Friday, June 30, 2023

So Many Bugs!

 I love bugs. So if there’s a bug book coming out, there’s a good chance I’ll try to read it. Today I’ve got three to share with you. the themes this week are: insects, nature, STEM

Funny Bugs: Nature's Most Hilarious Adaptations
by Paul Mason; illus. by Tony De Saulles 
32 pages; ages 6-10
Kane Miller Books,  2023 

What is a bug? In this book, bugs are insects and arachnids. There are zillions* of them out there. Bugs make up over half the species on our planet. 
(*zillions = a lot. REALLY a lot)

Each spread presents some aspect of bugginess, from how they make noises to bugs in disguise. There are bugs that make faces and confusing caterpillars, dancing bugs, and needle-nosed bugs. At the end, kids will have met more than 35 interesting – and sometimes funny – bugs.  

What I like about this book: The comic artwork and dialog make this book fun to read. Plus there are “how to’s” such as how an assassin bug makes lunch. Back matter includes a bug quiz, a glossary (every bit as fun to read as the rest of the book) and a handy index so you can easily find your favorite insects.

Cicada Symphony 
by Sue Fliess; illus. by Gareth Lucas 
32 pages; ages 5-8
Albert Whitman & Company, 2023

There’s a secret you should know:
bugs are lurking down below.
In the earth, nymphs lay in wait
for their turn to … activate!

Written in rhyme, this book introduces children to the life cycle of cicadas – from nymph to adult – and explores how they make their (very loud!) noise.

What I like about this book: The rhyming text is fun to read and will engage a young child’s interest. Secondary text, in conjunction with illustrations, explains more about the life stages of the cicada. For example: how they split the back of their exoskeleton to emerge as an adult, and why they have those bulging, red eyes. If you want to know more about Sue Fliess and her cicadas, check out this year’s arthropod roundtable over at the GROG.

The Secret Life of Bugs 
by Emmanuelle Figueras; illus. by Alexander Vidal 
28 pages; ages 3-5
‎Twirl (imprint of Bayard /group), 2023 

Bzzz … It’s a beautiful spring morning, and worker honeybees are busy collecting nectar and pollen for their hive.

Along with honeybees, readers will discover the secret lives of swallowtail butterflies, a spider, ants, damselflies, and stick insects. A short and quick introduction to familiar insects that most children will see around their homes or neighborhoods. Laser-cut illustrations, on thick paper, emphasize and add texture to the secret parts of bug lives. While they are beautifully done, I notice the thin stencil-like designs begin to fold and tear after a few readings.

Beyond the Books:

Make your own antennae with a paper bag bug headband – just add pipe cleaners and you’re a bug! Directions here

Bugs need a place to live. So build a bug hotel and put it where the bugs will find it. Here’s how.

How many ways can you use a fly swatter? Swatting flies, for sure. But what about painting? Here’s how

Crawl like a caterpillar, flap like a butterfly, and buzz like a bee. How many buggy ways can you think of to move or make noise? Write down as many as you can think of, then go do them!

We’ll join Perfect Picture Book Friday once they resume. It’s a wonderful gathering where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copies provided by the publishers.

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Explore Outdoors ~ Nomad Bees

Earlier this month I was watching the bees in my garden and saw this one collecting nectar from chive flowers. At first glance it looks like a wasp: thin waist, not very hairy, brightly colored, not collecting pollen. But it’s not a wasp; it’s a nomad bee (Nomada). Any other Wednesday I’d be sending you off on a 5-minute field trip, but I wanted to know how to tell the difference between nomad bees and wasps. 

So I asked entomologist and writer, Roberta Gibson. She wrote the very fun book, How to Build an Insect 

Me: So how do we tell the difference between nomad bees and wasps?

Roberta: There are a few clues, including their unique behavior. They are called nomad bees because they roam around close to the ground, searching for mining bee nests. Also, nomad bees have relatively small mandibles since they only use them to drink nectar and to hold onto flowers while sleeping. Many wasps have much larger mandibles that they use for catching caterpillars or spiders. Finally, if you have access to a powerful microscope, all bees have at least a few hairs with many side branches (also called plumose). Wasps have simple, straight hairs. 

Me: Nomad bees are pretty to look at, but I hear they are sneaky thieves in the bee world.

Roberta: Yes, they steal from mining bees (Andrena sp.). Mining bees dig tunnels in the soil, then visit flowers to gather pollen and nectar. When they return to the nest, the mining bee mixes pollen and nectar together to form a ball of food (bee bread) and lays her egg on top. Her larva will eat that food, grow, pupate and eventually emerge as an adult mining bee. 

Those sneaky nomad bees find the nests of mining bees and lay their own egg on the mining bee’s bee bread. The nomad larva hatches first and kills the mining bee egg. Then it eats the mining bee’s food. 

This behavior – stealing food that another organism has caught or stored – is called cleptoparasitism (also spelled kleptoparasitism). Because the nomad bee lays its egg in the nest of another bee, people sometimes call them cuckoo bees, similar to the cuckoo birds lay their eggs in the nests of other kinds of birds.

Me: Should I be concerned about seeing nomad bees – or other cuckoo bees – in my yard?

Roberta: Probably not. Some types of mining bees are good at hiding their nests, closing up their nests, and keeping vigilant against nomad bees. Cleptoparasites only do well if their hosts (mining bees) are doing well. There are far fewer nomad bees than mining bees. If you want to help bees, the best thing to do is to plant a diverse selection of wildflowers so all bees have a good supply of pollen and nectar throughout the growing season. 

Thank you, Roberta! And I agree, planting more flowers is something we can all do. Check out Roberta's blog, Growing With Science. She has observed different kinds of cuckoo bees visiting her flowers, and posted about them here and here.

Saturday, June 24, 2023

More Activities for Pollinator Week

 One way to learn about pollinators and have some fun is to play BINGO. You can download a simple 3 x 3 BINGO card from Keller's Farmstand or, for older kids and adults, check out the 5 x 5 Pollinator BINGO card from Tufts University. Or go wild and create your own BINGO cards featuring pollinators from your area.

If BINGO's not your thing, create a scavenger hunt where people can check off what pollinators they find on an afternoon walk through a park or botanical garden. Or create a butterfly list and visit a butterfly house. 

Looking for more ideas? Click on the Pollinators tab above for links to activities and books - or click here to reach that page (if you're reading on mobile)
Whatever you do this weekend to celebrate pollinators, Have Fun!

Friday, June 23, 2023

Bees Lead Busy, Buzzy Lives

Since it is pollinator week, I'm featuring books that highlight pollinators. The themes of the day are: pollinators, insects, nature

Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera 
by Candace Fleming; illus by Eric Rohmann 
40 pages; ages 4 & up
‎Neal Porter Books, paperback edition, 2023

One summer morning deep in the nest, a brand-new honeybee squirms, pushes, chews through the wax cup of her solitary cell and into… a teeming, trembling flurry.

This brand-new bee is welcomed into the colony with tongue-licks and antennae-touches and then set to work. Her first job: tidying the nursery. A few days later she is transferred to nanny duty, inspecting the larvae and feeding them. After a few days she moves on to other jobs until finally – finally! – it’s her turn to fly off to collect nectar.

What I like about this book: Candace Fleming does a lovely job shining a light on the life, and death, of a honeybee worker. Reading it, you can almost feel part of the hive. I like that she introduces the bee by her scientific name, Apis mellifera – Apis for short. And I love that every time she is ready for a new job, she wonders: flying? But no, not yet. And then, it is time to fly and we head out of the colony and into the fields with Apis, where we learn that collecting food for the hive is hard work. Back matter includes honeybee anatomy, more buzz about colony living, and how people can help honeybees. 

Bioblitz!: Counting Critters 
by Susan Edwards Richmond; illus. by Stephanie Fizer Coleman 
‎36 pages; ages 4-8
Peachtree, 2022 

A couple summers ago I participated in a Bioblitz at a local land trust preserve. It was in early June and I thought I’d be tallying insects. But it turned out that, due to the wet spring, there were fungi everywhere! Still, it was a great experience and so, when I saw this book I knew I’d want to read it.

Gabriel and his cousin, Ava head out to help count critters during a Bioblitz at a park. Ava loves birds – she was the character in Susan’s earlier book, Bird Count – and Gabriel is a bug aficionado. Over the course of the book, the kid (and other members of the Bioblitz team) visit different habitats and note what they find. Even though this book isn’t focused on pollinators, there is an excellent spread showing a butterfly garden and the birds, bees, butterflies and moths that pollinate the flowers.

What I like about this book: One thing I love about this book is that each spread features a Bioblitz list down the right-hand side, with numbers so you can find the critters in the illustration. There’s also a Bioblitz list at the back with critters sorted into groups: amphibians, birds, insects, etc. And back matter includes some of Gabriel’s “did you know?” facts (imagine a bug-loving kid jumping up and down saying “did you know…?)

Beyond the Books:

Go on a Pollinator Bioblitz. Choose an area – maybe your back yard or a botanical garden – and try to find as many pollinators as you can. Take photos of what you find, and make a Bioblitz list. 

Examine the flowers that your local pollinators are visiting. Use a hand lens or magnifying glass to get a close look at the inside of the flower (when a bee is not inside it!) – can you see the pollen? You can smear a bit on a white piece of paper to see what color it is.

Did you know that a honeybee worker only makes an average of 1/12 of a teaspoon in her lifetime? There are 21 and 1/3 tablespoons of honey in a pound, and it takes 3 teaspoons to make a tablespoon. Can you figure out how many bees it takes to make a pound of honey? You can find lots more honeybee facts at

We’ll join Perfect Picture Book Friday once they resume. It’s a wonderful gathering where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copies provided by the publishers.

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Explore Outdoors ~ Go on a Bee Walk

 One of the best ways to get to know your local pollinators is to go outside and meet them. So today let's head out and meet some bees. 

First, a bit about what bees look like. They have three body parts (head, thorax, abdomen), long slender antennae, large multi-faceted eyes, two pair of wings (that's 4 wings in all!) and, if they're female, a stinger at the end of their abdomen. 

Chances are you're familiar with your neighborhood bumble bees and honey bees, and you may have met a few shiny metallic green sweat bees. For this bee walk, take a notebook and pencil - or a camera - so you can take notes, draw pictures, or take photos of bees you see along the way.

Things to observe on your bee walk:
  • how big is your bee?
  • what colors does it have on its abdomen?
  • what is the pattern of the colors?
  • does it have longer antennae than other bees?
  • is its abdomen flattish?
  • what sort of sound does it make?
  • what flowers does it visit?
  • also note the date, time of day, and basic weather observations
If you are looking for bee guides, you can find a short North American Bee Identification Guide (free) at Pollinator Partnership. They have some state guides as well. They have a longer Beginner Bee Field Guide available for free download as well.

Happy Bee watching!

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Plant a Pollinator Patch

If you want pollinators visiting your pumpkins and strawberries, melons and cukes, then you'll want to make sure your garden is pollinator-friendly. The easiest way to do that is to plant a pollinator patch. You don't need much room - I plant a 3-foot by 3-foot section for the local bees and butterflies. And I've planted some flowers around the edge of the garden as well. But if space is limited, a 15-inch diameter container is perfect for a balcony. The trick is to plant a variety of flowers that will attract a diversity of pollinators. For example, some bees have short tongues and others have long tongues so they'll be looking for different flower shapes.

The best plants are varieties native to your area. You can find regional plant lists at the Xerces Society and the Pollinator Partnership.

Before I plant flower seeds, I check out what flowers the local pollinators are visiting. In my garden and yard, these are red clover, wild mustards, Queen Anne's lace, asters, milkweed, henbit and deadnettle (both in the genus Lamium), and goldenrod. They may look like “weeds”, but bees and butterflies love them. All I need to do is sprinkle some calendula seeds, maybe add a few bee balm plants, and toss in some cosmos and I've got a lazy-gardener's pollinator patch! I also let some of my herbs go to flower. Bees like to hang out on basil, and flower flies love corriander and dill.  

Pollinators need more than flowers, so I keep a shallow dish of water in my garden. I fill it with stones, so the bees and other visitors don't fall in, and put it in the shade of peppers or tomatoes.

There's one more, very important consideration for creating a safe place for pollinators in your garden: don't use pesticides.

Monday, June 19, 2023

Celebrate Pollinator Week with Pie!

This week is Pollinator Week! If you like food - especially pie - you've got pollinators to thank for making them possible. Same for watermelon, pickles, and chocolate.  The birds, bats, and bugs that pollinate plants are responsible for bringing us one out of every three bites of food.

So, Three Cheers for Pollinators! And let's celebrate by making pie! It doesn’t matter what sort of pie you want – strawberry-rhubarb, peach, apple, blueberry, pumpkin – if you want pie, you need bees. So when I was writing The Pie that Molly Grew, I knew I wanted to include the important work of bees in the book.

Apples,  peaches, strawberries, blueberries – they all depend on bees to pollinate the blossoms which then ripen into yummy fruits. Pumpkins too. And yes, pumpkin is a fruit even though it when it’s baked and smooshed and slathered with butter it looks like a sweet potato. And while peach and apple and strawberry flowers have everything they need in one blossom to produce a fruit, pumpkins don’t.

When pumpkin plants flower, they produce male flowers and female flowers. The male flowers make the pollen and the female flowers, once pollinated, make the fruit. There’s a problem, though: pumpkin pollen is too heavy to be carried by the wind. So pumpkins depend on bees to move the pollen from the male flowers to the female flowers.

Fortunately there are plenty of native bees that will do that job: bumble bees, carpenter bees, squash bees, cuckoo bees, longhorned bees, and sweat bees. And you’ll even find honey bees hanging around pumpkin flowers, too!  

I'm celebrating pollinators all week, so drop by and check out pollinator patches, bee guides, and more!

The Pie That Molly Grew should hit bookstores around August 15, but you can pre-order a copy at Riverow Bookshop in historic downtown Owego, NY.

Friday, June 16, 2023

If you lived in a shell...

 A Shell Is Cozy 
by Dianna Hutts Aston; illus. by Sylvia Long 
‎ 40 pages; ages 5-8
Chronicle Books, 2023

theme: shells, mollusks, nature

 A shell is cozy … a cozy, bony shelter that keeps the soft, delicate parts of the shelled animal safely tucked inside.

A shell can be spiny or smooth, showy or plain, but it has to be strong and protective. This book shows how shells are formed and how the mollusks that make them eat, sleep, and go about their lives.

What I like about this book: This is a great book to take to the beach or even to the desert, because Dianna includes terrestrial snails as well as seashells. I love that she includes tree-climbing snails and cave dwellers, and uses comparison and contrast to help readers understand more about mollusks. She also highlights how humans have used shells through the ages, as tools and weapons, and I like how she brings the book to a close by emphasizing shells as cozy homes – even if the inhabitant is not the original builder. And I love that the end pages are filled with a diversity of shells.

Beyond the Book:

Go on a shell-looking walk. Whether you’re at the shore or in a garden, look for animals with shells. What kind of shell-wearing mollusks do you find? Draw what you find, or take a photo. Remember to be respectful and just watch.

Draw a shell that you find at a beach – or a nature center or museum. If there is no animal inside it, you can examine it closely. What sort of texture does it have? Note its color, size, and shape. Can you figure out what sort of creature lived inside? 

Learn more about how shells are made. Here’s an article from Woods Hole about seashells, and one from the Smithsonian about snail shells.

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, June 14, 2023

Explore Outdoors ~ Shiny bugs


 Metallic green tiger beetles live in and around my garden. They are Six-spotted tiger beetles, and boy do they move fast! They fly fast and once they land, they run fast - up to more than 5 miles an hour, according to the Smithsonian. That translates to 120 body-lengths per second - which if you could do would be more than 400 miles and hour!

Take a close look at this beetle. 
What do you notice about its eyes? They are big! 
What do you notice about its legs? They are skinny and made for running!
If you see one around your house, what do you notice about the way they fly?

Tiger beetles are carnivores. They hunt and eat caterpillars and other insects that can be pests in gardens and on farms. 

This week, look for shiny insects. Take pictures or, if you don't have a camera, draw a picture and describe what you see.


Friday, June 9, 2023

A Guide to Wombats (sort of)

Wombats Are Pretty Weird: A (Not So) Serious Guide 
by Abi Cushman 
40 pages; ages 4-8
Greenwillow Books, 2023

theme: animals, nature, STEAM

Meet the wombat. The wombat is a robust, sometimes elusive…

And with that intro we’re tossed into a book filled with fun wombat facts as mom-bat (that’s a mama wombat) goes about her daily – er, nocturnal – life. Fact: a wombat is a marsupial. Fact: they live in Australia. Fact: some wombats have hairy noses.

What I like about this book: I like the dialog balloons where Snake and others add comments and carry on side discussions. For example, Snake decides to throw a party, even though wombats are solitary animals. There are party hats, guests, and balloons, even though balloons don’t do well with sharp wombat claws. I like the informational “how to” on making cube-shaped poop – weird, but, as Abi says, Wombats are Pretty Weird. Plus they are the only animals to make poop in cube shapes. And I like the discussion Snake has about whether they could be a wombat. There is back matter, too: more information about the three species of wombats, a glossary, and an animal search that will have young readers taking a second, closer look at the book.

I reached out to Abi with One Question about her book:

Me: Why Wombat? I admit, the whole cubed poop thing is pretty cool... and why Snake?

Abi: Yes, the cube poop fact is what started my obsession with wombats back in 2001 when I studied abroad in Australia and first learned about wombats. But there’s so much more about wombats.

First of all, they are super cute. The bare-nosed wombats look like little barrel-shaped bears, and the hairy-nosed wombats look like furry pigs. They are adorable! But as I learned more about them, I found out that their cube-poop wasn’t the only unique thing about them. They are marsupials, so they have pouches. But their pouches open up toward their rumps. In other words, they have backward pouches. They’re the only marsupial with teeth that continuously grow (similar to a rabbit or rodent). And they dig! Their burrows can be quite expansive, and in the wildfires that hit Australia in 2019, a lot of animals were able to seek shelter in wombat burrows. So there is a lot about wombats that make them truly special, and I felt like once kids learned about them, they’d love them too.

As for the snake, I wanted an animal that could act as a stand-in for the audience in the book. He could react and make comments that the reader was thinking when learning about these very weird animals. And this animal character had to be something other than a wombat. After all, the wombats wouldn’t consider themselves weird at all. In their world, it’s strange when poop is round. I chose a snake specifically because I wanted an animal that could technically live in the same area as a wombat, but was vastly different from them. And I think with the snake’s expressions, I was able to add even more humor to the illustrations.

Beyond the Books:

Do you have a marsupial living in your area? We’ve got opossums that sometimes visit our backyard. You can find out about them here.

What sort of things would you with your friends if you were a wombat? You can learn more about wombats at the San Diego Zoo.

Explore cubes. A cube has six sides of equal-sized squares. You might have some cubes around your house – for example, sugar cubes or 6-sided dice. You can make your own cubes out of origami paper using these instructions.

Abi 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, June 7, 2023

Explore Outdoors ~ Dame's Rocket


Go for a walk along any country road in the northeast and you're likely to come upon swaths of these beautiful phlox-like flowers. Ranging from white to pink to purple, the flowers bloom atop stems standing two-to four-feet high. 

But here's the thing: they aren't phlox. Look closely and you notice that these flowers have four petals. Phlox have five. These leaves are toothy, with rough edges; phlox leaves are smooth.

These beautiful blooms are an invasive mustard called "Dame's Rocket" (Hesperis matronalis), brought to the US from Europe about 400 years ago. They are pretty, but they crowd out native species - flowers that the native bees and butterflies depend on. So if you see some on your walk, go ahead and pick them - just don't plant any (or allow them to go to seed if they grow near you). Unfortunately, their seeds are often included in wildflower mixes.

Want to know more? Here's an article from Ohio State U, and here's one from U of Wisconsin extension.

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.