Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Explore Outdoors ~ Spring Scavenger Hunt

Let's go on a Spring Scavenger Hunt. Find or Do the following:

smell grass

find a flower

find a green leaf

listen to a bird call

watch a squirrel

follow a bee

hear peepers (or other frogs)

find a butterfly or moth

look for a caterpillar

sounds of geese flying north

smell the earth

listen to the rain 

Feel free to add your own Signs of Spring to this list. Have Fun!

Friday, March 26, 2021

Odd Bods!

 Odd Bods: The World's Unusual Animals 
by Julie Murphy
32 pages; ages 4-9 
Millbrook Press, 2021   

theme: animals, adaptations, nonfiction

Odd Bods don’t look like most animals – and that’s what makes them great!

These animals could sport spikes, have a huge nose, or even feature extra-long fingers. But those things we think are “odd” are the very adaptations that help them survive in their world. Take the thorn bug, for example. Its sharp spike helps it hide on prickly plants. But the desert-dwelling thorny devil’s spikes help it collect water. Cool, eh? And then there’s my favorite: the leafy sea dragon whose frills help it blend in with seaweed waving in the current.

What I like about this book: Main text gets the idea across in straightforward declarative sentences. “Bright red lips can help you to stand out from the crowd!” An outlined text-box provides the context: how this oddity is a helpful adaptation for the animal (in this case, red-lipped batfish). I like the back matter: a map showing where the animals live, and “odd facts” about each animal.

Beyond the Books:

Thorn bugs may look like thorns, but they don’t sound like thorns
!  Find out more here – and listen to the sounds they make. 

Check out these weird animals from this BBC Earth Unplugged video.

Go on an Odd Bod scavenger hunt around your neighborhood or at a zoo. Look for
  • an animal with a spike
  • an animal with a big nose
  • an insect with big eye-spots
  • an insect or animal with horns
  • an animal that is well-disguised
  • an animal with a feature that makes it stand out
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, March 24, 2021

Explore Outdoors ~ Galls!


What are these silvery-gray balls hanging out on stems in the field? They're goldenrod galls. Late last summer, when the goldenrod stems were fresh and green, a gall fly laid an egg - or two or three - at the base of the flowers. In response to the irritation, the goldenrod grew a gall around each larva, which the fly larva turned into a cozy home to spend the winter.

With good luck, the fly larva would pupate and then, this spring it would chew its way out around May. But these galls look like someone pecked a hole in them, looking for a snack. A downy woodpecker or chickadee perhaps? 

Check out this article for more about how gall flies, wasps, and birds are connected with this common "weed" the goldenrod. And then go look for a few galls on dried goldenrod plants along roads and fields, vacant lots, or wherever weeds are bound to thrive in your neighborhood.

Friday, March 19, 2021

A Recipe for Ocean Soup

 Ocean Soup: A Recipe for You, Me, and a Cleaner Sea 
by Meeg Pincus; illus. by Lucy Semple 
32 pages; ages 6-9
Sleeping Bear Press. 2021

theme: ocean, environment, STEM

 From afar the vast ocean appears pure and clean.

But when you look closely you notice bits of plastic. The ocean, it turns out, is a soup of big bits and some so tiny they’re like pieces of confetti or glitter. Meeg Pincus shows how all that plastic got into the ocean, how it gets integrated into the aquatic food chain, and where it ultimately ends up: on our own plate!

What I like about this book: I like the metaphor of a recipe. I love the language of soup: stewing, simmered by sun, congealed. And I like how Meeg shows that many chefs contributed to the current Ocean Soup. What I like best of all is that instead of a recipe for disaster, Meeg shows what kids (and hopefully the adults they live with) can do to help clean up the ocean. It starts with simple things anyone can do and ends with an invitation:

We will need many chefs top help clean up the sea – 
starting here in our kitchen with you, and with me.

Plus there is back matter! A description of the ingredients in Ocean Soup, from plastic bottles to fishing gear. There’s also a recipe for cleaner oceans. And there’s an author’s note in which Meeg writes about growing up near the beaches, but now finds that much of her beach walking time is spent picking up trash. She realized that she needed to change how she used plastic in her own life. So I had to ask her One Question.

Me: Can you share how you settled on the idea to write this book it as a "recipe" and one of the challenges you faced doing that?

: I'd been working on my own plastic use for over a decade when I wrote Ocean Soup and was at the point where I was consistently carrying my cloth bags, metal water bottle, bamboo silverware and paper straws. But I found myself still bringing in too much plastic from other sources and wanted to push myself to do better. I would seek out bulleted lists of "how to go zero waste" and other how-to articles to try to keep improving, and it led me to think about the idea of a "recipe." At first, I wrote the story as a second-person recipe, basically "how to make Ocean Soup," showing how our habits (personal and collective) create microplastic pollution in the oceans… After many months of playing with the manuscript, and putting it aside, I finally came to the recipe being how the grownups (and industries) created "Ocean Soup" and how kids today can step in as "new chefs" with a "new recipe" to help fix it.

Beyond the Books:

How much plastic does your family throw away (or put in the recycling bin) each week? Keep a list of how many plastic bottles, yogurt containers, candy bags and other kinds of plastic you use. How much does it weigh? If this is your normal plastic use, what would it add up to in a month, a year, a lifetime (you might need a calculator for this)?

What specific things can you do to reduce the amount of plastic you bring into your home? Try to come up with one, two, or three good actions you can do. For example: stop using plastic straws.

People love using balloons for parties and celebrations. Come up with some things you can do instead of using balloons.

Meeg is a member of #STEAMTeam2021. 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, March 17, 2021

Explore Outdoors ~ Signs of Spring


the music drops of sap make in a metal bucket
the burble of the creek, unfrozen
geese honking overhead
woodpeckers drumming on dead trees
we can see the grass
laundry hanging on clotheslines
What signs of Spring can you find?

Friday, March 12, 2021

We Live on a Water Planet...

The surface of our planet is 70% water and only 30% land. So why is it called "earth"?

Planet Ocean: Why We All Need a Healthy Ocean 
by Patricia Newman; photos by Annie Crawley
64 pages; ages 9-14
Millbrook Press, 2021

When we look at a globe or a world map, we see five oceans, right? There’s the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, the Indian Ocean… But, says Patricia Newman, those maps are wrong. The truth is that we have only one ocean, and it’s connected around the world. 

So ... a planet with one large, in places very deep Ocean that scientists are just beginning to explore. And diving into that ocean – at least for this book – is ocean explorer Annie Crawley. Thank goodness she takes us with her on her explorations!

We get to explore the “Coral Triangle” area between Malaysia, the Solomon Islands, and the Philippines. It’s an important habitat, but humans have put these coral reefs (and others) in danger as a result of mining, pollution, unsustainable fishing, and too much carbon dissolving into the water. Patricia dives right into the problems and shows how people are restoring the health of the coastlines in the coral triangle.

We also explore the Salish Sea, off the coast of the Pacific Northwest, and examine the impacts of pollution and ocean acidification. There’s even a trip to the Arctic. The last chapter argues that the ocean’s story is our story. From earliest times, Patricia writes, live began in the oceans. And the ”ocean’s richness continues to make our world possible.” She shows how young people can use their voices and art to speak out and change things for the better.

Yes, there IS back matter (you knew there would be). There are tips for visual storytelling, ways to help the ocean, and notes from the author and photographer. My recommendation: definitely “beach reading” for this summer.

Patricia is one of the authors who contributed to the book, Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep. In it, she says that her themes have to light her fire with a personal connection, a narrative, and a WOW! factor. They need to resonate with her connection to the outdoors, and often they touch on injustice of some kind. So I had to ask her One Question:

Me:  Can you share how your personal connection to the ocean inspired this book? How (and where) it led you?

Patricia: I grew up near water. My hometown in Vermont was on Lake Champlain. We sailed in Mallett's Bay. We swam and fished in lakes and rivers. When we visited my relatives in Rhode Island, we body surfed in the Atlantic Ocean, built sandcastles on the beach, and dug for quahogs with my aunt. My friend's family took me crabbing off the Jersey shore. When I moved to California, I windsurfed, snorkeled, and dove. The ocean is part of my childhood and adult memories, and I associate it with many feel-good moments in my life.

The more I learn about the ocean, the more I want to write about it. I focused on marine debris in Plastic, Ahoy!, and trophic cascades in Sea Otter Heroes. In Planet Ocean, I highlight our connection to the sea. Whether we live near the water or not, we breathe ocean with every breath because phytoplankton in the sea makes much of our oxygen. The ocean provides food, recreation, medicine, and even ensures a healthy global economy through trade. I think back to all my memories and I can't help but feel grateful for our ocean and all it provides. The ocean will live on without us, but we can't live without the ocean. I wrote Planet Ocean to make readers more aware of the ocean as a gift.

Patricia is a member of #STEAMTeam2021. You can find out more about her at her website

Want to dive even deeper? National Geographic Children’s Books is releasing this book in a few days. It celebrates the ocean through pictures, poems, and stories highlighting life on the beach, in the reef, underwater forests of kelp and the deep, and even on the icy edge. One of my favorite spreads: Creatures of the Kelp, featuring bat rays and kelp crabs (and more)

Beneath the Waves
by Stephanie Warren Drimmer 
192 pages; ages -up

Thanks for dropping by today. On Monday we’ll be hanging out at Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with other  bloggers. It’s over at Greg Pattridge's blog, Always in the Middle, so hop over to see what other people are reading. Review copies provided by the publishers.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Explore Outdoors ~ look closely


This week, take a closer look at the trees and rocks you pass by on your walks. Many of the trees ringing my back yard have lichen-covered bark. What do you see this week?

Friday, March 5, 2021

The Secret Career of Mary Golda Ross, Cherokee Aerospace Engineer

 This week we continue in our study of Classified and Top Secret true stories.

Classified: The Secret Career of Mary Golda Ross, Cherokee Aerospace Engineer 
by Traci Sorell; illus by Natasha Donovan 
32 pages; ages 7 - 11
Millbrook Press, 2021

theme: biography, STEM, Native American

Young Mary Golda Ross pushed her pencil across the page.

In the 1920s, girls weren’t expected to enjoy – or excel – in math and science. But Mary did. Not only that, she showed other girls they could do it too!

Mary got a degree in math and taught high school for a while. When the US entered World War II, she got a job as a mathematician at Lockheed Aircraft Corporation. She helped solve design problems and enjoyed the challenge of the research. 

And then she wanted to become an engineer so she could design spacecraft! After the war, the Space Race heated up, and Mary was one of the engineers on a super-secret team. Not only did she break barriers as a Cherokee woman in a male-dominated field, she helped get a man on the moon. 

What I like about this book: I love Traci Sorell’s storytelling voice. I love the spirit of determination that comes through the pages. But what I really love is the thread of Cherokee core values that carries us from the first page to the end. The value of education and opportunity for everyone. The value of gaining skills in all areas of life. And especially the values of working cooperatively with others. Traci writes about these values and more in Back Matter.

Traci is one of the authors who contributed to the book, Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep. In it, she says that she tries to focus on making the invisible visible. So I had to ask her One Question:

Me:  Can you share why it is deeply important to you to make visible the too-oft ignored achievements of indigenous people?

photo by: Kelly Downs Photography
In focusing on sharing the accomplishments of Mary Golda Ross – the US’s first Indigenous female engineer and Lockheed Corporation’s first female engineer –  I wanted to shine a light on Mary’s background. Other survey books on women in STEM or hidden figures in the global space race mention that Mary was a Cherokee Nation citizen and her great-great-grandfather, John Ross, was a former Principal Chief. And that’s it. But as Mary tells us in her own words, the Cherokee values she was raised with coupled with her firm foundation in mathematics allowed her to blaze the trail she did. I could see this, and wanted young people to know her identity, the values of her family and community, and how the strong focus on education that the Cherokee Nation had helped her tremendously.

When Mary went into spaces that were primarily occupied by white men at the time, she brought her whole self to the experience and transformed it. I want to encourage the next generation of mathematicians, engineers, and other STEAM-related workers to know Mary. She – and others since her early days – helped pave the way for people doing the work now (there are Native engineers working for NASA today).

Beyond the Books:

Before you build a spacecraft
, you need to learn how things fly through the air. One way to study that is to build a catapult. Here’s a few different catapult ideas.

Write down some of the family and community values you live by. Then learn more about Cherokee community values. Here's one resource.

Traci is a member of #STEAMTeam2021. She is the author of We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga ᎣᏣᎵᎮᎵᎦ  and has another book coming out next month: We Are Still Here! Native American Truths Everyone Should Know. 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, March 3, 2021

Explore Outdoors ~ End of Winter


Warm days and cold nights, wind, rain, and everything in between ... all take a toll on the snow that has blanketed the fields. It's got dimples and waves, lumps and bumps. 

As Earth turns toward spring, what is happening to the landscape outside your front windows?