Friday, June 2, 2023

Sky-Watching with Maria

Her Eyes on the Stars: Maria Mitchell, Astronomer 
by Laurie Wallmark; illus. by Liz Wong 
40 pages; ages 8-12
‎Creston Books, 2023

theme: biography, Women in STEM, comets

Night after night, Maria and her father climbed the stairs to her magical world – their rooftop observatory.

This is a story about Maria Mitchell and how she fell in love with astronomy. At the age of 18 she took a job as a librarian – one of the few jobs open to women, writes Laurie. Eleven years later, Maria is the first American to discover a comet.

What I like about this book: I like the narrative style; Laurie seamlessly slides facts into the story, like details of how Maria determined that what she saw was really a comet. I like how the story shows Maria’s work opening up possibilities for women to study astronomy. And I love that back matter includes Maria’s Rules of Astronomical Observation – which are good rules for applying to any endeavor. There’s also a timeline, glossary, and handy information for observing solar eclipses.

After reading, I had One Question for Laurie:

Me: What made you want to write a book about Maria? 

Laurie: When I first started to research and write my book about Maria Mitchell, there was only one trade book published about her. And that book was closer to historical fiction based on her life rather than a true biography. I felt the need to tell a factual story about her life. Even forgetting her many achievements as an astronomer, maybe her biggest accomplishment was encouraging future generations of women to enter the field.

Sky-Watching Beyond the Books:

Watch a solar eclipse. An annular eclipse happens Oct. 14, 2023, and will be visible in the US from Oregon to Texas. Check out information here. The next total eclipse visible in the US will be April 8, 2024. You can read more about it and find maps for what cities lie in the path here

Planning to view an eclipse? Do it safely. Here’s how you can make a viewer from a cereal box.

Go comet hunting! You may have a chance to see a brand-new comet in October 2024. Check out this article from Earth Sky.

Laurie is a member of #STEAMTeam2023. She has written tons of biographies about women in STEM including these two which I have reviewed on this blog: Numbers in Motion and Code Breaker, Spy Hunter.

You can find out more about Laurie at her website,

Today we’re joining Perfect Picture Book Friday. It’s a wonderful gathering where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Because this book appeals to older kids, on Monday we'll be hanging out at Marvelous Middle Grade Monday. 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, May 31, 2023

Explore Outdoors ~ Got Ants in your Plants?

I do! And I'm not too worried. That's because these ants and plants have a working relationship. A partnership of sorts. 
The peony has extrafloral nectaries on the sepals (the leaf-like things that protect the flower). That nectar attracts ants that, in exchange for the food, protect the plant from flower-chewing bugs. There are other nectaries inside the flower that produce food for pollinators - once the flower opens.

This week, take a closer look at flowers and flower buds.
  • Do you see ants on the plants?
  • Do the ants look like they are collecting nectar?
  • Are the flowers open or still closed buds?
  • Are the ants eating other insects on the plants?
  • Do the ants leave pheromone signals letting other ants know how to get to these sweet treats?
  • Do you see other pest-eating beneficials on plants, such as ladybug larvae or lacewings?

You can find out more about ants and peonies at Illinois Extension and the master gardeners at Penn State. And by observing peony flowers wherever you find them!

Friday, May 26, 2023

When a Whale Dies ...

Whale Fall: Exploring an Ocean-Floor Ecosystem 
by Melissa Stewart; illus. by Rob Dunlavey
40 pages; ages 4-8
‎Random House Studio, 2023

theme: whales, ecology, food chain

When a whale dies,
its massive body
  silently sinks
through the inky darkness,
    finally coming to rest
    on the soft, silty seafloor.

When I’ve come upon the remains of creatures on my walks, perhaps a cat on the side of a road, I notice the activity surrounding the body. Flies, beetles, wasps – so many other creatures involved in recycling the once-alive animal. But I never once thought about what happens when a whale dies! Turns out it’s a lot like what happens with animals in the forests and fields – only it’s deep, deep in the sea. Hagfish and other sea animals smell the whale and gather for a feast. Crabs scavenge for left-overs and smaller critters scrape the bones clean. 

What I like love about this book: I love how Melissa shows that everything is connected. While zombie worms eat the bones, tiny lobsters dine on the zombie worms. I love how she carefully curates strings of alliterative words. Crabs “scarf up scraps,” others “sift through sediment,” and everyone is “hunting for tasty tidbits.” Rob Dunlavey’s artwork is detailed and brings even the most land-locked reader deep into the ocean. And there is Back Matter where readers can find out more about whale falls and the animals that feed on those whales.

To make sure she gets the facts, Melissa goes straight to the source. I wanted to know more

Me: Why is it so important to reach out to scientists when writing STEM books for kids?

Melissa: Interviewing experts can enrich any nonfiction book, and when a book is about cutting-edge science, like ocean exploration or dinosaur discoveries, it's the only way to be sure the information you're sharing is accurate and up to date.

For Whale Fall, reaching out to experts was critical because so little has been written about these amazing deep-sea ecosystems. And even the scientists who are devoting their careers to studying whale falls and the creatures that depend on them still have many questions. Interviewing researchers wasn't just the best way to get information--it was the only way.

In some cases, illustrator Rob Dunlavey's art shows creatures and behaviors that have never before been represented visually, so he also depended on feedback from our science consultants to get the details right. We really couldn't have created this book without their assistance.

Beyond the Books:

Explore an undersea whale fall with the Nautilus expedition team of 2019. They’ve got a video here. You can also listen to an NPR piece about what happens after a whale dies.

Find out something about one of the animals that helps turn a dead whale into recycled nutrients: sharks, rattails, hagfish, crabs, amphipods, lobsters, zombie worms. 

Next time you come across bones or remains of an animal, think about how they fit into the food cycle. Do you see any insects eating the animal? Or signs of scavenging?

Melissa Stewart is a member of #STEAMTeam2023. You can find out more about her at her website, 

Today we’re joining Perfect Picture Book Friday. It’s a wonderful gathering where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Explore Outdoors ~ Tree Watching

Chances are you've watched birds, gazed at stars, admired flowers, and maybe followed a frog or two. But have you ever set out to do some serious Tree Watching? 

 Unlike birds, trees stay in one place doing their ... tree things. Which is good because you don't have to go chasing them through the underbrush just to get a better look at them!

This week, do some Tree Watching. What you'll need: a blanket or chair to sit on and a pair of binoculars. You can watch one tree over a long period of time, or spend time getting to know a number of trees. 

What to do: check out the bark, the leaves, the way the branches ... branch out. Sit next to the trunk and look up. Do you see how the leaves look like lace against the sky? And the shadows cast by one leaf onto the lower leaf? Depending on the tree, you might see flowers or fruits forming. Binoculars might help you find nests, insects, squirrels - wait! is that an owl sleeping in the crook of that branch?
If you want some ideas of ways to tree gaze, check out Rosemary Washington's Tree Watching Project
Want to know why trees make you happier? Here's a review of the research suggesting that being around trees is good for our mental and social well-being.

Friday, May 19, 2023

A Sweet Book about a ... Skunk?

If You Wake a Skunk 
by Carol Doeringer; illus. by Florence Weiser
32 pages; ages 5-8
Sleeping Bear Press, 2023   

theme: animals, nature, communication

Shhh. Tiptoe by. Don’t make a peep.

If you can sneak by quietly, you won’t wake the skunk (who’s sleeping in a cozy spot right behind that tree stump). What? You want to take a peek? You sneezed? 

Using humor and rhyme, Carol Doeringer introduces readers to the behavior of a spotted skunk. They stomp and hiss and do handstands! Skunks use so many ways to communicate their irritation at being woken from a nap, and their intent to share their special perfume. Wise readers will take these warnings to heart.

What I like about this book: The rhyming text is fun, and Carol has tucked lots of alliteration in there as well: “Silly you, still standing there.” “steady stare.” “twitchy tail” – okay, that last is a serious sign we should skedaddle. The book is also addressed to the reader, so it feels as though someone is talking to you, offering advice, and waving their arms in warning: Don’t Wake the Skunk! And there’s back matter about skunks and their defense plus fun facts.

I reached out to Carol the other day and asked: how did If you Wake a Skunk come about?

photo by Betsy Michele
Carol: In intended to write about the striped skunk, which was my – and probably many of our – default image of a skunk. At first, it was just a few stanzas to complete an assignment in Renee LaTulippe's Lyrical Language Lab. I decided to write a mini cautionary tale about the signals skunks give before spraying, using the second person point of view. I giggled as I wrote, recalling how many times I had read The Monster at the End of this Book when my kids were little.  

Me: I remember reading that book, too. But waking up a skunk seems scarier than Grover hiding on the last page! And your book is nonfiction. That took a bit of research, right?

Carol: When I decided to turn my few stanzas into a picture book, my research began in earnest. Reports of the skunk's warning signs sequence varied, so I read widely. That's when I stumbled upon a totally new-to-me skunk, the spotted skunk. Once I discovered this relatively little-known creature, I realized it just had to be the star of the book. First, it delivers much of its warning routine while in an adorable, acrobatic handstand. Second, the Eastern Spotted Skunk is a species considered vulnerable, and in some states is listed as endangered. The handstand routine meant there would be wonderful visuals for the illustrator to play with, and as a nature nerd, I became excited at the thought of introducing kids to the idea that there's more than one kind of skunk.  I didn't end up highlighting the spotted skunk's conservation status in the story or back matter, but I'm fully intending to develop school presentations that bring that into the discussion. 

Me: Do you have any skunk events scheduled?

Carol: In June I'm scheduled to spend a full day with a skunk rescue organization, where I'll film rescue and rehab work with striped skunks, mostly very young ones. I'm told there may be as many as 50 skunks on hand – what a visual that might end up being!  I'll be aiming for footage and interview clips with the rescue staff, working toward getting kids to think about why skunks – with their undeserved bad rap – deserve a place on the planet and to be helped when in trouble. I'll also make a video for the rescue organization, something they can use for fundraising or whatever they like.

Me: I can’t wait to see where that leads. Meanwhile, let’s explore some activities…

Beyond the Books:

Check out Carol’s book trailer over at her blog, Tales from a West Michigan Wood.  

How are you at skunk communication? Can you hiss, stare, and stomp your feet? What about doing a handstand? 

Learn more about eastern spotted skunks. Here’s one resource from the Missouri Department of Conservation

Carol Doeringer is a member of #STEAMTeam2023. You can find out more about her at her website at   

Today we’re joining Perfect Picture Book Friday. It’s a wonderful gathering where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Explore Outdoors ~ a Field Trip to Sapsucker Woods

Last week I walked around Sapsucker woods (Cornell Lab of Ornithology). This is a great time to see trilliums (trillions of trilliums flowering across the forest floor), fiddleheads, mayapples just beginning to bud. The air was filled with the songs of birds and frogs. So today I'm sharing some of the things we noticed. Can you see the robin?

Monday, May 15, 2023

Cover Reveal: The Pie that Molly Grew

 A few years ago I was planting seeds in my garden and musing about the wonderful and yummy fruits of my labor. I started scribbling ideas in my journal … seeds that, over time, germinated and grew and ripened into a book.

Chamisa Kellogg and I are thrilled to share the cover of The Pie that Molly Grew, releasing August 15. We got to chatting on the phone the other day about our book journey.

Me: I have notes in an old “Ideas Notebook” referring to a writing challenge by Susanna Leonard Hill. I think it might have been National Pie Day (Jan. 23 if you’re curious) and Susanna suggested writing a pie story. She tossed out some ideas: the biggest pie, the smallest pie….  Meanwhile I’m thinking of pie diversity: apple, blueberry, pecan, key-lime. I detoured for a brief consideration of pizza (pepperoni, please) … but settled on my favorite, pumpkin. Within seconds a line came to mind and got stuck, like an earworm, until I finally wrote it down: This is the seed that Molly sowed

Words are only half of a picture book. Illustrations tell the other half of the story. So I asked Chamisa about the inspiration for her artwork.

Chamisa: I've been lucky enough to have been around gardens my entire life. My parents are both gardeners, and I spent nearly every spring and summer digging in the dirt and watching things grow. It was a wonder to me then and is still a wonder to me now, the way life springs from a tiny seed. For the art for this book, I wanted to capture that feeling of wonder I felt in gardens as a kid (and also now, as an adult), and I wanted the illustrations to have a playfulness to them.

Me: Turns out we both love pumpkin pie, too. One year my kids planted pumpkins for Halloween, and there were so many that I figured they wouldn’t miss one. I baked it and then used the potato masher to smoosh it. That leaves lumpy bits of pumpkin in the mix, but we loved the texture. Another year I didn’t have quite enough pumpkin for a pie, so I added a left-over sweet potato. No one even noticed!

Chamisa: I've tried all kinds of recipes – sometimes I use kabocha squash or butternut squash instead of pumpkin, sometimes I sweeten with dates instead of sugar, sometimes coconut milk instead of condensed milk. All versions are delicious! Plus, any excuse to put whip cream on something is a win for me!

You can find out more about The Pie that Molly Grew at Sleeping Bear Press website. It will hit bookstore shelves mid-August, but you can pre-order it at Riverow Bookshop or your favorite bookstore.

Chamisa and I have already started our pumpkins! Check back in a month to see how they’re doing. We’ll be sharing more about art, pie, and pumpkins on our social media over the summer.

You can connect with Chamisa Kellogg at her website, and on Instagram at @chamisafe

You can find out more about my books at my website, or follow me on Facebook

Friday, May 12, 2023

These books will Light Up your Life!

Ooh! Two books about things that light up in the dark!

Theme: nature, animals, glow-in-the-dark

Lights On!: Glow-in-the-Dark Deep Ocean Creatures 
by Donna B. McKinney; illus. by Daniella Ferretti 
32 pages; ages 4-8
Yeehoo Press, 2023

Near the ocean’s surface, the first rays of sunrise bathe the waters. Here fish, seals, and turtles swim, splash, and eat in a world lit by sunlight.

But down below, where the sunlight doesn’t reach … where it’s always dark as night, what do the creatures do? Vampire squid and lantern fish carry their own light. Pocket sharks and jellies glow in the dark. Some animals use their bioluminescence to find a mate, others to trick prey, and others to escape from a predator. There’s a lot of action going on down in the deep, dark sea.

What I like about this book: There are flaps! Beneath each flap is a tidbit of information that adds to what is on the page. For example, the spread introducing pocket sharks: lift the flap to learn how this shark got its name. I like the contrast between what’s happening in the upper, surface layers of the ocean and the action in the darkest deep waters. To do that, the book was designed to be turned by the reader. This creates long, vertical spreads. And there’s back matter, where Donna introduces the term “bioluminescence” and gives some fun facts.

I wanted to know a bit more about Lights On! so I asked Donna a couple questions:

Me: Whose idea was it to create the flaps? 

Donna: My editor, Molly Shen Yao, suggested the flaps. I had submitted the story to Yeehoo with that additional informational text positioned as sidebars (text boxes). In the editing process, Molly suggested putting the sidebar material under flaps. I loved the idea and I hope my readers will enjoy the flaps!

Me: Upon opening the book, readers have to turn it so they can get a tall vertical look. How did this come about?

Donna: Editor Molly gets credit for that, too. Because each art spread in the book reflects what's happening above the ocean surface and at the ocean depths, she thought the vertical orientation would give the illustrator more freedom to reflect that ocean depth. I love how the illustrator, Daniella Ferretti, was able to use that vertical space, showing what was happening from sky to ocean depths in each spread. 

Luminous: Living Things That Light Up the Night 
by Julia Kuo 
44 pages; ages 4-8
‎Greystone Kids, 2022

When it’s dark out, we need light to see.

We might use a flashlight or a lantern to see at night. But some animals make their own light. That light, explains Julia, is called bioluminescence, and creatures make that light using special chemical reactions in their bodies. Throughout the book, she shows fungi, fish, and dinoflagellates that create light. Each spread includes an info-packed sidebar, so there is no need (or room) for back matter.

What I like about this book: The black pages with white print set the perfect stage for a book about dark, though I do wish the sidebar text was bigger. Of course I love that bioluminescent fungi are included! As are fireflies and glow worms (which she points out are neither flies nor worms). And I love the focus on the diversity of creatures that make their own light.

Beyond the Books:

Go on a night walk and look for luminous things. If you’re walking near the ocean, you might see plankton glowing on the water. If you’re walking in a woody area, you might find glow-in-the-dark mushrooms (here are a few), and if you’re in the eastern part of the US you might see fireflies blinking above the tall grass. I once found glow worms in my garden!

Make some glowing water with this simple experiment from PBS

Donna B. McKinney is a member of STEAM Team 2023. You can find out more about her at her website

Today we’re joining Perfect Picture Book Friday. It’s a wonderful gathering where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copies provided by the publishers.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Explore Outdoors ~ Dandelions (and the bugs that love them!)

We're going on a dandie hunt (sung along to the tune of Going on a Bear Hunt). You do have dandelions growing in your neighborhood, don't you? But we're not just looking for dandelions - we're looking for the insects that hang out on them. Dandelions may not be the best source of nectar and pollen for bees, but they are an early source of food for insects. Which is why I consider them "pretty yellow flowers" and not "weeds."

This week, take a close look at the dandelions growing in your yard, along the sidewalks, in gardens, and at the park. Then look closer. You might see:
  • carpenter bees
  • wasps
  • flies of all kinds
  • miner bees
  • honey bees
  • bumble bees
  • spiders
  • butterflies
  • slugs

... or even something else! Spend some time watching them. Draw a picture and jot down some distinguishing characteristics of the critter you find. For example: that tachinid fly in the bottom left corner. See those short antennae? The white patch on its butt? The way it holds its (single pair of) wings out at an angle? 

If you'd like to grow some flowers for bees and other pollinators, check out the list I have in this post from a few years back.

Friday, May 5, 2023

Spring Books Bring Trees & Frogs

Trees are leafing out and frogs are singing. Spring is bringing new life to woods and wetlands, and I’ve got two fun books to share for the season.

theme: life cycles, trees, frogs

A few years ago I reviewed a book by this author/illustrator team. I am so happy to share this new book about how the world’s tallest trees grow up.

Rise to the Sky 
by Rebecca E. Hirsch; illus. by Mia Posada 
32 pages; ages 5-10
Millbrook Press, 2023 

What is the tallest living thing? It’s not an elephant or a giraffe or even a blue whale.

You can probably guess, but you have to turn the page to confirm that it’s a … tree! But not just any tree. In this book, Rebecca Hirsch highlights eight of the world’s tallest trees – trees that grow at least as tall as the Statue of Liberty. That’s about 305 feet tall or, comparing to whales, about 3.8 Blue whale-lengths.

Rebecca shows how tall trees begin as small seedlings, sprouting from old stumps or growing from seeds. She tells how they breathe, move water and nutrients, and rise up, up, up to the sky.

What I like about this book: The text is fun to read and easy for young children to follow. And the back matter tells more about how trees grow, what phloem and xylem are, and how long tall trees can live. Rebecca also includes a couple hands-on activities at the back. But wait! There’s more! Mia Posada’s cut paper collages add amazing texture to the pages, making me want to stay and explore the illustrations. And, there is a great vertical book-turn to give these giant trees the space they need to Rise!

Where there’s trees, you might find tree frogs. At least in my neck of the woods. 

One Tiny Treefrog: A Countdown to Survival 
by Tony Piedra, illus. by Mackenzie Joy 
‎40 pages; ages 4 - 8 years
Candlewick, 2023

Ten tiny tadpoles grow in their eggs.

This is a fun count-down book that shows the lifecycle of a red-eyed treefrog.

What I like about this book: I love the expressive tadpole faces, the illustrations, the fun language – and the notes that identify the different animals by common name and scientific name. There’s also a fun book-turn so you can see the tadpoles plunge “plink, plink, plink” into their new, watery home. And I love that there is back matter! One section tells what it takes to become a red-eyed treefrog, with some additional “survival” notes about the different stages. A great book for any frog-loving kid.

Beyond the Books:

Create some cut paper art to show some of the nature you see outside. You might use watercolors to paint paper to use for your collages, like Mia Posada does, or snip your colorful bits from old calendars and magazines. 

Sit outside or open a window and listen to frogs. Don’t think you have any? I’ve heard tree frogs when standing in a restaurant parking lot in downtown Ithaca, NY.

How tall are the trees where you live? Here are some ways to figure out tree height.

Today we’re joining Perfect Picture Book Friday. It’s a wonderful gathering where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copies provided by the publishers.

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Explore Outdoors ~ Violets in the Lawn

Violets abound in my yard. They grow companionably next to the dandelions and creeping charlie, thrusting their blue (and sometimes pink, magenta, nearly white) flowers up through the thatch and leaf detritus. They are an early source of nectar for butterflies, and pollen for bees. And the flowers taste yummy in salad.

The other thing about violets - and the reason I let them grow wildly in my yard and along the edges of my garden beds - is that their leaves are caterpillar food. Greater Fritillary caterpillars are picky eaters and eat only violet leaves! But they are late night diners, hiding during daylight hours, so you might never see them. I haven't. But I have seen plenty of fritillaries fluttering around my garden.

This week look for violets - in your yard, in a park, growing along the sides of sidewalks. 
Notice the colors of the flowers. How many shades of blue and purple do you find? What about yellow and white?

And here's another thing you'll notice: each flower grows from a stem that comes directly out of the ground, and they seem to be nodding (well, at least mine do).

Friday, April 28, 2023

A Tale of Love and a Tree

My Grandpa, My Tree, and Me 
by Roxanne Troup; illus. by Kendra Binney
40 pages; ages 4-8
Yeehoo Press, 2023

Theme: trees, farming, family

My grandpa planted a tree for me on the day I was born.

Grandpa loves pecan trees – he’s growing an entire orchard of them. So when he plants a tree for his granddaughter, it’s a pecan tree. Of course! But this little tree is special. It’s not part of the orchard. Orchard trees get pruned, but not this special tree. Orchard trees get sprayed, but grandpa and his granddaughter hand-pick pesky bugs from the little pecan tree. 

And when the pecans are ripe, orchard trees get shaken by a padded arm attached to the tractor. Not the little pecan tree, though. Grandpa and granddaughter whack those nuts down using a long pole, collect them in buckets, and sort them to dry by hand.

What I like about this book: I like the compare-and-contrast between commercial nut growing and tending a favorite nut tree. Readers see what’s involved in growing pecans, from blossom to harvest. There’s also a sweet relationship growing between grandpa and grandchild, who work together to tend their favorite tree through the seasons. And there is Back Matter (which you know I love)! Did you know that pecan trees can live 100 years or more? And that there are about a thousand varieties of pecans? Although there is no pecan pie recipe in the back matter, there is a link to the teacher’s guide where there is a recipe! 

I emailed Roxanne a couple weeks ago with One Question:

Me: How did your experiences growing up on a farm inform your book?

Roxanne: I grew up near agriculture, but not pecan farms. In Missouri, where I grew up, pecans grew wild near creek banks and waterways. Occasionally people planted them in backyards, but no one I knew grew pecans commercially. We grew corn, beans, and alfalfa. Any fruit or nuts we harvested came from wild groves and backyard gardens.

The difference between commercial pecan growing and backyard trees is what inspired my story's structure. During the research process, I discovered that some farmers grow nuts commercially—just like my grandfather grew fields of beans. And that made me curious. I knew how we collected pecans from one or two trees at a time, but how did a pecan grower manage to harvest from hundreds of trees at once? Did they fill 5-gallon buckets like we did? Or use special equipment like my grandfather used in his fields? Did pecan growers net their trees to keep birds and squirrels from stealing their harvest, just like we netted the cherry trees in our garden? What happened to their harvest if there wasn’t enough rain—or too much rain? How did they deal with insect threats? I was full of questions—questions that inspired me to find answers, and eventually helped me write this book.

Beyond the Books:

Pecans are one of the nuts native to North America. There are other native nut-bearing trees, so next time you go hiking in a forest look for some of these trees: Oaks (acorn), black walnuts, shagbark hickory, American beech, butternut trees, and American chestnuts. 

Adopt a nut tree for a year. If you find a nut tree in a park or botanical garden or along the road near you, take some time observing it. What is the bark like? What are leaves like? Do a leaf-rubbing. What sort of husk protect the nuts? I’m lucky; I can spend time watching how the black walnut and shagbark hickories that grow along our road change over the season. 

Today is Arbor Day – a perfect day to plant a tree (or get one to plant this weekend). If you love nuts, here are four fast-growing nut trees you can plant with a parent or grandparent.

Roxanne is a member of #STEAMTeam2023. You can find out more about her at her website, 

Today we’re joining Perfect Picture Book Friday. It’s a wonderful gathering where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copy provided by the author.

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Explore Outdoors ~ Yellow Flowers

 Every season has its colors. For our area, spring starts out yellow, with daffodils, dandelions, coltsfoot, and these - forsythia and willow. What color(s) does Spring wear in your area?



Friday, April 21, 2023

A Climate Change Toolbox

 Tomorrow is Earth Day, so today is a perfect day for introducing a book about…

Climate Warriors: Fourteen Scientists and Fourteen Ways We Can Save Our Planet   
by Laura Gehl 
72 pages; ages 9-14
Millbrook Press (Lerner), 2023

“Sometimes, when something is big and frightening, we don’t want to think about it,” writes Laura Gehl. And right now, the biggest and scariest problem we’ve got is climate change. It’s a huge problem, so overwhelming that we might wonder what can we even do to solve it?

As with every problem, the best place to begin is with understanding what it is. So Laura takes the first chapter to explain what climate change is, how humans are causing it, and what we can do about it. Then she introduces fourteen scientists who are studying – and fighting – climate change. A forester, a conservation biologist, a scientist working with artificial intelligence. An economist, a materials scientist, a psychologist, and eight more. 

Chapter by chapter, Laura shows what scientists and climate activists are doing to understand – and communicate their findings about – climate change. In each chapter, the featured “climate warrior” offers recommendations: making cities more walkable, planting trees, creating better public transportation systems, finding substitutes for meat, protecting forests and coastal ecosystems… the list is long.

Each chapter ends with one or more things kids (and their families) can do to combat climate change. Here’s the thing: as crazy as it sounds, individual efforts add up. So if you do something, and get your family and friends to join you, you’re making a positive change. Laura ends her book with a chapter that adds a short list of specific ways you can be a climate warrior. 

Reduce your use of plastics, Laura says. “Switch to reusable containers instead of plastic bags … and encourage your family to use refillable water bottles and soap dispensers.” Plant a garden. Compost food scraps and leaves. Share things like bicycles and books. Eat less meat. Last on the list – and possibly most important – use your voice to share climate-friendly actions. Included in back matter is a quick guide for writing a letter to your Congressperson, Governor, or even the President. There’s also a list of helpful books and websites.

I caught up with Laura Gehl a few days ago and she graciously answered a couple questions.

Me: What do you do to avoid feeling overwhelmed and helpless in the face of such 
a huge problem like climate change?

Laura: One of the scientists I wrote about in Climate Warriors, David Rolnick, told me that he fights climate change using artificial intelligence because that’s what he’s good at. He said that everyone can help fight climate change using their own specific skills and talents. This conversation really resonated with me, because writing is what I happen to be good at. In all aspects of my life, the best way to avoid feeling overwhelmed and helpless is to dig into whatever is making me feel that way. So writing about climate change, specifically the hopeful side and how scientists, kids, and everyone else can work together to help slow it down, was the best possible way to feel empowered instead of powerless. Taking a reusable water bottle when I go for a hike, instead of single-use plastic, is a small way to help slow climate change…but the impact of this book, if it inspires lots of kids, could be much bigger.

Me: I love how you set up each chapter with an explanation of what that climate warrior does, along with recommendations from their work. You follow this up with an entire section 
about how kids can be climate warriors. These features really make this book feel like a toolbox for hope. 

Laura: Climate change is such a huge, complicated topic, and I am a scientist at heart. So I wanted to include a lot of science in this book, which I believe is needed in order to really understand the problem, as well as the possibilities for slowing it down. On the other hand, I wanted the book to feel accessible for kids and not like they were being bombarded by too many tricky concepts—from hydrology to economics to materials science! I experimented with different formats, and both my critique partners and my editors really helped me hone in on a format that would feel kid-friendly and empowering. My personal favorite part is that I talk about what each scientist was like as a kid. I hope that this will really bring home to readers that each of these scientists was once in their shoes…liking music or sports or playing outside, trying to figure out what they might want to do as a job one day…and spark the idea that they too could grow up to be a huge part of finding new ways to combat climate change! 

Laura is a member of  STEAM Team 2023. 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, April 19, 2023

Explore outdoors ~ trilliums!

Today I'm celebrating trilliums on this blog. Over at The GROG blog it's Bugs - the Third Annual Arthropod Roundtable. Hop on over and join a delightful group of authors with bugs in their books.

The red trillium is native to the eastern and northeastern US, blooming in the spring. Some people call it "Robins Wake" because it blooms at the same time robins show up, and it has those red petals. The flowers grow in shady wooded spots, and when they are finished blooming they produce a bright red berry that birds and other animals eat. If you are lucky enough to find some, just take pictures. These flowers are on the NY state protected list.

What flowers do you find in shady places?

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Explore Outdoors ~ emerging daffodil

Watching flowers is like watching birds ~
but slower.
Sure, they don't have wings
but they do have showy colors
and they make your heart sing! 
This week check out the flowers opening up in your neighborhood. 
  • Do they hang out in groups?
  • What colors do you notice? 
  • Are your flowers on trees or shrubs?
  • How many petals do your flowers have?


Friday, March 31, 2023

Women scientists for space and sea

 March is Women’s History Month and today I’m reviewing books that highlight the contributions of women in rocket science and marine biology.

Theme: women’s history, space, ocean

Blast Off!: How Mary Sherman Morgan Fueled America into Space 
by Suzanne Slade; illus. by Sally W. Comport 
48 pages; ages 7-10
‎Calkins Creek, 2022   

Mary Sherman grew up on a farm in North Dakota with four older brothers and sisters. 

When she finally goes to school, she has a lot to learn. She didn’t even know the alphabet! But before long, Mary is reading stacks of books and exploring science. In high school, she fell in love with chemistry. She eventually worked in a lab studying rocket fuels, and figuring how much mixture would make a rocket fly.

But when it came time to send a satellite into space, would Mary’s fuel work? After trial and error and recalculations and retesting, it did! That’s what I like about this book: it shows the near successes, the misses, the dedicated scientists going back to the lab to work out more tests. I also like the back matter: some important dates, more about Mary, and about the rockets she sent up, up, up into the atmosphere.

The Lady and the Octopus: How Jeanne Villepreux-Power Invented Aquariums and Revolutionized Marine Biology 
by Danna Staaf
136 pages; ages 10-18
Carolrhoda Books, 2022

Jeanne Villepreux was born in a small village in France in 1794. While France was torn with uprisings and revolution, Jeanne grew up in relative peace in the French countryside. She learned to read as well as care for the sheep, cattle, and other farm livestock. At the age of seventeen, she set off to Paris to make her way in the world. On foot. Walking 280 miles – which took more than two weeks!

Once in Paris, she found work as an assistant to a milliner, who made hats for the Paris elite. She put her sewing skills to work and began stitching dresses and had a good business making fine dresses for the wealthy Parisians. When she married, she moved to a new land – Sicily – and remade her life again. Without children, she had time and freedom to study nature. Soon she had caterpillars, turtles, and more living in her home. She wondered: could she bring sea creatures into her house, too?

Jeanne invented aquariums for holding sea animals, and began to study some of the small octopuses called argonauts that lived in the local waters. Although the term “scientist” had not yet come into use, that’s what Jeanne was: a scientist. She observed, asked questions, kept notes, conducted experiments, and shared what she learned.

What I like about this book: This is a story about Jeanne, and also about the tiny octopuses she observed. It’s also about how science happens, and invention – for Jeanne was an inventor: she created observation tanks for doing her work. Back matter includes “how to be a naturalist” as well as timeline and source notes.

Beyond the Books:

Check out this book trailer for Blast Off here.   

The US wanted to get a satellite into space because of the "space race" - check out this video about the space race  

You have "rocket fuel" in your kitchen cupboard! Here's how to make a baking soda rocket

Today we’re joining Perfect Picture Book Friday. It’s a wonderful gathering 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 publishers.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Explore Outdoors ~ Colors of a new season

There is an aging slab of concrete in my yard. Rumor has it that when the commune was here, that was the floor of the goat barn. The commune is long gone; the concrete remains - but over the years it has been colonized by mosses and lichens. This time of year the mosses come into their own, showing off their colors. There's an occasional flower, a rosette of hairy leaves, grass... but mostly it's moss with a variety of textures and shades ranging from green to russet.

This week, look more closely at the mosses growing in your neighborhood. 
  • Where do you find them? 
  • What textures do they have? 
  • What colors do they come in?

Friday, March 24, 2023

Women Find the Cure!

March is Women’s History Month and today I’m reviewing books that highlight the contributions of women in STEM. I paired these books because they both deal with medical discoveries that were vital to understanding the COVID-19 pandemic.

theme: women’s history, medicine, nonfiction

Never Give Up: Dr. Kati Karik√≥ and the Race for the Future of Vaccines 
by Debbie Dadey; illus. by Juliana Oakley 
40 pages; ages 5-10
‎Millbrook Press, 2023  

By the time the morning sun shone on the reed roof of Kati’s one-room home in Hungary, she had already fed the chickens, collected eggs, and been chased by a rooster.

Kati learned about animals at home – but at school she learned about science. And when the teacher showed the class how to use a microscope to see cells, Katie was hooked. She wanted to be a scientist! She attends science camps, competes in the Science Olympics, conducts research in mRNA, and begins asking whether (and how) mRNA might be used to help fight disease. Her experiments fail, and people question whether her idea is going anywhere. But Dr. Kati doesn’t give up and eventually has a breakthrough that leads to…
  • The founding of Moderna
  • A job at BioNTech
  • And the work that went into creating the COVID vaccine

What I like about this book: it is timely! It shows the additional hurdles women in STEM fields face in their research. And, we learn that Dr. Kati isn’t finished. Now she wants to find out if mRNA can cure or prevent other diseases! Back matter includes timeline of Kati’s life, steps to making a vaccine, glossary, source notes, and suggestions for further study.

June Almeida, Virus Detective!: The Woman Who Discovered the First Human Coronavirus 
by Suzanne Slade; illus. by Elisa Paganelli 
40 pages; ages 6-9
Sleeping Bear Press, 2021

June’s favorite days were school days.

She couldn’t wait to get to class – especially science, which she loved. But with no savings, she had to get a job instead of attend college. So she applied to work at a hospital, where she used a microscope to examine cells from sick people.

Using an electron microscope, she created pictures of viruses and their antibodies. One of those viruses looked like a blob with tiny dots circling it like a crown – she had discovered coronavirus.

Back matter includes more biographical information about June, and some photos of her working with an electron microscope, as well as a timeline of her life. Turns out that discovery of human coronavirus was published in 1967! Seems like ancient history, and yet so important to recent medical science.

Beyond the Books:

Do you know any women who are doctors or are doing research in medicine

If you could find a cure for a disease, what would you cure? 

Learn more about Dr. Kati Karik√≥. Here’s one article

Find out more about June Almeida. Here’s an article.

Today we’re joining Perfect Picture Book Friday. It’s a wonderful gathering where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website

Because these books appeal to older readers as well, we’ll be over at Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, too. That happens 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, March 22, 2023

Explore Outdoors ~ Spring is Here

 Monday was the first official day of spring, according to the calendar. But spring, it seems, comes in fits and starts - at least this year. We had warm days that enticed daffodils to push up from the soil, followed by icy days. I could hang laundry outside to dry one day, and build snowpeople the next.

This is the time of year when we say: what a difference a week makes! Check out these photos - from the woods road near my house. They are taken a week apart. The one on the left from March 13, the one on the right taken March 20th.

Once spring gets started, it's on a roll. Snow and ice melt, water trickles down into gullies, tinkling musically as it gathers and falls from rock to rock. Chickadees are changing their tune; robins are everywhere.

Observe how spring comes to your neighborhood
What do you see? Hear? Smell?

Friday, March 17, 2023

Women Invent Solutions!

March is Women’s History Month and today I’m reviewing books that highlight the contributions of women in STEM. 

theme: women’s history, invention, math

Josephine and Her Dishwashing Machine: Josephine Cochrane's Bright Invention Makes a Splash 
by Kate Hannigan; illus. by Sarah Green 
40 pages; ages 7-10
Calkins Creek, 2023

Josephine Garis Cochran was a modern woman who wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty.

But, one night after a dinner party she’d had enough of dirty hands – and dirty dishes! There must be a better way, she mused. Inventors were busy at work, devising machines and tinkering with electricity and even making a telephone. So Josephine decided to invent a machine to wash dishes.

What I like about this book: I love the language. There’s alliteration: saucers and soup bowls, tested and tinkered, pushed and persevered. There’s rhyme: pliers and wires. And I like the emphasis on revising, reworking, and rethinking.

Josephine’s first machine doesn’t work well at all, but she learned from her mistakes. And each time she redesigned her machine, she fixed a problem until at last – she had a working dishwashing machine!

I like that there is back matter: an author’s note about dishwashers and Josephine, and an introduction to more than a dozen notable women inventors. There’s also a timeline of “fascinating inventions” and a whole bunch of resources for kids who want to learn more.

The Brilliant Calculator: How Mathematician Edith Clarke Helped Electrify America 
by Jan Lower; illus. by Susan Reagan
40 pages; ages 7-10
Calkins Creek, 2023

Edith Clarke devoured numbers. Conquered calculations. Cracked puzzles.

She loves math, and dreams of building dams and bridges. Instead, she is sent to boarding school to learn manners and music and finished her schooling at the dawn of the twentieth century. Cars are on the road, inventors are testing flying machines – and Edith sees a place for her and her math in these new modern times.

She teaches physics, and eventually begins work as a human “computer” with engineers who are stringing the first phone wires across America. Why do voices fade on wires as distances grow? Edith finds out. In her free time she tackles problems related to electrical transmission lines, invents a tool that helps engineers solve problems faster, and sets the stage for our modern “smart electric grid.”

What I like about this book: One of my favorite spreads is the city street, with wires crossing every which way and a biplane above. Equations are integrated into the buildings to show how Edith saw the world. 

I also like the illustrations that show how she invented her calculating device and the pages that highlight quotes from Edith’s own writing. And there is back matter: an author’s note about Edith and more about her contributions to engineering; a timeline of Edith’s life; glossary; and short bios about more women mathematicians, inventors, and engineers.

Beyond the Books:

Learn more about women inventors. Need a place to start? Check out this post on A Mighty Girl blog.

Find out how modern dishwashers work. If you have one, take a good look inside – maybe the owner’s manual has some drawings. Or you can check out this video.

Be an inventor. What job do you do that you would like to see done mechanically? Invent a way! Think about what needs to be done, and how it could be done. Then draw up your invention designs.

Today we’re joining Perfect Picture Book Friday. It’s a wonderful gathering where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website

Because these books appeal to older readers as well, we’ll be over at Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, too. That happens 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.