Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Happy Thanksgiving

Wild Turkeys, painted by Jodie Mangor

Every now and then a flock of wild turkeys congregates on my front lawn. After scratching about, searching for acorns or beetles tucked beneath the thatch, they leave in a stately procession. 

I'm taking a break this weekend to eat pie and read books. See you on Monday.  

Monday, November 21, 2022

A Lifeline for Coral Reef Habitats ~ by Jessica Stremer

 I’m extremely excited to tell everyone about my debut picture book, Great Carrier Reef, illustrated by the incredibly talented Gordy Wright. It’s part of Holiday House’s Books for a Better Earth series and will be available next June, right around Word Ocean Day.

Great Carrier Reef shares the journey of the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany (nicknamed the Mighty O), as it’s stripped down to a steel shell in preparation for a new life below the waves as the world’s largest artificial coral reef. 

As a kid, I loved learning about nature and science. I used to sit and watch the show Animal Planet for as long as my mom would let me. I studied biology in college and dreamed of doing field work, but life had different plans. 

My husband is a pilot in the United States Marine Corps and has spent months living on aircraft carriers. Right before his most recent deployment my kids were begging for an extension of TV time. I agreed, only if they turned on something science/nature-y. My daughter chose a documentary about the sinking of ships, which happened to feature the Mighty O. My curiosity was piqued. Between my love for science and my identity as a military spouse, I knew I needed to share the Oriskany’s story with kids.

To distract myself from the upcoming deployment I dove into research. I read about the Mighty O’s time in service, what it takes to reef a ship, and the benefits of artificial reefs. All around the world coral reefs are suffering due to pollution and warming water temperatures. Artificial reefs benefit ocean ecosystems by helping to increase biodiversity. 

The Oriskany was specifically chosen for reefing because of its massive size, which gave coral polyps a large area to colonize. The structure also provides lots of places for marine animals to take shelter. 

Coral reefs can differ depending on where they are located. So I interviewed biologists who monitor marine life on and around the Oriskany to ensure I included the correct species in my book. When people look at Gordy’s amazing cover, they’ll get a glimpse at that marine life. 

I love writing STEM for kids because there are so many topics to cover, and so many new facts and discoveries just waiting to be shared. I’m particularly drawn to topics that tie in environmentalism and conservation. I feel that my book is perfect for kids who love science, engineering, the ocean and coral reef ecosystems, as well as boats and military history. You never know which of today’s readers will be the ones to go on to innovate and implement changes to help make Earth a better place for both people and wildlife. 

After reading my book, I hope kids will be inspired to innovate and think outside the box about ways we can restore ocean habitats. For those who want a deeper dive, I included back matter with more about the Mighty O’s history and the role artificial reefs play in repairing this fragile underwater ecosystem.

Jessica Stremer is a mom, military spouse, and biologist who loves spending time with her family traveling, hiking, and camping. She currently lives in Okinawa, Japan. Her picture book,  Great Carrier Reef comes out in the summer of 2023, and her second picture book, Lights Out will hit bookstores in 2024. You can find out more about Jessica and her books at her website, and you can watch the sinking of the USS Oriskany here.

Friday, November 18, 2022

Info-Graph Your Thanksgiving Meal!

If you want to keep track of how the seasons change, your favorite lunches, or keep track of all the food you eat at Thanksgiving (and even the time it takes to make it), all you need is a pencil and a scrap of paper. 

But if you want to impress your neighbor with the numbers, you might need a bit more – a way to share your information so people can understand it in a glance. And that way is through infographics ~ a combination of math, art, and communication. To explain your Thanksgiving meal you might want to use a time line to show how long it took to prepare the food. And you’ll definitely need a pie graph to compare the kinds of pies you ate!

Here are two books that show and tell how to make infographics. They might even inspire kids to keep track of the interesting (and even mundane) things in their lives.

Life Log: Track Your Life with Infographic Activities Diary 
by Lea Redmond; illus. by Andrea Tsurumi
96 pages; ages 8-12
Chronicle Books, 2022 

Life Log is a guided workbook for infographic exploration. It opens with an introduction to the basics: what infographics is, how a key works, and the lowdown on facts and data. There are pie charts, rainbow charts, timelines, and lots of great questions. All the book asks is for curious kids to bring a bunch of colored pencils and a willingness to visualize information in a new way. 

My favorites: tracking a tree, how long a pencil lasts, and a month of insect encounters. This book is a great way to jump into creating graphs and charts.

Or you could keep track of how regularly you "ate the rainbow" of vegetables and fruits suggested in daily servings.

Show and Tell! Great Graphs and Smart Charts: An Introduction to Infographics 
by Stuart J. Murphy; illus. by Teresa Bell√≥n    
48 pages; ages 7-10
‎Charlesbridge, 2022  

Bar graphs, line graphs, pictographs, and pie charts can show a lot of information in a single glance. But which do you use, and when? Let’s say you want to find out more about lunchroom food. If you want to know what meals kids like the most, you could conduct a survey and display the results in a bar graph. If you wanted to compare the number of entrees served during a lunch period, you might draw a pie graph. (yes, you can create pie alamode graphs if you really want to) This book serves well as an introduction to charts and graphs, and ends with a list of things kids can use infographic techniques to explore.

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 copies provided by the publishers.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Explore Outdoors ~ frost-faded flowers


after frost
 all that is left are memories
of humming bees
This week seek out the beauty in what is left behind after the hard fall frosts. Who knows ~ you might find a poem hidden in a secret garden!

Monday, November 14, 2022

Doing Our Illustrator Homework ~ by Jacob Souva

I’ve learned a lot over the past five years while focusing solely on illustrating picture books. I still feel like a “newbie” when I open a manuscript, tasked with adding my art to someone’s hard earned text: Where do I start? How do I get ideas? What does that thing or character look like? Am I really getting paid to illustrate poop?

Every book is different, but there are some common threads. No matter the style in which an illustrator works or freedom afforded by the art director, the story is set someplace with rules that apply to that world. The closer the world sits to reality, the more research an illustrator must do into that world. We owe that to our young audience. It’s important that we do our illustrator homework.

In the past two years I’ve had the opportunity to illustrate two books in a series that straddle the fiction/non-fiction line. The books are about real things in nature (the stuff of non-fiction) presented by a talking bug narrator (the stuff of fiction). In the books Butterflies Are Pretty… Gross! and it’s sibling Flowers Are Pretty… Weird! (written by Rosemary Mosco, published by Tundra Books), I knew that the easy part would be the narrator. I’m good at characters and have exercised the creative fiction side of my career my whole life. A spunky bumble bee waxing on about flowers tumbled out of my imagination rather easily.

What I didn’t know was what an Alcon Blue Butterfly caterpillar looked like or why a particular orchid was named “Monkey Orchid.”

It might seem obvious (and it is!) but a folder full of research and visual material is an absolute must for getting these details right. I’ve collected reference material several different ways, but always begin by using search engines to find images. I store them either in a hidden Pinterest collection or a folder on my hard drive, labeled carefully (important for recall). There are times when I’ll need to reach back out to the art director or editor about a specific detail. I also find myself reading papers or articles when the photo reference doesn’t give me enough to work with.

Details matter! I’ve been asked about the colorings of certain butterflies by feisty second graders. Parents reading these books to their kids might be experts in the field and will be great ambassadors for a book that gets the details right.   

I’ve just wrapped up the art for a book called Max And Ed Bike To Nome (by Matthew Lasley, releasing April 4, 2023 by West Margin Press). It’s based on the real-life bike ride of Ed Jesson during the Klondike Gold Rush in Alaska. I was super thankful to find photographic reference material from the 1890s! The State of Alaska has an amazing collection of old photos to dig through. The final art is built upon the visual information I was able to comb.

Lastly, reference is the greatest starting point for creativity. I’ve found that this is where the fun and magic of illustrating resides. A good base level of visual information is a great foundation to jump off and get creative with. As famous jazz improviser Charles Mingus said “You can’t improvise on nothing, man; you’ve gotta improvise on something.”  

 Jacob Souva is an illustrator/author of picture books. You can find out more about him and his books at his website, I met him a few years ago, and reviewed his fun book about panning for gold, Pedro's Pan.

Friday, November 11, 2022

The Trouble With Robots

The Trouble with Robots 
by Michelle Mohrweis 
288 pages; ages 8-12
Peachtree, 2022

This is a book about trouble – and it’s not just the robots that are causing it. Eight-graders Allie and Evelyn are their own kind of trouble. Evelyn needs perfection, a trait that is causing a whole lot of trouble with her robotics team. Robotics is Evelyn’s life and she wants to win the competition. But her drive to make everything perfect is driving her team apart. 

Allie can’t seem to settle into school – any school – and the robotics class is her last chance. The only problem: Allie doesn’t care about engineering. She’s into art. When she’s added to Evelyn’s team, it’s like baking soda meeting vinegar … and Allie can’t risk things blowing up. She needs to get through this year for herself, and for her Oma.

One thing I like about this book: people forget is that art is an essential part of engineering. Else how do you visualize a new design? Writing, drawing… these are as important in STEM endeavors as “the smart stuff” (as Allie would call it): the calculating of gear ratios, the physics, the data collecting. Nearly every scientist I know draws or sketches stuff in their notebook, from flower parts to skulls to design elements for machinery.

Another thing I like about this book: it portrays the reality of engineering (and STEM projects of most kinds) as teamwork. This means learning to respect and work with people of all sorts and with different skills. When Evelyn learns to let people contribute in their own way, the team grows stronger. 

And finally, a shout-out to the different kinds of diversity portrayed in this book, from learning styles and neurodiversity to families. We need diverse thinking if we are going to solve the problems facing our future.

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 9, 2022

Explore Outdoors ~ Flashes of red in the underbrush

 The other day I was out in the garden (pulling up dead zinnias) and the air was so still that I could hear the oak leaves falling from the trees. This is the time of year when the fall colors have faded from scarlet and gold to rusted orange and bronze. It is the time of year when I can count the leaves remaining on the oaks lining my drive. 
It is also the time of year when I am surprised by splashes of color ... the brilliant red of blueberry leaves and bright fuchsia of bittersweet tucked beneath the trees along the roadside.

What colors do you see in gardens 
and along roads this week?

Monday, November 7, 2022

The Life Cycle of a Desert Poem ~ By Darcy Pattison

During the pandemic, we all looked around for things to keep us occupied. I joined the crowd looking around the internet for classes. At least I could learn something while stuck at home.

What about poetry?

Iambic pentameter. Haiku. Blank verse. Sonnet. As a writer, I’ve delved into poetry at different points in my career because poetry compresses emotion into a small packet. You must carefully choose each word so it evokes the feeling you want the reader to feel.

I signed up for the Language Lyrical Lab with amazing Renee LaTulippe. Her debut picture book, The Crab Ballet, (it came out in March 2022). I’d heard about her poetry class from many sources, always with glowing recommendations. She offers a self-study course, but during the pandemic I wanted interaction with real people so I chose the full class that included feedback on my poetry.

The lessons, clear and concise, prompted me to try different forms of writing. At the time I was working on Friday Comes On Tuesday: An Adventure at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. It is written in prose, but then the editor asked if I wanted to write a dedication. Inspired by the class, this was my dedication to my husband – written as a humorous double dactyl poem. A dactyl is a three-syllable foot with one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables. My husband’s name can be read a double dactyl: DWIGHT Nelson PATtison. The double-dactyl form was a natural choice because of his name and because it’s a humorous form.

Comical, farcical,
Dwight Nelson Pattison
Pokes at my prose till it
Warily sings.

Known for his drollery,
Laughing and prodding and 
Keeping me sane.

Poetry Inspires Nonfiction

Inspired by the class, I returned to my files and pulled up one about a desert. I’ve written about deserts before in Desert Baths (NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book) from Arbordale. But I had a new idea.

Years ago, I taught a writing retreat in Arizona, and the excitement of the day was whether or not we’d get a monsoon rain storm. I tried the story in multiple ways, but it never worked. I wondered if the poetry class could inspire a lyrical narrative. I decided to write the story as a narrative, following the growth of plants and animals across a couple days.

Did you just read that synopsis? It sounds … fascinating, right? Um, no.

Kids love stories with predators because the narrative is full of drama and possible danger. Plants? Not so much. To write this story, I had to find ways to build drama into the story.

This time as I wrote, I listened to the words, striving for rhythm, variety of stresses, and a build-up of tension in the story. It developed well with a strong narrative because I chose to write a mask poem. That means the story is written from the point of view of the desert, as if I—the author—had put on the desert’s mask and stepped into its persona. It needed to be a strong, compassionate voice and yet acknowledge the harshness of the habitat. I became the voice of the desert, lamenting the rapid birth, life, and death that its harsh environment demanded.


While I was writing drafts of the desert story, the Wall Street Journal published a fascinating study of Hamilton, by Lin-Manual Miranda entitled, “How does ‘Hamilton,’ the non-stop, hip-hop Broadway sensation tap rap’s master rhymes to blur musical lines?” It’s fascinating look at how rappers use language by playing with rhymes at the beginning, middle, and ends of words. Near rhymes and internal rhymes are hallmarks of hip-hop. It includes assonance, consonance, and large-multisyllabic rhymes such as “be Socrates” and “mediocrities.”

The most fascinating thing about this article is that it makes the rhyming patterns visible through a specially designed algorithm. It invites you to input your text to see your pattern of language play. 

And play, I did. Section by section (it only allows a short text input), I evaluated and revised my desert text: 
…I’m flooded with redbluegreenyelloworangepurple
and buzzing with life—
gorgeous, outrageous…

The story developed from a moment of inspiration in Arizona, through a poetry class, and it was polished by an algorithm that visually analyzes hip-hop. And all the while I had to be faithful to the science, the facts of a desert habitat. The result is my newest picture book, I Am the Thirsty Desert (illustrated by Jordan Kim) which releases on March 14, 2023. 

When Darcy Pattison mentioned that she had written a book as a "pandemic project" I wanted to know more. She graciously agreed to share her experience her on Archimedes Notebook. Darcy has written tons of books and founded Mims House to publish books that are fun to read and fit in with curriculum standards. You can find out more about it here

Friday, November 4, 2022

Lions and Ostriches and Elephants, Oh My!

 Today I’m sharing a couple books that feature animals: a counting book for the littles, and a nonfiction book about elephants for the 7-and-up crowd.

theme: rhyme, counting, elephants

Five Hiding Ostriches 
by Barbara Barbieri McGrath; illus by Riley Samels 
32 pages; ages 3-7
Charlesbridge, 2022

Five little ostriches, huddled in one spot. The first one said, “It’s getting rather hot.”

The second one adds an observation, then the third, fourth, and fifth… and when a lion is spotted it’s Stomp! Stomp! Stomp! through the brush. The ostriches want to hide, but what does the lion want? He isn’t interested in ostriches for supper.

What I like about this book: It’s a fun read-aloud about five worried birds – and their penchant for talking when they should be quiet. And a lion. And  a game of hide-and-seek. The illustrations show the savannah habitat where lions and ostriches hang out, though usually not together. What makes it a STEAM book are the fun ostrich facts revealed in the back matter. For example: they don’t really bury their heads in the sand. But they do try to disguise themselves as rocks. Back matter also includes a game kids can play with their friends.

Elephants!: Strange and Wonderful 
by Laurence Pringle; illus. by Meryl Learnihan Henderson 
32 pages; ages 7-10
Astra Young Readers (Boyds Mills), 2021   

From the jacket: The trunks of elephants are remarkable, but so are their feet, teeth, ears, and skin. Elephants walk on their tiptoes and despite their size move very quietly. Their wrinkled skin holds water and their ears act as air conditioners…

The book opens with a comparison of Asian and African elephants. Pringle shows the ways elephants use their trunks, their teeth and tusks, and gives readers a glimpse into their family lives. He also includes the way humans have interacted with elephants, from mythology to the ways people have used them to help haul things and as transportation.

What I like about this book: I like the comparison of modern elephants with prehistoric pachyderms – and yes, that word is used. Thankfully there’s a glossary at the back! Another thing at the end of the book is a section about environmental issues and threats to elephants, including the ivory trade.

Beyond the Books:

Find out more about ostriches and lions. San Diego Zoo has a page about ostriches at 

Make up your own hide-and-seek game about lions and ostriches, or wild animals that live in your area.

Make some elephant art. Younger kids might have fun making elephants out of a handprint. And you can find out more about elephants at

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

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Explore .... Indoors with Sock Science!

On any other Wednesday we'd be heading outside to do a nature break. But this week I wanted to play around with some sock science (and math). Because it's that time of year when you might need a snow day activity. Or maybe just something to do on an otherwise dreary day. 

When my kids were littles, their "laundry job" was matching socks. It's a great way to develop math and science thinking. Sometimes we'd roll sock pairs into balls and play sock-hockey in the kitchen or "toss the sox in a box." Here's some other sock science to play around with:

Red Sock, Blue Sock

If you have a bunch of unmatched socks hanging around, how many pairs can you make out of them? Let’s say you have six misfit socks: blue (B), yellow (Y), green (G), purple (P), stripes (S), and dots (D). Six socks means three pairs, but you can create more than three combinations. Think about what you can mix with blue: BY, BG, BP, BS, and BD. That’s five potential combinations. Then, if you look at combinations with yellow (but not counting BY because you already have it) you could get four more: YG, YP, YS, and YD. How many new combinations can you get with the green sock? Purple sock? Striped sock? If you add all the potential combinations together, how many are there?

Secret Sock Codes 
Socks exist in two states: rolled up and flat. That makes them perfect for creating coded messages, like Morse code which uses combinations of dots and dashes. What if you use a rolled sock as a “dot” and a flat sock as a “dash” to create messages? For example, an A would be a rolled sock followed by a flat sock. I would need seven socks to spell my name in Morse sock code. But ... you don't have to stick with Sam's code. You can make your own Secret Sock Code.

Do Socks Fly?
One little-studied sock phenomenon is flight behavior. While rolled socks have been used as substitute hockey pucks, snowballs, and hacky sacks, I don’t know of any studies that compare how well socks fly under various conditions. Perhaps you will be the first to document such things as how far socks fly when they are rolled up or flat, wet, dry, or frozen. To be totally consistent, you’d need to create a launching device.. perhaps a rubber-band catapult?

Further Sock Research
There are tons of fun books about socks, ducks (or others ) that wear socks, and even how to make socks. But here are a few of my favorites:
Odd socks by Michelle Robinson
Five stinky socks by Jim Benton.
Have you seen my new blue socks? by Eve Bunting
Ducks don't wear socks by John Nedwidek
A sock is a pocket for your toes by Elizabeth Garton Scanlon

note: these activities were first published as part of my "Archimedes Notebook" science column in Ithaca Child, Fall 2017.

Monday, October 31, 2022

When Socks go Missing

The average person loses 15 socks a year. That’s 1,264 over a lifetime! At the average cost of $2/sock, that can really add up. 

The mystery of sock disappearance is so perplexing, that in 2016 Samsung commissioned psychologist Simon Moore and statistician Geoff Ellis to figure out why our socks go missing in the wash. After surveying about 2,000 households in the UK, they developed the Sock Loss Index (SLI): 

In the formula, 'L' stands for 'laundry size' which is calculated by multiplying the number of people in the household (p) with the frequency of washes in a week (f).

'C' stands for the 'washing complexity.' This includes how many types of wash (t) households do in a week (darks and whites) multiplied by the number of socks washed in a week (s). Although, who among us counts the number of socks we toss into the hamper?

The second part is the product of the “positivity” (P) of doing the laundry times the degree of attention (A). Positivity is measured on a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 being “hates doing the laundry” to 5 being “loves doing laundry”. To calculate Attention, add how many of these things you do at the start of each laundry. Do you check pockets? Unroll sleeves? Turn clothes right-side out? Here’s a video of the scientists explaining how they calculated the SLI.

Then there’s the completely different problem of where socks go when they disappear. Here are some locations people often find lost socks: one sock still in the hamper; dropped by or between washer and dryer; under the bed or couch; in a shoe; in someone else’s drawer; in a toy box; outside (taken by pet or fallen off a line); clinging to another piece of clothing (we once found a sock weeks later stuck in a sleeve!); or in the lost socks box. Where do your lost socks go?

Drop by on Wednesday for some Sock Science!

Much of this post comes from my "Archimedes Notebook" column in Ithaca Child, 2017.

Friday, October 28, 2022

Vampire Worms! The perfect Halloween reading

Who needs a scary Halloween book about zombies when there are true stories that will make your skin crawl and give you the heebie-jeebies? 

American Murderer is one such book. Subtitled “The parasite that haunted the south,” it’s the most recent in Gail Jarrow’s Medical Fiascoes series. Just released last month from Calkins Creek, it's the perfect scary read for kids 10 and older. 

The first book in the series, Blood and Germs follows the advances in medicine during the Civil War. Twice as many men died from microbes and parasites as were killed by battles. While it begins as a medical fiasco, the war ended with advancements in surgical techniques and medical care that set the bar for decades. 

In the second book, Ambushed! The Assassination Plot Against President Garfield, Jarrow details the medical mistakes made in the aftermath of Garfield’s assassination. A series of faulty diagnoses and outdated treatments eventually led to the president’s demise.

American Murderer hits closer to home – the backyards and school yards of the American south. It focuses on microscopic worms living in the soil. Invisible vampires that enter your body through your bare feet, travel to your intestines, and stay there for years sucking your blood and draining you of energy. 

Yes, there are gory photos of the victims! 
Yes, there are gross diagrams and photos of the vampiric worms! 

But mostly it’s a story about the scientist who discovered the worm and played a role in educating the public on treatments and eradication: Charles Wardell Stile. As a boy, Charles was a curious naturalist. Like other boys in the second half of the 1800s, he collected specimens for his bedroom nature museum. I enjoyed reading about the time he decided to boil the flesh off a dead cat so he could add the skeleton to his museum – a time-honored way of cleaning the bones… as long as you remember to take the pot off the stove before it burns into a stinky mess (and I say this from experience).

Separating people’s bare feet from the microscopic worms sounds easy: have people wear shoes, and provide outhouses that don’t leak. But in the late 1800s and early 1900s, that was easier said than done. For one thing, shoes cost money. For another, people wondered who were those know-it-all Yankees coming down to tell them how to live? Fortunately, there was medical treatment – if doctors could reach the people who needed it most. 

These days, there is very little risk of getting hookworm disease in the United States, due in large part to the advances in sanitation and waste control. Unfortunately, according to new research, we are not rid of that blood-sucking vampire worm just yet…

You can find out more about Gail Jarrow and her books at her website, 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.

And remember to wear your shoes when you head out on Halloween night…. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Explore Outdoors ~ Becoming a Skeleton


I usually find leaf skeletons in the spring, after months of rain and snow has mouldered away the tender parts, leaving the vascular tissue (the "bones"). But sometimes I find the occasional leaf turning to skeleton before leaving home - helped along by fungi, I'm sure.

This week, head outside and look for leaf skeletons. If you don't want to wait around for spring, you can make your own. It is fun for kids, but adult supervision is needed. Here's how.

Monday, October 24, 2022

The Stories This Rock Could Tell


Every rock has a story.

For this rock, it could be the story about how it used to be a chunk of shiny fool’s gold until it got covered by the gravel from Lake Bonneville. That gravel was heavy, and compressed the rock into a matrix of limestone. Over time, limonite replaced the beautiful pyrite crystals, turning them brown. Eventually the water receded, leaving the rock high and dry, allowing opportunity for wind and rain to erode the limestone.

Or it could be the story about one city car, two cowboys, three girls and their parents, and four stuck tires. A story that begins with dad packing the car for a grand adventure and mom packing sandwiches and kids arguing about who gets to sit where. A story that wonders why a car that had no business being there, found itself stuck in a creek bed that, in drier weather, passed for a road. And honest-to-god cowboys with strong quarter horses and thick ropes who rescued said vehicle and then offered the girls a ride to the quarry because they were heading that way anyway to check on the herd.

It could be a story of who, what, when, where, how, and why. For example: why would someone carry that rock across the entire country, twice, when there are other, smoother, prettier rocks to tuck into a pocket? Or a story that has no grounding in our shared reality.

On the other hand, it could be a story about a rock that remembers those cowboys, and the lake, and the time it was new and shiny and had great expectations for the future.

Next time you find a rock, sit down with it and ask its story. You'd be surprised how much a rock has to say.

Friday, October 21, 2022

You can Make a Mountain!

How to Make a Mountain: in Just 9 Simple Steps and Only 100 Million Years! 
by Amy Huntington; illus. by Nancy Lemon 
68 pages; ages 5-8
‎Chronicle Books, 2022

theme: mountains, geology, biodiversity

Let’s make a mountain, a big one with steep cliffs, boulders, streams, and waterfalls.

It’s a big job, but you’re up to it, right? First, we need a rock. Not that one – a bigger one. No, REALLY BIG! And we need some wind and rain, some freezing temperatures, maybe a glacier, then some warming… but most of all we need time. Lots of time. And snacks. You did pack snacks, right? Because we’re going to be here for a while.

What I like about this book: This is such a fun introduction to geomorphology, the study of landforms and landform evolution. Mountain-building certainly falls into that category. I like how Amy Huntington divides her book into nine easy steps, beginning with “crash and crumple” – a great way to describe tectonic plates colliding. There are a number of steps that contribute to weathering the rock and creating soil. Which is a slow process, so she suggests that readers “brainstorm a list of plants” they want on their mountain. 

After adding plants and animals, you might think the job is done. But no, there is one last step: Care. I love that Amy added that last step. Because, although mountains are low-maintenance, they need help keeping the streams clear and the trees healthy.

And then there is back matter! If you’ve made a very tall mountain, you might have alpine meadows. Or maybe you want to add some hiking trails and, if you’ve ever hiked Straight. Up. A. Mountain you know that there are probably better ways to make paths for people to walk. She suggests artistic touches, such as striations, ponds, and vernal pools. Definitely a handy guide for any kid heading out to make mountains out of … well, whatever.

Beyond the Books:

Visit a mountain, preferably one with a trail you can walk up. Most geologists classify a mountain as a landform that rises at least 1,000 feet (300 meters) or more above its surrounding area, so it doesn’t have to be very tall! 
  • When you get there, draw a picture of what your mountain looks like. 
  • If it doesn’t have a name, give it one. 
  • What sort of plants do you see at the bottom of your mountain? 
  • What kinds of animals do you see or hear? 
  • What does the air feel like? 
  • When you get to the top, look at the plants and animals. Do you notice any differences?
  • Make a map to show where your mountain is (in case a friend wants to visit it).
Make some mountains. All you need are three towels of different colors, and a friend. Here’s a video about how to do it.

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 19, 2022

Explore Outdoors ~ Once these were Roses


Now they are rose hips... the fruit produced by this multiflora rose. Multiflora rose is an invasive plant, taking over fields and requiring constant cutting where you don't want them. But, the US Forest Service notes, multiflora rose hips provide food for grouse, wild turkeys, cedar waxwings and robins, chipmunks, white-tailed deer, opossums, coyotes, black bears, beavers, snowshoe hares, skunks and mice. 

This week look for the fruits left behind by summer flowers. Places to find fruits: trees, shrubs, rosebushes, and flowers. What do you see in your neighborhood?

Monday, October 17, 2022

Make the World a Better Place for Wild Things ~ by Lisa Kahn Schnell

I write and make art to make the world a better place. To me, that means protecting wild creatures and wild places, connecting people with the non-human natural world, and deepening and sharing those connections. That’s part of what made me curious to learn more about Rosalie Edge. 
Lisa's sketch of tree at Hawk Mountain

Mabel Rosalie Barrow Edge founded Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in 1934 as a response to the annual shooting of migrating raptors that passed along the main ridge that runs through southeastern Pennsylvania. Because hawks, eagles, falcons, and other birds of prey were considered vermin at the time, whole families gathered on rocky outcrops on Sundays each autumn to shoot the birds as they flew by. Rosalie, who by that point had dedicated her life to protecting wildlife of all sorts (not just the cute and cuddly kind), was horrified. After many ups and downs and a whole lot of work, she raised enough money to purchase the land and create the world’s first sanctuary for migrating raptors. 

I had worked and volunteered at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary for over ten years before I dove into the details of Rosalie’s story. Big posters of her greeted me every time I walked into the visitor center, and I had given presentations about her to tour groups and sanctuary visitors. But with her tidy suit, fancy hat, and heels, I always found her a bit intimidating. Her face did not just look out from those posters. It implored, with the fierceness of one of the raptors she so loved.

Red-tailed hawk sketch by Lisa
I have come to understand that fierceness as devotion to the causes she cared about. Hawk Mountain Sanctuary was definitely one of those causes! But her reach was broad, and whatever the topic, Rosalie took every opportunity to speak up—and encouraged others to do the same. By creating Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, she also made it possible to start collecting data about migrating raptors. This data set has continued to build to this day, and has been used by scientists far and wide (including Rachel Carson) to monitor raptor population trends. Rosalie listened to her heart, and her actions sparked great changes.  

But Rosalie hasn’t gotten as much attention as other environmentalists. I’m excited to share her story, both as a way to give back to Hawk Mountain Sanctuary—a place that has meant so much to me—and also to inspire others. By learning about her struggles and creative solutions, I hope that more people will use their own skills and ideas to make the world a better place for wild things and the humans who love them, too.     

Lisa at Hawk Mountain
One way you can help make the world a better place for wild things is to ask someone to tell you about an experience they had with nature. A lot can happen if you listen. However big or small the story—or the teller!—listening is a great reminder that these experiences and relationships with wild things are important. And who knows what good things will come of that. 

Lisa Kahn Schnell is the author of High Tide For Horseshoe Crabs and other books for young readers. She has worked and volunteered at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary for over 20 years. This year, Lisa has been sketching a tree every day. She’d love to hear your stories about a special tree you know, or other moments in the natural world. You can find her online at and @lisakschnell. 

Friday, October 14, 2022

Meet some Peculiar Primates

Peculiar Primates: Fun Facts About These Curious Creatures 
by Debra Kempf Shumaker; illus. by Claire Powell 
32 pages; ages 4-8
‎Running Press Kids, 2022

theme: nonfiction, animals, adaptations

 All primates climb and breathe in air. 

To be a primate, you have to have certain traits: hands, hair, lungs, and a big brain. But there are so many kinds of primates, and they are all different. In this companion to Freaky, Funky Fish, Debra uses rhyme to show the diversity of primates and their behaviors. Some primates live alone, while some live in groups. Some build nests and some sleep with their family on bare branches, with their tails twined together.

What I like about this book: I love so much about this book that I’ll just start from the outside and move in. First is the jacket: so many different primates swinging, perched on limbs, grooming, hooting, leaping! And then, the actual book cover beneath the jacket. It’s a field notebook – which adds context to the endpages: a map taped to a page, a packing list, and some reminders clipped to the list. The title page is fun, as is the dedication page… and we have yet to reach the meat of the book!

I love the couplets – rhythm is spot on, and the rhymes are fun to read out loud. Primates featured on the spreads are identified, so curious young primatologists can learn their names. And some receive Peculiarity Department Ratings (on a scale of 1-10)

And there is back matter! Three pages of more info about the primates featured on each spread. Plus websites and books and videos. There’s a lot here for parents and teachers – and older kids who want to explore the field of primatology.

But what I loved the most was the last spread featuring young primates playing and building things. You don’t even have to go to a zoo to see one – just look in the mirror!

Beyond the Books:

What traits do you share with other primates?

If you live near a zoo, visit all the primates there. Spend some time watching them (are they watching you?). Write down what you observe.

Some primates use tools. What kind of tools do you use? Here’s a video of chimpanzees using tools.  

Debra 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 copy provided by the publisher.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Explore Outdoors ~ Gold Falling from the Sky


Early in the morning, the first rays of light turn the trees brilliant gold. It's like the leaves are burning with a fire inside of them. They may look like gold on the trees, but close-up you can see they've been battered by wind and pests. They also have their own personalities.

This week, get to know a leaf or two.

Monday, October 10, 2022

Finding Fungi in Alaska ~ by Alisha Gabriel

 In June, I was very fortunate to take an Alaskan cruise with my husband. We saw beautiful mountains, waterfalls, eagles, glaciers, and…fungi! On some of the hiking trails, I couldn’t seem to walk more than a few feet without stopping to photograph something – usually some type of fungus, of course. My husband was the same way, but his passion is sound. He’s an audio engineer and works on video games. He brought along a hand-held recorder and kept stopping to record nature’s ambience. Isn’t great to walk with someone who doesn’t rush you?

The fungi that I found along Alaskan trails were a far cry from the fungi in my backyard in central Texas. Since the trip, I’ve tried to identify a few of the things I photographed. One favorite includes Fomes fomentarius, also known as tinder fungus or amadou. Sue and I highlighted it in chapter 8 of Funky Fungi: 30 Activities for Exploring Molds, Mushrooms, Lichens, and More in a section titled “From the Fungus Files.” And do you know what kept going through my head as I photographed them? I wish I could have used these photos in our book! By then, though, our book was already printed and about to be released to the public. 

But I can share them with you now. Just a few feet away from the tinder fungus was another type of polypore. I think they might have been red-belt conks (Fomitopsis pinicola).

As I walked alongside a trail in the Sitka National Historical Park, a beautiful lichen caught my eye. Nicknamed the “fairy barf” lichen (Icmadophila ericetorum), it was growing on a fallen log stained a blue-green color. I called out to my husband, “Spalted wood!” There are several types of fungi that discolor wood (one type of spalting), but it was the first time I had found one. 

Speaking of lichens, there are many diverse species in Alaska and it’s possible that I saw a few without realizing they’re lichens. When I began sorting through my photos and trying to figure out their names, I came across this PDF of Lichens of Alaska’s South Coast provided by the USDA Forest Service. If only I had researched some of the fungi before the trip! 

One of the coolest lichens I photographed would normally be dangling from a branch, but I found it crumpled on the ground. This stringy, mossy-looking lichen is probably Usnea longissimi, nicknamed Methusula’s beard. 

You don’t have to travel halfway across the country to find fungi, though. You can find lichens and mushrooms and other funky fungi in your own backyard! The more you look, the more you’ll find. Back in May, Sue and I wrote about how and where we find fungi in our backyards, and (of course) you can always check out the activities in our book. If you’re looking for more books, I’ve created a list of “fun”-gi books at, so check it out! 

In addition to writing books, Alisha is an elementary music teacher and adjunct professor at Southwestern University. Not only has she used her writing skills to win four grants to benefit her students, but she’s played flute and piccolo for  video games – and even a TV commercial! You can find out more about her books here.

Friday, October 7, 2022

Build a House, a Bridge, and More...

Last week it was all about beaver building a lodge. So this week I’m sharing books about engineering and architecture. Because… building!

themes: building, engineering, STEM

Bear Builds a House 
by Maxwell Eaton III 
32 pages; ages 4-8
‎Neal Porter Books, 2022

(Bear has been) caring for a friend’s house, but now it’s time to build one of her own.

First, thought, she needs to find a good building site. Then she needs to plan the house and hire some help: Beaver to saw and mill trees, Woodchuck to excavate, and some other woodland crafts-mammals. This book provides a great overview of what goes into building a house. We see the site plan and architectural drawings, complete with elevations (drawings that show what the house will look like from each side). Bear has many things to do: source building materials (local lumber), put in a foundation, install water and sewage systems, frame the house, cover the roof, put in some solar panels and a woodstove, and insulate the house against weather extremes.

What I like about this book: I like the way Maxwell Eaton uses labels and lists to show what is being done and what materials are used. I love the introduction to the house-building crew, and the undercurrent of “is it done yet?” and the final scene when everyone enjoys the housewarming party. Back matter includes a note from the author, in which he points out the environmental costs of various inputs in the construction project. And I like the duck.

How Was That Built?: The Stories Behind Awesome Structures 
by Roma Agrawal; illus. by Katie Hickey 
80 pages; ages 7& up
Bloomsbury Children's Books, 2022

Though there are plenty of illustrations in this book, it feels more like an illustrated nonfiction book for older readers. Author Roma Agrawal is a structural engineer. She has designed bridges and skyscrapers, and spent six years working on The Shard (the tallest building in Western Europe). In her book, Roma shows how engineers and architects approached a variety of challenges: how to build a dome, how to build underground, how to build on ice, in space, in the sea. 

What I like: I like the detailed illustrations, with explanatory text. I like the diversity of engineering problems addressed. And I really like the occasional “try it at home” activities.

Working With Buildings and Structures (Kid Engineer series)
By Izzi Howell; illus. by Diego Vaisberg
32 pages; ages 9+
Kane Miller Publishing, 2022

From sketches to physics to materials selection, this book provides kids a great introduction to building things. With plenty of hands-on activities, this is a perfect book for the kid who wants to explore engineering and architecture. Using nothing more than paper and tape, can you build a structure sturdy enough to hold your math book?

Beyond the Books:

Design and build a house using materials you have in and around your house. You might have blocks, or Legos – but remember to check what’s available in the recycling bin and outside. You might want to use twigs to frame a dome…

Build a bridge out of paper. Here’s a video showing some engineering ideas, and here’s some more bridge-making ideas.

Try making your own mud bricks. Here’s how.

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