Friday, January 29, 2021

Exploring the Elements

Dates are closer than they look on the calendar. For the past few months I’ve known that my debut picture book, 13 Ways to Eat a Fly (illustrated by David Clark) releases mid-February. Which sounds so far away. Except it’s only two and a half weeks from now… While it’s hard to think about flies in the dead of winter, longer days are coming and soon those busy buzzy (sometimes) bothersome flies will make their presence known.

Meanwhile, I want to share this fun book about elements. If I’d had a book like this in school, I think I would have a better handle on chemistry. 

Exploring the Elements: A Complete Guide to the Periodic Table 
by Isabel Thomas; illus. by Sara Gillingham 
224 pages; ages 8-12
Phaidon Press, 2020

I was drawn to this book by the cover: bright graphics that carry into the interior. You know what’s cool? The table of contents is set up like a periodic table.

“Elements are the building blocks of everything, from distant stars to the ground under your feet, from the pages of this book to the person reading it,” writes Isabel Thomas. Imagine that! Everything in the universe made up of 92 basic ingredients!

An introduction explains atoms, the categories of the periodic table, where various elements are found, and “how to use this book” – similar to how field guides are set up. Each chapter includes a collection of elements that have things in common. Sometimes those categories align with the groups of the periodic table. Other times, not so much. 

Each entry provides the atomic number of the element. (That’s the number of protons in the atoms of that element, for those of you that have forgotten.) It shows the element’s symbol, shows its position in the periodic table, and provides icons that let you know some key facts at a glance. Then it lists important properties, tells where the element is found in nature, and whether it’s found in the human body. 

Down in the right-hand corner there’s a drawing showing how electrons are arranged. An “about section tells all about the element, and the “secret” box tells about the secrets of chemistry and physics that cause the element to behave the way it does. In addition, each entry also includes a gallery of “forms and uses” – from paint to gems to medicine.

To help make it easy to find stuff, each chapter is color-coded. So Alkali Metals have green pages, Transition Metals are goldenrod, and Metalloids are purple. At the back there’s plenty of historical stuff and reference tables.

And if you take the book jacket off, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find that the inside is a periodic table. So you can tape it to the wall above your desk for easy reference and make a new book jacket out of a brown paper bag (assuming you can get those anymore).

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, January 27, 2021

Explore Outdoors ~ deserted domicile

 Once the leaves are gone I find all sorts of interesting things in and around the forsythia. This time, a tiny nest that could easily fit in the palm of my hand. I love the mix of textures: twigs, melting-refreezing snow, bumpy bark. When I look up into the taller trees, I find squirrel nests.

What treasures do you find in the trees and shrubs in your neighborhood? Look up. Look in. Explore the colors and textures.

Friday, January 22, 2021

How's the Weather where you are?

I have a thermometer on the back porch. Every morning I pull on my fuzzy boots, jacket, hat, scarf, mittens… and brave the winter cold to check it. One side measures the minimum – how cold it got over night (18? Brrrrr!). The other side measures the maximum – how warm it got yesterday (only 28? Really?). Then I race back inside and grab a cup of coffee and debate whether it’s going to be a go-outside-and-walk day, or a snuggle-under-the-quilt-and-read day. 

What's the Weather? (What, Why, or Where?)
32 pages; ages 4-8
Arbordale Publishing, 2020

theme: weather, earth science

Weather is all around us – every day, all day. It can change from minute to minute, hour to hour, and day to day.

One of my favorite seasons to weather-watch is winter because there are so many things to see. Depending on how cold the air is, snow can float down like feathers, or sift down like sand. Frozen pellets tap and rattle against windows, and a breeze on a quiet day can make beech leaves whisper. 

What I like about this book: Each spread shows some aspect of weather and season, and poses a question to explore. From clouds to precipitation to severe weather, this book introduces young children to what’s happening in the atmosphere outside. Back matter includes tips for making weather observations, a cloud identification chart, and the difference between weather and climate.

Beyond the Book:

What does the sky look like today? Go outside and look up. If there are clouds, what do they look like? How much of the sky do they cover?

Paint the sky. Well, not the real sky, but try to find a color that matches the sky and paint a swatch in your nature notebook. Do this over a few months and see what you notice. I’ve noticed that my winter sky has a flatter, darker shade of blue than spring and summer. If you don’t have paints, then try to find the color using a color chart. Here's one... you might even find paint chips at the hardware store that match sky colors.

If you have a thermometer, make a chart of daily temperatures over the season. Look at the thermometer at the same time each day. (Make sure your thermometer is out of direct sunlight.)

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, January 20, 2021

Explore Outdoors ~ the last of the leaves


The last leaves hang on by the merest of threads. It's a tenuous hold, as they whisper and rattle in the breeze. One by one they let go and twirl their way from branch to earth - or, as the case with some of these oak leaves last week - glide into a bramble of stems.

Beech leaves hang on for months, other leaves only a few weeks. What leaves are still clinging to the trees in your neighborhood?

When they finally let go and fly, what sort of dance do they do across the sky?

Friday, January 15, 2021

Starting the Year with Animals

Welcome back to a new year of STEAM books and activities, and Wednesday nature breaks. This will be a busy year for me because I am working on another book full of science and fun for kids. And, next month my debut picture book is released. It features flies (because who doesn’t love bugs?) – and the predators that snack on them.

I hope you had the chance to join Susan Stockdale at the Natural History museum last Saturday. She talked about animals with stripes. Today I’m sharing books that introduce more animals and their adaptations.

themes: animals, homes, communication

Animal Homes 
by Mary Holland (Author)
32 pages; ages 5-9
Arbordale Publishing, 2020

Animals use their homes for shelter and for raising their young.

Some animal homes are easy to see, and others are hidden for protection. Some animals build their own homes, while others move into abandoned burrows or take advantage of natural caves and crevices. Some homes are one-room affairs; others branch into separate rooms. Some animals use natural materials for building, and some make their own materials – ever seen a bubble-house?

What I like about this book: Each spread features an animal and information about its home. Featured animals include squirrels, woodpeckers, beavers, wasps, caterpillars, spittlebugs, bears, woodchucks, and foxes. I may have missed a couple! Mary Holland’s photos are crisp and engaging. And the back matter includes extra facts and a matching game.

What's This Tail Saying? 
by Carolyn Combs; illus. by Cathy Morrison 
32 pages; ages 4-8
Dawn Publications, 2020

Animal tails are talking. Can you guess what they are saying?

From skinks to skunks, rattlesnakes to raccoons, Carolyn Coombs shows how a dozen animals use their tails to communicate. Sometimes it’s a warning, sometimes it’s an invitation to play.

What I like about this book: On one page there’s a clue: an illustration of a tail with descriptive words. Switch Twitch ~ what’s that tail saying? Take a guess, then turn the page to find out if you’re right. Back matter includes more information for each animal featured and a list of STEAM activities.

Beyond the Books:

Build an animal home! If you’re outside, use natural features and/or natural materials to construct a home for an animal – or for yourself. How does your home hold up to the elements?
If you’re stuck inside on a cold or rainy day, build a home out of things you find around the house. What sort of purpose does your home serve? (my blanket fort is a great place to read!)

Design an animal tail for yourself. What would it look like? How would it work? Would it use noise or color or movement to send messages? And what sort of messages could you send using your tail? 

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, January 13, 2021

Explore Outdoors ~ Longer Days Coming?


The thing about the Winter Solstice is this: from here on out the days will be lengthening. And yet, it is such a slow process! On our hill, the sun falls to the horizon around 4:30 in the afternoon. Down in the valley they lose it an hour sooner. The arc is shorter - rising in the southeast, setting in the southwest.

If you have a window facing the east, you can tape bits of paper to show where the sun rises each week. You can do this on a west window to trace where it sets. Other things you might want to keep track of: 

  • time sun rises and sets over your horizon line
  • temperature
  • color of the sky at different times of the day
  • cloudy or clear?
  • the noises you hear during the day 
What do you discover as we begin the journey to spring?

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Saturday Online Science & Nature Program


 This Saturday, January 9 the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History is hosting a Science & Nature program for families. The 45-minute long program begins at 11 am Eastern time.

Join museum educators as they share science skill-building activities and ways to explore the natural world as well as collections.

Author-illustrator Susan Stockdale joins the program to read her book, Stripes of All Types. She will talk about how studying natural history informs her books and share the process she uses to develop her books. Then kids of all ages will have a chance to create their own artwork to share what they know about their favorite animal.

Find out more and sign up at the Smithsonian website 

Check out my interview with Susan Stockdale over at Sally's Bookshelf. And if you get a chance, grab a copy of the book to read because it's really, really fun.

Find out more about Susan Stockdale at her website

See you Saturday at the museum!