Friday, September 30, 2022

Beavers: Ecosystem Engineers!

 The Lodge That Beaver Built 
by Randi Sonenshine; illus. by Anne Hunter 
32 pages; ages 4-8
Candlewick Press, 2022  

theme: animals, homes, ecology

This is the crunch in the darkening wood, of teeth against bark where the willow once stood, on the shore near the lodge that beaver built.

Bit by bit, log by log we watch beaver build a dam, then a lodge, helped by her young ones. But that lodge is more than a home for beaver and her family. Goose builds a nest on top. Turtle hides below. Ducklings, herons, moose … an entire community grows up in and around the lodge that beaver built.

What I like about this book: The text is rhythmic, patterned on “The House that Jack Built” and a whole lot of fun to read. And the ink-and-colored pencil illustrations are so inviting and just welcome you into beaver’s world. 

And there is Back Matter! Now, some folks argue that back matter shouldn’t be needed if the book tells the tale completely. But here’s the thing: as a former teacher (and homeschooling parent) I always wanted to know more about whatever was in a book. So I love, love, love it when an author gives more info – in this case more about beaver architecture and engineering, their amazing tree-cutting teeth, and family life. Plus there’s a glossary and resources for curious young naturalists.

Beyond the Books:

Watch a video about how beavers build a dam. Here’s one, but you can find plenty online.

Beavers are ecosystem engineers. They can help reforest the landscape and regulate water flow. Got flooding? Erosion? Dry creek beds? There’s a Beaver for That!

Build your own beaver dam. You’ll need sticks and mud and leaves – and a plastic tray (a take-out container works well). Check out this video for some tips.

Randi visited the blog on Monday and shared a bit about the swamp where she grew up. If you didn’t catch it earlier, here’s the link

Randi 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, September 28, 2022

Explore Outdoors ~ Seeds!

The dill in my garden is going to seed. That's what dill does if you leave it long enough... it produces flowers which, eventually, produce seeds. It's what tomatoes and cucumbers and pumpkins do, too - but their seeds are sheltered in a protective coating (fruit).
Dill aren't the only ones going to seed. This time of year a whole bunch of flowers are producing seeds: sunflowers, coneflowers, thistles, poppies, lupine, forgotten lettuces and broccoli...
even the spidery cleome flowers which, if I leave them alone, will drop their seeds so I'll have flowers again next year. We'll see...
  • What kind of seeds are you finding as you walk around your neighborhood and local parks?
  • Are the seeds smooth or textured?
  • Do they come in pods or on stalks?
  • Do they have wings or parachutes to fly?
  • Or do they have hooks to hitch a ride?

Monday, September 26, 2022

Notice, Wonder, and Seek ~ by Randi Sonenshine

Several years ago I wrote an artist statement – a sentence or two that described what I did as a writer. That was before my debut book was published and, subsequently, before I truly knew myself as a writer. More importantly, it was before I believed myself to be an artist (something I still question more often than I’d like!).

After giving it much thought, I landed on this statement: I write picture books and poems that take readers on nature-fueled and wonder-filled journeys. Those two phrases, nature-fueled and wonder-filled, capture my essence as a writer, which was in no small part influenced by a childhood steeped in nature.

I grew up on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, with the Chesapeake Bay just to the west, and the Atlantic Ocean just to the East, so there was no shortage of woods and watery places to explore. Wood-fringed ponds, creeks, rivers, marshes, and swamps, each with their own alluring mysteries, were all within close reach. My parents were nature-loving adventurers, so spring through fall, our family of five was off to one state park or another, our canoe-topped pop-up camper bobbing behind us with each dip in the road. 

Our trips always included nature walks and outings with the five of us (and our sixty-pound Irish setter) piled into our red Coleman canoe. My parents never missed an opportunity to educate us on the flora and fauna, though it was always in a way that taught us to notice, wonder, and seek rather than passively absorb information. 

We didn’t need to go camping to commune with nature, however; we only needed to walk out our back door, across the sloping backyard, and down the homemade log stairs into a primordial wonderland - the Swamp. Our Swamp.

Our Swamp, which fed from a pond and funneled into a Creek, was shaded by holly and bald cypress trees and ringed with cattails, sedges, jewelweed, and numerous other plant species. According to my mom, there were 37 different species of birds when we moved there in the winter of 1977.  Songbirds, ducks, geese, owls, herons, and a plethora of four-legged critters, like otters, rabbits, foxes, and white-tailed deer called the Swamp home. There were also snakes, frogs, turtles, and fish. 

My sisters and I, along with our neighborhood friends spent countless hours traipsing in the swamp and adjacent woods. Sometimes we took the canoe through the swamp all the way to the pond, maneuvering through the thick tangle of undergrowth and overgrowth. This often required getting out and carrying the canoe where it was too shallow, or some impenetrable jumble of green blocked the way. 

Though I’m sure I didn’t fully appreciate it then, this time spent in nature had a profound and lasting impression on me. Today, I write with the hope that my books will inspire readers, young and old, alike, to seek out the wild, wooded, and watery places and make their own wondrous discoveries. 

Randi Sonenshine grew up exploring the magical world of forests, streams, and ponds in a pair of trusty tennis shoes and a red canoe. Her debut picture book, The Nest That Wren Built (reviewed here), is a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection and earned a place on many notable lists. Her newest picture book is The Lodge That Beaver Built and it releases this week!

In addition to writing for children, Randi is a literacy specialist and instructional coach in northwest Georgia, where she lives with her husband, two sons, and a sock-eating poodle. Learn more about Randi and her books on her website,, on Twitter @rsonenshine, and on Instagram @randisonenshine.

Friday, September 23, 2022

The Nature Around Us

Where do you go to find a bit of quiet and nature? Your backyard? A park? The forested lands of a nature preserve or state forest? No matter where it is, you’ll find a community – if not people, then of the birds, insects, plants, and other wild things that live there.

Themes: nature, environment, community

A Park Connects Us 
by Sarah Nelson; illus. by Ellen Rooney
‎32 pages; ages 3-7
Owlkids, 2022    

A park invites us—spreads out its arms and welcomes us in, whoever we are.

Between the open green spaces and the trails, a park connects and gathers and collects us to each other. Using tons of active verbs, Sarah Nelson shows how a park can be a nature sanctuary, dance party, picnic place, and even a place for political action. And the cool thing: a park belongs to everyone.

What I like about this book: I love the verbs! Parks are filled with people doing things – even if that “doing” involves sitting quietly and listening to the sounds of nature. And did I mention that it’s written in rhyme? No? Well, it is and it’s fun to read aloud. And there is Back Matter, where we learn how parks were created, with biographical information about park-maker Frederick Law Olmstead. Because, can you imagine living in a city where there are no parks? 

One Million Trees: A True Story 
by Kristen Balouch 
40 pages; ages 4-8
‎Margaret Ferguson Books (Holiday House), 2022

One day after school, Mom handed me and my sisters suitcases, and dad handed us packing lists.

This happened when Kristen Balouch was 10 years old. Her family took off from California to go plant trees at a logging site in British Columbia, Canada: Kristen, her math book (she loved math!), her sisters, her mom and dad, even their pet, Wonder Dog. Where they were greeted with a hearty “Bonjour, mes amis!” 

They spent forty days living in a tent, covered in mud and bug bites, and doing the hard work required to plant trees. Cedar, pine, hemlock, and fir - one million of them. An entire forest of baby trees loaded into boxes of 500 each. If a truck can carry 500 boxes, how many trucks did it take to haul 1,000,000 trees to their camp? (Remember, Kristen has her math book along…)

What I like about this book: I love the way Kristen tells the story using art, dialog, large main text, and smaller text placed strategically along a trail or along a timeline. I love the way she shows how to plant a tree. And I love the sneaky ways she weaves math and French into the story. And there is Back Matter: an author’s note about forest products and old growth forests and why trees are essential to keeping our planet healthy.

Beyond the Books:

Where are the parks in your town or city? Get (or make) a map and then draw in where the parks are. Visit as many as you can. Take pictures. Write a short bit about each park. Then create a town Park Guide for people new to your area.

Next time you visit your park, find out what people are doing. How many are eating? How many are laying on the grass? How many children are playing in the playground? How many birds are waiting for hand-outs? Make a bar graph to show how people - and pigeons, maybe - use the park.

Get to know the trees where you live. Make a tree notebook where you can draw (or paste a photo of) the different trees growing around you. Press a leaf. Watch for flowers. Make a bark rubbing. Learn their names. Introduce them to your friends.

Make up a Math Problem about the trees around you. Maybe it will be about how many seeds will grow from maple "helicopters" or how many acorns squirrels can harvest from an oak tree. Maybe it will have something to do with how tall the tree is or how much ribbon it takes to tie around the trunk.

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, September 21, 2022

Explore Outdoors ~ Fall Flowers

One thing I notice about this changing season is the changing colorscape in my yard and garden. Right now there is an abundance of orange, yellow, and deep reds. 
This week Celebrate the Beginning of Fall with a walk around your neighborhood or a local park, roadside or nature preserve, hayfields or school yard. What flower colors do you notice? Collect some petals to press, and make a color wheel of fall flower colors in your landscape.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Museums are More Than Collections

 What do you imagine when you hear the word "museum?" Walls covered with paintings? Dinosaur skeletons? Ancient agricultural implements?

Sure, museums are a repository of the stuff of our natural - and cultural - world. But they are way more that just places where researchers can examine collections.

Museums can inspire and exercise your creative mind. They are a place where you can learn something new. And they even provide opportunities for socializing. Not that you're going to engage strangers in conversation (though you can if you desire), but when you go with family and friends, a museum visit offers jumping off points for discussion. And, according to some research, going to a museum makes you happy.
At least it makes me happy because, let's just face it: museums are fun! Which is why, a couple weeks ago, I announced to all gathered at the breakfast table that we were headed up to the Museum of the Earth in Ithaca, New York. It's filled with fossils and all things paleontological - but right now, and through the end of the year, they are featuring a fantastic exhibit about insects. And you KNOW I just LOVE insects!

The cool thing about insects is that there are so many kinds of them. An amazing diversity of bugs from beetles to butterflies, wasps to walking sticks, and everything in between. 

Not only is there great variation between species, but also within species. Take paper wasps, for example. Their size can vary depending on where they live. Their markings can vary, too - which is why they have learned to recognize individual faces. Cool, right? Check out this paper by Miller on cognition in Polistes fuscatus. Looking at the collection of pinned Polistes I could not tell them apart ... But I digress.

Then there is the diversity of adaptations to avoid being eaten. Some bugs disguise themselves as plant parts: twigs, thorns, leaves. Some use color to blend in with their surroundings, while others use design and color - such as eyespots - to frighten off potential predators.

Some bugs mimic scarier insects. Think of all those yellow-and-black flies and beetles that look like bees and wasps. Who wants to catch them!

And then there are the beetles and moths and caterpillars that pretend to be poop. Seriously - Best. Disguise. Ever!

And then there are the hands-on things to do: videos to watch, recordings of insect sounds, specimens to examine under magnification, a kid's corner with mazes and coloring sheets and books to read ...

And this is just one small part of the museum! Yes, I could spend an hour just chilling with the bugs - but there are fossils to find, extinction events to explore, and a very cute blue-legged hermit crab climbing a chunk of coral in the salt water tank.

Did my morning at the museum inspire my creative mind? Absolutely. 

Did I learn something new? Yes!

Did we talk about the exhibits later on? How could we not!

Six-Legged Science will be on display through December 2022. You can find out more about it at

 You can find out more about the role of museum collections in biodiversity conservation at this post,

And you can probably find me checking out the insects in and around my garden this fall, at least until it gets too cold for them.

Friday, September 16, 2022

Amazing Women in Wildlife Science

Animal Allies: 15 Amazing Women in Wildlife Research 
by Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan 
‎224 pages; ages 12-up
‎Chicago Review Press, 2022

Do you feed the birds in winter? Help salamanders cross the road? Safely escort spiders from your kitchen back to the great outdoors so they won’t get squashed? If so, you are an Animal Ally, just like the wildlife researchers highlighted in this book.

Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan features stories about fifteen women scientists from around the world who study animals. And since Elizabeth is a birder, it makes sense that the first women we meet work with birds. That’s okay, though, because she’s got the book divided into sections for women who study arthropods, sea creatures, amphibians and reptiles, and mammals. So if you’re a bug-lover (like me) you can dive right into your favorite section first, and read the rest later.

Having said that, I confess that I did, indeed open up to the section about arthropod researchers. Back in the last century I was the “ant lady” at a camping area on the Sonoran Desert. I studied the foraging behavior of harvester ants, so I wanted to read all about Dr. Corrie Moreau and her ant studies. Her first studies involved scattering crumbs and watching ants gather and carry them back to their nest. Now she uses DNA to learn more about the evolution of ants. Then, Elizabeth interviews the Bug Chicks – who, if you don’t know about them, you need to. They make learning about bugs fun and have scads of videos at their website. And there was a wonderful chapter about an ecologist who studies spiders in the city.

Each chapter highlights not only the wildlife science the researcher is engaged with, but also puts it into context. Sure, the bird scientists are studying birds, but their research intersects with biodiversity and conservation and, too often, the challenges of a changing climate. The scientists in this book are passionate about sharing their knowledge with others, often young people. And there’s one more thing that comes through, as we read our way from one chapter to the next: these women challenge the assumptions of who can be a scientist and what a scientist looks like.

And then there’s back matter! Elizabeth includes resources for young naturalists – apps such as Merlin and iNaturalist, tips about camera trapping, encouragement for becoming a community scientist, and how to take action on climate change. Chapter notes provide opportunities to learn more about specific points she makes throughout the book. If I rated books, I’d give it 4 wings.

I caught up with Elizabeth by email a couple weeks ago, and just had to ask her One Question:

Me: What inspired you to write this book? And was it a "pandemic project"? (okay, two questions)

Elizabeth: Yes, I wrote the book during the pandemic. So many scientists were unable to be out in the field doing work, I was able to interview them. 

I love animals and wildlife and cared for a wide variety of pets when I was young. I love reading science biographies and I was a science educator for many years. I think those things combined inspired me to write this book. I had so much fun interviewing the scientists and I’m happy I was able to share their stories. 

Elizabeth 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, September 14, 2022

Explore Outdoors ~ insects in the garden (still)

 The days may be getting shorter and (in some places) cooler, but there are still plenty of insects around. Butterflies, bees, grasshoppers, crickets ... and even woolly bear caterpillars looking for a place to curl up for the winter.

This week, pay attention to the insects you see. Where do you find them? What are they doing? How are they getting ready for the coming winter? 
While walking in a neighboring town last week, I came upon a beautiful pollinator garden. One of the plants was simply  buzzing with bees! The gardener happened to be around and explained the feathery blooms were "Kiss me over the Garden Gate" - a Victorian cottage garden favorite. The plant is native to China, but has a long history in American gardens going back to President Thomas Jefferson - who was a pretty passionate gardener.

My own garden has its fair share of bumble bees and carpenter bees and tiny native bees of all kinds. But I found this handsome hopper hiding in the basil! Love those stripy legs... 

Monday, September 12, 2022

Haiku to the Rescue ~ by Kathy Halsey

Cosmic cliffs. Star birth.
Our past mysteries come alive.
Stellar nurseries.

I am thrilled to be guest blogger on author-friend Sue Heavenrich’s Archimedes Notebook today. Sue and I met at the WOW Nonfiction Retreat in the Georgia mountains 7+ years ago and blog together with other children’s writers on the GROG blog

I love writing nonfiction and informational fiction. The natural world is a muse that relaxes me and feeds my curiosity. A writing format that makes nature observation even more detailed and distilled is the seemingly simple haiku. I discovered haiku early in high school; Bashō and Issa were my favorites. 

Last August, after I received a professional critique that made me feel like I couldn’t write my way out of a paper bag, I stopped writing. Haiku came to my rescue. I sat on the back deck with my journal, sketched, and wrote. This simple joy soothed me. 

It's Just Stones!

Making something new
from ordinary unseen
elements is ART.

This year I began to take my haiku, photos, and photos of friends to Twitter weekly. I enjoy participating in #HaikuSaturday, created by Susan (Morhar) Andrews (@AndrewsSusanM).  As Susan says, “There aren't any rules-- just friends sharing haiku and having fun. Everyone is welcome.”  

Connecting to the natural world in an artistic form via haiku comes easily to me now. Through wonder, play and being outside, I meet science through nature’s magic. I observe, make comparisons, investigate, ask questions, take notes, and talk to experts—teachers, scientists, and, of course, I do research. I’ve even used haiku as a revision technique for a STEAM picture book. I’m sharing a few of my favorites to help you jumpstart your brain and see the world with fresh eyes.

Betta Dance

Bettas swim and swish.
Water ballet is their forte.
The tank? Their own stage.

Splendor Alights

Stillness. Perfection
lights upon sweet nourishment.
A moment in time.

For nature to shine.
For me to reflect beauty.
For splendor captured.

Whispering Pines

Fall calls. Reflections
gleam and mirror in the lake. . .
Time to reset. Pause.

Zebras as op art.
Nature's canvas paints a feast
For discerning eyes.

Kathy Halsey received a 2019 PBChat Mentorship and is Ohio SCBWI Central/South region’s newest ARA. Her first board book releases winter of 2023. She is a former K-12 school librarian, seventh grade English teacher, and Past President for The Ohio Educational Library Media Association. Kathy volunteers for the Choose to Read Ohio Advisory Council for the State Library of Ohio and learns about nature, flowers, plants, and vegetables by volunteering in a community garden. Kathy and Bob, her husband, live in Columbus OH with their rescue Corgi Scrappy Doo. Find Kathy online at 
her website ~
the GROG ~
twitter ~
facebook ~

Friday, September 9, 2022

Finding Fall Treasures

On a Gold-Blooming Day: Finding Fall Treasures 
by Buffy Silverman
‎32 pages; ages 4-9
Millbrook Press, 2022

theme: autumn, seasons, poetry

On a gold-blooming, bee-zooming, sun-dazzling day…

creatures are busy! Crickets are chirping, butterflies slurping, squirrels nut-burying, mushrooms popping up after a fall rain, and leaves are falling! 

What I love about this book: The language! Lines rhyme and make it a perfect read-aloud. And the language is lively – as in, there are lots of wonderful verbs used in oh-so-many ways. They show action (seeds drift) and describe the sort of day it is (nut-crunching).

I love the photos. They are big, bold, filled with fall colors and scenes of nature.

And (of course) I love the back matter: four pages packed with additional information about the plants and animals you find in fall, a glossary, and a list of books for curious young naturalists (and the adults who read the books to them).

I’ll be interviewing Buffy over at the GROG Blog on the First Day of Fall, but today I just had to ask her One Question about her book!

Me: What are some of your favorite words from the fall season?

Buffy: My favorite fall words from On a Gold-Blooming Day are: "Cranes rattle. Fish skedaddle." In the fall, sandhill cranes gather in large numbers in the swampy end of the lake near our house, rattling late into the night (in fact, I can hear a few cranes right now!) Lots of animals skedaddle during autumn, hurrying to find food or make other preparations for winter. Although it still warm in Michigan, I am looking forward to crisp, crunchy, goose-honking weather!

Beyond the Books:

Go on a fall treasure hunt. Notice the different kinds of leaves on the trees and see if any are changing color. It might be too early – but that’s OK because you can do this activity all fall until the last leaf falls. While you walk, collect different kinds of leaves, acorns, sycamore balls, seeds, and other things for some leaf-art activities.

Make leaf rubbings and leaf people. You can make leaf people by gluing leaves to a sheet of paper like this, or you can create 3-D leaf people puppets like this.

Write your own list of Fall Words. They could be colors, sounds, smells of fall or the things you notice animals and plants doing. If you have crayons, you can write the words in fall colors. Turn your words into a Fall Chant or a song or a wish-list or …. Whatever you want to do.

Need more ideas for celebrating the coming of fall? Check out this list of 100.

Buffy Silverman 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, September 7, 2022

Explore Outdoors ~ Flitting around with Fritillaries


In late summer the goldenrod blooms. Some flat-topped, some droopy spikes, all filled with the color of the sun. And above, fritillaries flutter, land, unroll their long tongues and slurp sweet nectar with the abandon of a kid sucking up the last of the season's milkshakes.

This week look at the colors of the flowers - and the butterflies - in the landscape surrounding you.