Friday, July 29, 2022

Beach month ~ Let's go Fishing!

This is it – our last day at the beach. So I tucked two books in my tote: one about a fish, and one about the oceans that cover our planet. Have fun, and brush the sand off your feet before you come back inside.

Themes: ocean, fish, nature

Anglerfish: The Seadevil of the Deep 
by Elaine M. Alexander; illustrated by Fiona Fogg 
32 pages; ages 4-8
‎Candlewick, 2022

Far, far below the ocean’s surface, where no trace of sunlight can reach, Anglerfish makes her home.

Anglerfish may look scary, with that big mouth and sharp teeth. But she wasn’t always so big, or so toothy. Readers follow anglerfish from fry to fierce predator to releasing eggs for the next generation.

What I like about this book: I love how the dark, scary cover and the dark, mysterious illustrations bring us right into anglerfish’s deep, dark world. I really LOVE the illustration of crab trapped behind those sharp, sharp teeth. And I like how the back matter shows the ocean zones and adaptations of deep ocean fish. I also like the comparison of the different species of angler fish. I didn’t know there were so many!

Oceans : Shine-a-Light 
by Carron Brown; illus. by Becky Thorns 
36 pages; ages 4-8
‎ Kane Miller, 2022

Five great oceans ebb and flow over our planet…

When you look beneath the waves, you discover the oceans are filled with wildlife. Sometimes you have to look beneath the ice, sometimes amongst the kelp forests, and sometimes deep, down at the bottom of the dark, cold Atlantic. 

What I like about this book: Each page presents a mystery … who is hiding here? To solve the mystery, shine a flashlight behind the page or hold it up to the light to reveal what is hidden. It could be a narwal, a seal, or a turtle. It might even be a sea dragon! A map at the back shows a map of the world’s oceans and tells a bit more about them.

Beyond the Books:

Reel in a catch of books about fish and ocean stuff…. Here’s a few titles you might enjoy: Just Like Us! Fish, I See Sea Food, and Ocean Soup: A Recipe for You, Me, and a Cleaner Sea (links are to reviews)

Learn more about deep-sea anglerfish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Make a mini-ocean in a bottle. All you need are sand, shells, some small plastic ocean animals, and water. Oh, and a plastic bottle for the aquarium. Instructions here. You can find a whole bunch more ocean activities here.

We’ll join Perfect Picture Book Friday once they resume. It’s a wonderful gathering where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copies provided by the publishers.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Be a Scientist ~ International Monarch Monitoring Blitz, July 29 - August 7

Got an eye for monarchs? The Xerces Society among other partners invites you to join a weeklong International Monarch Monitoring Blitz beginning this Friday, July 29. 

Volunteers help track milkweed, monarch eggs, caterpillars, and/or adults as part of a trinational effort to better understand the monarch butterfly’s breeding productivity, range, and timing in North America. 

Learn how you can participate in this community science project. Give yourself some extra time to watch training videos and read up on the projects. Then head out and do science!

Monday, July 25, 2022

Where Does a Walk Around the Block Take You?

One of the things I like about my daily walks is that there’s always something to see. Sometimes it’s flies clustered around just-opened willow flowers. Sometimes it’s the way a Virginia creeper spirals up the trunk of a tree. After a wind storm it might be treasures blown down from the treetops: twigs with interesting lichens, bird nests, seeds with helicopter rotors attached…

Recently I’ve been reading the stories Spike Carlsen tells in his book, Walk Around the Block (HarperCollins, 2020). He’s an urban walker, in Minnesota. So he writes about snow. He also writes about manhole covers, recycling bins, bike lanes, crosswalks, and how water gets to his house – and where it goes after it slurks down the drain.

Carlsen asks questions: what happened to the front porch? It used to be the place where neighbors would pull up a rocking chair or milk crate and chit chat. He takes readers on tours through a power plant, a sewer, a trash museum, even the inner-workings of a post office. How does the mail get from there to here? He opens our eyes to appreciate the natural side of things as well… things like pigeons, squirrels – even roadkill.

This is the sort of book that makes you want to walk slow enough that you can inspect the weeds pushing between the cracks in the sidewalk. This is the sort of book that inspires you to head outside before the sun dries the dew so you can look at spiderwebs on the fence. 

This is the sort of book that makes you wonder: if I walk around the block today, what will I find? And leads one to ask: does it matter how I walk around the block? If I go in a counter-clockwise direction, will I see things differently? What if I play hopscotch with the fallen walnuts and hickory nuts? Walk at a snail’s pace? 

A Dozen Walks to take Around Your Block
  1. Walk sideways, like a crab
  2. Walk with a child
  3. Skip part of the way
  4. Walk backward (when you’re in a safe place)
  5. Look at all the flowers on your route
  6. Listen to the birds
  7. Notice people working ~ what are they doing?
  8. Walk at first light
  9. Walk after dark
  10. Look at doorways
  11. Examine things growing in the sidewalk
  12. Stop and smell the _______.

Friday, July 22, 2022

Beach Month ~ Let's Go Otter Watching!

The Secret Life of the Sea Otter 
by Laurence Pringle; illus. by Kate Garchinsky 
32 pages; ages 6-9
Astra Young Readers, 2022 

theme: otters, nature, ocean

Lutris takes a nap. She has been busy all morning, diving underwater to hunt for food.

This book shows up-close-and-personal what the daily life of a sea otter is like – and it’s not all floating in a bed of kelp. Clams may be easy to harvest, but then Lutris has to smack them open. Fortunately she has a rock for that – and a place to tuck it away safely until she needs it again. Wait! Otters have pockets? We also watch a baby sea otter grow, learn how otters communicate with each other, and how otters use strands of kelp in their child care strategy.

What I like about this book: In addition to learning about otter pockets, we learn so many other sea otter facts. Here’s a fact: I know my otter-crazy kid would have loved this book!  There is also back matter where parents (or older readers) can learn more about sea otters.

Beyond the Books:

Check out these ocean and otter-related books: Planet Ocean: Why We All Need a Healthy Ocean and If You Take Away the Otter

Do you have an Otter Pocket? Check out this short video showing how Luna uses her pocket. You can learn more about sea otters here

Make a paper bag sea otter puppet. Then have your otter tell a story about life in the ocean. Instructions and downloadable template for otter parts here.

Watch Sea Otters! If you don’t live close to an aquarium or ocean, check out this live Sea Otter cam. Warning: it is very relaxing.... you might just want to stay for awhile. So grab your beach chair and thermos of lemonade.

We’ll join Perfect Picture Book Friday once they resume. It’s a wonderful gathering where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Explore Outdoors ~ Striped Things


I was weeding in the garden and discovered this sly cat hiding in the fennel. Well, not "hiding" - more like chowing down. Apparently swallowtails love fennel. And I love the colors!

This week look for stripy things around your yard and neighborhood. You might find stripes on a fly, or a beetle. Maybe even a different kind of caterpillar.

Monday, July 18, 2022

Desert Lichens Can't Deal with Increasing Heat

Biocrust at the Birds of Prey National
Conservation Area
, Idaho / public domain
 One of the points Alisha and I make in our book, Funky Fungi, is that fungi help hold the earth together. The fungi living in and on the soil are so small – many of them microscopic – that we don’t see them. And too often we don’t pay attention to those we do see, such as lichen crusts.

But those lichens and tiny fungi, along with other soil organisms, play a critical role in some of Earth’s ecosystems. And climate change is killing them off. In particular, increased heat is harming the biocrusts that protect desert soils in the arid western United States.

The biocrusts are made up of fungi, lichens, mosses, blue-green algae, and other microbes. They act as a skin on desert soils, retaining water and producing nutrients (such as nitrogen and carbon) that other organisms can use. But new research shows that the warming climate is destroying the integrity of the desert soil “skin” in Canyonlands National Park in Utah.

The study, started back in 1996, was originally meant to monitor the spread of a nonnative plant called cheatgrass, as well as look at how it affected the biocrust in the grasslands and the other plants. Researchers surveyed a dozen soccer field–sized plots, counting the  numbers and kinds of  lichens, mosses, fungi – and the surrounding plants. They were able to compare their data with results of an earlier study done in the 1960s.

Here's what they have noticed in the intervening years:

Repeat photos of biocrusts from the same area in 2004, 2009, 
2014, and 2019 / USGS photo by Rebecca Finger-Higgins
  • Over the past 50 years, weather data show that temperatures in that park have increased 0.27°C each decade (nearly half a degree F). In addition, recent summers have been particularly warm.
  • Nitrogen-fixing lichens have declined significantly. In 1967 and in 1996, those lichens made up 19% of the biocrust (the percentage fluctuated slightly from year to year). Since then, the percentage of nitrogen-fixing lichen has shrunk to just 5%, with no sign of increasing again.
  • Before 2003, lichens sometimes declined temporarily and bounced back. Recently, they have showed a steady decline.
USGS ecologist Rebecca Finger-Higgens says the biocrust may have reached a tipping point, where a permanent shift in the community of biocrust organisms could lead to more bare ground. If the biocrusts disappear, the desert soils will dry out and blow away in strong winds. If the biocrust hangs on with fewer lichens, the loss of soil nitrogen will mean reduced survival of the grassland plants. That would have a disastrous effect on the animals that rely on the plants – and lead to a cascading effect on the entire ecosystem.

Friday, July 15, 2022

Beach Month ~ Let's Check Out a Tide Pool!

July is Going To The Beach month – so that’s what I’m doing. All month long I’ll share new books that focus on the ocean. If you don’t have a beach nearby, fill a bin with sand for your feet, set up a beach chair and umbrella, grab some lemonade, and enjoy the books and activities.

The Tide Pool Waits 
by Candace Fleming; illus. by Amy Hevron 
40 pages; ages 4-8
‎Neal Porter Books/ Holiday House, 2022

theme: summer, ocean, nature

The waves … CR-A-A-A-A-SH in.
 And then … cr-e-e-e-e-p out. 
Swish, gurgle, trickle, drip-drip-drip.

The tide pool is waiting. Beneath the hot sun, at the pool’s bottom, creatures are waiting. What are they waiting for?

High tide! That is when the pool becomes part of the sea again – when anemones open and crabs explore. When sea cucumbers and fish get out and about. But… the sea can’t resist the pull of the moon, and too soon the tide creeps out.

What I love about this book: I love how the book starts before the tidal page (yep, that was intentional!) – and how we, along with the tide pool creatures, wait. And wait. And wait for the return of the cool ocean water. I love the language Candace Fleming uses to entice us into the tide pool, and the way Amy Hevron uses colors to fill the tide pool with life.

And I love the back matter where we get to meet the barnacles and mussels, crabs and anemones, periwinkles, snails, limpets and so, so many other wonderful creatures. There’s a section for kids who want to explore tide pools (even if they live far from the ocean), and a handy guide to where the creatures live along the tide zone.

from Rye Nature Center
Beyond the Books:

Check out these tide pool-related books: The Crab Alphabet Book, and Tide Pool (an early reader).

Visit a tide pool. If you don’t live near the ocean, you might find a tidepool tank at a science center or museum. You can also get to know tide pool creatures through videos at Life in a Tide Pool.

Choose a tide pool animal and learn more about it. If you were that animal, how would you move? Eat? Sleep? 

Make a mini-tide pool to see what happens when the water level changes. Here’s how to do this experiment.

We’ll join Perfect Picture Book Friday once they resume. It’s a wonderful gathering where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review galley provided by the publisher.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Explore Outdoors ~ Blackcaps


This is the best part of summer: blackcaps (raspberries) grow in neglected parts of our yard. Sure, they are full of seeds that get caught in your teeth, but they taste yummy as cereal and yogurt-toppers. Good on ice cream, too. And if you forget to eat breakfast before heading out to play, there's a snack growing nearby. The best part: birds love them, too! That's okay, because we've got way too many to keep to ourselves.

Monday, July 11, 2022

So, Your Kid Wants to be a Scientist or Engineer… Now What? by Jennifer Swanson

 As an award-winning author of STEM books for kids, I get asked this all the time. Especially by parents or teachers who might not be that interested in STEM themselves. They want to encourage this interest but have no idea where to start.

Step #1: Allow them to follow their curiosity!

That’s how it started for me. I’ve loved science my whole life. Here’s me, as a young child. While it looks like I was just playing with a ball in a pool, I was probably doing my very first experiment. I might have been thinking, “why does this ball float?” and “what would happen if I push this ball under the water? Will it come up again?” I mean, I was probably two years old in this picture, so maybe I didn’t have all of these questions. But they were brewing there, right under the surface, waiting to be asked. And thankfully, my parents encouraged my curiosity. 

Step #2: Get them to the library! 
Kids that have an interest in science, technology, engineering, and math can find tons of resources at the library. I encourage you to let them roam the aisles of the nonfiction books. Encourage them to grab books about whatever topic interests them— sea turtles, cars, rockets, robots, elephants, quantum physics, or even the history of the world. Whatever captures their attention will fuel their imagination for the future. 

Step #3: Listen and Learn!
The best way to learn about a job is to talk to someone who is doing it or has done it. Remember as a kid when you visited the firehouse to learn about being a fireman, or went to the local grocery store to learn about how food is transported and sold. Both of those experiences taught you about those jobs because you got to see— and hear— about it firsthand. 

So, take your kids to nature centers or zoos and introduce them to the biologists. Go to a space museum and meet an astronaut. Or, if you don’t know where to go, take a listen to some podcasts, like my Solve It! For Kids podcast, where you can hear from scientists, engineers, and experts. Let kids dream that about the job they want to have one day. 

Step #4 : Get Involved! 
Get outside and explore the world! Sign up for a beach clean-up. Collect trash at a park. Go on a walk around a lake to notice the wildlife. Hike a nature trail. Ride bikes along the beach. All of these activities will introduce kids to the science that is all around them every day.

Curiosity. Exploration. Inspiration. That’s what it’s all about. If kids (of all ages), just investigate what intrigues them and strive to learn more, who knows where it will take them! 

Jennifer Swanson is the award-winning author of over 45 nonfiction books for children. Using her background in science and history that she received from the U.S. Naval Academy, and her M.S. in Education, Jennifer excels at taking complex facts and making them accessible, compelling, and humorous for young readers.  Jennifer's passion for science resonates in in all her books but especially, Astronaut-Aquanaut: How Space Science and Sea Science Interact and BEASTLY BIONICS which both received Florida Book Awards and  NSTA BEST STEM book awards.  Her Save the Crash-test Dummies book received an NSTA BEST STEM Award and a Parent’s Choice GOLD Award.  Jennifer has been a featured speaker at the Tucson Book Festival, National NSTA conferences, the Highlights Foundation, the World Science Festival the Atlanta Science Festival and the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival in 2019. Her newest book, Footprints Across the Planet comes out next month. You can find Jennifer through her website.

Friday, July 8, 2022

Beach Month ~ Let's go Beachcombing!

 July is Going To The Beach month – so that’s what I’m doing. All month long I’ll share new books that focus on the ocean. If you don’t have an ocean - or a beach -  nearby, fill a bin with sand for your feet, set up a beach chair and umbrella, grab some lemonade, and enjoy the books and activities. 

Look What I Found at the Beach 
by Moira Butterfield; illus by Jesus Verona 
32 pages; ages 2-5
‎Nosy Crow / Candlewick Press, 2022

theme: summer, ocean, nature

We’re chasing waves and having fun. 
Water sparkles in the sun. 
Look what I found!

This is the perfect book to read before you head off to the beach. It’s so fun that you’ll be tempted to tuck it in your beach tote. Part field guide and part treasure hunt, we follow three friends as they comb the beach in search of shells, stones, and sea life.

Some spreads invite you to look for specific things: a sea star, tiny fish, some shrimp. 

 Other spreads explain how to identify things, such as different kinds of crabs you might find, or types of shells.

What I like about this book: I love the scavenger-hunt lists encouraging kids to look more closely at the illustrations. And I love that this book, like the previous one (Look What I Found in the Woods) is all about observations. Look! Notice! Pay attention to the things that are similar and things that make this crab/shell/feather different from that one. And that the final thought is for collectors to be thoughtful, taking only things that have washed up onshore. 

If I rated books, I would give this one 5 sea stars. 

Beyond the Books:

Indulge in some more beach reading. Check out these STEM books for the Beach, and Melissa Stewart's wonderful book, Seashells: More Than A Home.

Write some Postcards From the Beach ~ short notes about things you see, hear, smell during your beach day. Or write a haiku. Describe a shell or the sound of the waves. Here's one I wrote inspired by the shells in my bowl.

Play a beach game. Here’s one you can play even if  you don’t have a beach nearby. You need a large beach towel and an inflated beach ball (the big ones are more fun). Have people hold the ends and sides of the towel and put the ball in the middle. Now work together to bounce the ball. See how high you can get it!

Go on a Beach Scavenger hunt. Use a camera or notebook to “collect” your findings (unless they are washed up on shore…). Find: three different kinds of shells; seaweed; ; driftwood; bird tracks; a boat; a crab or other sea creature; a sand castle; footprints in the sand; someone fishing; cries of gull; sunhat; feather; bucket and shovel; small fish; pebbles or sea glass.

We’ll join Perfect Picture Book Friday once they resume. It’s a wonderful gathering where bloggers share great picture books  at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Explore Outdoors ~ Dainty Fungi

 Last week I was putting straw down for mulch and noticed this dainty fairy inkcap mushroom. It looks like it is made out of glass! It looks just as dainty from underneath!
This mushroom grew from one of the grains in the oat seedhead. Take a closer look at the mulch tucked around the plants in the gardens in your neighborhood. You might find fancy fungi in wood chips or straw mulch.  

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.