Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Explore Outdoors ~ Goodbye Summer


Last week was the official beginning of fall ~ but sometimes it doesn't feel like fall until we're raking the leaves and pulling our sweaters out from the storage bin.

Signs that summer is over:

  • flowers going to seed
  • petals drying and curling
  • leaves blowing in the wind
  • woolly bears hiking across the sidewalk
  • sun rises later and sets earlier

What are the signs of fall you see in your neighborhood?

Friday, September 24, 2021

What's in Your Pocket?

 My dad is a rock collector. I remember so many summer outings spent at a fossil dig or hiking up a mountain to find one particular kind of stone. Camping adventures were involved. And once home, the rocks were put in boxes or jars and stacked on shelves in his study. So when I heard about this book, I knew I had to check it out. 

What's in Your Pocket?: Collecting Nature's Treasures
by Heather L. Montgomery; illus. by Maribel Lechuga 
48 pages; ages 4-8
Charlesbridge, 2021

theme: curiosity, STEM, biography

When you explore the great outdoors and find something strange and wonderful, do you put it in your pocket?

Scientists do. Scientists collect things so they can observe them more closely. They sort and classify their collections ~ and some of continue collecting through their adult live, haring off on expeditions to add to their – and our - knowledge. In this book, Heather Montgomery shares the stories of nine scientists who, as kids, explored the great outdoors and collected all sorts of treasures, from seedpods to fossils to worms and more!

We meet George Washington Carver, William Beebe, Jane Goodall, and Charles Darwin. We explore alongside a canopy scientist, a herpetologist, an entomologist. Remember Mary Anning? She’s in this book, as is Bonnie Lei, possibly the youngest of the contemporary scientists included.

What I like about this book: I like how Heather begins with something we all have done as kids ~ put something in our pocket to bring home. A treasure to remind us of our day at the beach, a pinecone, nut, stone, flower ... a mouse skull that we want to learn more about. I like how she expands that into a collection, showing how scientists learn through studying collections. And how collecting something might inspire questions that lead to discovery.

I also like the back matter. Maribel Lechuga shares the importance of observation for both scientists and illustrators. And Heather explains more about collecting and offers some guidelines on how to respect nature while collecting samples to study. 

It’s always fun to talk to Heather. But this time I had only One Question for her:

me: What sorts of things have you been carrying about in your pockets lately?

Heather: These are things I've carried in my pockets most recently: 
Twisty twigs
Squishy seed pods
Rocks that roll

It might not be easy to see a pattern in those objects until you learn that I have four young cats. My eyes are seeking things to keep curious cats busy.

I’m also collecting photos and journal drawings of figs and forests and waterfalls. And every once in a while, there’s a bizarre body part that I just have to harvest from a poor animal who lost its life on the side of the road.

Beyond the Books:

What sorts of things from nature do you bring home in your pockets

Do you have a collection of shells or rocks or leaves or insects? How might you go about sorting them? Here’s something Heather wrote about creating a sorting key.

Here are some other ways of “collecting” things from nature without bringing them home:
taking photos
drawing pictures
writing detailed notes
making a recording of sounds 

 You can find out more about Heather  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, September 22, 2021

Explore Outdoors ~ Who is Hiding in the Bok Choy?



A couple weeks ago I was weeding the garden and I noticed a web across the top of the bok choy. A funnel web - you can see the opening of the web forming a funnel down the curvature of the leaf. The spider hides inside the funnel. When an insect lands on the web, the spider will run out and check to see if it's prey. If it is, the spider bites it and the fast-acting venom kills the insect within a couple seconds. Then the spider drags the prey down the funnel before eating. Not only does the funnel affords protection for the spider, but dining indoors prevents other insects from recognizing potential danger.

Funnel spiders are shy, so if you want to get a good look here's how: stand so that the sun is in front of you - you don't want your shadow to scare the spider; and look closely without touching the web.

You can find out more about funnel web weavers here at the Bug Guide. You can find their webs on grass, along hedges, and in the garden. Do you have any in your neighborhood?

Friday, September 17, 2021

Let's Do the Robo-Motion!

Robo-Motion: Robots That Move Like Animals 
by Linda Zajac 
32 pages; ages 4-9
Millbrook Press, 2021

theme: Engineering, animals, STEM

Animals are motion masters. They skitter, scuttle, grip, glide, spring, cling, and more.

In this book, Linda Zajac shows a diversity of robots that mimic animal movements. Octopus-inspired arms could help doctors perform surgeries, hummingbird robots are perfect for spy missions in cities, and the sticky feet of a gecko-bot make it perfect for repairing a spacecraft.

What I like about this book: I like the way each spread begins with motion. For example: “Swoop like a bat, flapping webbed wings.” Verbs highlight the actions that we will see the robot perform. In this case it’s a drone with flexible bat-inspired wings that allow it to dart and turn in flight. I like that there is a photo of the creature on one page, and the facing page has a photo of the robot – so readers can compare the two. And I really like that Linda ends with a challenge for young readers to take a close look at animals around them because the next discovery could be … YOURS! Back matter includes notes about “blueprints from nature” and a glossary.

This book pares down the technical stuff to the basics so well that I knew I just had to ask Linda One Question:

me: Can you share how you came to the structure for this book, presenting the movements of the animal and then how the robot uses those traits to do work for people?

Linda: That’s a great question. Since I was writing about biomimicry, specifically animal locomotion, I knew I wanted the book to include animals, robots, and motion. I considered different structures. I tried to turn it into a counting book and an alphabet book, but it felt like I was forcing the information into a format that didn’t quite work. Since both robots and animals are high-interest subjects, I liked the idea of giving them equal weight. To do this, I needed a line that worked for both, like Hannah Holt's text in The Diamond and the Boy. My first draft was verbose. I eventually pared those lines down to be the simple ones that appear in the book.

When I first sent it out, all the robot information was in the back matter. I was fortunate that my first editorial contact gave me a personal response. She thought the text was too sparse. It was a simple matter to move the robot info out of the back matter and into the main text.

Thanks, Linda! . 

Beyond the Books:

Observe an animal for a few minutes. Make a list of words that describe how it moves. Try moving like the animal moves. Then design a robot that could make those kinds of motions.

Build a scribble bot. All you need are some markers, a cup, and a motor – and lots of tape. Here's how to make it.

Check out these other books about robots and biomimicry here: two books about engineering and biomimicryEverything Robotics, and Cool Robots series

Linda is a member of #STEAMTeam2021. You can find out more about her at her blog.

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, September 15, 2021

Explore Outdoors ~ at night


This week, explore your backyard at night. Or, if you are able to, take a walk around a park after the sun sets. The world is different. It sounds different, it feels different - it even smells different. Quiet rustles in the grass sound louder. Different animals are out and about: bats, moths, and around here, coyotes.

Write down the things you notice at night. Then, if you have the opportunity, go back in the daytime and write down what you notice. 

Need inspiration? Check out this post by my friend and colleague, Leslie Collin Tribble.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Armchair Space Camp

 Here are three books that will take you out of your daily orbit and send you on an adventure. And over at Sally's Bookshelf, I'm sharing a fun picture book about one of the rovers: Good Night, Oppy!

themes: nonfiction, space, Mars

Mars Is: Stark Slopes, Silvery Snow, and Startling Surprises 
by Suzanne Slade 
48 pages; ages 6-10 
‎Peachtree, 2021

People have wondered about the mysterious planet of Mars for centuries.

Scientists built a powerful camera and sent it on a journey to take photos of Mars. The photos it sent back to Earth showed us that Mars is buried bedrock, bubbling gas, and mighty mesas. But it is so much more. 

What I like about this book: Each page highlights a feature of the Martian landscape, with a stunning photo spread and details about the landscape feature. Readers are treated to diverse and astonishing landscapes, from sandy, windswept dunes to steep cliffs and canyons. But on Mars, the landscape isn’t static. It is shifting, rearranging, and constantly changing.

Back matter explains the HiRISE camera mission, a sophisticated bit of technology that is still orbiting Mars and sending back photos. This is a perfect book for young people who are following NASA’s Mars Exploration Program and awaiting further discoveries on the Red Planet.

Beyond: Discoveries from the Outer Reaches of Space 
by Miranda Paul; illus. by Sija Hong 
32 pages; ages 5-9
Millbrook Press, 2021

We know much about the mountains and oceans of Earth, spinning with us around the flaring Sun.

We know some things about the moon and asteroids, and we’ve swooped by Jupiter and Neptune. But we don’t know much about the outer reaches of space. In this book, Miranda Paul pulls us out of our comfy orbit, past the Kuiper belt, through the icy, comet-throwing Oort cloud and into “dark realms where gemstones fall from the sky.”

Along the way we pass dying nebulae, skirt the dangers of a black hole, and maybe, just maybe reach the edge of our known, observable universe

What I like about this book:
The poetic language on each page just draws you into the sense of exploration. In the back matter, Miranda explains the science behind each poem. She also provides an extended return address for anyone who would mail a letter to another world (in this or any other universe), and tells how long it would take for that letter to be delivered at the speed of light. Though, she warns, Space Mail does not guarantee delivery.

Rocket Science: A Beginner’s Guide to the Fundamentals of Spaceflight 
by Andrew Rader; illus. by Galen Frazer 
64 pages; ages 10 - 14
‎Candlewick, 2020

Author Andrew Rader is an aerospace engineer, so he knows his rocket science. He opens the book with an explanation of gravity – which is good, because so many of us depend on gravity to keep our planet orbiting around the sun. After a quick introduction to the solar system, it dives into the meat of the material: how rocket engines work, orbits, guidance and navigation. We learn how to get to the moon – and to Mars – and then look at some of the space vehicles headed out beyond the asteroid belt. A fun map at the back shows where “selected spacecraft” are located in our Solar System. A great reference so we don’t crash into them as we blast towards the outer reaches of space… There’s also a glossary and some websites for further exploration.

Beyond the Books:

Write a poem about a planet or something else in space. Or write about living on an alien planet. If you need inspiration, here’s photos of places on Earth that look otherworldly.

Check out images from Mars  at the NASA website.

Try one of the activities posted at the NASA Space Place for kids

Head over to Sally's Bookshelf for a fun new book about the Mars rover, Opportunity ~ and lots more activities. Today we're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday. It’s a wonderful gathering where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copies provided by the publishers.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Explore Outdoors ~ Watching the Season Change


Last week I noticed a splash of red on my lawn (well, the mix of plantain and clovers and grass that pass for a lawn). It was ... gasp! a RED leaf!

Wait! It's too early for fall to come! And then I looked up at the trees. This was not the only leaf shedding its summer greens. The next morning a flock of geese honked loudly as they flew overhead, further punctuating the certain demise of summer.

Over the next two weeks, take a moment to notice what changes are happening in nature around you as Earth tilts towards the autumnal equinox.

  • have the daytime and night temperatures changed?
  • what do you notice about the bird songs you're hearing?
  • what color are the flowers along roadsides and edges of parks?
  • does the air smell different?
  • check for a new constellation in the sky.
  • do you see flocks of birds or butterflies heading south?

Friday, September 3, 2021

Mary Anning's Curiosities

I love fossils! I have an ammonite on my desk, and I think my first book was my dad’s geology textbook – it was filled with black-and-white photos and drawings fossils and dinosaurs. So I’ve been wanting to read this book a long, long time.

Dinosaur Lady: The Daring Discoveries of Mary Anning, the First Paleontologist 
by Linda Skeers; illus. by Marta Álvarez Miguéns 
40 pages; ages 4-8
Sourcebooks Explore, 2020

theme: fossils, biography, nonfiction

Mary Anning dodged high tides and crashing waves to scout the beach near her hometown of Lyme Regis, England.

Basket in hand, Mary is searching for fossils ~ “curiosities” that people will pay money for. Then one morning, she and her brother saw bone with an eye socket. They chiseled away dirt and stone, exposing a skull! Mary wanted to find the creature’s body so she continued searching. Day after day. Week after week. Month after month.

What I like about this book: Mary Anning is curious about her curiosities. She wants to know more, so she studies papers, draws the fossils she finds, and even cuts some open. People think these fossils are of Monsters! But Mary isn’t afraid – she keeps hunting for more. 
I like how author Linda Skeers depicts Mary and the society she lives in. Even as scientists study her fossils, they refuse to admit her to the Geological Society of London. Women are NOT ALLOWED. 

There is great back matter, too. “Bone Bits and Fossil Facts” is filled with tidbits of info and definitions of some of the words in the book. And there’s a wonderful timeline

Beyond the Books:

Find out more about Mary Anning at the Natural History Museum in London.

Make your own fossils. Here’s how (from PBS). And here’s 25 more fun fossil activities.

Learn more about ichthyosaurs in this National Geographic video.

Today we're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday, an event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review from library copy.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Explore Outdoors ~ Water Droplet Magnifier


Yesterday morning I was out in the garden watching bees, and I happened to notice water droplets clinging to the hairy lupine leaves. When I looked closer, I could see how the droplet in the center worked as a magnifier. Got me thinking about times when I've dripped water onto a page of the New Yorker, and how the print was magnified.

Water droplets make fine magnifiers - and if you took a trip in the Way-Back machine you would find some scientists using water droplets as microscopes. So why not make your own water-droplet magnifier? All you need is water and some plastic. You can use clear plastic from an old soda bottle or even hard plastic that was used in packaging for batteries or something.

Here's some fun experiments from Scientific American.

And here's a video, with an idea of how to use a water droplet to turn your cell phone camera into a macro lens.

Have fun!