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.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Explore Outdoors ~ Patterns in Nature

Today is a great day for patterns! Over at the GROG blog, Christy Mihaly is chatting with Lisa Perron about her new book, Patterns Everywhere. Meanwhile over here, we're going on a Pattern Walk!

One of the patterns people find frequently in nature is a spiral. Ammonites (extinct marine mollusks) had a coiled external shell. Perhaps you know some other mollusks with coiled shells? You can find spirals hidden in many plants: in the uncurling fern leaves, head of a sunflower, and curling dried leaves of grass.

This week, head out on a Pattern Walk. In addition to spirals, you might find lines and stripes...

or spots and dots. 

Monday, March 13, 2023

It's Women's History Month!


When you think of inventors, chances are the names that come first to mind are Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, the Wright Brothers. What names are on the tip of your tongue when you think about great scientists? Darwin? Einstein? Maybe Marie Curie (she did, after all, receive two Nobel prizes for her outstanding work in chemistry and physics).

But here’s the thing: even as the guys were inventing flying machines and phones, women were building airplanes and bridges. And seriously, would a man ever even think of inventing a dishwashing machine?

Women have long contributed to our history as rulers, pirate queens, explorers, political leaders, artists, composers, musicians, scientists, engineers, doctors …  Too often their contributions were overlooked, overshadowed, or simply erased from the history books.

So for the rest of this month I will be posting reviews of books about women who have contributed to the STEM fields. If you are looking for books to share in a classroom or to read at home with your kids, check out my “Women in STEM” page – the link is at the top of the blog. I’ve curated a list of books that I’ve reviewed here on Archimedes or elsewhere, along with some reviews by colleagues. There are picture books and books for older readers.

And, hey – if you come across a great book about a STEM woman, let me know so I can add it to the list.

Friday, March 10, 2023

Animal Moms have Superpowers!

Supermoms! Animal Heroes 
by Heather Lang & Jamie Harper; illus. by Jamie Harper 
40 pages; ages 3-7
Candlewick, 2023 

theme: animal families, STEM

Supermoms are everywhere. They come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and species.

Like other superheroes, Supermoms have different sorts of superpowers. Some make safe burrows and other comfy places to live – and hide from predators. Some make sure that siblings are separated so they don’t eat each other. Other supermoms focus on meals – some making lengthy treks to get enough food to feed their young. And some supermoms are fierce fighters, doing what it takes to protect their babies.

What I like about this book: I like the many different superpowers that different animal moms have: super hardworking, super protective, super smart, super strong… The list is long and diverse and includes mammals, reptiles, birds, fish, amphibians, and mollusks. 

I like the fun cartoon illustrations and the dialog balloons that give the youngsters voice. For example, when the bat mom carries her pup on her chest while she flies, the pup begs her to do the “dip of death” – in much the same way a kid might beg to be tossed in the air and caught.

And, there is Back Matter! One spread gives each supermom a chance to share a fun fact about her superpower. There’s also a list of books and online resources for curious kids to explore.

I had so much fun reading this book that I just had to ask Heather and Jamie a couple of questions. Okay, so maybe I asked them Three Questions.

Me: So Heather, you mentioned reading Harriet the Spy to prepare for a life of spywork. But that job didn’t pan out. How did Harriet the Spy prepare you for a life of writing children’s books? 

Heather: It’s true! I wanted to be just like Harriet or Nancy Drew—smart, fearless, and independent. Who knew those childhood fantasies could be fulfilled writing nonfiction for kids! 

Of course, good detective work requires lots of fact-finding missions with clues, dead ends, and many twists and turns. Google searches, even on seemingly reputable websites, are rarely sufficient. I especially love learning from experts. I never know what treasures they’ll share, and I always come away even more excited about my topic, often with new leads to investigate. For Supermoms! our experts were critical. They confirmed facts, resolved conflicting information, and shared rich details we could add to the text or use in our back matter.

To make sure my detective work is up to Nancy Drew standards, I try to find ways to experience what I’m writing about. I’ve gone swimming with sharks, paraglided off the top of a mountain, explored the treetops of the Amazon, gone on a safari in the Serengeti, and most recently, hiked deep into the rainforests of Madagascar in search of endangered lemurs. Whether I’m shadowing a scientist, observing an animal, or soaking up sensory details, those adventures enrich my writing in countless ways.

Me: Now I’ve got a question for Jamie. Can you talk about the research you did? 

Jamie: I knew I would love doing research for Supermoms! because I had a small taste of it when I made the four Miss Mingo books. They were fiction titles, but factoids were included throughout each one. I know you can’t rely on the web alone, but I was amazed by how much conflicting information I found. That led to my reading scientific articles on Google Scholar and to reaching out to experts on particular species. They were generous with their time and in sharing their knowledge. Take Ad Konings, a guru on all things cichlid. He helped me find just the right cichlid with just the right colors, and identified the perfect, ugliest cichlid predator to use in the book. He was a terrific resource and teacher.

To become familiar with the animal's anatomy and how they move, I started watching videos on YouTube, the Nature Series on PBS (there have to be hundreds of episodes and I haven’t seen them all yet), plus the huge collection of animal documentaries streaming on Apple TV, Disney and National Geographic. Another new and exciting research tool was drawing animals live on a platform provided on Instagram. For two hours, I drew orangutans while watching them in their natural habitat—good practice for creating my orangutans in Supermoms!

Me: So what are your Supermom powers?

Heather: Looking back, I think my powers evolved as my kids got older and needed different things from me. Perhaps I’m super flexible like our mama giraffe on the cover. Raising triplets plus another little one, I needed to be super patient, and changing up to thirty-five diapers a day, I will say I was super hardworking! As the kids grew, I was always looking for super creative, hands-on projects to entertain them. The teenage years were the most challenging—finding that balance between guiding them and letting them go off and make their own mistakes. I always strove to be super sensible (although sometimes my super protective nature got the best of me). These days, I’m super grateful to have four kind and wonderful adult kids, whom I adore.

Jamie: I wish I could say that I share the same powers as our supermoms! I have three girls who are all grown up now and living their own lives. I’d like to believe I raised them with lots of love, kindness, and respect. And that I was patient, a good listener and consistent in my parenting. But those really aren’t special powers—so I’m wondering, do I have any special powers? I’m a baker and I always have the freezer stocked with the girls’ favorite baked treats just in case they pop home. I’m a communicator so I let my girls know regularly that I’m available—to talk, to listen, or to get together. Now that I think about it some more, I do have something in common with the supermoms in the book. Like the penguin, I too would travel for weeks and weeks to get food for my baby chicks. . . if the food was homemade ice cream and I could get it back home without melting.

Beyond the Books:

Find out how mother animals (and sometimes father animals) care for their young. One way is to read a book or article. Another way is to watch animal families: ducks at a neighborhood park, or cats, or even animals at a zoo.

Do you have a supermom (or super grandma)? What are her superpowers? My mom had eyes on the back of her head, and she could freeze us motionless with her stare of doom.

Heather and Jamie are members of #STEAMTeam2023. You can find out more about Heather at her website, Learn more about Jamie at her website, They both are active on Instagram, Twitter, and on Facebook.

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, March 8, 2023

Explore Outdoors ~ Oh, Deer!


With all the rain and the snow and the sleet - sometimes all at the same time - we've got mud. At least until it snows later today and this weekend... But meanwhile, if you look at muddy spots along the roads or trails where you walk, you might see tracks. On Monday we found these deer tracks down the hill from us, where they walked along the edge of the forested hillside until they crossed the road and (I can imagine) bounded into the field. Linda Spielman, our local tracking expert, has a great blog post on deer tracks here.

This week, pay attention to tracks you find. They might be bird tracks in a dusting of snow on your windowsill or balcony, or muddy squirrel tracks near trees. If you're at a dog park, you might find all sizes of canine prints. And if you've got some snow or sand, check out the tracks you make!

Friday, March 3, 2023

Celebrate World Wildlife Day with Animal Books!

It’s World Wildlife Day – so the theme for today is animals. In particular, penguins – and also maps, because mapping things can give us insight into animal lives.

Themes: animals, nonfiction, maps

Emperor of the Ice: How a Changing Climate Affects a Penguin Colony 
by Nicola Davies; illus by Catherine Rayner 
32 pages; ages 5-9
Candlewick, 2023 

It’s April in Antarctica.

That’s not a “beginning of spring” April, but a “winter is coming” April. Most animals are heading north to warmer weather, but not the emperor penguins. Sea ice and bitter cold – that’s what they’ve been waiting for. This is breeding season, and they’ll depend on that sea ice to last as long as it takes to raise a chick. That sea ice is how mama penguin gets to the fisheries and, when she returns to care for the just hatched chick, it’s how papa penguin will get to the fishes.

What I like about this book: The combination of text and illustrations gives a wonderful glimpse into the life of emperor penguins. And it emphasizes why the ice is so important; without it, the penguins could perish. Back matter explains what climate change is and discusses how a warming world affects Antarctic sea ice. There’s also a section about what people can do to slow climate change.

Maps for Penguins and Other Traveling Animals
by Tracey Turner, illus. by Hui Skipp 
48 pages; ages 6 & up
Kane/Miller Book Publishers, 2023

Animals find their way without using maps, GPS, a compass, street signs, or any of the things we humans need if we don’t want to get lost.

Some of them travel thousands of miles, from one continent to another, over vast stretches of ocean. Others travel short distances, over to the next meadow to pick up a basket of pollen for the hive. And some mark their territories, warning others to keep out!

What I like about this book: I love maps, so I picked this book for the title. And I was not disappointed – there are ten maps detailing travels of penguins, butterflies, tigers, whales, honeybees, lemurs … and even sea turtles! These aren’t maps for those various creatures to use – but visual representations that help us understand more about their lives and the journeys they undergo on a daily or seasonal basis. Take the map for penguins: it shows a route to the rookery and route back to colony. Plus it’s annotated with short notes about what is going on at each stop. Another spread tells more about penguins lives. Or check out the ring-tailed lemur’s map: which details the territory of one group of lemurs living on the island of Madagascar. Landmarks include a sunbathing rock, the sleeping tree, and a place where territorial fights sometimes happen.

Beyond the Books:

Fold a penguin out of paper. All you need is a sheet of paper. Here’s a video showing how to do it. And here's directions for a slightly easier version.

Hold a Penguin Dance Party. Waddle like a penguin, create slippy-slidy moves, and have fun. Grab some ideas from this post.

What can you do to make the world a better place for penguins and other animals? List at least three things you can do starting today. You can get some ideas here.

Map your travels. Maybe you want to show your daily travels to/from school, or a seasonal journey over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house. Make sure to put in some landmarks and some notes about what happens where.

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, March 1, 2023

Explore Outdoors ~ A Listening Walk

 Three days ago I went for a Listening Walk. I hadn't intended to; initially I was heading out for a brisk walk to stretch my legs. But the wind blowing through distant trees sounded like the ocean waves upon rocks. Then it roared through, bending tree boughs above, leaving in its wake a breeze that rattled the desiccated beech leaves still clinging to twigs.

Other things I heard, as I stood still for a few minutes:
honking geese flying overhead
tree trunks creaking as they swayed
maple leaves skittering across snow crust
the dee-dee of chickadees
engine of ATV down the road

This week take a few moments to stop and listen to the sounds around you - distant noises and those nearby, natural sounds and those made by people, machine-generated noises and those made by living things.