Friday, November 26, 2021

Seeing Creatures from the Inside Out


Inside In: X-Rays of Nature's Hidden World 
by Jan Paul Schutten (translated by Laura Watkinson); illus. by Arie van 't Riet
136 pages; ages 7-12
Greystone Kids, 2021

X-rays are pretty cool. They allow doctors to see breaks and cracks in bones and teeth, and investigators to determine the authenticity of old paintings. And in the case of this book, they allowed Arie, who worked in a hospital, to use his talent to peek inside insects, frogs, and other animals. Sometimes the animals were found dead at the side of a road. Sometimes they were pets that, after they died, were gifted to him for his study. All of the X-rays used in this book are real, though Arie may have taken some time to arrange the animals before taking the photos.

In case you’ve forgotten how X-rays work, author Jan Paul Schutten provides a succinct reminder. An X-ray is electromagnetic radiation – like the light all around you, but at a higher energy. So X-rays can pass through your skin and soft tissue. But tough material (bones, teeth) block them – and that’s why those hard parts show up in an X-ray photo.

When making an X-ray photo, Arie could choose the amount of energy to give the radiation. And he knew just the right combinations of high and low energies to capture both thin flower petals and the harder bones in the same shot.

What I like about this book:
The photos are amazing. I had never thought about what a bumblebee might look like beneath all that hair. Turns out, they have thready-thin waists, just like wasps! When you look at an X-ray of a butterfly, all those colorful scales are gone from the wing. All that’s left are the veins. And seriously! Arie even took X-ray photos of a caterpillar!

There are photos of frogs, snakes and sliders (turtles), fish, fowl, and a handful of mammals. And at the back there is an explanation of how X-rays were discovered, plus an index if you want to find a photo of a particular creature.
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, November 24, 2021

Explore Outdoors ~ After Frost

Even after frost, some flowers hold onto their beauty. When you look closely, you can see the details: the hairs on the leaves, the disc flowers in the center, the delicate petals that curl back. You might even find some seeds that you can shake out and let fall to the ground - or collect and plant in your own garden.

As you walk around your neighborhood, local parks, and even your backyard, look for the beauty in frost-killed flowers. Do you notice details you didn't see when they were green and showy?

If you are really lucky - and outside in the early morning - you might even catch frost on the petals!

Friday, November 19, 2021

Pandemic Animal Stories

Sea Lions in the Parking Lot: Animals On The Move In A Time Of Pandemic 
by Lenora Todaro; illus. by Annika Siems
48 pages; ages 4-8
mineditionUS, 2021

theme: animals, COVID-19, environment

The parklands of Adelaide, Australia, form a figure eight, wrapping the city center with a green belt. Mobs of kangaroos live nearby in the hills among the shrubbery and woods. Usually, they don’t go into the city.

But, during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, when people stayed inside their houses, the roos did head into town. They bounded down the avenues and hopped by the shops. They weren’t the only animals out and about. Deer, pandas, and flamingos headed into the city to explore the quiet subways, business districts, and city parks. Even sea lions flopped into town to sunbathe in sun-warmed parking lots!

What I like about this book: I like the diversity of animals and the stories from around the world. Reading these stories made me realize that if we lived less noisy, less air-polluted lives we might see more wildlife in our cities and towns. This book also reminds us that we share this planet with other creatures, and makes us think about how we can make sure they have safe places to live and raise their families. Also, there is Back Matter (which I love!) – notes on habitats, biomes, and wildlife behavior.

Beyond the Books:

Did your area experience an extended period of low human activity during pandemic lockdowns? What did you notice about the sounds in your neighborhood? What did you notice about animals and birds outside your window? 

Check out the news stories of animals during COVID lockdowns around the world. Here’s a video from The Sun and a photo essay from BBC.

Write a story or draw a picture showing what your neighborhood or town might look like if the wild animals returned to live there. What could we do so that we could live in peaceful co-existence with the wild animals?

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, November 17, 2021

Explore Outdoors ~ Blueberries are Red


Blueberries are blue 
unless.... they are leaves in November! 

This week take a closer look at the leaves that are still hanging onto twigs of shrubs and trees. Look at them from the top. Look at them from below. Look at their edges and their middles.

On my leaves I notice spots and dots. Who knew that blueberry leaves had freckles?
What do you notice about the leaves you see?

Friday, November 12, 2021


by Joann Early Macken; illus by Stephanie Fizer Colman 
32 pages; ages 3-7
‎Boyds Mills Press, 2021

theme: growth, nature

If you were an acorn, you’d swing from a stout twig, snug inside a hard brown shell, bristled cap on your head.

And one day you’d drop to the ground, stretch roots into the soil, and grow into an oak. Page by page, we see a youngster change and grow into an adult. A caterpillar, a tadpole, a turtle…  and later, a butterfly, frog, adult turtle.

At first glance, you might think this is a book meant to read in the spring. But here's the thing: trees, animals, butterflies - they're growing all year long. And in some cases adult butterflies don't emerge until late summer or fall ... just in time to migrate. 

What I like about this book: Growing is all about movement – and this book is filled with verbs. The acorn cracks open; its roots stretch into soil and leaves reach toward the sun. Tadpoles dart; as frogs they hop. This book will inspire kids to move!

Also, JoAnn pulls examples from both plants and animals. Among the animals she features an insect, amphibian, reptile, bird, and mammal. Well, two mammals if you include yourself – which she does at the end. 

And thirdly, JoAnn used second-person point-of-view, which makes it sound like she is personally addressing the reader. I wanted to know more about why she chose that point of view, and how her book grew, so …

I asked JoAnn a Question:

Me: I notice you wrote Grow in second-person point of view. What inspired you to do that? And did you find a particular “mentor text” to guide you?

JoAnn: When I started writing Grow, I was thinking of our two young sons. I wondered what kinds of people they would grow up to be. I hoped they would be inspired by nature and enjoy the outdoors. I wanted to encourage them to be independent and to find their own ways in the world. I wanted to nurture their curiosity. 

It might be unusual, but I don’t think I ever considered using any point of view other than second person. It just felt right to me. I wrote as if I were speaking directly to my sons, using examples of familiar wildlife we had encountered on family hikes and canoe camping trips as well as in our own yard and neighborhood.

Although I have always read a lot, using other books as mentor texts was not part of my writing process back then. (I certainly see the value now!) I revised the manuscript many times over many years until an insightful editor helped me craft a satisfying ending.

Beyond the Books:

The best way to watch a plant grow is to plant a seed. All you need is a pot, some potting soil, and a seed or three. Dwarf varieties of marigold, zinnia, and cosmos are perfect for growing in a bucket or other pot for an indoor garden. Or – if you’re adventurous – plant an acorn from a tree!

Choose a plant or animal and write and draw pictures about its life. How does it grow? How does it move? What does it eat? Does it look different when it’s an adult that when it is young?

Find out more about what second-person point of view is. Here’s an article with links to great resources. 

JoAnn is a member of #STEAMTeam2021. She has written other fun-to-read books, which you can find out more about 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, November 10, 2021

Explore Outdoors ~ A pocket of green


One of the cool things about this time of year - aside from the temperature - is the contrast of colors I find in our yard. Reds, greens, golds... there is so much beauty right under our feet.

This week take a look at the ground around you. What colors do you see? What kinds of plants and leaves are on the ground? What does it smell like and sound like as you walk along?

Friday, November 5, 2021

Who's the Weirdest Animal of All?

Odd Beasts: Meet Nature’s Weirdest Animals 
by Laura Gehl; illus. by Gareth Lucas 
22 pages; ages 2-4
Abrams Appleseed, 2021

theme: animals, comparison, adaptation

This pangolin wears armor.

This book presents eight odd beasts, each with a particular adaptation. The pangolin wears an armor of scales. Nothing odd in that, right? Except: pangolins are mammals, and mammals have hair, not scales. Other creatures include a glass frog, a long-necked turtle, and a spider with two very sharp – and very long – horns.

What I like about this book: Each spread presents a single odd beast, with one sentence to introduce it. When read aloud, page by page, you realize it’s one long poem to the animals. And this board book has Back Matter! Two spreads present additional information of each animal featured in the book. I don’t often see back matter in board books, so I was kind of excited to find it in this book.

I had a couple questions for author Laura Gehl. Fortunately, she had time to answer them!

Me: How did you come to choose the eight animals you feature?

Laura: Choosing the “odd beasts” to feature was the hardest part of writing this book, because there are so many weird and amazing creatures to choose from. A poop-shooting caterpillar? A fish that looks like it’s wearing lipstick? A bat with a human-size wingspan? Those are just a few of the creatures I had to cut from my list. When narrowing down, I tried to choose creatures that swim, crawl, fly, and jump; creatures that would work well to illustrate; and creatures I could describe in simple rhyming verse. 

Me:  Did you originally write it as a board book? If so, can you talk about why, and how one structures a board book?

Laura: Yes, I did structure this as a board book originally. There are a number of wonderful picture books about odd creatures, but I thought board book readers would also find creatures beyond the typical pets and farm animals intriguing. Unlike picture books, which are usually 32 pages, sometimes 40 pages, board books do not need to be any specific length. I tend to write my board books as 10 spreads (20 pages), but that’s just personal preference.

Me: Back matter in board books is unusual. Can you talk about the back matter?

Laura: A reader might possibly think that the creatures in this book are too weird to be real. I mean…a frog whose skin is transparent, so that you can see right through to its organs? Having photos in the back matter lets readers see that these are real creatures. The extra information included with each photo will be interesting to parents, older siblings, and caregivers who read the book out loud. They can then choose to share some or all of that info with the board-book-age kiddos in their lives, based on age and interest.   

Beyond the Books:

Of all the animals you have seen, whether in a pet store, a zoo, or in the woods, which do you think is the oddest? Draw a picture of it or write about why it is an Odd Beast.

If a wild animal came upon you, how do you imagine it would think of you? Would YOU be the Odd Beast? What would make you weird to other creatures?

Laura has some free ODD BEASTS coloring sheets over at her website. You can download them here.

Laura 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, November 3, 2021

Explore Outdoors ~ An Earthball by my Porch

 There's a small bit of old board laying in the grass next to my porch. I probably used it to level a flower pot a few years ago. Over the years moss and lichens began growing.

Then, mid-September, a very strange thing showed up. 

Kind of roundish.

Kind of tough and leathery-ish.

Nestled into the grass and moss like an egg. But with a tiny hole at the top.

I figured it was a fungus of some sort. But what? 

Turns out it's an Earthball. Also called the Pigskin Poison Puffball. It doesn't have much of a stipe (stem) - just a tiny bit that connects it to the soil.

I decided to watch it for a couple weeks to see what happened.

I checked on my Earthball every day for about... three days. Then I forgot. I'd charge out the door on my way to the garden, the library, the mailbox. And I'd say "oh, I'll take a good look at it when I get back."

Over the span of 20 days, the Earthball aged. It got scaly and looked a bit deflated. Nothing had eaten it - somehow I thought it might be nibbled by one of the chipmunks that hang out on the porch. But no, the animals left it alone. I guess nobody wants to partake of Pigskin Poison Puffball.

Three days later it had split, in an uneven tear. A dusting of black spores covered the moss and grass. 

Want to learn more about Earthballs? Here's a great post from Fungus Fact Friday.

What sort of fungi are hanging around your porch?