short, round, heart-shaped
    •     Find leaves with different edges: scalloped, hairy, fuzzy
    •     Find leaves with different textures: velvety, sharp, prickly, smooth
    •     Find leaves with different colors in them

    How many kinds of green can you find?
    Write a poem, make a collage, or find some other way to share your  Green Things.

    Friday, May 1, 2020

    Be a Friend to Ocean!

    Summer is on its way. It just seems to be taking a … summer vacation? … before it gets here. In the meantime, while we wait for beaches to open, we can visit the ocean through the magic of books. So today’s theme is: Ocean, ecology, animals

    Ocean! Waves for All 
    by Stacy McAnulty; illus. by David Litchfield
    40 pages; ages 4 - 8
    Henry Holt and Co. (BYR), 2020

    Dude, I am OCEAN. You know me by many names: Atlantic, Pacific, Arctic, Indian, Southern….

    But if you look at a globe you realize that salty water flows across the planet as one huge OCEAN. The cool thing about Ocean is that they have no flag, no nationality. Those waves you see from the shore – they are waves for all.

    What I like about this book: I love the fun and sassy way author Stacy McAnulty presents some basic ocean facts. Though, the dude does get a bit braggy at times… mentioning their records (home to Earth’s biggest animal). And I love the way Stacy shows Ocean’s “deep, layered soul” by introducing the different zones of the ocean’s water.

    And yes! There is back matter that includes fun ocean facts, suggestions on how to be a friend to Ocean, a cool new word: thalassophile, and an interview with OCEAN,

    Stacy graciously answered One Question by email earlier this week:

    Archimedes: Since you include a fun Q&A with Ocean at the back of the book, I'd like to pose one of those questions to you: Would you rather swim with a whale or a shark?

    Stacy: A whale, for sure! And a narwhal if I had a choice.

    Extreme Ocean: Amazing Animals, High-Tech Gear, Record-Breaking Depths, and More 
    by Sylvia Earle and Glen Phalen
    112 pages; ages 8 - 12
    National Geographic Children's Books, 2020

     National Geographic Explorer Sylvia Earle takes readers on an adventure from the vibrant ocean shallows to the deep, dark mysteries of the seafloor. She introduces us to unusual creatures and their habitats, tosses in some hands-on experiments, and offers advice on what we can to do save an ocean in trouble.

    What I like about this book: I like how each spread focuses on a specific aspect of the chapter’s topic. In the first chapter, where we learn about oceans, one spread asks “What good is the ocean?” The chapter about life in the ocean includes features on coral reefs, whales, seaweeds, even sharks. Activities include modeling ocean waves, designing a fish, engineering a submersible, and more. And I love the list of 10 things we can all do to save our oceans. Plus there are even more resources at the back!

    Beyond the Books:

    Are you a thalassophile? If so, list the traits that make you one. If not – hey! have you even looked up the definition yet? I mean, how can you not be?

    Go on a field trip into the ocean. If you aren't able to go to an ocean or an aquarium, you can explore the ocean with this virtual field trip.

    No matter where you live, you can do something to be a friend to Ocean. It might be reducing the amount of plastic you use, or cleaning up a beach. Make a list of 3-5 things you can do to keep Ocean healthy. Here’s a list of ideas if you need some brainstorming help.

    Stacy 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. ARCs and review copies provided by the publishers.

    Friday, April 24, 2020

    Books that encourage nature exploration

    I thought it would be fun to end Earth Day week with these two books that celebrate inter-generational exploration of the natural world  - and encourage children and the adults they love to get out and explore nature where they are.

    theme: observation, nature, language

    The Keeper of Wild Words
    by Brooke Smith; illus. by Madeline Kloepper
    62 pages; ages 5 - 8
    Chronicle Books, 2020

     At the end of a long cinder lane, surrounded by meadows and pine trees and sky that wrapped around and back again…

    Brook runs to her grandma’s door. Summer is almost over and Brook wants something to remember. Grandma Mimi is looking for something, too. Wild Words. Words that, when not used, disappear. Words like acorn and dandelion…. So Brook and Mimi go off on a walk to collect wild words. And they take readers with them through blackberry brambles, to the pond, and up to the top of the meadow. All along the way Brook is collecting words to keep and to share with her friends.

    What I like about this book: I love that Grandma Mimi crowns Brook with flowers and bestows upon her the office of The Keeper of Wild Words. And the importance of protecting and celebrating the natural world through language. And the very real loss of words that are disappearing from the English language: apricot, buttercup, drake…

    And yes, there is back matter: a note in which the author explains how she noticed that words about nature were being replaced in the dictionary by other words such as “database” and “voicemail.” Brooke Smith wrote this book to share her love of nature and the need to sustain the language of the natural world. She challenges everyone to become a Keeper of Wild Words and there’s an envelope bound into the back of the book where kids (and their adults) can collect words from the nature surrounding them.

    Under My Tree 
    by Muriel Tallandier; illus. by Mizuho Fujisawa; translation by Sarah Klinger
    32 pages; ages 3 - 8
    Blue Dot Kids Press, 2020

    There once was a tree different from all the rest.

    So, maybe all trees look the same to you: trunk, branches, leaves. But every now and then you run into that special tree. Suzanne discovered her favorite tree while visiting her grandparents for the summer. One day, walking through the forest with her grandmother it began to rain. They took shelter beneath a tree, and when Suzanne heard noises from an owl and her babies, she knew this tree would be a safe place.

    Over the summer Suzanne visits the tree and notices how its leaves blow in the wind, and the insects that live on and around it. She and a friend build a tree fort. And  before she leaves to go home, Suzanne gives her tree a hug.

    What I like about this book: As Suzanne learns about her tree, readers are challenged to discover more about the trees in their neighborhood. Sprinkled throughout the pages are text boxes filled with tree facts (Did You Know?) and hands-on activities (Try This!). It’s a fun introduction to conservation for young children.

    Beyond the Books:

    Did the Oxford Junior Dictionary really dump nature words? Yes. Check out this article to see some of the words deleted from the dictionary and the tech-oriented words put in their place. Which of those "lost" words do you want to keep?

    Become a Keeper of Wild Words. All you need is paper, something to write with, and an envelope or tin to keep them in. If you can go outside, do so, or open your window. What words about nature do you see? Hear? Smell? Feel? My words from today are: phoebe, acorn, and daffodil.

    Go Hug a Tree. No, really – it will make you feel better (check out this article). And while you’re hugging your tree, notice the texture of its trunk, and whether it has leaves or buds, and what insects, birds, or other animals are using the tree.

    Find a way to show how your tree changes over the summer. Will you write haiku? Create collage art? What will you do to show what is different about your tree after each visit?

    Today 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.