Friday, January 27, 2023

Evolution and Future Technology: two middle grade books for mid-winter

I really try to review all the books that end up in my book basket, especially if I’ve requested them. But look! It’s the End Of January and I still have a dozen books from last year that I Haven’t Gotten To. Yet. So today I have a two-fer: two fun nonfiction books for middle-grade readers that came out in the fall.

The Museum of Odd Body Leftovers: A Tour of Your Useless Parts, Flaws, and Other Weird Bits 
by Rachel Poliquin; illus. by Clayton Hanmer 
88 pages; ages 7-11
‎Greystone Kids, 2022 

I loved this book from the moment I opened to the table of contents – which is set up like a map to the museum. And yes, there is a cafĂ© and a gift shop, as well washrooms (located conveniently next to the Scurvy exhibit). I’m gonna steal a bit from the back cover, which is a perfect introduction to the book:

Did you know your amazing, incredible body is a living, breathing museum of evolution? Look closely and you’ll find bits and pieces that were useful way back when our lives were very different from what they are today.

Like back when wisdom teeth were perfectly fine and would have served humans well, but then some folks discovered farming… which allowed them to grow grains and eat mushy food and now who needs those big back molars? There’s an entire exhibit – er, section – devoted to monkey muscles, a leftover from when our monkey ancestors walked on all four feet. There’s a hands-on test to see if you have monkey muscles in your arms – and a toes-on test to see if you have any in your feet. If you disregard the signs and sneak into the museum storage, you can find even more cool left-overs, including the appendix (I personally don’t use mine, but it’s hanging around anyway).

This book not only gives readers a fun tour of vestigial structures, but a breezy look at evolution. Though it’s more the dark side of evolution: the things that didn’t quite work out or weren’t needed anymore as creatures evolved to fill new niches. I mean … think about the poor whales with hip bones they haven’t used since their great-great-greats gave up walking on four legs!

Superpower? The Wearable-Tech Revolution 
by Elaine Kachala; illus. by Belle Wuthrich 
112 pages; ages 9-12
‎Orca Book Publishers, 2022

Super strength. Super hearing. Super vision… superpowers through wearable technology! This used to be the stuff of sci-fi and now it’s coming to a place near you. And sooner than you think. We already have smart glasses, smart watches, smart phones and continuous glucose monitors. As author Elaine Kachala points out, we are in the midst of a fourth industrial revolution.

This book is divided into five chapters, beginning with explaining what wearable tech is. It’s more than just strapping on a computer. Wearable tech is a synergistic combination of textiles and technology. And an extension of what started ages ago with the first person strapping on a wristwatch. What’s beyond the Fitbits, VR headsets, and body cams? 

The thing is, Kachala notes, wearable tech changes our lives. Think about how prosthetic limbs have changed what people can do, and how augmented reality layers graphics over the real world (as in the Pokemon Go game). Not only that, wearables augment our “human-ness.” She provides examples of engineering tissues and organs, wound-healing technology, and the possibilities of brain-computer interfaces. Then Kachala dives into issues of privacy, safety, and ethical questions. Packed with sidebars about tech and backmatter, this is a book that will have young people brainstorming their future and possible evolution of our species. 

I invited Elaine over to the blog for a One Question interview.

Me: So do you sport any wearable tech? I don't even have a fitbit, but I do use my phone to track steps. It's in my pocket... does that count?

Elaine: I'm an avid exerciser, almost daily, but so far I don't use a wearable for exercise. I've had (human) gym coaches in the past and now I use programs like Peleton. I find coaching vs just tracking more useful. But I do have a wearable - it's a brain-wave sensing headband called Muse. Sport wearables are getting pretty sophisticated though, with coaching abilities, so I might just invest one day soon. As for your phone: Nope! It does not count as a wearable. Wearables are devices that are on, in or attached to your body.

Elaine is a member of #STEAMTeam2022. She and Natalie Aguirre had a great conversation about Superpower? over at Natalie’s blog, Literary Rambles. You can find out more about Elaine at her website and follow her on Facebook

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, January 25, 2023

Explore Outdoors ~ Frost Flowers


Out for a walk in the woods last month, we discovered these needle-sharp, spiky frost flowers decorating the thin ice of puddles. These frost flowers have nothing to do with plants. Instead, they are ice crystals that grow on tops of newly formed ice on ponds and lakes - and even on the Arctic Ocean. It has to do with how warm the air is compared to the water, and the granules of ice trapped on the puddle surface. Those nubby granules form perfect spots for nucleation and growth of these porcupine-like "frost flowers."

What's happening to puddles and ice in your backyard?

Friday, January 20, 2023

Books for Little Engineers

One of my favorite memories from homeschooling was all the engineering that went on around the house. One week it was building marble runs along a wall, another week it was designing a hand-powered elevator to hoist toys to the second floor. Inside winter activities are a great time to explore machines and building things.

theme: machines, engineering, reuse

Franny's Fix-It Shop 
by Edward Miller 
32 pages; ages 6-9
‎Holiday House, 2022

Franny Fixit can fix anything. Her robot friend, Robbie, knows a lot, too.

When a friend says he needs a new wagon, Franny suggests they fix it and give it a new coat of paint. She helps one friend fix a skateboard, another with a bike. As she repairs, she points out what’s broken and how it can be fixed. Along the way readers learn about wheels and axles, levers, inclined planes, and pulleys.

What I like about this book: I like how Franny presents repairing things as a way to help the environment. It’s a great way to reuse, recycle, or even repurpose things. I also like how she points out a problem, such as worn wheels, and then explains how they cause friction which slows down the skateboard. And when she talks about wheels and axles, illustrations show how axles are used in other applications. 

Working With Machines (Kid Engineer series)
By Sonya Newland; illus. by Diego Vaisberg
32 pages; ages 9+
Kane Miller Publishing, 2022

This book focuses on mechanical engineering. It introduces young readers to the concepts of work, force, and movement and the idea that they could be an engineer. Then it explains how simple machines work (levers, pulleys, axles, etc) and includes a hands-on activity to explore each type of machine. A great companion to Franny Fixit.

Beyond the Books:

Look for wheels and axles, wedges, screws, gears, levers, and other simple machines around your home. Around here I’ve got a wheelbarrow (lever and axle), skateboard (wheels and axles), and a pulley on the clothesline. What do you find?

Make a pulley out of an old thread spool. Then use it to pull a cup loaded with marbles up, up, up to the second floor. Here’s how.

Build a simple catapult to launch marshmallows into your cocoa cup. A catapult is a lever – one of the simple machines Franny talks about. Here’s directions.

Thanks for dropping by. 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, January 18, 2023

Explore Outdoors ~ Rosehips in the Snow


Rosehips provide nutritious lunches for birds and squirrels. But - look at those spiky stems! You've gotta be tough to harvest these tasty vitamin-packed berries.

This week, look for roses in your neighborhood. If you find some rosehips, look for bite marks or other evidence that they're being nibbled by local wildlife.

Friday, January 13, 2023

The Mother of Nuclear Fission

Over the past year, scientists got closer to making nuclear fusion (the combining of two atoms to produce energy) a reality. Meanwhile, let's check out the story of ...

The Woman Who Split the Atom: The Life of Lise Meitner 
by Marissa Moss 
264 pages; ages 10-14
Abrams BFYR, 2022

Lise Meitner was a curious girl who slept with a math book under her pillow. She grew up in Vienna where Jews had more opportunities than in other countries. Still, going to college, becoming a scientist – that was for sons, not daughters. Even going to high school wasn’t something girls did in most of Europe in the late 1800s.

But Lise persisted, eventually earning a doctorate in physics. She was ready to do research even if no one wanted to work with a woman. So Lisa made her own instruments and got to work. Eventually she partnered with other physicists and chemists and discovered how uranium decayed. She built a cloud chamber so she could see trails of radioactive particles, wrote papers, and gained acceptance in the scientific community. 

But just when it no longer mattered that she was a woman, it mattered very much that she was Jewish! Now all employees of the institute where she conducted research were required to be members of the Nazi party. Lise was no longer welcome as a scientific collaborator, and her name was stripped from her published scientific papers.

As German scientists turned their attention to chemical weapons and the race to build an atomic bomb, Lise turned her efforts to getting out of Germany. Alive. She wanted no association with the potential doomsday weapon and called for peace, not war.

What I like about this book: I like the way author Marissa Moss shows how hard it was for Lise to make her mark on science – and how easy it was for her contributions to be erased.  I like the comic panels that open each chapter, showing slices of Lise’s life – especially the drawing of her cloud chamber. And I like the back matter, which includes a timeline and profiles of  scientists mentioned throughout the book. There’s even a short physics glossary for those of us who still count electron shells on our fingers.

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.

This month, STEM Tuesday is featuring books about nuclear science and the scientists who discovered radioactivity. If you're looking for more books about atomic energy, please join us there!

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Explore Outdoors ~ Fungi & a January Thaw

We got our January thaw a bit earlier than usual. Temperatures shot up from the previously polar zero-to-one all the way into the 50s. And yes, we had rain. The downed oak at the back of the garden was a wonder of brilliant moss greens, punctuated by small patches of these tiny fungi with spiky haircuts.

This week, keep an eye out for fungi. You might find them on old logs, tree trunks, branches that blow down, or even thick layers of woodchip mulch. Look at their colors and textures. Take a fungi photo or draw a picture of what you find.

Friday, January 6, 2023

Dive into a Deep Ocean Adventure

at the bottom
of the Pacific Ocean
lies a secret place.

Deep, Deep Down: The Secret Underwater Poetry of the Mariana Trench 
by Lydia Lukidis; illus by Juan Calle Velez 
40 pages; ages 7-10
Capstone, 2023

theme: ocean, animals, exploration

This book is the perfect “armchair adventure” story: you start at the ocean’s surface and then dive deep, deep down to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. Which is the deepest part of the earth’s surface. The lyrical language and spare text give this underwater adventure a feeling of poetry, as if we are swaying in water like strands of sea plants. Or the arms of crinoids. 

Yep, crinoids! I thought they were all dead and fossilized, like the ones I dig out of my garden every spring. But no- they are alive and well and feeding 25,000 feet below the surface of the ocean. 

What I like about this book: I like the way Lydia describes how it feels being so far down in the ocean. She compares the increased water pressure to a thick, heavy blanket with a thousand hands pressing down. I like how there’s a text box on one side of the spread that’s a depth counter, and on the other side there’s more information about the featured creature. 

On this spread, the depth is 31,000 feet (9,449 m), where you can find amphipods. They are tiny crustaceans, around an inch long, though they can grow nearly a foot long in the upper regions of the trench. 

And of course there is back matter! Lydia shares how she came to write the book in an author note, as well as more about the Mariana Trench and its importance in the ocean ecosystem. There’s also a wonderfully illustrated chart showing which animals can be found at which levels in the trench.

Lydia graciously answered A Couple Questions about life in the trench.

Me: What made you want to write about the deepest part of the ocean?

Lydia: Like many others, I’m drawn to and curious about the unknown, especially places that I can’t visit myself. The deepest spot in the ocean was a topic I felt certain I wanted to write about. I’m also interested in space and anything cosmic. The deep sea and space are very common themes in kidlit books, so the trick is you set your book apart somehow. Luckily, there aren’t many kidlit books about the Mariana Trench so it worked out well.

Me: What surprised you most as you researched the creatures that live way, deep down in the water?

Lydia: Great question! In my initial research, I read that seadevil anglerfish roamed the trench and I was so excited to feature them. But when I interviewed experts, I discovered they can’t survive the intense pressure deep down. In fact, none of the initial “terrifying” creatures that I found on the internet actually lived in the trench. (A lot of information on the internet about the Mariana Trench is false). The most surprising element to me was how poetic, slow moving, jelly-like, and beautiful the creatures actually are. I was mesmerized and decided the text should be equally lyrical.

Kathy Halsey had a wonderful conversation with Lydia about her new book. You can read it over at the GROG blog. And you can check out Lydia's book trailer here.

Beyond the Books:

Find out more about the Mariana Trench. You can read about it online at NOAA.

What would a map of the deepest place on Earth look like? That’s what Dawn Wright, a marine geologist, is trying to find out. Read about her project to map a slice of the trench.

Draw a picture, or build a model of a submersible that you could use to explore the deepest part of the ocean. Then dive down into the trench with this BBC video.

Lydia is a member of #STEAMTeam2023. She is the author of more than 50 trade and educational books for children, including The Broken Bees Nest (nominated for a Cybils Award). A science enthusiast from a young age, she now incorporates her studies in science and her everlasting curiosity into her books. Her next book takes readers up above the atmosphere. Look for Dancing Through Space: Dr. Mae Jemison Soars to New Heights (Albert Whitman, 2024).

You can find out more about Lydia at her website. She's active on twitter (@LydiaLukidis) and Facebook and also posts on her blog, Blissfully Bookish.

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, January 4, 2023

Explore Outdoors ~ Lichen Looking

 There is a large rock that sticks out of my yard. In the summer it’s an obstacle to mow around, a background for calendula flowers. In the winter, you can walk right by it – unless you happen to be looking at squirrel tracks. Which I was the other week. That’s when I noticed the lovely lichens, framed by snow and ice.

Lichens in these parts are adapted to survive the cold. Some go dormant when it’s cold and dry, others have antifreeze in their tissues.

This week, do some Winter Lichen Looking.

  • Where do you find your lichens growing? On tree trunks? On branches? On rocks?
  • What kind of lichens do you see? Are they leafy? Crusty? Branchy?
  • What colors are your lichens?
  • Are they loners, or do they share their space with other kinds of lichen?
  • Draw pictures of your lichens, or take photos, and share them with other lichen lookers.


Monday, January 2, 2023

New Year, New Socks and more...

Why look! It’s a brand new year and here we are, all decked out in our new socks! At least I am. Did any of you get cozy, warm socks as a winter gift? I could probably write an entire post about socks … hmmmm, it looks like I already did.

For many folks, a new year means an opportunity to try new things, That’s what I did last year, creating a Monday post where I invited writers and illustrators to talk about what inspires them to do what they love doing. (And seriously – anyone who writes or illustrates for kids does it because they love doing it!)

This year I’m taking a more relaxed approach to Mondays. Instead of posting every Monday, you’ll find something on the first Monday of the month. Second Monday at the latest. It might even make it to the blog before tea time! And who knows … you might find the occasional cartoon.