Monday, January 31, 2022

A voice for STEM from the foot of the Great Wall, by Songju Ma Daemicke

The freedom to read any books you want at any time is a privilege. I grew up in the small town of Jilin, China during the Cultural Revolution. At that time, China was a cultural desert. There wasn't a single library in our town. All Western and Chinese traditional arts and literature were considered without virtue and were forbidden. People read Mao's little red book at school and in their workplaces. We had no TV, only radio, and occasionally, Russian movies. Reading was my escape. I read not only Mao's book and text books, but every single book I could get my hands on. I was fascinated by the beauty and power of a good story and dreamed of being a writer when I grew up. 
I came to the United States in 1996 to advance my education. Even though I loved stories, I chose to major in Computer Science. After receiving my Masters degree in computer science from DePaul University, I worked as a Software Engineer for Motorola. When my twin daughters were born, I became a stay-at-home mom and read to my daughters every day. 

My curious nature and engineering background steered me towards STEM themed books. I chose nonfiction books along with fiction books on each library trip as I wanted my girls to learn something besides being entertained. Noticing how few children books about Chinese culture existed, and none of them being STEM related, I decided to write one myself. 

My first book, A Case of Sense, is about a greedy man who tries to make his neighbors pay for the delicious aromas that come from his yard. A clever judge uses his wise and convincing logic to close the case with another sense. It is a part of the Creative Mind Series of Arbordale Publishing. 

In my second book Cao Chong Weighs an Elephant, I tell the tale of seven-year-old Cao Chong, a famous Chinese child prodigy who lived around 2,000 years ago.  He used creative thinking and a science principle (buoyancy) to determine the weight of an elephant. My book was one of Best STEM book of NASA in 2018.

My newest book, Tu Youyou’s Discovery: Finding a cure for Malaria is a biography of the first Chinese woman Nobel laureate. Tu Youyou used her background in traditional Chinese medicine to develop a new medicine, saving millions of lives. 

I love to share my rich Chinese culture and my STEM interests with young readers. I am proud to be a voice for STEM from the foot of the Great Wall.

Thank you for joining us today, Songju. Last month I reviewed her newest book, Tu Youyou's Discovery. A couple years earlier, I read Cao Chong Weighs an Elephant. You can visit Songju's website here.

Friday, January 28, 2022

What's a Wombat?

by Christopher Cheng; illus. by Liz Duthie 
32 pages; ages 5-9
Candlewick, 2021  

theme: animals, nature, nonfiction

Far underground, where dirt and tree roots mesh, tunnels lead to a burrow.

That’s where wombat lives. Wombat is a nocturnal marsupial, so she becomes active as day fades into night. We follow her as she ambles along her well-worn path on a mission to find breakfast. We watch as she excavates a burrow. And we find where she has left her cube-shaped poop on a rock – it’s her way of marking her territory, so stay out if you’re another wombat!

Wombats may look soft and cuddly, but you don’t want to tangle with them. They have sharp teeth, strong limbs that they use to shovel dirt like bulldozers, and bony bottoms they use to defend their burrows.

What I like about this book: It’s fun to tag along with Wombat on her daily rounds – where we see the world through her point of view. Sidebars add additional information, and there’s additional information at the back. There’s a handy index at the back that makes it easy to look up information more quickly. 

Beyond the Books:

Learn more about Wombats. Here’s an article about wombats, and here’s a video, and here’s an article about how they can produce poop cubes. Because, yes – scientists wanted to know.

Make a Wombat mask. Use cereal box or paper plate to make a stiff face – add ears, draw on a nose, and remember to cut out holes for your eyes. Tie it on with yarn and go off on a wombat adventure.

Learn how to talk like a wombat. They are generally quiet, but make a variety of sounds such as the soft grunts and loud raspy calls you can hear on this video.

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, January 26, 2022

Explore Outdoors ~ Look closer


Even when drying out, rosehips add a splash of color to the landscape: bright red against the white snow. But when you look closer you discover real treasure. The stem has thorns, but also hairs. As the hip ages, it becomes wrinkled. And sometimes, when you look even closer, you find tiny treasures. In this case it's snowflakes stacking on each other. 

Look closer at the winter weeds and plants in your neighborhood. What do you notice?

Monday, January 24, 2022

Cover Reveal: Funky Fungi

 About a year and a half ago, Alisha Gabriel and I had an idea for a book. The editor at Chicago Review Press liked our proposal, and this summer our book, Funky Fungi, 30 Activities for Exploring Molds, Mushrooms, Lichens, and More, will hit store shelves – just in time for summer vacation fungus exploration. 

We are thrilled to share our cover with you this week. Not only do we love the diversity of fungi featured on the cover, but also the way we were included by the design team in the process.

Alisha: We were pleasantly surprised when the editor sent three potential cover designs and asked for our feedback. 

me: And when we suggested a different photo that we thought might be fun to include on the cover, the designer helped us understand why it would not be a powerful element on the cover.

Alisha: I think it turned out great! The colors complement each other, and the smaller fungi balance out the beefsteak fungus growing on the tree. What do you like about the cover, Sue?

me: I’m a fan of white space, and appreciate how the design balances that with the color and texture of the photos.

Funky Fungi is part of the Young Naturalists series. You can find out more about our book at the publisher’s website. It will hit bookstore shelves June 21st, but you can pre-order it at your favorite local bookstore, or online at B&N or Amazon.

Check back here for a monthly series of blog posts about our publishing process!

Friday, January 21, 2022

Good to the Last Drop

When the World Runs Dry: Earth's Water in Crisis 
by Nancy F. Castaldo 
208 pages; ages 10 & up
Algonquin Young Readers, 2022   

“When you get up in the morning and turn on the faucet of your bathroom sink, you can probably trust that water is going to flow out through the tap.” But what if it doesn’t, asks Nancy Castaldo? Or what if the water that does come out is toxic? 

You might be able to go a week or so without food… but water is essential to our life. In this book, Nancy examines our relationship to water and highlights specific issues contributing to a global water crisis. Each chapter presents case studies of ongoing problems in the US and beyond.

In one chapter, Nancy looks at infrastructure: the plumbing and pipes that transport drinking water into our homes. She revisits the Safe Drinking Water Act and shows how polluted drinking water is often and environmental justice issue. She dives into the problems facing residents in Flint, Michigan and Newark, NJ and gives some tips on what to do if lead is found in your school drinking water. 

A number of chapters focus on sources of water pollution, from industrial to agricultural. One community facing groundwater pollution is a short couple-hour drive from my home. Residents in Hoosick Falls, NY are dealing with industrial chemicals that have percolated through the soil and into the aquifer they depend on for their water supply. Other communities, such as our neighbors in Bradford County, PA have lost their water due to pollution from fracking. Sure, you can get water delivered to your home and fill up large 250-gallon “buffaloes” – but the average person in our country uses 60-80 gallons of water per day. How long would that water last for your family? Not to mention problems of keeping water flowing on frigid winter days.

fracking in Bradford County, PA
Algae blooms and red tides contaminate water supplies. Accidental pollution happens when people flush medications down the toilet, and when chemicals from soaps and detergents reach rivers and streams. 

There are problems with too little water: lack of rainfall and snowfall resulting in lowering water levels in lakes and reservoirs. Maybe people can conserve by not watering their lawns, but how can farmers keep crops growing and livestock healthy when the pump runs dry? Likewise, problems arise when there is too much water. Flooding and rising seas pollute drinking water and destroy farmland.

Declining water resources drives conflict and migration. What happens when a corporation, partisan group, or local gangs take control of diminishing water supplies? Fortunately, Nancy ends with a couple chapters that look at potential solutions from recharging aquifers to desalinization, suggestions for action, and resources for folks who want to know more.

Nancy was kind enough to answer One Question:

me: What was the thing that made you know you had to write this book?

Nancy: This was a tough book to write, but so worth it. It enabled me to see people impacted by very difficult challenges rise to the occasion to help others. Every voice matters, from the Standing Rock teens who ran across the country to raise theirs to the Flint moms who supported the Hoosick moms miles away. In the end, I watched so many people show up to make a difference. That’s what it is all about – just showing up for our families, our communities, each other, whether in a classroom or a ballot box. The water crisis impacts everyone. 

My inspiration began in childhood when my mom became a water activist. I even wrote about clean water issues for my middle school newspaper. But the topic rose up again more recently when I was working on The Story Of Seeds and I saw how water issues impacted our worldwide food security over and over again. That led me to writing this book. It is a worldwide issue that needed attention. My readers are on the front lines. I hope that this book becomes a tool in the toolbox for teens working for a better future.

Thank you, Nancy. Speaking of working for a better future, here are some Simple Things You Can Do staring today:
  • take shorter showers
  • fix leaky faucets
  • only run full loads in dishwasher
  • collect rainwater for gardening
  • fill a reusable water bottle

Nancy is a member of #STEAMTeam2022. You can find out more about her 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.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Explore Outdoors ~ Make a bird feeder

 Winter is the perfect season to watch some of the neighborhood feathery friends. One way to attract them to your yard is to hang a bird feeder. Don’t have a feeder? No problem. You can make one from things found around your home.

Here’s what you need:

  • A plastic water bottle, soda bottle, or other liquid - with lid
  • sharp scissors or a craft knife
  • 2 wooden spoons
  • wire, string, or twine for hanging
  • optional: small eye-screw
  • bird seed

 Here's what you do:

1. Take the label off the bottle. Then wash it and let it dry.

2. On the side of the bottle, not too far from the bottom, cut a semicircle arch (a bit bigger than an inch) but leave the plastic uncut at the bottom of the arch. Pull the flap out and down.

3. Push the handle of one  wooden spoon through this hole. Mark where the handle hits the opposite side of the bottle. Cut an X at that mark and push the spoon handle through. It should fit snuggly. Turn the spoon so the scoop is facing up. This is a perch where birds will find seeds.

4. Turn the bottle so that when you look at it, the wooden spoon is going from left to right. Half way up the bottle, cut another semicircle arch. Push the handle of the second wooden spin through this hole – it should cross the first spoon at a right angle (doesn’t have to be perfect).

 5. Mark where the handle hits the opposite side of the bottle. Cut an X at that mark and push the spoon handle through. Then turn the spoon so the scoop is facing up.

6. Use a funnel, or roll a piece of paper to make a funnel, to fill the bottle with bird seed. Some seed should spill out of the semicircle arches into the spoons.    

7. Put on the lid. Then tie wire or string around the top of the bottle to hang it. Option: screw an eye-screw into the lid and then put wire or string through that to hang the feeder.

8. Hang your feeder from a tree or clothesline or somewhere that birds will find it and you can watch it.

If you make two feeders, you can do an experiment. Paint the bottom part of one feeder (below the bottom spoon perch) red and the other green. Paint the lids matching colors, too. Then see if birds like one color better.

Here’s a video that shows how to make a feeder, and here are some pictures of a bottle feeder. Check out these “Make your own feeder” activities from Cornell Lab of Ornithology. At the end are some fun ways to recycle yogurt containers into bird feeders.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Accidental Bird Science

A week or so ago, my friend and romance novelist Carol Henry shared an observation. She hung a number of feeders around her house and noticed that the red feeders ran out of seeds before the others.

Do birds like the red feeder more than the green one? she asked her Facebook friends.

So she hung a green feeder outside her office window right next to the red one. And the red feeder emptied faster. “Just to be sure, we traded places and put the red feeder where the green one was, and the green where the red one was.” She refilled both feeders with seeds and the same thing happened: the red feeder emptied much, much quicker. Then, she replaced the green feeder with a red feeder and refilled them with seeds. This time both feeders emptied within the same time frame.

My friend is not a professional scientist, but she is curious. To me, that curiosity is the core of being a scientist: question-asking, doing an experiment, noting observations, sharing information with others, and encouraging them to explore those same questions. Carol isn’t the first person to ask whether birds prefer different feeder colors. A few years back, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds asked a similar question: Do different colored feeders attract different birds? They found that some birds preferred silver feeders, others preferred blue, and still others would rather visit red feeders. And that this color preference changed with the season.

But back to my friend’s question: do the birds in her yard prefer the red feeders over the green feeders?  I asked my ornithologist friend, Tom Sherry, what he thought. Tom is a Professor in the Dept. of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Tulane University and he noted that, while hummingbirds are definitely attracted to red colors, he had not heard about color preference for seed feeders.

 “I’d want to know exactly how close the feeders are to each other,” he said, “because slight differences in position, such as how windy and distance from vegetation cover, can make a huge difference. Even slight differences in seed mixtures could matter, or whether birds have equal access to seeds, or perch, at both feeders. You want to be sure it’s just the color, and not some “hidden” variable that’s causing the difference.”

 Needless to say, Carol’s question generated a bit of discussion between a few of us who feed the hardy feathered souls that overwinter in upstate New York. I’ve got a green feeder, but now I’m wondering whether I ought to head to the hardware store and buy a red feeder?

Meanwhile, I have a question: does the red feeder attract different birds than the green feeder? And if so, will the preference will hold as we get closer to spring?

 Drop by on Wednesday to find out how to recycle a plastic bottle into a bird feeder so you can do your own backyard bird science.