Friday, February 24, 2023

Problems with Plastic

I chose this book for it's title, because growing up I often heard someone exclaim "That's the last straw!" when they got frustrated. In this case, it's a call for action.

The Last Plastic Straw: A Plastic Problem and Finding Ways to Fix It (Books for a Better Earth)
by Dee Romito; illus. by Ziyue Chen 
40 pages; ages 6-9
‎Holiday House, 2023 

theme: environment, recycling, nonfiction 

Over five thousand years ago, the ancient Sumerians had a problem. They needed a way to avoid the icky substances in their beverages

Fortunately, these ancient folks were great problem-solvers and they came up with an idea: use a hollow reed to suck out the tasty liquid, leaving the sludgy stuff in the bottom of the cup. Even the Queen used a straw, though hers was a golden drinking tube encrusted with jewels.  

But there was another problem: some straw stems had residue that changed the flavor of the drink. Fortunately someone got the brilliant idea to wrap paper around a pencil to make a paper straw – and even patented the idea for how to do it! But there was another problem: could the top be bendy? And another problem…. And for each problem, people came up with a solution, and eventually plastic straws became ubiquitous.

Which led to an even bigger problem: too many plastic straws! Nearly 500 million straws are thrown out every day – in the US alone! And those plastic straws (and other things) don’t biodegrade. Instead, they break down into tiny bits called microplastics that stay around forever. They pollute oceans, endanger wildlife, and even show up in the food we eat! 

Fortunately, that’s a problem we can solve!

What I like about this book: I like the way Dee shows straws as a solution to a problem; even plastic straws solved a problem. I like how she focuses the end of the book on solutions. And of course, I like the back matter: an author’s note about more things that kids – and their families – can do, and a list of sources.

The Last Plastic Straw is part of the Books for a Better Earth series published by Holiday House. They  designed the series to inspire young people to become active, knowledgeable participants in caring for the planet they live on.

As a person who has tried to go straw-free, but still forgets to say “no straw” when ordering the occasional soda, I just had to ask Dee One Question:

Me: What was the last straw for you? And did you quit using plastic straws?

Dee: I’ve always tried to choose eco-friendly options, but wasn’t being as active as I wanted to be. Once I started researching and saw the photos of how much plastic pollution there is out there, we made the switch in our house away from plastic straws which has led to other earth-friendly choices. Sometimes we forget to say “no straws” or we’re on a road trip and the stainless steel are harder to keep clean, but we’ve started using agave straws (which are disposable and biodegradable) as our on-the-go option. And most of the time, you really don’t need a straw. It’s a habit and a convenience that I’m happy to give up for a cleaner earth and healthier sea creatures. As for writing this book, when I feel like the information I have can make a difference in the world, I want to write about it and share it!
Beyond the Books:

Find out more about alternatives to using plastic straws. Look for metal, bamboo, or even paper straws in stores or online. What other alternatives can you find?

Are there any companies manufacturing non-plastic straws near you? One company, Roc Paper Straws, makes paper straws Rochester, New York. The company is owned by a mother-daughter team who, when they started, had zero manufacturing experience and a giant dream. You can find out more about them at their website

Make your own paper straws. All you need is a pencil (or chop stick), some paper, glue, and wax. If you want your straws to be 100% biodegradable, use beeswax instead of paraffin to wax your straws. If you’re making straws for crafts, you don’t need to wax them. Here’s how to do it.
Dee Romito is a member of #STEAMTeam2023. You can find out more about her at her website, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

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, February 22, 2023

Explore Outdoors ~ Nests Revealed

 The forsythia growing on the east side of my house is untamed - a wild mess of branches that, every summer I threaten to cut back. I never do, because in the winter I discover all the bird nests that had been hidden within the leaves.

I am not the only one with a wild forsythia ... shrub? ... tree? A few years ago, Katharine Kresge wrote about  her forsythia: "Catbirds, mockingbirds and cardinals build their nests in it every year. Robins and hummingbirds frequent the bush and rest on its branches..."

This week, take a close look at the forsythia - and other bushes and shrubs - around your yard and neighborhood. Do you see any nests hiding within the tangle of twigs? Who do you think built those nests?

Friday, February 17, 2023

Animals on the Move

Animals are heading out on journeys every day. Some are long: migrations from summer home to winter home. Some are shorter: looking for food or a mate or a good place to make a den for little ones. These books take a look at animals on the move – and what happens when you can’t travel along your normal route.

theme: animals, migration, nature

Border Crossings 
by Sneed B. Collard III; illustrated by Howard Gray 
32 pages; ages 6-9
‎Charlesbridge, 2023

On a moonless night, padded paws silently step across pebbled ground. They make their way past thorn tree, through brush, and around a muddy marsh.

A male ocelot is on the move, across the Chihuahuan Desert, seeking a mate. But then he comes upon an obstacle so tall and slippery he can’t get over it. The wall runs right through ocelot country, splintering rich habitat into two pieces. Ocelot isn’t the only animal that crosses the border to find a mate, hunt, or graze. 

What I like about this book: I like how the author presents the borderlands as an environment that has been part of animals’ lives for longer than humans have inhabited that bit of land. That for them, the border is not something that divides, but just … home. The illustrations capture the beauty of the desert, and (I hope) will inspire some readers to learn more about the southwestern desert. And the back matter is a tremendous resource, packed with information about the ecology of the border region, a glossary, and great recommendations for further reading.

Animal Journeys  
by Carron Brown; illus. by Carrie May
36 pages; ages 4-8
Kane/Miller Book Publishers, 2023

Many animals make incredible journeys every year, month, and even each day. This is called migration.

Readers go on journeys with geese, lobsters, sea turtles, and butterflies in environments ranging from high mountains to the seashore. But some things are hidden from view. To reveal the different animals on their travels, readers will need to shine a flashlight behind the page – or hold the page up to a light source, such as a window. Which works even on a cloudy day (I tested this).

What I like about this book: This is a fun way to introduce a diversity of animals from around the world. And the last spread invites kids to look for animals on their journeys. Plus there is back matter that explains a bit more about how animals stay safe on their travels.

Beyond the Books:

Learn more about ocelots and how walls and other infrastructure fragments their habitat. You can find out more about ocelots (and hear some ocelot sounds) at the San Diego Zoo website. Two places to learn more about the impacts of the border wall are the Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity.

Explore the Chihuahuan Desert. Here are some resources to get you started: National Park Service; World Wildlife Fund; and this photo essay of plants and animals commonly seen on the desert.

Watch for migrating animals. As we move towards warmer spring weather, you might hear – and see – new birds flying overhead or stopping for a snack at local birdfeeders. Here’s a tool for following bird migration. Or you might discover butterflies returning to the gardens – check out this migration map for monarchs. 

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, February 15, 2023

Explore Outdoors ~ False Spring

 There is a joke in these parts about a mid-winter seasonal imposter called "False Spring." It's a day or two of sunshiny warmth where the mercury nudges above 45F and you head out for walks forgetting your hat. It's a trickster-interlude that fools some of the flowers which, given their lengthy residence at that end of the yard, should know better!
By Friday, lunchtime temps will be around freezing, and within a week it's likely that all those hopeful daffodils will be covered by a blanket of snow - if they're lucky. Ice, if they're not.
Before the next winter storm blows in, take a nature break. What's happening in the leaf-blown edges of the lawns and gardens in your neighborhood? Where are nubbins of greenery poking up? 

Friday, February 10, 2023

These Books Put Stars in my Eyes!

One of the things I’ve noticed about winter is the stars. They seem to shine brighter, and look bigger than they do other times of the year. Why? I don’t know – but I do know that people have been asking questions about stars since forever. So today I’m sharing two books for the young stargazers in your life.

theme: stars, women in science, biography

The Fire of Stars: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made Of 
by Kirsten W. Larson; illus. by Katherine Roy
48 pages; ages 5-8
‎Chronicle Books, 2023

I usually begin my picture book reviews with the first line or two of the story. But in this case, that’s a bit tricky. Because there are two stories happening at the same time in this book. One story is about the life of Cecilia Payne, the astrophysicist who discovered what stars are made of. The other story is about the life of a star. 

Just how does one tell two stories at once? Kirsten does it using a parallel structure, showing the lives of Cecilia and the star side-by-side. She compares the baby Cecilia to an unformed star, waiting for its future to begin. She shows Cecilia growing and discovering her world, as the star grows into its world. It’s easier to understand if you can see a picture of one of the pages (thanks to Chronicle for permission to share this). 

The star’s story: In a cloud of dust and dirt …

Cecelia’s story: Cecilia spends hours watching slimy slugs glide through the garden…

Definitely my favorite spread because: garden, slug, getting down in the dirt. As the star grows, things shift and separate. So, too, in Cecilia’s life. She is uprooted from her cozy home when her family moves to London. Cecilia wants to learn about science, in a world where men are scientists. She is the only woman in her physics class, she often doesn’t get recognition for her work. But she discovers something amazing: what stars are made of!

What I love about this book: I love the clever parallel story structure! I love the illustrations! The paintings of nebulae and galaxies look as though they could be photos from one of the space telescopes. They are sweeping, grand, colorful – out of this world! And I love the back matter. Kirsten provides more information about Cecilia Payne, a true “science superstar”, and gives a detailed look at how a celestial star is born.

I had heard that we are made of stardust, and I wondered just how true that was. Fortunately, there is a book coming out next month that can help answer that question – and a whole bunch more. 

Am I Made of Stardust?: Dr. Maggie Answers the Big Questions for Young Scientists
by Maggie Aderin-Pocock; illus. by Chelen Écija 
128 pages; ages 8 and up
Kane/Miller Book Publishers, 2023

This is a great book for curious future space explorers. There are activities to try, tons of “Astro facts,” and a robot named IQ (which stand for Interesting Question). There’s lots of information about stars and our solar system and humans in space. For example, the author talks about whether we can grow plants on other planets. 

But back to the question at hand: are we made of stardust? Yes! You, me, and nearly everything in the universe first came from a star. Stars are made of hydrogen and helium on the outside – that’s what Cecilia discovered. But at the center, new elements are formed, including iron, carbon, and silica. Those elements at the heart of a star are let loose when that star dies in a Big Bang called a supernova. The bits of stardust are flung through the universe and … who knows? Maybe some tiny bits are falling through our atmosphere as we read about them.

Beyond the Books:

Learn more about Cecilia Payne in this video from The Lawrence Hall of Science

Create some Star Art! Drop by illustrator Katherine Roy’s studio where you can watch a book trailer, and learn about how she uses a toothbrush to help create star art. Then grab some paints and paper (and maybe a toothbrush) to create your own star art! Need inspiration? Here’s some great photos of nebulae taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.

Stardust is falling all around us! Collecting dust from actual stars is hard – even for scientists with the right equipment. But you can collect dust from meteorites, sometimes called “falling stars.” Here’s how. 

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, February 8, 2023

Explore Outdoors ~ Looking for Tree Holes

 Last Friday I posted a review about Tree Hole Homes. So I went out on a short walk to see if there were any holes in the trees around my house and garden. A branch had recently fallen during a storm, but too recent for a decent hole to form. However, there were some nice holes in the apple trees near my garden.

I'm not tall enough to peer inside the one shown in the upper photo - and I wouldn't want to disturb anyone sleeping in there. But the bottom one - I can see through the tree. It's hollow inside. If I were a very small person, I could climb in there with a a good book! 

This week take a look for tree holes in your neighborhood. But don't disturb any sleeping creatures!

Monday, February 6, 2023

Celebrating the Days Between Seasons

According to the calendar, spring begins March 20. Six weeks from today, shadow or not, regardless of what the groundhog or marmot or armadillo saw in your neck of the woods. For most folks, the Vernal Equinox is the seasonal marker. It’s that point in the Earth’s orbit when the sun sits directly above the equator. It’s the day when hours of daylight equal hours of dark. It’s an important marker for those of us who plant seeds and tend gardens.

And yet for many of us, February 2 is more than Groundhog Day or Candlemas. A cross-quarter day, it’s a midpoint between seasons. And even though we were subjected to polar temperatures (-30F in some places) this week feels like the beginning of a new season. Maybe it’s the fact that days are noticeably longer. Maybe it’s the way the morning light turns everything apricot-colored and sets ice-encrusted twigs and needles to shimmer and glint like precious gems. Sure, we might will most assuredly get more frost and ice and snow and sleet, but something has shifted.

What does an emerging spring look like? Is it the drip of maple sap into a metal bucket? Is it the sound of birds squabbling near the feeder? The gurgle of a stream skipping over icy rocks? The smell of mud?

How do you measure spring? By the time it takes to shovel the driveway? The length of a day? The color of the sky? The sound of geese overhead? And when spring comes, where will X mark the spot? 

Friday, February 3, 2023

Tree Hollows Make Cozy Hiding Places

 Ages ago, when I was in fourth grade (I think), I read My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. The cover was a simple line drawing of a boy with a hawk perched on his shoulder, but inside was a detailed tale of a kid who lived off the land. He made his home inside a hollow tree and used the library to learn all about edible weeds. I wanted to live inside a tree, too – it sounded so cozy. 

I wasn’t the only one. After reading her copy of the book, Melissa Stewart also wanted to make a home inside a hollow tree. And the seeds for Tree Hole Homes were planted. Time passed, and she forgot about the book until … on a visit to Vancouver Island, Canada, she spotted a tree with a hole big enough for her to squeeze inside.

So she did. 

It was then, as she looked up into the hollow tree, that she knew she’d write a book about tree hole homes. The thing about writing books – and growing trees – is that they both take time. That serendipitous visit to Vancouver Island happened in 2011. Melissa’s book came out in October, 2022. In between those years, Melissa filled up notebooks with tree hole observations.

Tree Hole Homes: Daytime Dens and Nighttime Nooks 
by Melissa Stewart; illus. by Amy Hevron 
40 pages; ages 4-8
‎Random House Studio, 2022

theme: nature, animals, trees

Imagine this: One day while walking in the woods, you spot a towering tree with a hole big enough to slip inside. 

So you do.

From birds to squirrels, frogs to bears, many animals use tree hollows as a place to nest, rest, or just escape the world for a bit. A tree home can be calm and quiet – a place for a fisher to sleep during the day. Or it can be filled to the brim with activity, as cubs and kits and hatchlings explore their world. 

There is so much I like about this book, beginning with the endpapers! The first endpaper shows a child with a backpack walking toward a tree. There’s a spread before the title page where we see the child sitting inside that tree. They look so cozy and content! You meet them later in the book and also on the back endpaper.

I like the layout of the pages. Large text presents a big idea: a tree hole home could be large or small. Smaller text provides information about the featured animal (or two) that live in those holes. Here’s am example of the spread explaining just how busy a tree hole home can be, with seven little ones to care for. (I particularly like this spread because the raccoon kits are checking out the fungi growing on the tree!)

And of course I love that there is back matter. Three pages provide the vital statistics about the tree hole dwellers featured in the book: their scientific name, where they live, what they eat, and a fun fact. Plus there is a list of books for curious kids (and adults) who want to learn more about animal homes.

Beyond the Books:

Head over to Melissa’s website and check out the videos about Tree Hole Homes. There’s a fun video about how Amy created the art for this book by painting on wood (and leaving some of the wood grain showing). You can find a link to a Reader’s Theater here.

Read more about tree hollow habitats in this article published by the Concord Monitor

Go on a tree hollow scavenger hunt. Look for:
  •  A hole high in a tree
  • A hole low to the ground
  • A hole made by a limb that fell
  • A hole made by an animal
  • An old hollow
  • A new hole or hollow
  • Small holes in a tree
  • A large hole
  • Holes that look like they were made while seeking food
  • A hole used as a nesting or resting place
Adopt a tree hollow. Visit it every month and keep track of the activity in and around it. You’ll need a notebook, pencil, maybe binoculars, and something to sit on – choose a place where you can sit quietly, hidden from view.

Melissa 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 from my local library system.

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Explore Outdoors ~ Looking for Beauty

Last month I headed outside with a challenge to find five bits of beauty in the nature around me. It was cold, so I didn't go far - just up the road a bit - but there was plenty to see: snowflakes trapped in the curve of a beech leaf; the prickles and stickles of dried plants; the spiral of a desiccated goldenrod leaf; seeds whose parachutes never opened...

What beauty do you find
 outside your door?