Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Explore Outdoors ~ Shades of Winter Flowers

 This week pay attention to the colors of the flowers around you. The roses in one neighbor's garden displayed a range of hues from beige to faded peach to walnut and even colors of desert sand. Jot down the colors and shades you see. If you need some ideas for naming colors, drop by a paint store and check out the paint chips.

Winter Garden

The roses in my garden are beige, tan,
the color of espresso crema
or cafe con leche.
They remind me of desert sand
(depending on which desert),
a fortune cookie,
grade A maple syrup,
tortilla chips,
peanuts in the shell, 
peanuts out of the shell,
pecans and walnuts, 
amber, honey,
a faded peach, 
the end of summer.

Monday, November 28, 2022

The Beauty of Dead Flowers

In the past few days the temperature has taken a dive, snow has fallen, and my garden has gone from the gold and rusty reds of late fall to the brittle browns of not-yet-winter. 

There is a stark beauty to the end of the season. Without the distraction of brilliantly colored petals (and the attendant bees, flies, wasps, beetles, butterflies, caterpillars, spiders, and birds) I can see the underlying structure: the cones that held the individual flowers; the prickles and hairs on stems and leaves.

I can enjoy the beauty in the curves of the leaves…

Seedpods split, filled with seeds ready to fall at any moment …

The details of seeds waiting to lift off in the breeze…

What was once order is now all about letting go. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Happy Thanksgiving

Wild Turkeys, painted by Jodie Mangor

Every now and then a flock of wild turkeys congregates on my front lawn. After scratching about, searching for acorns or beetles tucked beneath the thatch, they leave in a stately procession. 

I'm taking a break this weekend to eat pie and read books. See you on Monday.  

Monday, November 21, 2022

A Lifeline for Coral Reef Habitats ~ by Jessica Stremer

 I’m extremely excited to tell everyone about my debut picture book, Great Carrier Reef, illustrated by the incredibly talented Gordy Wright. It’s part of Holiday House’s Books for a Better Earth series and will be available next June, right around Word Ocean Day.

Great Carrier Reef shares the journey of the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany (nicknamed the Mighty O), as it’s stripped down to a steel shell in preparation for a new life below the waves as the world’s largest artificial coral reef. 

As a kid, I loved learning about nature and science. I used to sit and watch the show Animal Planet for as long as my mom would let me. I studied biology in college and dreamed of doing field work, but life had different plans. 

My husband is a pilot in the United States Marine Corps and has spent months living on aircraft carriers. Right before his most recent deployment my kids were begging for an extension of TV time. I agreed, only if they turned on something science/nature-y. My daughter chose a documentary about the sinking of ships, which happened to feature the Mighty O. My curiosity was piqued. Between my love for science and my identity as a military spouse, I knew I needed to share the Oriskany’s story with kids.

To distract myself from the upcoming deployment I dove into research. I read about the Mighty O’s time in service, what it takes to reef a ship, and the benefits of artificial reefs. All around the world coral reefs are suffering due to pollution and warming water temperatures. Artificial reefs benefit ocean ecosystems by helping to increase biodiversity. 

The Oriskany was specifically chosen for reefing because of its massive size, which gave coral polyps a large area to colonize. The structure also provides lots of places for marine animals to take shelter. 

Coral reefs can differ depending on where they are located. So I interviewed biologists who monitor marine life on and around the Oriskany to ensure I included the correct species in my book. When people look at Gordy’s amazing cover, they’ll get a glimpse at that marine life. 

I love writing STEM for kids because there are so many topics to cover, and so many new facts and discoveries just waiting to be shared. I’m particularly drawn to topics that tie in environmentalism and conservation. I feel that my book is perfect for kids who love science, engineering, the ocean and coral reef ecosystems, as well as boats and military history. You never know which of today’s readers will be the ones to go on to innovate and implement changes to help make Earth a better place for both people and wildlife. 

After reading my book, I hope kids will be inspired to innovate and think outside the box about ways we can restore ocean habitats. For those who want a deeper dive, I included back matter with more about the Mighty O’s history and the role artificial reefs play in repairing this fragile underwater ecosystem.

Jessica Stremer is a mom, military spouse, and biologist who loves spending time with her family traveling, hiking, and camping. She currently lives in Okinawa, Japan. Her picture book,  Great Carrier Reef comes out in the summer of 2023, and her second picture book, Lights Out will hit bookstores in 2024. You can find out more about Jessica and her books at her website, and you can watch the sinking of the USS Oriskany here.

Friday, November 18, 2022

Info-Graph Your Thanksgiving Meal!

If you want to keep track of how the seasons change, your favorite lunches, or keep track of all the food you eat at Thanksgiving (and even the time it takes to make it), all you need is a pencil and a scrap of paper. 

But if you want to impress your neighbor with the numbers, you might need a bit more – a way to share your information so people can understand it in a glance. And that way is through infographics ~ a combination of math, art, and communication. To explain your Thanksgiving meal you might want to use a time line to show how long it took to prepare the food. And you’ll definitely need a pie graph to compare the kinds of pies you ate!

Here are two books that show and tell how to make infographics. They might even inspire kids to keep track of the interesting (and even mundane) things in their lives.

Life Log: Track Your Life with Infographic Activities Diary 
by Lea Redmond; illus. by Andrea Tsurumi
96 pages; ages 8-12
Chronicle Books, 2022 

Life Log is a guided workbook for infographic exploration. It opens with an introduction to the basics: what infographics is, how a key works, and the lowdown on facts and data. There are pie charts, rainbow charts, timelines, and lots of great questions. All the book asks is for curious kids to bring a bunch of colored pencils and a willingness to visualize information in a new way. 

My favorites: tracking a tree, how long a pencil lasts, and a month of insect encounters. This book is a great way to jump into creating graphs and charts.

Or you could keep track of how regularly you "ate the rainbow" of vegetables and fruits suggested in daily servings.

Show and Tell! Great Graphs and Smart Charts: An Introduction to Infographics 
by Stuart J. Murphy; illus. by Teresa Bell√≥n    
48 pages; ages 7-10
‎Charlesbridge, 2022  

Bar graphs, line graphs, pictographs, and pie charts can show a lot of information in a single glance. But which do you use, and when? Let’s say you want to find out more about lunchroom food. If you want to know what meals kids like the most, you could conduct a survey and display the results in a bar graph. If you wanted to compare the number of entrees served during a lunch period, you might draw a pie graph. (yes, you can create pie alamode graphs if you really want to) This book serves well as an introduction to charts and graphs, and ends with a list of things kids can use infographic techniques to explore.

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 copies provided by the publishers.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Explore Outdoors ~ frost-faded flowers


after frost
 all that is left are memories
of humming bees
This week seek out the beauty in what is left behind after the hard fall frosts. Who knows ~ you might find a poem hidden in a secret garden!

Monday, November 14, 2022

Doing Our Illustrator Homework ~ by Jacob Souva

I’ve learned a lot over the past five years while focusing solely on illustrating picture books. I still feel like a “newbie” when I open a manuscript, tasked with adding my art to someone’s hard earned text: Where do I start? How do I get ideas? What does that thing or character look like? Am I really getting paid to illustrate poop?

Every book is different, but there are some common threads. No matter the style in which an illustrator works or freedom afforded by the art director, the story is set someplace with rules that apply to that world. The closer the world sits to reality, the more research an illustrator must do into that world. We owe that to our young audience. It’s important that we do our illustrator homework.

In the past two years I’ve had the opportunity to illustrate two books in a series that straddle the fiction/non-fiction line. The books are about real things in nature (the stuff of non-fiction) presented by a talking bug narrator (the stuff of fiction). In the books Butterflies Are Pretty… Gross! and it’s sibling Flowers Are Pretty… Weird! (written by Rosemary Mosco, published by Tundra Books), I knew that the easy part would be the narrator. I’m good at characters and have exercised the creative fiction side of my career my whole life. A spunky bumble bee waxing on about flowers tumbled out of my imagination rather easily.

What I didn’t know was what an Alcon Blue Butterfly caterpillar looked like or why a particular orchid was named “Monkey Orchid.”

It might seem obvious (and it is!) but a folder full of research and visual material is an absolute must for getting these details right. I’ve collected reference material several different ways, but always begin by using search engines to find images. I store them either in a hidden Pinterest collection or a folder on my hard drive, labeled carefully (important for recall). There are times when I’ll need to reach back out to the art director or editor about a specific detail. I also find myself reading papers or articles when the photo reference doesn’t give me enough to work with.

Details matter! I’ve been asked about the colorings of certain butterflies by feisty second graders. Parents reading these books to their kids might be experts in the field and will be great ambassadors for a book that gets the details right.   

I’ve just wrapped up the art for a book called Max And Ed Bike To Nome (by Matthew Lasley, releasing April 4, 2023 by West Margin Press). It’s based on the real-life bike ride of Ed Jesson during the Klondike Gold Rush in Alaska. I was super thankful to find photographic reference material from the 1890s! The State of Alaska has an amazing collection of old photos to dig through. The final art is built upon the visual information I was able to comb.

Lastly, reference is the greatest starting point for creativity. I’ve found that this is where the fun and magic of illustrating resides. A good base level of visual information is a great foundation to jump off and get creative with. As famous jazz improviser Charles Mingus said “You can’t improvise on nothing, man; you’ve gotta improvise on something.”  

 Jacob Souva is an illustrator/author of picture books. You can find out more about him and his books at his website, I met him a few years ago, and reviewed his fun book about panning for gold, Pedro's Pan.

Friday, November 11, 2022

The Trouble With Robots

The Trouble with Robots 
by Michelle Mohrweis 
288 pages; ages 8-12
Peachtree, 2022

This is a book about trouble – and it’s not just the robots that are causing it. Eight-graders Allie and Evelyn are their own kind of trouble. Evelyn needs perfection, a trait that is causing a whole lot of trouble with her robotics team. Robotics is Evelyn’s life and she wants to win the competition. But her drive to make everything perfect is driving her team apart. 

Allie can’t seem to settle into school – any school – and the robotics class is her last chance. The only problem: Allie doesn’t care about engineering. She’s into art. When she’s added to Evelyn’s team, it’s like baking soda meeting vinegar … and Allie can’t risk things blowing up. She needs to get through this year for herself, and for her Oma.

One thing I like about this book: people forget is that art is an essential part of engineering. Else how do you visualize a new design? Writing, drawing… these are as important in STEM endeavors as “the smart stuff” (as Allie would call it): the calculating of gear ratios, the physics, the data collecting. Nearly every scientist I know draws or sketches stuff in their notebook, from flower parts to skulls to design elements for machinery.

Another thing I like about this book: it portrays the reality of engineering (and STEM projects of most kinds) as teamwork. This means learning to respect and work with people of all sorts and with different skills. When Evelyn learns to let people contribute in their own way, the team grows stronger. 

And finally, a shout-out to the different kinds of diversity portrayed in this book, from learning styles and neurodiversity to families. We need diverse thinking if we are going to solve the problems facing our future.

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, November 9, 2022

Explore Outdoors ~ Flashes of red in the underbrush

 The other day I was out in the garden (pulling up dead zinnias) and the air was so still that I could hear the oak leaves falling from the trees. This is the time of year when the fall colors have faded from scarlet and gold to rusted orange and bronze. It is the time of year when I can count the leaves remaining on the oaks lining my drive. 
It is also the time of year when I am surprised by splashes of color ... the brilliant red of blueberry leaves and bright fuchsia of bittersweet tucked beneath the trees along the roadside.

What colors do you see in gardens 
and along roads this week?

Monday, November 7, 2022

The Life Cycle of a Desert Poem ~ By Darcy Pattison

During the pandemic, we all looked around for things to keep us occupied. I joined the crowd looking around the internet for classes. At least I could learn something while stuck at home.

What about poetry?

Iambic pentameter. Haiku. Blank verse. Sonnet. As a writer, I’ve delved into poetry at different points in my career because poetry compresses emotion into a small packet. You must carefully choose each word so it evokes the feeling you want the reader to feel.

I signed up for the Language Lyrical Lab with amazing Renee LaTulippe. Her debut picture book, The Crab Ballet, (it came out in March 2022). I’d heard about her poetry class from many sources, always with glowing recommendations. She offers a self-study course, but during the pandemic I wanted interaction with real people so I chose the full class that included feedback on my poetry.

The lessons, clear and concise, prompted me to try different forms of writing. At the time I was working on Friday Comes On Tuesday: An Adventure at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. It is written in prose, but then the editor asked if I wanted to write a dedication. Inspired by the class, this was my dedication to my husband – written as a humorous double dactyl poem. A dactyl is a three-syllable foot with one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables. My husband’s name can be read a double dactyl: DWIGHT Nelson PATtison. The double-dactyl form was a natural choice because of his name and because it’s a humorous form.

Comical, farcical,
Dwight Nelson Pattison
Pokes at my prose till it
Warily sings.

Known for his drollery,
Laughing and prodding and 
Keeping me sane.

Poetry Inspires Nonfiction

Inspired by the class, I returned to my files and pulled up one about a desert. I’ve written about deserts before in Desert Baths (NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book) from Arbordale. But I had a new idea.

Years ago, I taught a writing retreat in Arizona, and the excitement of the day was whether or not we’d get a monsoon rain storm. I tried the story in multiple ways, but it never worked. I wondered if the poetry class could inspire a lyrical narrative. I decided to write the story as a narrative, following the growth of plants and animals across a couple days.

Did you just read that synopsis? It sounds … fascinating, right? Um, no.

Kids love stories with predators because the narrative is full of drama and possible danger. Plants? Not so much. To write this story, I had to find ways to build drama into the story.

This time as I wrote, I listened to the words, striving for rhythm, variety of stresses, and a build-up of tension in the story. It developed well with a strong narrative because I chose to write a mask poem. That means the story is written from the point of view of the desert, as if I—the author—had put on the desert’s mask and stepped into its persona. It needed to be a strong, compassionate voice and yet acknowledge the harshness of the habitat. I became the voice of the desert, lamenting the rapid birth, life, and death that its harsh environment demanded.


While I was writing drafts of the desert story, the Wall Street Journal published a fascinating study of Hamilton, by Lin-Manual Miranda entitled, “How does ‘Hamilton,’ the non-stop, hip-hop Broadway sensation tap rap’s master rhymes to blur musical lines?” It’s fascinating look at how rappers use language by playing with rhymes at the beginning, middle, and ends of words. Near rhymes and internal rhymes are hallmarks of hip-hop. It includes assonance, consonance, and large-multisyllabic rhymes such as “be Socrates” and “mediocrities.”

The most fascinating thing about this article is that it makes the rhyming patterns visible through a specially designed algorithm. It invites you to input your text to see your pattern of language play. 

And play, I did. Section by section (it only allows a short text input), I evaluated and revised my desert text: 
…I’m flooded with redbluegreenyelloworangepurple
and buzzing with life—
gorgeous, outrageous…

The story developed from a moment of inspiration in Arizona, through a poetry class, and it was polished by an algorithm that visually analyzes hip-hop. And all the while I had to be faithful to the science, the facts of a desert habitat. The result is my newest picture book, I Am the Thirsty Desert (illustrated by Jordan Kim) which releases on March 14, 2023. 

When Darcy Pattison mentioned that she had written a book as a "pandemic project" I wanted to know more. She graciously agreed to share her experience her on Archimedes Notebook. Darcy has written tons of books and founded Mims House to publish books that are fun to read and fit in with curriculum standards. You can find out more about it here

Friday, November 4, 2022

Lions and Ostriches and Elephants, Oh My!

 Today I’m sharing a couple books that feature animals: a counting book for the littles, and a nonfiction book about elephants for the 7-and-up crowd.

theme: rhyme, counting, elephants

Five Hiding Ostriches 
by Barbara Barbieri McGrath; illus by Riley Samels 
32 pages; ages 3-7
Charlesbridge, 2022

Five little ostriches, huddled in one spot. The first one said, “It’s getting rather hot.”

The second one adds an observation, then the third, fourth, and fifth… and when a lion is spotted it’s Stomp! Stomp! Stomp! through the brush. The ostriches want to hide, but what does the lion want? He isn’t interested in ostriches for supper.

What I like about this book: It’s a fun read-aloud about five worried birds – and their penchant for talking when they should be quiet. And a lion. And  a game of hide-and-seek. The illustrations show the savannah habitat where lions and ostriches hang out, though usually not together. What makes it a STEAM book are the fun ostrich facts revealed in the back matter. For example: they don’t really bury their heads in the sand. But they do try to disguise themselves as rocks. Back matter also includes a game kids can play with their friends.

Elephants!: Strange and Wonderful 
by Laurence Pringle; illus. by Meryl Learnihan Henderson 
32 pages; ages 7-10
Astra Young Readers (Boyds Mills), 2021   

From the jacket: The trunks of elephants are remarkable, but so are their feet, teeth, ears, and skin. Elephants walk on their tiptoes and despite their size move very quietly. Their wrinkled skin holds water and their ears act as air conditioners…

The book opens with a comparison of Asian and African elephants. Pringle shows the ways elephants use their trunks, their teeth and tusks, and gives readers a glimpse into their family lives. He also includes the way humans have interacted with elephants, from mythology to the ways people have used them to help haul things and as transportation.

What I like about this book: I like the comparison of modern elephants with prehistoric pachyderms – and yes, that word is used. Thankfully there’s a glossary at the back! Another thing at the end of the book is a section about environmental issues and threats to elephants, including the ivory trade.

Beyond the Books:

Find out more about ostriches and lions. San Diego Zoo has a page about ostriches at 

Make up your own hide-and-seek game about lions and ostriches, or wild animals that live in your area.

Make some elephant art. Younger kids might have fun making elephants out of a handprint. And you can find out more about elephants at

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

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Explore .... Indoors with Sock Science!

On any other Wednesday we'd be heading outside to do a nature break. But this week I wanted to play around with some sock science (and math). Because it's that time of year when you might need a snow day activity. Or maybe just something to do on an otherwise dreary day. 

When my kids were littles, their "laundry job" was matching socks. It's a great way to develop math and science thinking. Sometimes we'd roll sock pairs into balls and play sock-hockey in the kitchen or "toss the sox in a box." Here's some other sock science to play around with:

Red Sock, Blue Sock

If you have a bunch of unmatched socks hanging around, how many pairs can you make out of them? Let’s say you have six misfit socks: blue (B), yellow (Y), green (G), purple (P), stripes (S), and dots (D). Six socks means three pairs, but you can create more than three combinations. Think about what you can mix with blue: BY, BG, BP, BS, and BD. That’s five potential combinations. Then, if you look at combinations with yellow (but not counting BY because you already have it) you could get four more: YG, YP, YS, and YD. How many new combinations can you get with the green sock? Purple sock? Striped sock? If you add all the potential combinations together, how many are there?

Secret Sock Codes 
Socks exist in two states: rolled up and flat. That makes them perfect for creating coded messages, like Morse code which uses combinations of dots and dashes. What if you use a rolled sock as a “dot” and a flat sock as a “dash” to create messages? For example, an A would be a rolled sock followed by a flat sock. I would need seven socks to spell my name in Morse sock code. But ... you don't have to stick with Sam's code. You can make your own Secret Sock Code.

Do Socks Fly?
One little-studied sock phenomenon is flight behavior. While rolled socks have been used as substitute hockey pucks, snowballs, and hacky sacks, I don’t know of any studies that compare how well socks fly under various conditions. Perhaps you will be the first to document such things as how far socks fly when they are rolled up or flat, wet, dry, or frozen. To be totally consistent, you’d need to create a launching device.. perhaps a rubber-band catapult?

Further Sock Research
There are tons of fun books about socks, ducks (or others ) that wear socks, and even how to make socks. But here are a few of my favorites:
Odd socks by Michelle Robinson
Five stinky socks by Jim Benton.
Have you seen my new blue socks? by Eve Bunting
Ducks don't wear socks by John Nedwidek
A sock is a pocket for your toes by Elizabeth Garton Scanlon

note: these activities were first published as part of my "Archimedes Notebook" science column in Ithaca Child, Fall 2017.