Friday, July 1, 2022

Fizz! Pop! Boom! Fourth of July Science

With the Fourth of July just around the corner, I thought I'd do something different today. Instead of a book review, I've collected some creative alternatives to fireworks. Hands-on activities that will provide plenty of fizz, pop, and boom without the big noise and smell of gunpowder. 
You probably have many of the ingredients in your cupboards, but check the materials lists in case you need to stock up before Monday. Then, after the parade and potato salad, invite friends and family to create their own Fourth of July celebratory works of art – and science.

My kids loved to play with baking soda and vinegar. I’d find a bottle that fit a cork, then let them play around with those two ingredients to see how far up they could make their cork rocket fly. You can dress up a cork with some red and blue ribbons, but keep it light so it will fly.

Here are some other creative ways to celebrate the day:

Exploding sidewalk paint ~ use glow-in-the-dark paint for night fun

Flying chalk rockets ~ a different approach to sidewalk art  

Fizzy sidewalk paint ~ perfect for toddlers

Fizzy pop chalk ~ for fingers or brushes

Erupting Rainbow ~ another fun one for the youngest kids

And how can we not include the Diet coke and mentos geyser ~ definitely outside fun!

 Have a fizzy, fun weekend and I'll return on Wednesday for a nature break and more outside exploration.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Explore Outdoors ~ Millipedes!


The millipedes living in my neck of the woods are about three inches long and round, with pretty stripes marking the edge of each segment. They have dainty antennae and feet that will tickle if you let them crawl up your arm. Some folks think millipedes have 1,000 legs, but they don't. What they do have is 2 pair of legs per segment. Centipedes have one pair of legs per segment, and tend to be flatter - and faster. 

Millipedes tend to spiral when they die, and their colors fade. But, even dead, they are cool to observe. For one thing, their faces look like they have smiles. And for another, you can see how the legs attach.

This week ~ look for bugs with lots of legs. Maybe you'll find roly-polies (pill bugs) or centipedes or millipedes, or daddy longlegs. 

Give it a name. Mine is named Millie.

Spend some time watching your critter. How do the legs attach to the body? How fast does it move? What does it look like when you put your eyes at ground level?

Ask questions.

Draw a picture or take a photo so you can continue to study your leggy critter.

Monday, June 27, 2022

Messing around in my Nature Journal

 Have you ever smooshed a marigold or buttercup across a page in your journal or sketchbook? Maybe it left a yellowish smudge… And while you may have done it by accident, a couple weeks ago I smooshed plant parts onto the page on purpose.

It was part experiment, part “artist date” a’la Julia Cameron, and a whole lot curiosity. I wanted to know would blue pigments in my bachelor button blossoms smear blue pigment on the page? Would the centers of oxeye daisies make as nice a yellow as buttercups?

I began by collecting a variety of plants that I thought might provide some color:

bachelor button flower
bleeding heart flowers and leaves
oxeye daisy flower
buttercup flowers and leaves
yellow hawkweed flowers
creeping charlie leaves
wild strawberries

 I knew I could extract pigments by boiling the flowers and adding a mordant (a mordant is a chemical that helps keep the pigment from fading, such as vinegar or alum). But I wanted something more immediate. So I pressed and smeared, smooshed, and squashed petals and plant parts directly onto the paper.

Results: Yellow hawkweed and buttercup petals left bright yellow smudges; the yellow center of the daisy left only a faint mark. Bachelor button petals left a bright blue. Strawberries left pink smears, not the red I expected. Bleeding heart flowers left no pigment on the page. As for the leaves, creeping charlie and bleeding heart leaves left different shades of green.

Friday, June 24, 2022

The Buzz about Bee Books

If you’re a longtime follower of my blog, you know I am passionate about bees. I spent a summer at the Rocky Mountain Biological Lab (RMBL) near Crested Butte, Colorado following - and tagging -bumble bees. So I’m ending Pollinator Week with a couple of picture books that focus on bees. 

theme: bees, mystery, nonfiction

Honeybee Rescue: A Backyard Drama
by Loree Griffin Burns; photos by Ellen Harasimowicz 
40 pages; ages 5-8
‎Charlesbridge, 2022

This is Mr. Connery, and that is his ramshackle barn… a few days ago, on the way to his vegetable garden, Mr. Connery noticed that the rickety old structure was buzzing.

When he looked inside, he discovered that honeybees had taken up residence in a corner of the barn. Now, Mr. Connery raises bees, so he knew that this was a new colony. And he wanted to save it. This book tells the story of how a honeybee rescuer removes the colony of bees from the barn and relocates them into a hive. There is mystery. There is adventure. There is a honeybee vacuum!

What I like about this book: I like how Loree Burns turned a swarm of honeybees into a tale of drama and suspense. Why are the bees in the barn? She explains swarming. How will Mr. Connery get them back into a hive? Loree introduces a beekeeper who specializes in rescuing honeybee swarms – whether they’re in a church steeple or the wall of a house or, as in this case, clinging to the rafter of a derelict barn. 

We get to see the insides of a honeybee hive and meet the queen. We see a Honeybee Sucker-upper in action! And there is a wonderful interview with the bee rescuer, plus lots of great back matter.

Not only does Loree write amazing books for kids, but she is also a scientist. So I had to ask her One Question.

Me: How is writing a book for kids like being a scientist?

Loree: I’ve begun to think about writing as being like a scientist in its iterative nature.

When I was doing bench research, I designed experiments that I hoped would help me understand how something worked. (In my case, how do cells regulate the expression of genes inside their nuclei?) Once I’d done my experiment, I usually had a bit more information about how cells achieve that regulation … but I didn’t have the whole answer. Just enough to think about how to design a new set of experiments that would expand on what I’d learned even further. And so on and so on until a story began to emerge, ever so slowly, about the ways that cells regulate their genes.

Similarly, when I’m writing, I go through a long process of incremental progression. I have an idea for a story I want to tell, and I draft it on paper. Once it’s all written out, I put it aside for a hot minute. When I’m ready, I pull it out to re-read, scouring the storytelling for sentences and paragraphs and pages that work … and also for ones that don’t. Then I revise. With each revision, as with each set of experiments, I get closer to telling the whole story in the right way. It’s all trial and error, fits and starts, bit by bit.  But eventually I get there!

One of the skills I picked up during my summer at RMBL was how to identify bees by their sounds. So I was intrigued by this book.

After the Buzz Comes the Bee: Lift-the-Flap Animal Sounds 
by Robie Rogge; illus by Rachel Isadora 
32 pages; ages 2-5
Holiday House, 2022

After the buzzzzzzzzzzzz… (lift the flap) comes the bee.

Each spread presents a sound: ribbit-ribbit, ah-ah-ah, munch-munch-munch. But you have to lift the flap to reveal who makes that sound. A frog, for sure, but ah-ah-ah? Who could that be? And what’s fun is that the inside of the jacket cover is a poster.

Bee-yond the Books:

Listen to the sounds bees make as they fly by and as they visit flowers. Write down the sounds you hear and see if you can create your own list of buzz-words for pollinators visiting your yard or neighborhood. Check out this article to learn more about why bees buzz and hear two different bees.

Go on a Pollinator Scavenger Hunt. Here's one list you can use to inspire your discovery adventure.

No Bees, No Picnics. Here are some of the foods we eat that depend on bees for pollination. How many do you eat?
Apples, apricots, avocados, beans, blackberries, blueberries, cantaloupes, cherries, cocoa, cranberries, cucumbers, grapes, lemons, limes, mangos, nectarines, peaches, pears, peppers, plums, raspberries, strawberries, tangelos, tomatoes, walnuts, and watermelons  

More books about bees:

Loree Griffin Burns is a member of #STEAMTeam2022. 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 copies provided by the publishers.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

There are Flies in my Flowers!


Flies are important pollinators. Many of the flower flies (syrphids) are yellow or orange and black, mimicking bees. Some even look like fierce wasps.

This week pay attention to the flies you see on flowers in your garden and neighborhood. 
  • Take their photos. 
  • Draw a picture of them. 
  • Write a short fly-ku!

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Thank a butterfly this week!


Butterflies are busy pollinating flowers all summer long. Some, like the swallowtails, have wingspans nearly as big as my hand. Others are tiny.
This week pay attention to the butterflies and moths you see on plants in your garden and neighborhood. 
  • Take their photos. 
  • Draw a picture of them. 
  • Write a fluttery bit of music for a lepidoptera!

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Appreciate your local pollinator


I love bumble bees, and there are so many different kinds collecting nectar and pollen in my garden. This week pay attention to the bumble bees you see on plants in your garden and neighborhood. 
  • Take their photos. 
  • Draw a picture of them. 
  • Write an ode to a bumble bee!

Monday, June 20, 2022

Happy Birthday FUNKY FUNGI

Two important things are happening this week. It’s Pollinator Week – and that means I’ll be posting photos of pollinators and otherwise celebrating them all week long!

And secondly – it’s a Book Birthday! That’s right, tomorrow Funky Fungi hits the shelves of a bookstore near you. To celebrate, we’re having a Blog Book Birthday Party with cake and party favors, and even a song. It being a blog, you'll have to bake-and-make your own... so gather your art supplies and join in the celebration!  

First, grab a cupcake. They look like yummy mushrooms, right? That’s because I over-filled the cupcake papers so the tops spilled over. Then I poked white chips into the frosting. (you’ll have to bake your own)

I was going to set up a game of pin-the-spots-on-the-mushroom, but I dropped the bowl of spots and they’re all over the floor. So how about a rousing round of the mushroom song instead? 

Mushroom Song (Sung to: Down by the Station)

Out in the front yard just above the garden,
See the little mushrooms standing in a row.
Down comes the rain and up sprout the fungi,
Each by itself but connected down below.

Party Favor Time!

If you’ve got some plain colored cupcake liners, craft sticks, glue, white paint and a paint brush or Q-tip, you can make a collection of mushroom fans. Here’s how.

You can download this free mushroom coloring sheet here.

And if you like glitter globes, here’s how you can make one. All you need is a jar with a lid, a waterproof mushroom toy, some glitter, and some waterproof glue. 

Remember to check out our Funky Fungus Fridays over at my author Facebook page, and Alisha’s #FungiFriday posts on Twitter

Funky Fungi, 30 Activities for Exploring Molds, Mushrooms, Lichens, and More is part of the part of the Chicago Review Press “Young Naturalists” series. Look for a copy at your favorite bookstore.

Friday, June 17, 2022

The Natural Genius of Ants

The Natural Genius of Ants 
by Betty Culley 
240 pages; ages 8-12
Crown Books for Young Readers, 2022

The minute I saw the title of this book, I knew I had to read it. Because: ants. I mean, you read my blog – you know my passion for arthropods!

And while this book is full of ant wisdom, nay, ant-genius, it is not really about ants. It’s a story about life and love and parents and hope and worry and …. Okay, how about if I just share a few sentences of jacket copy:

Harvard is used to his father coming home from the hospital and telling him about the babies he helped. But since he made the mistake at work, Dad has been quieter than usual. And now he’s taking Harvard and his little brother, Roger, to Kettle Hole, Maine, for the summer. 

Here’s the thing: Harvard is very observant; he notices that Dad brings his doctor bag with him. And Harvard wants to make his Dad be happy again. So when they decide to build an ant farm as a summer project, and the mail-order ants are dead on arrival, Harvard decides to substitute some local ants. Very local… as in: carpenter ants that scurry around the house. When Dad is ready to fill the ant farm frame with sand, Harvard thinks quick and suggests creating a “Maine habitat,” complete with dirt from outside and some chunks of wood.

Ryan Hodnett / Wikimedia  

What I LOVE about this book: 

  • Betty Culley’s descriptions of place are so real that you feel like you’re there – whether it’s in the cozy house or the Maine woods. I mean, you can smell the wood rot and leaf mold!
  • The characters are so three-dimensional I kept expecting them to poke their heads out of the book and say “Can you believe there are 15,000 kinds of ant?”
  • The ant facts and tidbits of info sprinkled throughout the pages. And the wonderful observations of ant behavior. 
  • The chapter titles, from Ant Poetry to Camponotus pennsylvanicus (eastern black carpenter ant). I actually have a few of these that run around my kitchen every now and then, and have whipped more than a few into frittatas.
  • The ant puns and ant jokes. They are a good ant-idote to a bad day.
  • But here’s what I liked the best: while writing The Natural Genius of Ants, Betty kept an ant farm and cared for a carpenter ant queen. You can check it out here on her website. Immersion journalism at its best!
I give this book 5 pair of antenna! (waaaay better than stars) Run, do not walk, to your nearest book seller and get yourself a copy. Then grab a large mason jar and a smaller jar that can fit inside, and a few more things and make an ant farm. Here’s how

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 scurry over to see what other people are reading. Review copy provided by Media Masters Publicity.

Monday, June 13, 2022

Delighting in Oddities ~ by Laura Gehl

 My journey to writing the board books Odd Beasts and Odd Birds started nearly twenty years ago, when I first read in a scientific journal about a poop-shooting caterpillar. I went on to write about that caterpillar for a children’s magazine -- my first published nonfiction for kids. And that article kicked off a career as a children’s book author that has resulted in many happy hours reading and writing about weird creatures.

It was such a delight to work on Odd Beasts and Odd Birds. I love writing simple, rhyming text, which pairs perfectly with Gareth Lucas’ beautiful art. And I had room to add more detailed information (and photographs!) at the end, giving me a reason to dive deeper into my research. 

It was easy to find strange animals and birds to write about…like the glass frog with its see-through skin and the anglerfish with a fishing pole sticking out of its head in Odd Beasts, and the blue-footed booby and poop-smelling hoatzin in Odd Birds

The hard part was having to cut out many of the amazing creatures I discovered, because each of these board books only has 22 pages. 

That’s why I’m excited to share some of the creatures that didn’t make the cut!

One amazing animal that didn’t make it into Odd Beasts is the Dumbo octopus. While all octopuses are a little odd, the Dumbo octopus has ear-like fins above each eye. They look like the ears of Dumbo the flying elephant.

photo: NOAA Ocean Exploration and Research
Another adorable-in-an-odd way animal that I did not have space for is the star-nosed mole. This small mole is nearly blind and uses the sensitive, star-shaped organ to feel its way around.

A bird that didn’t make it into Odd Birds is the helmeted hornbill. This bird looks a bit like a toucan and a bit like a rooster. But what really makes the helmeted hornbill stand out is the big red “helmet” (called a casque) on top of its head. The helmet is so big that it comprises about 10% of the bird’s weight. Unfortunately, poachers kill these birds for their casques, which are carved into jewelry, belt buckles, and ornaments.

photo: Francesco Varonesi
Another fabulous bird I had to leave out is the ribbon-tailed astrapia, with tail feathers that are about three times as long as its body. If you’re thinking, “Wow, if I had a tail that long, I would trip on it,” you’re absolutely right. The male birds, who have these long tails to impress female birds, actually do trip on their tails once in a while. Even worse, the males may need to untangle their tails before taking flight, making a quick escape from predators more difficult. 

These are just a handful of the odd beasts and odd birds I couldn’t include. But with luck, some of these wonderful weirdos will find their way into a future book! 

Thank you for joining us today, Laura. Laura's newest book, Odd Birds flies off the shelves tomorrow. Laura is a member of #STEAMTeam2022. You can find out more about her at her website

Friday, June 10, 2022

It's Strawberry Season!

 I LOVE Strawberries 
by Shannon Anderson; illus. by Jaclyn Sinquett 
32 pages; ages 4-8
Feeding Minds Press, 2022

theme: gardening, responsibility

“Mom, can I grow strawberries of my very own?”

Jolie loves strawberries so much that she would eat them every day if she could. Her solution: grow her own. But that’s a lot of work, and mom and dad think she should wait until she’s older to tackle such a venture. So Jolie sets out on a mission: to show her parents that she is able to take on the responsibilities of a berry grower. She starts by cleaning her rabbit’s cage. Then she devises other ways to demonstrate that she is “old enough” to grow strawberries.

What I like about this book: I like the scrapbook-like entries Jolie puts in her journal. And I love how she sets herself specific missions to show her parents what she can do on her own. And what she does when she finally gets to plant her very own strawberries. Of course there’s a dose of reality: bird attacks, insects, too many berries (seriously, Jolie? too many?)

And I like the backmatter: tips on growing strawberries, some explanation of Integrated Pest Management (IPM), and some tips for locating U-pick berry farms. Plus there are links to educational activities and videos.

Beyond the Books:

Make strawberry ink. If you’ve eaten all your strawberries, you can use other berries to make ink. Here’s how.

Plant a strawberry seed, or a couple hundred. Here’s how.

Visit a U-Pick berry farm and pick your own strawberries! Then eat them!

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 Media Master’s Publicity

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Explore Outdoors ~ Looking Closer

 Last week I met a writing friend up at Sapsucker Woods (Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca NY). We both write about nature and science, so what could have been a half-hour walk stretched to well over an hour as we stopped to look at flowers, ferns, fungi, and frogs. Also bugs, because what's a walk in the woods without insects? Before we even reached the start of the trail I was down on one knee checking out this flower, called a Ragged Robin, and the spittlebug home tucked around the stem.

This week, as you pass by flowers in lawns and gardens, take a closer look. Do you see any interesting insects hanging out on the stems or leaves?

Monday, June 6, 2022

Making Connections ~ by Matt Lilley

My book, Good Eating: The Short Life of Krill, is all about Antarctic krill and the Southern Ocean food web. Most of the animals in the Southern Ocean – including whales, seals, sea birds, and penguins – gobble down tons of krill. Most of those that don’t eat krill themselves eat something else that eats krill (like orca eating penguins). 

Krill are small, but very important. Learning about what eats what in nature can be a way to see how the plants and animals in an ecosystem are connected.

Another example are purple sea stars. These live from the coast of California to southern Alaska. They live in tide pools and eat mussels (and other things too). Without purple sea stars around to eat mussels, the mussels take over their ecosystem. They crowd out everything else. Then species like sea slugs and anemones can’t survive there anymore. If you take sea stars out of their ecosystem, most of the other species disappear too. Understanding one piece of that food chain helps us see how that whole ecosystem works. 

You can learn about the ecosystem in your own neighborhood by figuring out the food chains. Start with one creature and see how far you can get. In my neighborhood, we have dragonflies in the summer. One great thing about dragonflies is that they eat pesky mosquitoes. With their four wings, dragonflies are great hunters. One dragonfly can eat dozens of mosquitoes every day. 

But then, what eats dragonflies? Dragonflies get eaten by many animals, including birds, bats, and spiders. If you watch the birds outside, sometimes you can see them catch their food, including dragonflies. 
Another animal I find sometimes is the ground beetle (carabids). Many of the carabids are black beetles. I accidentally dig them up when I’m gardening in the spring. Before, when I found them, I would wonder if I should squish them. Once I found out what ground beetles eat, I knew they were good to have around. They are predatory beetles that eat many garden pests, such as slugs and flies. Animals, like moles and toads, eat ground beetles. Ground beetles are nocturnal, and so are many of the predators that eat them. Learning about the ground beetle's place in the local food chain tells me about what other creatures might be coming out to hunt at night.

The next time you are outside, think about the creatures you see and how they are connected in the food chain. Understanding food chains can show you a lot about how an ecosystem works.

I'm happy Matt could share his love of natural history with us, today. In addition to writing STEMmy books for kids, Matt is a Minnesota Master Naturalist. You can find out more about him and his books at his website. And you can check out my review of Good Eating here.

Friday, June 3, 2022

Some Flowers are Just Weird

It's gettin' on towards summer, and that means... flowers! Sure, we've had some flowers blooming in and around our yard. Dandelions, violets, wild strawberries, dead nettle. But now that the weather's warming up, I expect to see lots more flowers blooming. It's the perfect time to grab a copy of...

Flowers Are Pretty ... Weird! 
by Rosemary Mosco; illus. by Jacob Souva 
36 pages; ages 4-8
Tundra Books, 2022

theme: nature, flowers

Hi! I’m a bee. And there’s one thing that a bee adores more than anything else … FLOWERS!

For bees, there’s so much about flowers to like: their bright colors and their sweet nectar. But here’s the truth about flowers: they are fascinating, disgusting, complicated, and some are downright weird. They have strange shapes. They could be poisonous. Or stinky. They might grow way up in the sky, or open only at night when bees are snoozzzzing in their nests. What good is that? In addition to learning about strange adaptations of flowers, readers gain insight into how pollination works.

What I like about this book: I like the bee as narrator – and the sassy commentary he (she? they?) provides as they lead you on a tour through the flower world. I also like the way they offer readers an opportunity to opt out of the tour: “if you want to join me, turn the page. If you don’t, close this book and buzz right off.” 

I like the flowers chosen as examples of the weird: Dragon Fruit and Wolfsbane, Starfish flowers and the Corpse lily. And there is Back Matter, where kids can learn more about the flowers highlighted in the book as well as where to find them.

And did I say I love the illustrations? No? Well, I do! The bee may be a cartoonish character, but the flowers are spot-on.

Beyond the Books:

Visit a greenhouse or conservatory and look for weird flowers. You can meet 40 of the worlds weirdest flowers here

Go on a flower walk. Admire flowers growing in your neighborhood and draw a picture of your favorite. Or take photos of the flowers and create a flower map for visiting bees (and butterflies).

Use flower petals in art – and check out more activities here.

Invent a weird flower and explain what its Flower Powers are.

Go on a flower scavenger hunt, but instead of bringing home samples, bring home photos of what you find. Here’s one list of things to look for.

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 1, 2022

Explore Outdoors ~ Wild Strawberries

One of the things I like about our "lawn" - the area we mow now and then - is that it isn't a monoculture of grass. In the spring, it's a carpet of purple violets sprinkled with bright yellow exclamation points of dandelion. There are always treasures to discover, like patches of wild strawberries. This is strawberry season, when some flowers are blooming and others have lost their petals and are starting to form fruits. In a couple weeks our yard will be sprinkled with tiny red gems of fruit.

This week, take some time to look at what grows in the grass in your yard or the back part of a school yard or park. You might find violets, or some of the "garden weeds" I posted last week. Or, if you are lucky, you might find a strawberry pocket-patch. 

What wildflowers do you find in your lawn patches?

Monday, May 30, 2022

A Link between Moving and Creativity

Do we get our most creative ideas when walking? Some scientists think so. Since the time of the ancient Greek poets, people have known that moving helps us to think creatively. Which begs the question: why do I tend to sit at my desk to do my writing?

The fact is, I come up with some wonderfully creative ideas when I’m walking. But is it the movement or the change of scenery around me that stimulates my mind? And it’s not just walking. I have come up with some of my best ideas while turning the compost pile, planting seeds, spading my garden beds, and raking leaves. Sometimes it’s a matter of just having time away from a project, and letting my mind go into neutral while I do something physical. 

Recently, Barbara Händel, a neuroscientist at the University of Würzburg, wanted to know more about how movement is connected to creativity. What happens in our brain when we walk? she wondered. And are people who don’t move less creative?

What she learned is that movement isn’t necessarily the thing that helps us think more flexibly. Rather, she says, it’s the freedom to make movements without having those movements forced into regular patterns…  which is too often what happens when you focus on a small screen for long periods of time.

She’s not the only one who has looked into this in a scientific way. A few years ago a Stanford study showed that creative thinking improves while a person is walking – and even afterwards.

I'd love to elaborate, but I'm heading outside for a walk!

Friday, May 27, 2022

Spend a Day at a Pond

At the Pond     
by David Elliott; illus. by Amy Schimler-Safford 
40 pages; ages 3-7
Candlewick, 2022

theme: nature, water, animals

The red-winged blackbird spreads his tail and sings his hello morning song…

This book is like a day-long field trip to a pond. Each spread features an animal, or a plant, described in a poem. We meet a family of mallards, a legendary catfish, turtles, and a busy beaver. There are also two insects that most kids will enjoy looking for on their pond visits: dragonflies and water striders. Each poem reveals a bit of the daily life of pond dwellers.

What I like about this book: I admit a bias toward insect poems, but also anything frog. So I truly loved the very short poem about metamorphosis from tadpole to adult. Told in seven words! Also, the fun play on words in the heron poem. And I love how the book ends with the evening song of the blackbird.

I also love the illustrations. The artwork is multimedia, finished digitally, but they are so full of texture I can almost feel the feathers and cattail fluff. And then there is Back Matter! Even the notes about the animals and plants in the book are fun to read. Take his entry on cattails. Most kids think cattails look like hot dogs (they do!) but that hot dog head, writes David, “is a collection of tiny female flowers. Not very tasty, I’m afraid.” Fun, right?

Beyond the Books:

Go on a pond field trip. Look, and listen, and smell the air, and feel the ground beneath your feet. You can do this any time of the year. I visited a local pond in mid-March and Canada geese were jumping from the ice into the water and flapping up a ruckus!

Write a poem or story about an animal that lives in or around a pond. Or write about pond life from the point of view of a plant along the shore.

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, May 25, 2022

Explore Outdoors ~ My Weedy Garden

In May,  my garden was THE place to be if you were a carpenter bee or a bumble bee or any number of small wild bees to numerous for me to name. You see, I let my beds go to "weed." Or rather, I let the wild-growing plants flower while the soil warmed and dried out enough to spade. 

The bees particularly liked the deadnettle blooming in the aisles between the beds and, in some cases, growing up the sides and across the top. Some folks call this a "weed" but I've got a problem with labeling plants that way. You see, deadnettles (in the mint family) are an early-blooming favorite of the local bumble bees.
The only problem I have with weeds is that they grow where I want to plant something else. The problem with labeling them "weeds" is that people forget they are simply growing where you don't want them to be, and take drastic actions to get rid of them.

Still, I did have to reclaim my beds for tomatoes and beans, but even as I pulled out dandelions and other weeds, I left a few for the bees.
This pretty little blue flower is Speedwell (Veronica sp) ~ it seems to attract small bees and flies. I have read that rabbits like to eat it, but there better not be rabbits in my garden!

One pretty little invader (from the British Isles about 200 years ago) is Creeping Charlie, also known as Gill-over-the-Ground. It's been used as a medicinal herb and, as Christy Mihaly and I note in Diet for a Changing Climate, you can add it to soup. But in our area it grows a little too well, escaping into the lawn and taking over gardens without so much as a how-do-you-do. 

Fortunately, bumble bees and sweat bees seem to like the tiny purple blossoms, so I tolerate it  - but only as long as it takes for me to get to that spot and ... weed it out. 

Chickweed is so green and vibrant you almost want to toss it in a salad. Good news! You can. It's tender and mild and a perfect substitute for sprouts on a sandwich. Birds like it, too. Mourning doves and a diverse crew of sparrows snack on chickweed seeds. Sweat bees and syrphid flies can be found on the flowers as well.

This week take a Weed Walk . What flowers do you find growing in your yard? Are there any bees or flies visiting them? Check a field guide to see if they are edible... and take a bite of the wild side.

Monday, May 23, 2022

There is Fungus Among Us

 Fungi are everywhere, but sometimes you don’t see them because they are small. Or they don’t look like a typical mushroom. The trick with finding fungi – well, with finding anything, really – is to learn enough about them so you know what to look for. And once you know what to look for, you begin finding fungi all around:
  • Growing in the mulch beneath the tomatoes
  • Popping up in the lawn after a week of rain
  • In the tops of downed branches
  • Growing on old logs
  • Decomposing a stump in the yard
  • In the breadbox and pushed to the back of the fridge
Sue: I remember the first time I saw a coral fungus. It looks just as the name suggests: like a bit of coral pushing up from the leaves. Used to finding turkey tails and mushrooms, I had no idea it was a fungus. Now I see it everywhere in the wooded area behind our garden.
Alisha checking out fungi at Highlights
Alisha: One Saturday morning I drove to Austin to meet up with a friend that I’ve hardly seen in the last two years. I parked under a tree and hustled inside for a visit. When I returned to my car, I noticed beautiful polypore mushrooms on the tree. How did I miss them when I arrived? Probably in too much of a hurry. While researching and writing Funky Fungi, I realized there were many specimens of fungi that were there all along, but I never noticed.  

Sue: When we started talking about Funky Fungi, I got a field guide (confession: I had an entire shelf of field guides but not one about mushrooms!) so I could begin to recognize the fungi growing around me. Then I discovered an amazing reference in our library system, The Book of Fungi: A Life-Size Guide to Six Hundred Species from around the World by Peter Roberts and Shelley Evans. In addition to having wonderful photos, there’s a distribution map for each fungus. It clocks in at 656 pages and weighs as much as a hefty bag of sugar (5#). I don’t own a copy, and I hate to even speculate what the delivery guy mutters every time I request it through the library system.

Sue finds mushrooms in the yard

But here’s the thing. Paging through these books, looking at the photos, reading the descriptions … it’s made me not just more aware of the diversity of fungi, but curious about what I might find outside my door.

Alisha: Last summer my husband trimmed some branches from an oak tree. As I helped him cut them into smaller pieces, I noticed a little waving movement on one of the branches. I stooped down for a closer look. It appeared to be a piece of lichen balancing on the branch like a tight-rope walker. It wobbled from side to side and inched forward a tiny bit – an insect covered in lichens! The insect was using lichen as camouflage, maybe to protect itself from predators, or to sneak up on unsuspecting prey, or both! Before researching fungi for this book, I didn’t know that some insects cover themselves in lichens. But armed with that info, I was ready to discover one in my own backyard. Who knows what else I’ll discover!

Remember to check out our Funky Fungus Fridays over at my author Facebook page, and Alisha’s #FungiFriday posts on Twitter

Check back next month for our Happy Book Birthday celebration! Funky Fungi, 30 Activities for Exploring Molds, Mushrooms, Lichens, and More is part of the Chicago Review Press “Young Naturalists” series. You can find out more about our book at the publisher’s website. It will hit bookstore shelves next month! But if you can’t wait, you can pre-order it at your favorite local bookstore, or online at

Friday, May 20, 2022

Exploring Shiny Things

For the past two weeks, I've been buzzed by hummingbirds as I worked in my garden. Perhaps it's my pink hat? Aside from the bunch of bleeding hearts blooming near the gate, there sure isn't a lot to interest hummers. But there they were, twin fighter jets zooming right overhead. Fortunately, they reminded me to dig out this book from my to-be-reviewed basket.

Time to Shine: Celebrating the World’s Iridescent Animals
by Karen Jameson; illus. by Dave Murray 
32 pages; ages 3-6
‎Groundwood Books, 2022  

theme: animals, nature

Each iridescent creature knows / just how to rock its sparkly “clothes.”

There are so many animals that shine – and chances are you’ve seen some of them. Perhaps a metallic green beetle scooting across the sidewalk, or a hummingbird with a shiny read throat visiting flowers. Told in rhyme, this book showcases diverse creatures that sport sparkly feathers, scales, shells, and skin.

What I like about this book: I like the layered text. Large text presents the fun, rhythmic language perfect for a read-aloud. Smaller text provides more information, such as an explanation of what iridescence is and more about each of the creatures. Back matter is a great resource for those who want to know more about the science of iridescence and how scientists are studying it for potential uses in technology.

Karen talked a bit about iridescence in insects over at the Second Annual GROG Arthropod Roundtable. But I wanted to know more. She graciously answered One More Question:

Me: I often find shiny green tiger beetles and purple ground beetles – and of course, hummingbirds – in my garden. Can you talk about some of the iridescent animals you have come across in your back yard or neighborhood?

Karen: What a great question! Ever since doing my research for Time To Shine, I'm always on the lookout for iridescent creatures. Hummingbirds and beetles are very common in our backyard, as well as the occasional dragonfly. If we stroll down the pathways near our home, there's a little lake that attracts mallard ducks with iridescent green head feathers. There are iridescent fish in that lake, too, as well as a number of insects with shimmering wings. Strolling in the opposite direction, we'd come across some hilly neighborhoods with a family of wild turkeys. The male's feathers shine with iridescent shades of green, copper, and red. Keep your eyes open when you walk outside. You're likely to discover iridescent creatures in the most surprising places!

Beyond the Books:

Go on a Shiny Scavenger Hunt. Find – and observe/ take photos/ draw these creatures:
  • a dragonfly or damselfly
  • a beetle
  • a hummingbird
  • a snail shell or other kind of shiny shell
  • something with iridescent scales
  • a butterfly 
  • a chicory or other plant that seems to shine
Create iridescent art! It involves clear nail polish, so make sure you do this in a well-ventilated area. Here’s how.

Blow some iridescent bubbles. Here’s a recipe from the Exploratorium.

Karen is a member of #STEAMTeam2022. 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 e-galley provided by the author.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Explore Outdoors ~ More Flowering Trees

 Last week I shared a photo of serviceberry. I mentioned it is in the rose family. Here are a couple other flowering trees in my neighborhood that are relatives.

cherry blossoms



flowering crabapple

Monday, May 16, 2022

Writing Begins with a Question ~ by Roberta Gibson

What does it take to write STEAM books for children?

First, it takes curiosity. 
Almost every day, a question pops into my head. Can you grow the seeds inside a kiwi fruit you buy in the grocery store? Do ant larvae make sounds to call to the workers inside the dark nest? What causes iridescent clouds?

Then it takes effort.
Many times other people have had the same question and the answer is a mouse click or trip to the library away. For example, iridescent clouds — which glow with pastel colors like the surface of a soap bubble —show up when clouds are full of small, uniform ice crystals or water drops that diffract light waves. 

eventually one may sprout!
Sometimes the answers aren’t clear, but the questions are too expensive or time consuming to investigate. I recently found a scientific article about Myrmica ant pupae that can make noise by stridulating. At this moment, however, I’m not in the position to test whether the larvae different kinds of ants can stridulate. Perhaps someday I’ll interest an expert in this question. 

The lucky few are questions that beg for an experiment or test. If you are curious about kiwi seeds, save some seeds from a kiwi fruit and try to germinate them. If that doesn’t work out, get some commercial seeds —for a control to show that your method works— and design an experiment. 

I wondered recently what happens when you drop bird feathers one by one from the second floor. Do tail feathers sail differently from wing feathers than soft down feathers? Turns out that wing feathers tend to helicopter. Cool!

I absolutely love this hands-on fiddling aspect of STEAM and youngsters do, too.  

Now here’s the secret sauce:  keep a journal. 
Every time you have an idea, or do an experiment, write it down. Draw illustrations to help you remember what you did and what happened, plus take tons and tons of photographs. 

When the question or idea leads to more and more questions, and if the topic just won’t go away, then the journal entries may grow into a book. 
Nothing is better than that.
Thank you for joining us today, Roberta.  Last year I reviewed Roberta's picture book, How to Build an Insect. We also got together to chat about bugs over on the GROG Blog. You can visit  Roberta's website here and make sure to drop by her wonderful blog, Growing with Science.