Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Explore Outdoors ~ the Other evergreen


Evergreen trees get their name because they stay green all year round. In our woods we've got these tiny evergreen plants that look like miniature pine trees. Usually, we can see them poking their tops up out of the snow. 

They aren't tiny pine trees, though. They are Club Mosses - which is a funny name for them because they aren't mosses either. Club mosses have stems (which true mosses don't) and shallow roots. Those cone-like structures at the top? They're called strobili. That's where spores are produced... and in late summer they'll open and release the spores.
You can learn more about tree club mosses here. Next time you go for a walk in the woods, look for some of these tiny tree club mosses.

Monday, March 28, 2022

Squashing Plants for Fun and Science

The first plant I pressed was a violet. I think I wanted to glue it on a card. My “plant press” consisted of a piece of newspaper and Webster’s Dictionary. I laid the flower between a folded sheet of newspaper and put it inside the dictionary. I may have piled on my dad’s geology textbook for good measure.

The thing about plants is that they sometimes leak and, as I’ve discovered, books don’t like damp pages. Eventually I made a heavy-duty plant press with straps to squish it closed. It’s heavy and big, so I made another one that I can fit into my backpack and take with me on walks.

Here’s what you need to make a simple plant press using materials you can find around the house (maybe even in the recycling bin):
  • cardboard (I used the covers of an old steno notebook)
  • paper towels
  • newspaper
  • watercolor paper
  • some printer paper
  • two thick rubber bands or twine
To press a plant, place it between two pieces of paper or newspaper. Take a few minutes to position it so that you can see the petals, leaves, and other plant parts.

Then layer paper towel and heavy watercolor paper, or more newspaper. If you want to press another plant, place it between paper and layer in the newspaper and other sheets.

Put the top cardboard layer on.

Stretch rubber bands around each end, and let it dry. You can stack a heavy book or two on it as well.

After a week, check to see if your plant is completely dry. If not, leave it in the press longer.

Once your plant is dry, use it to make cards or for art projects. Or make an herbarium mount and add it to a plant collection. Here’s what you need:
  • card stock
  • scotch tape
  • labels
  • page protectors
  • 3-ring binder
Before you mount your plant, fill out a label. Tape it to the bottom right corner of a piece of cardstock.

Gently remove the dried plant from your press and arrange it on the cardstock. Use thin strips of tape to hold the plant to the page. You’ll want to tape the stem, leaves, tops of petals.

Slide the cardstock into a page protector, and put it in the binder. 

Friday, March 25, 2022

In Defense of Dead Plants

Last spring was a tough time for new book releases, what with libraries, schools, and book stores unable to host public events. So this spring I’m sharing some STEAM books that I didn’t get time to review, and I feel are worth another look. And since spring is here and plants are beginning to grow, I thought today would be perfect for looking at…

Herbaria: A Guide for Young People 
by Kelly LaFarge 
34 pages; ages 8-12
Missouri Botanical Garden Press, 2021

The first thing I noticed about this book is that it’s almost as big as my plant press! 

The second thing I noticed was the question on the back cover: What good is a dead plant? It’s a good question, for sure.

Live plants give us oxygen. They capture carbon. They provide fruits and leafy greens for us to eat, and food for animals. They clean pollutants from the air, provide shade, moderate temperature, and beautify the world.

Dead plants, says Kelly LaFarge, “can be as useful to us as living ones.” Especially when they are collected in plant museums, called Herbaria. Just as scientists use museum collections to study birds and mammals and insects, they use herbarium collections to study plants. Medical researchers can use samples of plants to aid in their inventions of new medicines. Farmers can learn about weeds, and ecologists can study plant diversity and their geographical range.

Remember the Lewis and Clark expedition? Back in 1803 President Thomas Jefferson directed them to bring back information about the plants and animals found west of the Mississippi. They observed, recorded, drew pictures of, and collected plants from the west – information that helped leaders understand more about the new world. Those samples are preserved in an herbarium, available for researchers interested in learning how the plant populations have changed in the past 200-plus years.

In addition to introducing the why of Herbaria, LaFarge shows how plants are collected and preserved. Her text illustrations are augmented with lift-up flaps (what’s inside a plant press?), field notebook pages, envelopes, and other interactive things to explore. There’s a glossary and a list of herbaria to visit, should you be so inclined. There’s even a side bar about a kid who discovered a new species in his backyard.

This weekend, pay attention to the plants growing around you. On Monday, come back to find out how to make a simple plant press so you can create an herbarium of your own.

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 author.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Explore Outdoors ~ So Many Shades of Green!

 Sunday was the official First Day of Spring. As if celebrating the new season, I found mosses in all shades of green. 

There are more than 12,000 species of moss. Some grow in cushions, some in sheets that cover the ground, some with feathery plumes, others resembling tiny spiky trees.
Go on a Moss Hunt:
  • how many different kinds of moss can you find in your yard, around the neighborhood, and in local parks? 
  • try to describe - or make a visual catalog of - all the shades of green you find.
  • where do you find moss growing?

Check out this post highlighting 7 interesting things about moss.

Monday, March 21, 2022

We Write to Learn

 One of the reasons I write for kids – well, for anyone, really – is because I want to know more about something. And that curiosity has led me on a lot of discovery adventures. For example, I knew that fungi were all around and that they play an important role in the environment. But I hadn’t realized how extensive their mycelial networks are.

Alisha: I agree, Sue. My curiosity has driven me to research and explore a variety of topics. Some colorful fungi caught my eye more than ten years ago, but when I began considering their importance and the ways we use fungi, from food to medicine, I realized it was a topic that could fascinate kids, too. 

Sue: Another thing I learned was just how diverse Fungi are. This past summer was a good one for fungi, and I saw them popping up everywhere. As I learned more about them, I found even more fungi growing around me – because I knew where to look, and what to look for.

funky fungi, captured by Alisha

Alisha: Me, too! When I took a closer look in my yard, I discovered several different kinds right under my nose! Over the years, I’ve noticed lichens, bird’s nest fungi, and little brown mushrooms, but this year I found inky cap mushrooms, several types of shelf fungi, chicken of the woods, and even a lichen-covered insect wobbling across a trimmed branch. 

in Sue's garden

Sue: I was surprised by the beauty of the fungi growing in my garden. One looked like an orange octopus emerging from the mulch! Or maybe a chicken foot? Another was so dainty that by the time I got my camera, it had melted into an inky spot. I learned my lesson: stick the camera into my pocket whenever I head out to the garden – or any place outside. Because you never know what you’re going to find.

Speaking of cameras and fungi photos, I’ll be posting photos of mushrooms every Friday this spring and summer over at my author Facebook page, and Alisha will post frequently on Twitter. Look for the hashtag, #FungiFriday

Check back next month for another post about our book-writing journey.  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 in three months, but you can pre-order it at your favorite local bookstore, or online at

Friday, March 18, 2022

Spring is for Fox Stories

This is the spring for Fox books! My first post of the year was a book about foxes. And today I’m sharing a couple more.

theme: foxes, nature, animals

A Kit Story 
by Alison Farrell; illus. by Kristen Tracy 
22 pages (board); ages 2-4
‎Chronicle Books, 2022   

This is such a cute book for the little ones. It begins with a challenge on the first page: I am a fox. Do you see me?

The fox kit compares her speed to a hummingbird (slower), the amount of food she eats to a butterfly (way more), and how fierce she is (more than a rabbit). We see her at different times of the day, and through the seasons until, in the winter, she curls up in a ball with her family. 

What I like about this book:

It is fun to read aloud and compare yourself to a fox kit. And the text is simple enough that older siblings might be able to read it by themselves. This book is the second one created by Kristen and Alison. Last year they shared A Cub Story, which invites youngsters into the daily life of a young bear cub.

Sly As a Fox: Are Foxes Clever? 
by Marie-Therese Miller 
32 pages; ages 8-9
Kids Core (ABDO), 2022

You’ve probably heard someone say “he’s as sly as a fox” but… are foxes really sly and clever? That’s what Marie-Therese Miller explores in her book, one of a series comparing animal idioms (expressions) and the real-life animals.

The answer is a resounding YES! “Foxes find places to live and food to eat in resourceful ways,” Marie-Therese writes. “Foxes also outsmart animals that are hunting them.”

Focusing on the Red fox, she highlights their adaptations and discusses the types of food they eat. Like us, foxes are omnivorous, so they’ll eat a wide range of stuff – including berries and fruits planted in people’s gardens!  There’s a chapter that focuses on how foxes hunt, and a chapter that focuses on how they escape other predators.

The informative text is conversational and fun to read. Marie-Therese includes text-boxes to highlight specific adaptations or fox features and a section of “fox facts” at the back.

Marie-Therese is a member of #STEAMTeam2022, and it turns out that she’s not the only STEAM-teamer who contributed to the series. Matt Lilley, who you met in early February through his book on Krill, has written about Oxen and Mules. And Laura Perdew, whose books on the solar system I reviewed just last week, contributed books about smart birds and eagles to this series. If you like word play AND animal science, you can check out more about the series here.

Marie-Therese has written a whole slew of books. Find out more about her at her website.
You can find more about STEAM Team books here.

Beyond the Books

Make a paper bag fox puppet. All you need is a clean lunch bag and some crayons. Here's how.

Walk like a fox. When you look at fox tracks, you notice they are all in a line. And when foxes slink through the woods, they are silent. Here's how you can learn to walk like a fox.

Do you eat like a fox? Red foxes eat blackberries, grapes, apples, and acorns (nuts). They also eat fish, birds, and insects. Make a list of fox foods you eat. My list starts with tuna fish sandwich!

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

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Explore Outdoors ~ End of Winter


This is how winter leaves:
bit by bit
one patch at a time
melting into a puddle
soaking into the soil
leaving mud on my boots
and the smell of spring in the air

Monday, March 14, 2022

Happy Pi Day ~ Plus Exploring Nature with Laura Perdew

Today is 3/14, and you know what THAT means! it's PI DAY! And I've got all sorts of Pi Day activities archived on this blog - which is why I'm not writing another pi day post (though I will, in all likelihood, make a pizza. Pi day things to do here and here and here and here and here.

The other reason I'm not writing about pi (or pies) is because I'm turning my blog over to the delightful Laura Perdew for the day...... and here's Laura!

My journey to becoming an author who often writes STEM books about nature, the environment, and environmental issues seemed destined from the time I was a kid. I always loved to write, to create both fictional stories about imaginary places and reports on conservation. And I always loved to be outdoors. I was the kid with scraped-up knees and muddy shoes. I was the one who would turn over a rock just to see what was under it. And I was also the one who would run outside if I heard a flock of geese honking, just to watch them pass overhead.

Okay, that’s still me. 

And that’s what I love about my work – I get to combine my love of nature with my love of writing. Writing nature-related books is also a way for me to share this passion with young readers while simultaneously exploring and learning. I never tire of the research that goes into my books and I’m always discovering something new.  

The natural world is a complex and beautiful place. At every turn (and under every rock!) there’s something amazing, but so often these wonders get overlooked in favor of busy lives and screens. Through books I hope to immerse readers in nature and foster a sense of wonder. I want to spark curiosity. I want to bring to their attention things that deserve our awe and respect.

I also know that our planet is in trouble. It’s at this point that I find myself quoting Dr. Seuss. “Unless,” he wrote in The Lorax in 1971, “unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.” Whenever I read that, I want to yell, “I care!” I want everyone to know and understand what is going on. And I want everyone to care. Because there IS room for hope. So one book at a time, I try to engage kids in the wonders of the natural world, so they know and understand it, and come to care about our planet. And maybe, just maybe, some will be inspired to make a difference. 

Thank you for joining us today, Laura.  A couple years ago I reviewed Laura's picture book series about Animal Adaptations and her book about Biodiversity for older readers. This summer she's got another picture book series coming out - this one about different biomes. I can't wait to see them! You can visit  Laura's website here.

Friday, March 11, 2022

Picture Book Series for Space Travelers

 Last spring was a tough time for new book releases, what with libraries, schools, and book stores unable to host public events. So I'm sharing some STEAM books that I didn’t get time to review, and I feel are worth another look. 

This week I’m blasting off with set of four books in the Nomad Press Picture Book Science series that explore our solar system. The books are written by Laura Perdew and wonderfully illustrated by Shululu (Hui Li). 

theme: nonfiction, space, solar system

The first line of each book is a greeting from the Universe: Hello Earthlings!  Universe is proud of her Stars, and the Sun (which she calls the Shining Star of our Solar System), the Earth, and the Moon. And she tells all about how they formed and how old they are – did you know Sun is somewhere around 4.5 billion years old? Don’t put candles on that birthday cake!

The Moon is basically a chip off the old block – and has its own power, pulling the tides and providing night light for migrating birds. Stars are each a sun for their own planets (if they have them). And then there is Earth, the one-of-a-kind planet upon which we live and breathe … and hopefully work to keep healthy.

What I like about these books: They are conversational and informal, with the Universe speaking directly to the readers. She presents facts and figures as if you’re having tea and she just happens to mention the weather, or how sailors used to navigate by constellations. I like the two cute aliens who hang out on the pages commenting on the facts and occasionally sharing what they think – and sometimes explaining things. 

I like that each book begins with a poem. I like that each book ends with an activity. And I like the aliens – so much that I had to ask Laura One Simple Question:

me: Whose idea was it to have the two aliens kibbitzing? 

Laura: Ha! That was my idea (and of course the illustrator did an AMAZING job bringing them to life and really giving them personality). Those aliens deliver the layered text. At first, my editor wasn't too keen on them. We had settled on having the Universe be the narrator, but the alien idea wasn't her favorite. Since we'd been working together for so long, I was able to ask if I could write the first draft with them in. She said “yes” and her editorial notes on that first draft included "ha has" … I knew I'd hooked her. 

Beyond the Books:

How well do you know your home planet, Earth? Find a patch of planet – it can be as small as a 12-inch by 12-inch square and as large as a garden patch or a backyard – and watch how it changes over the next few weeks. Draw a picture of what you see each week. What do you notice?

Keep track of the Moon for a month. You probably know that the moon goes through phases, from full to half to … where did it go? Make a calendar for four weeks, and each night draw what the moon looks like to you. Do you notice any patterns in how the moon grows and shrinks?

Look for some stars in the sky. Can you find their constellations? Check out this NASA site to learn more. 

Laura is a member of #STEAMTeam2022. She’s got another picture book series coming out this summer, all about biomes. And she’ll be right here on the blog this coming Monday sharing some thoughts about writing STEAM books. You can find out more about Laura at her website

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 author.

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Explore Outdoors ~ Teasel Texture


Spring is coming. We know this. But still, snow squally clouds let go their fluffy stuff... and the prickery stickery teasels catch it. At least on the windward side.

  • Can you tell what direction the wind was blowing?
  • What do you notice about the stem of the teasel?
  • Can you figure out why (back in the day) spinners used teasels to comb the wool before spinning it into yarn?
  • What else do you notice about the teasel?
Now go for a walk around your house or through your neighborhood. What textures do you notice in the plants (dead or alive) where you live? 

Monday, March 7, 2022

Celebrating Flies, party-style

 One of those warm, sunny days sandwiched between snowy storms, I noticed flies swarming above the lilac tree. Tiny flies, to be sure, but just enough to remind me that Fly Season is on its way. And by this, I don’t mean the season where you grab your waders and pole and head to the trout creek. Oh, no. I mean the time of year when cluster flies and black flies and – oh so many kinds of flies – emerge or hatch or whatever they do so they can buzz around and … bug us.

Although, to be fair, they do play an important role in the world. They help decompose dead things, pollinate flowers, and provide fast food for critters of land, sea, and air. I bring up their nutritional contributions because I’m celebrating the one-year anniversary of my picture book, 13 Ways to Eat a Fly. 

 Over at Melissa Stewart’s Info-liscious blog, I share thoughts about writing it. (Thanks for inviting me, Melissa!) 

Meanwhile, I thought that over here we'd celebrate with party favors. And since you're wherever you are and I am probably a great distance away, they are going to be Make Your Own party favors.  

So grab some paper (origami paper or recycled gift wrap – even a sheet of graph paper will do) and some scissors, markers, and glue because it's time for arts & crafts!

If you don’t have origami paper, cut a 6” x 6” square of paper. Then fold one corner of the square paper to the opposite corner to make a triangle.

Turn the triangle so the longest (folded) side is nearest you. Now fold the left and right corners to meet the central point of the triangle.

Unfold, so you have your large triangle again. Then, slide your finger between the layers of the top point. Fold the top layer down so that the point meets the center of the long, bottom side.

Remember that right corner you folded up and unfolded? Well, you’re going to bring it up to meet the peak of the triangle again. But this time you tuck it into the pocket, right behind the middle triangle. 

Now do the same thing with that left corner: bring it up and tuck it in. At this point it looks like a diamond. But we’ll fix that…

Bring the tip of the diamond down to the bottom corner of the triangle, and crease it. Then tuck the flap of paper inside the pocket. 

Add wings and compound eyes to turn your bookmark into a fly. Or add eyes, wings, beak, legs, and other features to turn your bookmark into a fly-eating creature. Slide your bookmark over the corner of the page and – ta-da! – you’ve got a bookmark to slide over the top corner of whatever page you want to mark. 

Friday, March 4, 2022

Untold Stories of Scientists and Inventors

 Stolen Science 
by Ella Schwartz; illus. by Gaby D'Alessandro 
128 pages; ages 9-11
Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2021

This book asks the question: when you think of famous scientists and inventors, who comes to mind? Chances are you might have thought about Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Charles Darwin… maybe even Marie Curie.

If you stop and think for a moment, you might start wondering: where are the black inventors? Where are the stories of women in science? Why don’t we hear more about immigrant contributions to science and technology and engineering?

Because, writes author Ella Schwartz, too often their contributions have been overlooked, or credit for their discoveries given to other people. She sets out to rectify the situation by telling the stories of thirteen people who have been overlooked, underappreciated, and written out of history:

Mary Anning, whose discovery of ichthyosaur was published in scientific papers by a man who never credited her for finding – and digging out – the fossils.

Jo Anderson, who forged parts for, and assembled the mechanical reaper bearing the McCormick name. As an enslaved person, Jo never received credit for his invention.

Antonio Meucci, who invented a telephone years before Bell, but could not raise enough money to build the working prototype required for a patent.

Benjamin Bradley who built working models of steam engines but, as an enslaved person, was prohibited from patenting the idea.

Carlos Juan Finlay, Anna Wessels Williams, and Nettie Stevens who were denied credit for their discoveries in medicine and genetics

Lise Meitner, Hilde Mangold, Chien-Shiung Wu, Marie Tharp, and Rosalind Franklin who did groundbreaking research in physics, embryology, and more, but whose discoveries were presented by men. 

After grinding my teeth over the injustice of it all, I asked Ella One Question:

me: What made you want to tell these stories?

Ella: Throughout history, women and marginalized people have long had to claw their way to make advances in the sciences, only to have the credit for their groundbreaking work stolen from them - and that’s not fair. I chose to write Stolen Science to finally give credit where credit was due! These stories deserve to be told and children of all backgrounds deserve to see themselves represented in the sciences. Science is open to everyone.

One of the cool things about this book is that sprinkled throughout are sidebars that offer deep dives into the science and technology. You can learn more about the molecular structure of DNA, have fun with nuclear physics, and get a better grounding in paleontology.

Stolen Science is a perfect book for Women’s History Month. It’s also one of the books featured over at STEM Tuesday this month, where the focus is on diversity in STEM.

Ella is a member of #STEAMTeam books. Her middle grade book, Is It Okay To Pee In The Ocean? comes out in January, 2023 from Bloomsbury. 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, March 2, 2022

Explore Outdoors ~ Letting Go of Winter

We're definitely tipping toward spring. I can feel the days lengthen, and new birds show up at the feeder. But there are days when, regardless of how bright the sun is, the air is still cold enough to freeze water dripping off the roof and onto stems below.

What do you see that indicates winter is on the wane?