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.