Friday, December 30, 2022

Books that Celebrate Polar Life

 Given the recent temperatures, I decided this is the perfect time to share books about polar life. From North Pole to South Pole, there are a lot of critters that live on ice and snow.

theme: animals, arctic, nature

Polar Bear 
by Candace Fleming; illus. by Eric Rohmann
32 pages; ages 4-8
Neal Porter Books/ Holiday House, 2022

April in the Arctic.
Snow clouds scuttle across the sky. Temperatures barely nudge above freezing.

But this is the time of year when sunshine wakes up the frozen world. This is the time for polar bear cubs to go outside and meet that world. All winter long, mother bear has nurtured her cubs but now it’s time to head out for the long walk to the hunting grounds on the sea ice. But first, Mama bear sniffs the air to make sure it is safe.

What I like about this book: I like the verbs – cubs tumble, scramble, wrestle, squeal. As I read the text I can see those cubs rolling about on the tundra. And I like the adventure of heading to the ice where Mama bear teaches them to hunt seals. But what I love best of all is how the thread holding the story together from beginning to end is the ice. Without ice, how can the polar bears hunt? And what happens to them when a chunk of sea ice breaks off? Mama bear can swim miles, but what about her cubs? Even as Mama bear teaches her children how to survive, the world is changing more quickly than they can adapt.

And of course, there is back matter! This is where Candace gets into the nitty gritty of “it’s all about the ice” as well as sharing cool facts about polar bears. Oh, and did I mention the gorgeous illustrations? I love how Eric Rohmann portrays polar bear expressions.

Ice! Poems About Polar Life 
‎by Douglas Florian
48 pages; ages 7-10
Holiday House, 2022 (paperback)

Sure, the Solstice has passed and we are (technically) headed for longer days. But January and February are cold months here in the northeast. And sometimes, given our crazy climate-chaos-broken jet stream, colder than the north pole! So I thought these poems would be perfect reading for snow and ice days. This book contains poems about life from both polar regions, arctic and Antarctic, where the days can be cold even in the spring. Douglas Florian casts his poetry net wide, sharing observations about penguins and polar bears, caribou and foxes.

What I like about this book: These poems are fun and filled with word play. For example, Florian presents the caribou’s wide hooves as “cariboots” and warns children not to push the musk ox “ox-idently.” My favorite, though, is the ptarmigan. Just like pterodactyl, the p in “ptarmigan” is silent. Florian plays with this, noting that the ptarmigan is a ptimid bird that lives on the ptundra…

I also like that each poem is accompanied by additional information, so readers can learn about the animals. And I really appreciate that the last poem focuses on climate change, with a message that finding solutions is something readers can do. There’s a link so people can explore steps they can take to stop global warming and protect polar creatures. And I also like the illustrations – they are fun, and will inspire kids to make their own drawings of polar animals.

Beyond the Books:

Learn more about a polar creature. Make a few notes about where it lives, what it eats, and whether it builds a home. Then write a story or poem about it.

Make a penguin (or two) from recycled toilet paper tubes. Here’s some directions.

Grab a potato (or that really old kohlrabi at the back of the fridge) to make some polar bear prints. You can find instructions here.

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, December 28, 2022

Explore Outdoors ~ Winter ferns


In winter, even the palest green stands out against ice and snow, frozen rock. It never fails to amaze me at how a plant can find a root-hold between rocks. I wonder if living on the edge of a stonewall feels as breezy as it looks?

This week check out where plants are taking a toehold, planting down roots, clinging to the edge.

Monday, December 19, 2022

Writing in Season ~ by Lisa Amstutz

Many of my favorite childhood memories are seasonal in nature. Building snowmen and then warming up with hot chocolate. Growing pumpkins. Stomping in puddles. Running through the sprinkler. 

Holiday foods trigger memories as well—Mom’s turkey stuffing, Grandma's apple pie, Great-Aunt Ida's melt-in-your-mouth butter mints. I’m sure you have many delicious memories of your own!
These seasonal and holiday memories can be a rich source of story ideas. I've written about some of my own seasonal memories in Applesauce Day, which is based on our family tradition of making applesauce. Finding a Dove for Gramps, a story about the Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count, grew out of a memory of participating in a bird count with my father. Mining those memories—focusing on what I saw and felt at the time—helped bring the stories to life.

To a child, everything is new and exciting. Where adults see a messy morning commute, toddlers see something sparkly and surprising falling from the sky. Older kids see snow forts, sledding, and potential snow days. In truth, snow is all of those things; it’s simply a matter of perspective. When you write for children, try to see your subject through the eyes of a child—not your adult lens.

Think back to your own childhood. What memories stand out when you think about each season or holiday? Transport yourself back to that moment. What did it feel like, smell like, taste like? What delighted you—or even scared you? 

Take some time to jot down the answers to these questions, and consider how you could add them to your story. Capturing those sensory details will enliven your writing, and will be sure to delight your young readers as well!

Lisa Amstutz is the author of more than 150 children’s books. She specializes in topics related to science, nature, and agriculture. To learn more about Lisa and her books, visit

Friday, December 16, 2022

A Deliciously Rotten Novel

The Decomposition of Jack 
by Kristin O'Donnell Tubb 
208 pages; ages 8-12
‎Katherine Tegen Books, 2022   

As a parent who has scraped up a dead animal from the side of the road with my kid’s help, I knew I had to read this book! Cleverly disguised as a middle grade novel, it is an intersection of roadkill science, cougar migration, and a boy trying to understand his parent’s divorce. 

Jack (called Jack Splat at school) helps his mom with her research, but he’d rather hang with his middle school friends, play video games – anything but scrape roadkill from the road. But dad left, and Jack is now mom’s right-hand field assistant. He tends the roadkill garden, logging observations about each animal’s decomposition into the laptop. And then one day he sees a cougar crouched in a tree just beyond his backyard. 

Impossible, says the state website. Highly unlikely says his teacher. Are you sure, asks his best friend (and Zombie Zoo cartoonist)? See, cougars don’t live in Tennessee. They've been officially declared extinct in the state... and yet something is watching from the tree. Something with large paws and tawny fur. Something strong enough to move a deer carcass from its assigned location in the roadkill garden to the chain link fence bordering the woods.

There are so many things I like about this book:

The descriptions and language. There is no doubt that this tale is set in Tennessee – you can almost smell the pines. And I like Jack’s wry sense of humor; he describes one roadkill location  as a “meatier road.”

I like Jack’s empathy – for his mom, and for the animals they scrape up from the road. He leaves a small memorial for each one: a small stone for a mouse, a smooth stick for a snake. He gives each creature a name, and greets them during his data-collection rounds.

I chuckled at Jack’s imagery. He makes tons of comparisons of things happening in his life to the stages of decomposition. At one point he describes his friend “as happy as a maggot in an eye socket.” That’s sweet music to a bug-lover’s ears.

I love that there is a chapter titled “Science is all around us.” Because it is.

I especially like that there is Back Matter! Kristin provides more context for roadkill science and uses of roadkill. She also points to citizen science projects in case any readers are motivated to participate.

Though a bit heavy on the science, and maybe a tad reliant on the metaphor of decomposition for his life, I found The Decomposition of Jack to be a fun read. I think it will appeal to science-loving kids who are intrigued by ethical and political questions. For example, would a state wildlife agency label a species extinct because it’s cheaper than trying to protect an endangered species? (Inquiring minds up here in the Northeast would like to know, as people have seen evidence of cougars but their existence is emphatically denied.) 

This book pairs well with Something Rotten, A Fresh Look at Roadkill, by Heather L. Montgomery. Throw in Rotten! Vultures, Beetles, Slime, and Nature’s Other Decomposers, by Anita Sanchez for those kids who want to learn about rotting bodies but shudder at the idea of scooping up roadkill.

On the maggot rating scale, I give this book a 5 out of 5.

Beyond the book: There are a number of community science projects on iNaturalist that kids and their adults can get involved in. Go to and put roadkill into searchbar. 

Thanks for dropping by today. You can find out more about author Kristin Tubb and her books (including this one) at her 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 copy provided by the author.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Explore Outdoors ~ Ice Crystals

Part of my favorite walking road is shaded by a hill. It was so cold last week that, during the middle of the day, ice crystals formed on blades of grass and the midribs and edges of leaves littering the ground. 

This week pay attention to the small bits of beauty 
that make up your world.

Monday, December 12, 2022

Inviting Curiosity, Inciting Wonder, by Kimberly Ridley

In the middle of a packed school assembly for my debut picture book The Secret Pool, a second-grader asked a question I couldn’t answer.

“Why are the yellow-spotted salamander’s spots yellow?”

I froze. I didn’t have a clue, despite the many hours of research I’d done on vernal pools and the salamanders and other animals who depend on them. The question hadn’t occurred to me. 

The second grader and her 400-plus schoolmates waited for an answer. I stared at the sequined rainbow glittering over a blue unicorn on her t-shirt, glanced at the gymnasium clock.

“I…don’t…know,” I stammered.


But in that pause, mercifully, a lightbulb went off. 

“Let’s see if we can find out.” I said. 

When we gathered at the end of the day to celebrate the creative nonfiction stories the kids had written in my workshops, they were exuberant. Not only about what they had accomplished in their writing, but that they had found the answer to the second grader’s question. The salamander’s spots are yellow to warn predators such as raccoons that they’re poisonous. When a predator attacks, the yellow-spotted salamander oozes a bitter toxin from glands in its skin.  

Who knew? 

In the hundreds of school programs I’ve done with my children’s books since, I always write down kids’ questions on a big flip chart if I don’t know the answers, and we follow up later in the day. I also tell them that scientists might not yet have discovered the answers to their questions. This thrills them.   

As the author of nonfiction science and nature books for children (and their grown-ups) I think this is my most important job: to invite curiosity and incite wonder about the astonishing world right outside our door. It’s also my passion.

All of my books, including my latest, The Secret Stream arise from my own curiosity, often stemming from questions I’ve carried since I was a kid myself. Where does my favorite brook begin and end? What are these small, wriggly creatures clinging to the rocks underwater, and how do they not wash away in the current? Do fish live in here, and whose paw prints are these in the mud? 

As for wonder, I stumble upon it at every turn as I observe, interview scientists, and read mountains of material for each book. Researching The Secret Stream, I fell in love with our smallest waterways all over again—not to mention the extraordinary creatures who inhabit them. For example, I’ve become smitten with caddisfly larvae, who protect themselves from fish and other predators by building exquisite “cases” around their bodies with pebbles and grit or plant materials stuck together with their remarkable silk.   

Again, who knew?

We walk or drive by these amazing beings and places every day, often without a clue. But this is where wonder resides. All around us. Every day we have abundant opportunities to reconnect our kids and ourselves with the rest of the teeming, surprising and still vibrant world around us. That’s why I want to invite curiosity and incite wonder with my books and school programs. 

When I recently told a friend about my mission, however, he was skeptical.

“You can’t incite wonder,” he said. “Wonder is soft and childlike.”  

I beg to differ. To me, wonder is a birthright and a survival skill. There’s nothing soft about it. Wonder is clear-eyed, wild, and necessary. Which brings me to the words of Rachel Carson, my heroine since I learned as a kid that she once summered in my home state of Maine. 

photo: Jean Fogelberg Photography
Carson wished for every child to be granted at birth “a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.”

At the end of my school programs, I ask students if they want to help the wild places and creatures in their communities. Hands fly up, a resounding “yes.” And so I invite them to tell some-one at home at least one cool thing they’ve learned in our time together. This sharing, I tell them, will ripple out and inspire other people to learn about and together care for their patch of the planet.

This is how we incite wonder. This is how we cherish the intricate, fragile, and mysterious web of life that connects and sustains us all, every living being. This is a way to live in joy.

Kimberly Ridley is a science writer, essayist, editor, and children’s book author who writes about nature, science, health, and the environment. I reviewed her newest book, The Secret Stream here. You can find my review of her first picture book, The Secret Pool here, and my review of  Extreme Survivors, Animals the Time Forgot here. To learn more about Kimberly Ridley and her books, check out her website at

Friday, December 9, 2022

When a Stream Tells a Story

The Secret Stream 
by Kimberly Ridley; illus. by Megan Elizabeth Baratta 
40 pages; ages 6-8
Tilbury House Publishers, 2022

theme: streams, ecology, animals

My life begins when gray-bellied clouds fling down rain that seeps underground, filling crevices in soil and stone until… out I spill from a spring in the heart of the forest.

This is the story of a headwater stream told by the stream itself! The stream narrates its journey to the lowlands, sometimes burbling, sometimes tumbling over a jumble of boulders. Along the way, it introduces us to the animals that live in its waters and beneath the stones of its streambed, and those living along the banks. We meet nest builders and lodge builders and occasional visitors large and small.

What I like about this book: I like the first-person narrative. When we meet streams in the wild, we can hear them murmur and gurgle, but who knew they had stories to tell? I like the internal rhymes, and the onomatopoeia and verbs that give this story splash and dash! I like how some text tells the story while other text explains things such as how animals see underwater.

And of course, there is back matter! An author’s note dives into what headwater streams are, and the ecosystem they create. There’s a great section called “Cast of Characters” that explains more about each animal living in the stream ecosystem. A glossary and “how to protect streams” sections round out the book. This is a wonderful resource for kids – and adults – who want to explore the streams where they live.

Beyond the Books:

Explore a stream, or a creek. Each has its own personality, based on how large or small it is, and the type of environment it runs through. What plants and trees grow alongside your stream? What birds, insects, and other animals do you notice visiting the stream? You might find tracks in the mud showing who visits at night.

What lives in the stream? You might see small fish, frogs, crayfish, or even a muskrat. Look for insects on the water’s surface and along the streambed. Look under rocks to see who’s hiding there – and then replace the rock when you are finished. Draw pictures of some of the animals you meet.

Listen to the sound of your stream. Try recording your stream at different times of the day, at different seasons of the year. Listen to the animal sounds while you’re sitting quietly. What do you hear?

Kimberly Ridley will join us on Monday to talk about how wonder and curiosity inspire her writing. Today we're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday, an event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review pdf provided by the publisher.

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Explore Outdoors ~ Colors of the Season

 Last week I was out walking and the bright splash of red against green caught my eye.

 Right now the greens are bright, the leaves crisp, the berries shiny. But soon - maybe by next week - they'll be covered by a blanket of snow, or exposed to icy winds. By spring, they'll be mouse-nibbled and winter-weary.

What plants sport reds and greens in your neighborhood?

Monday, December 5, 2022

Geology in Action at Fagradalsfjall volcano, Iceland by Leslie Barnard Booth

Most of my ideas for picture books are inspired by questions my children ask. My debut nonfiction picture book, A Stone Is a Story, was inspired by a question my older daughter, then age 7, asked one evening at dinner.

“Where do rocks come from?” 

On its face, this question might seem simple, but it’s not! It led to a fascinating dinnertime conversation about Earth’s formation and structure, the rock cycle, and deep time. In fact, Earth’s rocks have always been here. They have been here since Earth formed. But they don’t stay the same. They are continually transforming. They melt, harden, break apart, and recombine as they move through the rock cycle. 

That’s why it was so wonderful, when, in 2021, I got to see rock transform right before my eyes. 

Summer in Iceland

USGS, public domain
That summer, my family traveled to Iceland for my husband’s work. For 3 months, we lived in a small cabin on a wind-whipped hill along a fjord in northern Iceland. During our stay, we learned that the nearby Fagradalsfjall volcano was erupting – and that it was possible to hike to a nearby ridge to see it in action. 

Known for its geothermal pools and bathing culture, Iceland is one of the most volcanically active places in the world. Iceland sits along a seam in Earth’s crust where two tectonic plates meet. These two plates, the Eurasian Plate and the North American plate, are slowly drifting apart, causing magma to well up between them. This magma sometimes erupts at the surface as lava. We decided that before we made the journey home, we had to see this geological phenomenon firsthand.


To view the Fagradalsfjall volcano, we drove several hours to the Reykjanes Peninsula. We parked in a roped-off field among many other vehicles. People from all over the world had come to Iceland to see this natural spectacle, and many different languages swirled around us as we walked toward the stark, treeless mountains looming ahead. Together we marched, locals and tourists, young and old, up a ridge marked with stakes by Icelandic authorities. 

photo of Leslie's older daughter standing at the edge of the Fagradalsfjall lava flow. 
photo by Leslie Barnard Booth

We finally came to a fresh lava flow made up of still-steaming black rock, and we thought we must be close! But after several hours of hiking, we still hadn’t glimpsed the volcano. My daughters were getting tired. The mist had thickened around us. We were damp and cold. We kept hiking up, only to hike down, and then straight up again. We started to wonder if the volcano would even be visible today. Maybe it wouldn’t. Maybe the sky wasn’t clear enough. Maybe this whole torturous trek was in vain!

So we sat. And ate lots of Nutella. My younger daughter seemed to perk up. “Let’s go a little farther,” she said. “To where those people are sitting.” She pointed to some people on a ridge in the distance.

A Rock Is Born

Once again, we hiked down, then up again, toward that distant ridge. That’s when we heard the roar of the volcano, and saw its fiery light flashing through the mist.

Fagradalsfjall volcano. photo by Berserkur/Wikimedia Commons

We made it to the place my younger daughter had pointed out. We sat among people from all over the world, and watched as bright orange lava fountained into the air and poured downslope, scabbing black as it snaked into the valley, where it pooled and steamed and hardened, turning to rock.

As we made our way back down the ridge, my older daughter picked up a rock at the edge of the lava flow. Very recently, this rock had been a liquid. It had been magma flowing deep belowground, then lava surging into the air, and now it was a hard gray fragment she could hold and admire. And just like that, she held in her hand the answer to her question.

Photo Credit: Kristal Passy Photography

Leslie Barnard Booth is a member of STEAM Team 2023. Her book, A Stone Is a Story will hit bookstore shelves next summer.  You can learn more about her book – and find educational resources on the rock cycle and geology – at her website,

Friday, December 2, 2022

Crunch! Slurp! Yummy Bugs!

Bugs for Breakfast: How Eating Insects Could Help Save the Planet 
by Mary Boone 
120 pages; ages 9 and up
Chicago Review Press, 2021

Mary Boone got interested in breakfasting on bugs back in 2013, when the United Nations issued its report about using insect protein to feed the world’s growing population. Then, while traveling to Vietnam and Cambodia, she had the opportunity to snack on fried grasshoppers at a local market. She was hooked, and wanted to learn more… and just about a year ago her book Bugs for Breakfast hit bookstore shelves. Somehow, my copy burrowed down into the hidden depths of my book basket… 

Here's what I like about this book:

1. Mary introduces the topic of entomophagy (eating insects) in a way that makes sense for kids who might be interested in trying out some cricket snacks – and for those who want to know why moving from conventional animal protein to insect protein makes environmental sense. She writes in a conversational way, tossing in the occasional joke (watch out for cricket legs caught in your teeth!) and points out that many people around the world incorporate insects – from mopane worms to cicadas to beetles – into their daily meals.

2. One chapter compares insect farming to conventional livestock farming. For example, the amount of land (space) and time required to produce 490 pounds of beef could be used to produce 1.3 million pounds of edible insect protein. Cattle require a lot more water to convert grass to meat than crickets do – and cows produce tons more methane than insects. Lest you wonder, yes, insects fart.

3. You’ll find nutritional information and recipes, along with the assurance that you’re already eating bugs. Yep, the USDA allows a certain amount of “bug parts” in food. Not only that, some foods rely on insect by-products – like the bug shellac used to make shiny chocolate coatings on certain candies.

4. There’s a whole chapter devoted to answering the question of whether incorporating insects into your diet can help save the world. The short answer: yes. And there’s a hands-on guide for how to raise your own crickets.

I had One Question for Mary ~

Me: How have you incorporated entomophagy into your diet? And do you think it has made a difference in your corner of the world?

Mary: I'm a big fan of cricket powder -- much more so than whole insects. I use it in smoothies and I sub it for some of the flour when I make cookies or banana bread. Do I use it all the time? No. It's expensive. Right now, most cricket farms are really small and labor intensive. When we get to a point where farms can scale up and they're able to automate some of the production, I think prices will come down and cricket protein will become more appealing to more people. Is what I'm doing making a difference? I think so. Every time I share a cricket-powder cookie or chips or bread with someone, I like to think I'm getting them to consider their own diets and opening their eyes to the whole issue of farming and sustainability. It's baby steps, but that's how most movements begin.

Mary Boone has written more than 60 nonfiction books for young readers. You can find out more about her, and download a teacher’s guide, 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, 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