Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Explore Outdoors ~ Poppies!

 I have a poppy that has steadfastly grown near my garden gate. Every year I watch it, from it's hairy leaves unfolding to the fat buds that eventually open into bright red flowers.

This summer, get to know the lives of the flowers in your neighborhood. 


Friday, June 25, 2021

B-C-D-E... What if we Begin With a Bee?


Begin with a Bee 
by Liza Ketchum, Jacqueline Briggs Martin, & Phyllis Root; illus. by Claudia McGehee 
40 pages; ages 4-9
Univ. Of Minnesota Press, 2021

theme: bees, life cycle, seasons

What’s inside this hole in the ground? One bee.

That bee is a rusty-patched bumble bee, and when she emerges from the ground, she will be ready to start her very own colony. She flies from flower to flower, sipping nectar and collecting pollen. She also searches for a place to raise her young: an old mouse burrow, a mole hole – underground is best. (Though I once discovered a bumble bee building a nest in a forgotten straw bale…)

Bumble bee nests are not like honey bee nests at all! Instead of building a waxy comb of cells, the bumble bee queen crafts wax pots for her eggs.

What I like about this book: I love the fun language. For example, when the eggs hatch:
Are they bees yet?
Little white grubs,
no eyes, no legs, 
eating machines.

photo by Ilona Loser, creative commons

When they go through the pupa stages: Now are they bees? In love the “are we there yet” questions. But finally – finally! – they are bees. And boy, do they have work to do. Clean the nest. Gather food. Care for larvae. Then bee season ends, and the bees die. Except for one bee, snugly hibernating in her hole. Next year’s queen that will start the cycle again.

I also love the illustrations – scratchboard art by Claudia McGehee. It looks like woodcut lines.
And, need I say, there is Back Matter! More information on the endangered rusty-patched bumble bee and a list of then things we can all do to Be a Friend to Bees.

Beyond the Books:

Get to know your local bumble bees. They are usually 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: How big is this bumble bee? What colors of stripes does it have? What time of day is it – some bumble bees are early risers, some work later? 

Follow a bumble bee around. What color of flowers does she visit? How long does she stay on one flower? If you have a watch with a second hand, you can time her. How many flowers does she visit before she flies away home? And are they close together or in a line?

Try writing a story about your bumble bees with a friend or two. Begin with a Bee was written by three authors. “Writing is most often a solitary act,” Jacqueline Briggs Martin wrote on her blog. “We sit with paper and pencil, or computer, by ourselves, and build a story word by word, tear it down, build it again. But there is another kind of writing—collaboration—when we work with friends to create a story that is richer, more textured than what one writer alone might do.” You can read more here.

Draw a picture of one of the bumble bees that visits flowers in your neighborhood. Then check out this video in which Claudia talks about her process in illustrating Begin with a Bee (a 15-minute segment). She did a lot of research, and was surprised to learn just how different bumble bees are from honey bees. She even discovered a rusty-patched bumble bee in her own garden!
Check out this activity workbook (maze, coloring pages, and more) from the publisher.

Some resources for curious bumble bee watchers:
Great Sunflower Project ~
Xerces Society ~

We'll join Perfect Picture Book Friday when it resumes. PPBF is an event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Explore Outdoors ~ Pollinator Week!

 This week (June 21 - 27) is Pollinator Week! The entire week is dedicated to recognizing the unseen - and unsung - heroes of our world: bees, butterflies, flies, beetles, and other insects that pollinate our plants.

 Most people are familiar with honey bees and bumble bees pollinating flowers. But tons of flies do that work as well.

Sometimes you'll find different types of flies hanging out together on an umbel.

I often let part of my yard go wild. Buttercups blossom in the tall grass, and about three weeks ago I noticed a fly hanging out in the buttercups. I think this is a tachinid fly, and I've read that they pollinate buttercups. But this spring is the first time I've seen them - or at least paid attention to what the flies buzzing around me are doing.

Learn more about pollinator conservation over at the XERCES Society - and what you can to do save the bees, flies, and other insect pollinators.

And on Friday, join me for a look at Begin With a Bee, a new picture book about the rusty-patched bumble bee.

Friday, June 18, 2021

We Came Out of the Blue

Out of the Blue: How Animals Evolved from Prehistoric Seas 
by Elizabeth Shreeve; illus. by Frann Preston-Gannon
32 pages; ages 6-9
Candlewick, 2021

theme: prehistoric life, evolution, STEM

Life began in the vast empty sea, when Earth was young.

From single-celled microbes to dinosaurs and beyond, this book takes readers on a fantastic journey. First stop: the Edicaran period, 546 to 635 million years ago. Back then, the sea was filled with “strange and squishy creatures.” At the end of that period there was an explosion of diversity. Millions of years passed, through another couple periods and then: fish! insects! mollusks! It is the Devonian period (359-419 million years ago).

What I like about this book: It is wonderful storytelling about life, the universe, and extinction after extinction. And yet, some of those early animals survived to populate the land and change. I love the artwork, too.

This Friday is the start of Cephalopod Week, where folks celebrate cuttlefish, octopuses, and squid, so I had to ask Elizabeth One Question: What is your favorite cephalopod?
Elizabeth: Oh, this is a tough choice but I’ve got to say…ammonites! These amazing mollusks emerged over 400 million years ago, made it through the Permian Extinction 252 million years ago when 96% of marine species disappeared (phew!), and exploded into many different sizes and shapes during the Triassic. Ammonites swam backwards using their tentacles for jet propulsion, a seemingly inefficient technique that kept them zooming around for around 350 million years.

In fact, ammonites (ammonoids) are one of the most successful animals of all time. Over 10,000 different species once inhabited Earth’s oceans, and their distinctive shapes provide important index fossils wherever oceans once existed. Some were shaped like ice cream cones or paper clips, but most were spiral. These were the cinnamon buns of the prehistoric seas! Some even had spikes! Ammonites disappeared in the same extinction that wiped out non-avian dinosaurs 66 million years ago. But their fabulous cephalopod relatives live on, including squid, octopuses, and cuttlefish.

Beyond the Books:

Learn more about the geologic time scale here.  

Check out Elizabeth’s video introducing Out of the Blue and why she wrote it here. She’s made a series of videos about different creatures, from ancient to modern times. You can learn about the many creatures featured in her book at her collection of videos.

Learn more about cephalopods over at the Science Friday website. There are links to virtual tours and even a movie night - all happening over the next few days.

Elizabeth 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, June 16, 2021

Explore Outdoors ~ Shagbark hickory flowers


For a short time in the spring (late May through early June) it looks like someone has decorated the twigs of our hickory tree with green tinsel. These are the flowers on our shagbark hickory tree. For all the years I've watched our tree, I haven't paid much attention to the flowers. And yet I know they're there because every fall we've got hickory nuts. Turns out that shagbark hickories are monoecious - that means they have male flowers (the long catkins) and female flowers (tiny flowers at end of the twig). They depend on the wind for pollination.

You know what else is monoecious? Cucumbers, summer squash, melons, and pumpkin plants. If you grow any of those, take a look at their flowers this summer and see if you can tell which ones are the female flowers and which ones are the male flowers. 

Friday, June 11, 2021

There is Stuff Between the Stars!

Have you ever looked at the night sky and wondered what's between those stars? You aren't the only one.

theme: space, women in science, STEM

The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe 
by Sandra Nickel, illus. by Aimée Sicuro 
48 pages; ages 6-9
Harry N. Abrams, 2021

Vera always liked looking at the night sky.

She loved watching how the stars move, and started studying maps of the night sky. She even built her own telescope, using a lens and a cardboard tube. When she went to college, she wanted to learn more about the universe – but young women weren’t welcomed into the world of astronomy. That didn’t stop her from learning about the stars, and it didn’t stop her from studying on her own.

What I like about this book: Vera is persistent. We see her ask questions: do galaxies rotate around the center of the universe like the constellations circle the North Star? How do stars at the edge of the galaxy move? And could she create a women’s bathroom at the observatory where she worked simply by taping a skirt to the figure on the door? Over time, the male astronomers begin to accept Vera’s idea that dark matter stretched between the stars.

Also – there is Back Matter! The author’s note contains more info about Vera Rubin and how galaxies move. There’s a timeline of Vera’s life and a selected bibliography for curious young astronomers who want to learn more.

Beyond the Book:

Observe the night sky.
What do you notice? How does it change from one month to the next, from early night to late night? Do the constellations rotate around the North Star?

Learn more about Dark Matter over at NASA’s Space Place.

Sandra Nickel 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 websiteReview copy provided by Blue Slip Media.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Explore Outdoors ~ Mayapples


One corner of my yard lies under dappled shade of maples and cottonwoods. A colony of mayapples lives there, and has thrived (and even grown) over the years. Mayapples are native to our area, so I am always delighted to see them bloom and grow.

In early spring, the leaves push up, like folded umbrellas. Then they open, two large, deeply lobed, leaves per stem. Eventually a white flower blooms - tucked in the axil of the leaves. Its petals look waxy, accented by the yellow stamens. The best way to get a good look is to lay on your tummy - or be a very small animal. Eventually they produce a small lemon-shaped fruit - a tasty treat for box turtles and other wildlife.

This week, keep your eyes peeled for:
  • white flowers
  • hidden flowers
  • plants with umbrella-leaves
  • flowers with lots of stamens

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Explore Outdoors ~ Maple seeds have wings


Maple samaras are seeds with papery wings. When I was a kid, we used to collect maple samaras to play with. Some were big, and when you opened up one of the seeds, they were sticky - sticky enough to put them on our noses and pretend we were rhinoceroses. A better game was whirlybirds. The samara is perfectly designed to helicopter from a tree to a distant location. That paper wing helps it fly, so it can find a place to grow beyond the shade of its parent tree. They are built for seed dispersal.

When you find some maple or ash samaras, drop them from a height and measure how far they travel. Or toss them in the air and watch them twirl their way down.

If you're adventurous, try snacking on maple seeds. They're a bit bitter, but the folks over at Eat the Weeds suggest leaching them before roasting.