Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Explore Outdoors ~ Textures


There are so many things to see on trees: leaves, insects, bark, and lichens! The thing I like about lichens - aside from the fact that they are funky fungi - is the diversity of textures. You can touch them gently and feel that some are bumpy and crusty, some are bristly, and some are smooth and leafy.

This week take a closer peek at the trees in your neighborhood. Do they have lichens growing on their bark? If so:

  • What kinds of lichens do you see? Write notes or draw them in your nature notebook.
  • What colors are the lichens?
  • How would you describe their texture?
  • Are there two (or more) kinds growing together?
  • Take a closer look with a hand lens or magnifying glass.
  • What do you suppose ants think about as they walk through a lichen patch?

Monday, August 8, 2022

For the Love of Snails ~ by Marla Coppolino

I've had more slugs in my garden this year than ever. So when I found a slug hanging out atop a dandelion after a rain, I asked Marla (a snail expert) whether it was nibbling the flowers or trying to keep its foot dry. One question led to another and finally I asked if she'd maybe just write a little bit about snails for this blog. I'm so happy she did.
Peer down into a patch of weeds, under a decaying log, or sift through some topsoil, and you might have the chance to meet the often-misunderstood underdogs of the animal kingdom: the land snails.

Why snails, and what exactly are these squishy, slimy creatures, you ask? As a malacologist specializing in land snails and an artist who likes to draw them, I’m happy to tell you. 

I first discovered snails as a young child. I remember turning over the stones in my backyard, where I discovered the universe of tiny snails that lived beneath them. I was intrigued that they led a seemingly mysterious life and had a beautifully coiled shell. I had to learn more, and so began my lifelong quest.

Slugs are snails too, except that they evolved to not need a shell, or some have a drastically reduced bit of shell under the skin behind the head. So when I refer to snails, I really mean snails and slugs.

by Marla Coppolino
In their hidden lives, native snails do lots of unseen good for the ecosystem. First, they act as clean-up crews, making meals out of leftovers like old, rotted mushrooms, dead plants, and even dead animals. You’re more likely to find them if you do a careful search in their natural habitats, like meadows, undisturbed woodlands, and limestone outcrops, where they glean vital nutrients from these materials, like calcium and magnesium. 

In turn, snails and slugs become food for many other animals of the food web. Firefly larvae feast upon them, salamanders snack on them, even some mammals – like chipmunks and squirrels – munch them. For many birds, snails are an essential source of nutrients important for laying viable eggs.

Some snails and slugs can be real garden pests, but you’re unlikely to find the native snails in your vegetable garden. Snails that have been introduced from other lands are the ones with large appetites, doing much damage to your Swiss chard, cucumbers, strawberries, and other veggies and fruits under the dark cover of night. As much as I like to help others learn about the benefits of native snails in the ecosystem, so many questions come my way about how to get rid of garden pest snails. I’m not the expert here, but I can share one trick: I pick the little buggers off my veggies by hand every morning and drop them off at least 100 feet from the garden. Labor intensive, yes, but there’s minimal damage to my garden.

Why do I like to look for, talk about, write about and draw snails so much? Maybe it’s because they need someone to be their megaphone. Spending time with snails reminds me to slow down in life, in a good way, to stop, ask questions, and stay curious. I hope these amazing animals can do the same for both my children and adult audiences. 

Marla develops online courses at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, mostly to help people learn about birds, how to be stewards of nature, as well as fun things like drawing and painting birds. She enjoys researching and pulling together scientific information in a way that's broadly understandable and fun to learn. Marla also drew the illustrations for The Sound of the Sea, by Cynthia Barnett (W.W. Norton & Co. 2021). You can find out more about her art at her website,

Friday, August 5, 2022

It's Raining Mushrooms!

Mushroom Rain 
by Laura K. Zimmermann; illus. by Jamie Green
32 pages; ages 4-8
‎Sleeping Bear Press, 2022

theme: mushrooms, nature, 

Without warning, they appear. Mushrooms!

Ever since I’d heard the title, Mushroom Rain, I’ve wanted to read this book. And I’m so glad I did! Page by page, Laura Zimmermann introduces readers to the wild and sometimes crazy-looking mushrooms that live around us. She highlights the insects and animals that chomp, scrape, and otherwise feast on fungi. And she takes readers underground, to where the mycelium spreads and reaches from tree to tree. 

What I like about this book:
I love the spare, lyrical language Laura uses to show the diversity of mushrooms, and how animals interact with them. There are delicate umbrellas, cupped nests, spooky mushrooms that glow in the dark. They have smells that range from bubblegum sweet to rotten. I love how Jamie Green’s illustration capture the essence of fungi of all types.

And (of course) I like the back matter. Laura does, too, and she shares yummy tidbits of information about where mushrooms live, who eats them, and how their spores help create rain. She encourages readers to notice and wonder about the mushrooms they come across, and lists more resources for curious naturalists. And of course she includes a hands-on activity.

Beyond the Books:

Check out this trailer of Mushroom Rain on youtube.

On Monday, Laura took over this blog to talk about how curiosity drove her to write this book. You can read her post here. And check out her interview over on the GROG Blog.

Grab a coloring page or word puzzle here. There’s also a teacher’s guide filled to the brim with activities.

Make a spore print. First, go find a cool mushroom growing in your yard (or some place where you have permission to pick a mushroom). You can follow these instructions for making a spore print from the North American Mycological Association, or you can watch this video from the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History. Remember to wash your hands when you are finished.

We’ll join Perfect Picture Book Friday when it resumes. PPBF is an event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Explore Outdoors ~ Early Morning Discoveries

The last half of July was so hot that I had to head out early in the morning to get my walk in. Often, the valley was filled with a layer of cloud and the air was deliciously cool. The early morning dew clung to spiderwebs like pearls on thread. They looked like lace.

This week get outside an hour earlier than usual and take a walk around your block, or even around your yard.
  • Does the air feel different compared to later in the day? How?
  • Do bird calls, cars, and other noises sound different?
  • Does early morning smell different than your normal get-out-and-explore time?
  • Can you see the moon, or planets?
  • What do you discover first thing in the morning?

Monday, August 1, 2022

Curiouser and Curiouser ~ by Laura Zimmermann

Laura and Tivy
When I think of STEAM, I think of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Without curiosity science wouldn’t exist. And wonders? You don’t need a white rabbit to tumble into those. The natural world is filled with them. Take fungi. They are bizarre and mysterious life forms with new mysteries uncovered with each new finding.

As a scientist and professor, I gravitate to STEAM topics. I’m always down one research rabbit hole or another. The e-books my university students and I created for children in Uganda, Ghana, and Sierra Leone led me to nonfiction writing for children—a path that created new rabbit holes that have led to the most unexpected places. 

For example, Mushroom Rain. Reading Beatrix Potter’s journal led me to mushrooms, which primed me to read articles about them and drew me to one, in particular, on how mushrooms help create rain. I had fallen into a world every bit as weird and wonderous as Wonderland.

In writing nonfiction picture books, I share things about the natural world that excite me and I hope will encourage my readers to follow their curiosity. For me that often begins with spare, lyrical language to draw readers in. For Mushroom Rain, Jamie Green’s wonderful illustrations captured that vision and took it in a direction more magical than I could have imagined. 

The back matter builds on this by adding more details and ways to engage with the material. Back matter is where my research side shines through. I love it. With a sparse story, I use backmatter to further explain things and fill in the blanks. I want to provide support to build young readers’ understanding. Then I consider what else my readers may want to know and what will spark them to discover more. I include fun facts and STEAM activities to help make that happen.

Reviewing Mushroom Rain, Jen Forbus wrote, “Together Zimmermann and Green prove how fascinating—and beautiful—science and nonfiction can be.” And there is nothing more wonderous than that.

You can read a wonderful interview with Laura over at the GROG blog. And I'll be reviewing her book here at Archimedes this Friday.

Laura K. Zimmermann is a college professor by day and children’s writer by night. She has a PhD in developmental psychology and has published numerous academic articles as well as nonfiction stories in children’s magazines. Mushroom Rain is her first picture book. When she’s not writing, Laura can be found teaching and conducting research at Shenandoah University or wandering through nature with her Goldendoodle, Tivy. You can find Laura online at and on Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest at @LauraK_PBwriter.