Friday, October 29, 2021

Canyons, Grand and Small

 I grew up hiking canyons in the southwest: the Grand Canyon, Zions, Bryce Canyon, and all the mountain canyons our family could hike along the Wasatch front. Now I live in the east – and guess what! There are canyons here, too. Like this one, at Taughannock State Park

So I was eager to read Kate’s book…

Over and Under the Canyon 
by Kate Messner; illus. by Christopher Silas Neal 
56 pages; ages 5-8
Chronicle Books, 2021  

theme: animals, desert, nature

High above, Swainson’s hawks soar, circling in the morning-blue sky.

Mom and kid are off on a hike – down, down, down into the magical world of a desert canyon. “What’s down there?” the kid asks. It’s a world of its own, mom replies. There are geckos and snakes, rabbits and roadrunners, kit foxes and cactus wrens.

What I like about this book: I love the adventure of exploring a new place (even if through the pages of a book). And I love the diversity of animal and plant life Kate Messner highlights. But even more, I love the verbs she uses: hawks soar and circle; stones crunch underfoot; beetles skitter. An eagle swoops. A gecko scoots. Mom and the kid scramble and squeeze over and around rocks. And I love that there is Back Matter: an author’s note about where this canyon is, and notes about the plants and animals featured in the book.

Beyond the Books:

Find out where there are canyons near you. Here are some of the more well-known canyons in the United States. But you might find a small, secret canyon in your neck of the woods.

Find out more about desert plants and animals. Here’s one resource to get you started.

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.

Friday, October 22, 2021

What do Animals Do at Night?

This week I’m sharing two more books about critters at night. One is about animals that are active at night, and the other is about animals that sleep at night.

theme: animals, night, bedtime stories

Night Creatures: Animals That Swoop, Crawl, and Creep while You Sleep 
by Rebecca E. Hirsch; illus. by Sonia Possentini 
32 pages; ages 5-10
Millbrook Press, 2021  

A cool night breeze blows softly on your face as night creatures wake in quiet dens and dusky nooks.

Fireflies flicker, night creatures crouch and creep, some swoop and others pounce. Page by page, readers meet denizens of the night world.

What I like about this book: Verbs! These night critters are active. They prowl for food, they squish in muck, they flee from predators, or feast on berries. I like that the story begins with dusk and ends with dawn. And I like the diversity of animals, from owl to skunk, frog to bat. Plus there is Back Matter (which, by now, you know I am a big fan of). Back matter provides more information about each animal introduced in the book. It’s also where we meet cool words, such as “crepuscular” ~ a very fun word to say. Try it: kreh-PUSS-ku-ler.

Where Do Creatures Sleep at Night? 
by Steven J. Simmons; illus. by Ruth Harper 
32 pages; ages 3-7
Charlesbridge, 2021  (releases 10/26)

We are used to seeing creatures by day. 
But where at night do you think they stay?

This book shows where animals sleep at night on and around a farm. Where do squirrels and birds sleep? What about frogs and butterflies? And does the goldfish ever sleep?

What I like about this book: Each spread shows an animal active during the day on one page, and resting at night on the facing page ~ including the very active kids who play on the farm. Definitely a “good night, sleep tight” read before bedtime.

Beyond the Books:

Get to know the night time animals in your neighborhood. Find a place where you can safely observe the wild night-life: a backyard, a neighborhood park, or a balcony. What animal sounds do you hear? Maybe quiet rustles in the leaves, or croaks, buzzes, barks. What animals do you see? Around here we see bats, tree frogs, beetles, and once a deer walking down main street!

Get to know the day-active animals in your neighborhood. Where do you think they go at night? We discovered a squirrel’s drey, high in the branches of one of our trees. Find out more about squirrel dreys here.

If you were a wild animal, where would you sleep? What sort of safe and cozy nest would you construct? 

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, October 20, 2021

Explore Outdoors ~ Golden Leaves


October leaves
turn sunlight into gold ~
This week, go leaf-looking. Some trees may be turning brilliant colors; others may not change colors until later in the fall. 
  • Collect leaves of different colors.
  • Notice their shapes.
  • Look at their edges. Are they smooth? Jagged?
  • Grab a crayon and piece of paper and make a leaf rubbing. 
  • Press some leaves. 
  • Write a haiku or other poem about leaves you see.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Nature is Always Changing

Night Becomes Day: Changes in Nature 
by Cynthia Argentine 
32 pages; ages 5-8 
Millbrook Press, 2021

theme: change, nature

Night becomes day / Flower becomes fruit. Nature is always at work, transforming.

Some changes are small. Some are big, like the creation of a canyon from years of river erosion. Some changes take place quickly, while others take weeks, months, or years. Some changes bring about a burst of color; other changes happen deep within the earth, but no matter where they happen or how long they take, they transform our environment.

What I like about this book: I like how Cynthia gently invites readers to think about change, and leads them to notice the changes that are taking place in the world around them. I like how she compares and contrasts change, using opposites and plenty of verbs. Colorful photos highlight the beauty and transformative power of the changes she writes about. And There Is Back Matter! Curious naturalists of all ages can dive deeper into the beaches and canyons, deserts and forests, and even snowflakes that Cynthia introduces in the text.

Cynthia was kind enough to answer One Question about her book:

Me: This book is about how things in nature are transformed over time. Can you tell us how your book transformed over time, from initial draft to final copy?

Cynthia: Right from the beginning, I structured the book around six pairs of opposite changes—small/big, quick/slow, hot/cold, and so on—choosing examples for each pair from the same branch of science. I used a beach as my first example of change, since beaches were a favorite place for me as a child, and a bit magical. I wanted to end the book with something else that seems magical, so I chose the imagery of a delicate, starry snowflake drifting down. Over time, the book transformed and half of the pairs of opposites changed! My editor at Millbrook Press, Carol Hinz, suggested I use “science-y” terms for all the pairs. This would make them more consistent and allow tighter curricular connections. My original “familiar/mysterious” became “above/below,” while still describing the same transformations—clouds and caves. 

The story’s opening also changed. Originally, I had: “Every morning, we wake to a world of change, where nature is the hidden transformer.” As I experimented with different ways into the story, I latched onto the cyclical quality of change. I thought of the rhythm of day and night, and of the life cycles of common plants. I liked that I could describe both of those with very few words: “Night becomes day. Flower becomes fruit. Nature is always at work, transforming.” Once I had that opening, I knew I wanted to reverse the order to close the book, mimicking the cycles themselves. The book ends as fruit becomes flower, and day becomes night. And I nodded to my original lead in my final line: “What wonders will tomorrow bring?”

Beyond the Books:
As we head toward winter (here in the northern hemisphere) there are many changes in nature surrounding us. This week, take time to notice some of those changes. What do you notice about:
  • plants growing in your neighborhood
  • clouds and weather
  • rocks, sidewalks, and roads
  • places where water collects
  • raindrops and snowflakes
  • the kinds of birds and insects you see
Check out Cynthia’s interview with Susanna Leonard Hill to learn more about how she wrote this book. Here’s the link.

Cynthia 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, October 13, 2021

Explore Outdoors ~ Woolly Bear Behavior

Broly0, Wikimedia Commons
Woolly bears ~ the fuzzy black and brown caterpillars of the Isabella Tiger moth ~ are on the move. As the days grow shorter and cooler, the fuzzy caterpillars are searching for a place to curl up and hibernate.

My friend, Colleen, is passionate about all things lepidoptera. She stops to help woolly bears across roads whenever she comes upon them. She picks them up and carries them to the other side, in the direction they were headed. And over the past few years, she’s noticed something interesting about the woolly bears in our part of upstate New York.

“Normally, when you pick up a woolly bear, it curls up in your hand,” says Colleen. This is its defense: hide the tasty soft parts of its body and look like a prickly hedgehog to potential predators. “But some of them thrash back and forth.”

Curious, she decided to raise some “thrashers”. She put them in a container with food – pilewort and dandelion leaves – and put a screen on top. Later, she noticed some bullet-shaped pupae. Tachinid flies, perhaps?

Tachinid flies parasitize other caterpillars. The female fly lays an egg on the unsuspecting insect and the larvae grow inside - eating their host from the inside out. Then they drop to the earth and pupate in the soil. Colleen wonders whether tachinid fly parasites might cause the thrashing behavior of the woolly bears.

photo by Colleen Wolpert

A Backyard Citizen Science Project:

You can help collect data. Just pick up any woolly  bear caterpillars you come across and make a few notes:

  • do they curl or thrash?
  • when did you observe this (date)?
  • where were you? 
  • Put your observations in the comments below.

Then, if they were crossing the road, put them on the side where they were headed. 

You don't have to raise any of the "thrashers", but if you want to, make sure to give them fresh food every day – they love nibbling on dandelions and pilewort (shown in the photo). Also put some grass and fall leaves in for them to hide under. Clean out the woolly bear home daily, so moisture doesn't build up and cause mold - and keep a tight cover on the bear cage. You don't want them to escape!

Friday, October 8, 2021

Get a Peek at These Beaks!

A Peek at Beaks: Tools Birds Use 
by Sara Levine; illus. by Kate Slater
32 pages; ages 5-9
Millbrook Press, 2021

theme: birds, adaptation, science

Have you ever imagined you were a bird?

Wings would be cool, for sure. But, as Sara shows, beaks are even more cool because they are built-in tools that can help comb your feathers, scoop up food, and even show how you feel. A puzzle or mystery is presented as a question: What kind of bird has a beak that works as a strainer (or a straw or a net or….)? Take a guess, then flip the page to find out whether you are right.

What I like about this book: I like the Q & A format. And when you flip the page and discover the bird that has the beak that serves that particular purpose, Sara has another surprise. An * that highlights a text box with a list of other birds with that sort of beak. So there are more than one answer! I also like that the last question is what kind of bird uses its beak to show some love… And how you can show some love for the birds – and their amazing beaks. And there is Back Matter! A wonderful explanation of how bird beaks change (evolve) over time, plus some extra reading for kids with birds on the brain.

After peeking at all these beaks I knew I had to ask Sara One Question:

Me: If you were a bird, what kind of beaky tool would you want - and how would you use it?

Sara: What a fun question! My first thought is that I’d want the type of beak that could be used to type, as I have a lot of writing to do. But, on second thought, maybe it’s better to stick with a “realistic” response – one covered in the book. And also a response that is more true for me. So, what I’d want is a beak that can be used to show some love. Readers who want to know which birds have this sort of beak will have to read the book to find out.

Beyond the Books:

What kinds of beaks do birds have in your neighborhood or local park? Sit quietly and watch some birds. Do they have thick beaks? Thin beaks? Long, hooked beaks? Flat spoon-shaped beaks? Draw some of the bird beaks you see.

Eat like a bird. Here’s a fun activity to test different beak types and food. You can add a straw and something slurpy.

Sara 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, October 6, 2021

Explore Outdoors ~ Collect some seeds


This week look for flowers that are going to seed. Seeds come in all kinds of sizes and shapes and textures. Some are tiny and round. Some, like this calendula, look like they have spiky mohawks. Sunflower seeds look like teardrops, while milkweed seeds have silky parachutes. Lupine flowers produce pods that look like tiny, furry bean pods, while poppies make seedheads that look like salt-shakers.

Today, go on a seed-looking walk. If you want to, pull a pair of wool socks over your shoes to collect seeds that cling and hitchhike on animal fur. Collect a few seeds into paper bags. Then, when you get home, plant a few in a garden space where they can grow next spring. 

Friday, October 1, 2021

It's a Bird! It's a Dinosaur! It's Chicken Frank!

 I love dinosaurs - who doesn't! And I love chicken, especially when it's seasoned with .... I mean, I love the diversity of chickens and their personalities, and the cool way they chuckle and talk to each other. So of course I love this brand new out-in-the-world today book: 

Chicken Frank, Dinosaur! 
by S. K. Wenger; illus. by Jojo Ensslin 
32 pages; ages 4-7
Albert Whitman & Company, 2021 

theme: birds, dinosaurs, science

"What’s That?”
“A DNA test. To find another dinosaur, like me!”

Frank is not an ordinary chicken. He’s a chicken who knows his ancestors. And by ancestors, he means dinosaurs. More precisely, theropods – though Frank is pretty sure T. rex is one of his parent’s parent’s parent’s ….. parent. His evidence: three-toed feet, feathers that are modified scales, and an embryonic tail. 

What I like about this book: It is told in dialog, accompanied by chicken-scratched diagrams in the dirt and the occasional ultrasound or chalkboard chart. While it is true that chickens don’t talk (or at least speak English) or lecture on evolution, this book is filled with facts, and it is very, very funny. Also, there is back matter ~ with a discussion of similarities between dinos and chickens as well as some frank facts about evolution and a glossary of Frank’s favorite animal groups (which includes Lepidosaurs! one of my faves, too!).

This book was SO much fun to read that I just had to ask the author, Shaunda Two Questions:

Me: You don’t describe evolution in the text, so our understanding of how birds are related to dinosaurs (and their kin) relies on illustrations. What sort of art notes did you include?

Shaunda: I included three art notes with the original manuscript, and they were very brief and hinted at images the illustrator might draw, like [uses hand lens] to help convey the scale of the content. I wanted the editor to have room to form her own images in her head, rather than try to insert my own ideas which would take her out of the flow of the story. I suspected the editor had a background in science (since she edited these types of books), so I trusted that and kept the art notes to a bare minimum. I wanted the editor to fall in love with the characters first. Any supporting content could be provided as needed. And it was—after the illustrator began his work and the editors began looking more closely at the text. Eventually, they asked for backmatter and a glossary.

Me: What challenges did you face writing a book entirely in dialogue?

Shaunda: It took a “hard push” in the form of a rejection letter from the publisher to get me to write Chicken Frank, Dinosaur! in dialogue. The original manuscript was conceived and drafted in traditional narrative prose with a character arc. However, the publisher wanted the story to move more quickly with snappy dialogue. Through the revise and resubmit process, inserting more dialogue and trimming the narrative with the editor’s guidance didn’t quite mesh with the publisher’s vision. In the end, the original manuscript was scrapped with a rejection. 

I suppose sometimes we creatives need that kind of “hard push.” And it worked for me, because writing the straight dialogue happened in a 3-am wake-up call from my muse shortly thereafter. The dialogue-only draft was written by hand in speedy-fashion in an hour. After some feedback from my critique group, it was ready to go back to the same publisher (although it took me a few months to find courage to do this). But I really believed my new version was exactly what the publisher had been asking for, so I sent it for consideration since we had worked so hard on the original story together. The rest is wonderful history!

For dialogue-only stories, my advice is to write a solid story in narrative-form first. Shape up the character development, arc, and emotional layers with your critique partners. Then transform it into comic-book/graphic novel style. By this stage, you’ll know what definitely needs to be seen in the text and what can be supported by illustrations.

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

Beyond the Books:

Find similarities between a chicken and a dinosaur. Materials needed: a book (or books) showing dinosaurs, and a chicken. If you don’t have a chicken hanging around your house, a good photo will do. Look at their feet and their arms/wings. If you have chicken parts remaining from a meal, look at the bones. Are they hollow inside?

Learn more about how chickens are related to dinos. Here's one place to check out.

Make some dinosaur print cookies with Shaunda! Here’s a video showing how. If you don’t have a dino-foodpring cookie cutter, you can draw one on a cereal box. Then put it on the rolled out cookie dough and cut around the shape with a sharp knife.

Today we're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday, an event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review ARC provided by the publisher.