Friday, September 29, 2023

The Poetry of Science

There are so many ways to write nonfiction! I love that poets are exploring science, and finding different ways to talk about such things as physics and animals. I intended to review these in April for poetry month, but somehow they got buried at the bottom of my book basket – which I dumped out last week so I could see what all was in there. Besides books: dust bunnies and a sock. I know! So, on to books…

theme: poetry, science, dogs

Push-Pull Morning: Dog-Powered Poems About Matter and Energy
by Lisa Westberg Peters; illus. by Serge Bloch 
40 pages; ages 4-8
Wordsong (Astra), 2023

My new dog has one wet nose.
Me? No.

This fun book explores gravity, magnetism, electricity, friction, and states of matter through the friendship between child and dog. The first one is about “Stuff in Common” comparing things we don’t have in common, such as floppy ears, four paws with clicky nails – but helps us realize that we’re all made of “zillions of wiggly molecules and jillions of jiggly atoms.”

What I like about this book:  I love that a dog in motion will stay in motion until acted on by an outside force, and that you can’t make a dog go where they don’t want to because of the friction of claws digging into the carpet. Also, one of my favorite poems was about states of matter, where the dog was liquid when pouring itself into the basket to sleep. At the bottom of each spread the physics concept is printed in bold (to help parents, I’m thinking!). Oh, and did I say there was humor involved? Back matter provides a short definition for each physics concept, with a longer paragraph to explain the science. 

Galápagos: Islands of Change
by Leslie Bulion; illus. by Becca Stadtlander  
‎48 pages; ages 8-12
Peachtree, 2023   

The biogeographical history of the Galápagos Islands is told through a series of poems, from their beginning as volcanic hot spots through the evolution of life on each island. It is a complex story that begins in a fiery flash, and explores how plants and animals arrived on the rocky islands and adapted to the landscape. Now, the islands are populated with an array of plants, reptiles, and birds ranging from penguins to blue footed boobies.

As the poems celebrate the remarkable plants and animals, they highlight the unique ecosystem that has evolved on each island. One of my favorite poems is a short free verse about Zooplankton, “Mini-swimmers—most no bigger than the head of a pin…”

Another focuses attention on marine iguanas, “basking on a sun-soaked ledge” until they leap into the ocean and dive, their “flat-oar tails” whipping side to side as they plunge down to where the tastiest seaweed grows.

And then there are the penguins. Yes, the desert-dry islands have penguins!
On land they stand umbrella pose,
creating shade to cool their toes,
but underwater, watch them fly—
Courtesy of Peachtree Publishing Company Inc
 There are poems about the prickly pear cactus and the black carpenter bee and, of course, the very famous finches! The collection of poems is book-ended by expository text that introduces the Galápagos Islands in the beginning, and examines the challenges the unique plants and animals face in a warming climate and human impacts.

There is great back matter, beginning with a glossary and map – I did not know there were so many islands! There are poetry notes for every creature (what kind of poem, rhyme scheme) that will make this a great cross-curricular connection for language arts. And, in addition to the resources, there is a species list. 

Beyond the Books:

Play around with States of Matter and Physics. Here are a couple of resources with experiments and activities for younger kids here and here.

Explore the Galapagos Islands with ABC news and National Geographic Expeditions

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, September 27, 2023

Explore Outdoors ~ Last of the Garden Cats

 Last week I was weeding the small and sorry-excuse-for-a-carrot-patch when I came across a very hungry caterpillar.

Black swallowtail caterpillars love carrots. And dill and parsley and anything, really, in the carrot family. On this particular day they were dining on Nantes Fancy. Given the late date of planting, and the weeds I let go, I figured the caterpillars would get more nutrition from the carrots than I would. So I left them to it.

This is the time of year butterflies are migrating, but for these late-summer swallowtails it's too late to flee to warmer climes. Like woolly bear caterpillars, swallowtails will find a sheltered place to overwinter as pupae. Then they'll emerge in spring, ready to lay their eggs on whatever I've let go in the garden... perhaps the dill?

What caterpillars do you find hanging around your backyard, park, or street plantings this week?

Friday, September 22, 2023

Helping Species Survive

The Great Giraffe Rescue: Saving the Nubian Giraffes 
by Sandra Markle
40 pages; ages 9-12
Millbrook Press, 2023

Didn’t we just talk about giraffes a couple of weeks ago? Ah, yes – but those were math giraffes, and these are Nubian giraffes. And they have a problem. “People,” says Sandra Markle, “were destroying giraffe habitats as they dug into the land for its natural resources or cleared it for farms, roads, and homes.” Add to that the threats from oil drilling – well, you can see why giraffes might need a bit of help. 

When oil drillers laid out plans to begin drilling in one part of Uganda’s Murchison Falls National Park, wildlife scientists knew they had to move giraffes to another part of the park to preserve the population. There was only one small problem: to get to the other part of the park required crossing a river, and there was no bridge.

What I like about this book: I like how Sandra Markle sets up the problem (how do you move a herd of giraffes) and then shows how wildlife scientists solved it. Along the way she includes a lesson on giraffe biology, “Nubian Giraffe 101” and plenty of sidebars. Readers learn how interconnected giraffes are with the trees and savanna. The illustrations make you feel like you’re right there in the field with the wildlife scientists and conservation workers.

Raising Don: The True Story of a Spunky Baby Tapir 
by Georgeanne Irvine 
36 pages; ages 8-12
‎San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance Press, 2022

When a baby tapir is born, everyone at the zoo is excited – except his mom. She wants nothing to do with him. A first-time mother, maybe she was surprised by his birth? wondered the animal caretakers. So they snuggled and fed the cute spotty and striped baby and named him Don.

But how can people teach a young tapir what he needs to know to survive? For one thing, tapirs learn to swim from their moms. Don’s humans got him started in swimming lessons by enticing him into a kiddie’s wading pool. They slowly introduced him to new animals. And bit by bit, Don began to learn the ways of his species.

What I like about this book: I like the honesty about what’s involved in raising a zoo baby by hand. And author, Georgeanne Irvine shares the inside scoop, as she has worked at the San Diego Zoo. I also like that backmatter highlights things families can do to help wildlife.

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, September 20, 2023

Explore Outdoors ~ Fall Flowers

Happy Fall! Saturday is the fall equinox, and fall flowers are coming into their own. Like this aster...


Asters are composite flowers, being a composite of yellow disc flowers and purple ray flowers. The center disc flowers open a few at a time, from the outside in - you can see their cup shape and the stamens that hold pollen. Sometimes they look like spirals. 

This week take a closer look at the centers of flowers. What do you see?

Friday, September 15, 2023


 I’m always looking for books about math. Here’s one that came out just recently.

The Queen of Chess: How Judit Polgár Changed the Game
by Laurie Wallmark; illus by Stevie Lewis 
32 pages; ages 6-9
‎little bee books, 2023 

Themes: biography, women in STEM, math

Judit Polgár peeked through the door of the “chess room.” Her oldest sister Susan was playing, and Judit wanted to be part of the fun.

She gets her wish when she turns five, and joins her older sisters for five to six hours a day studying chess. Judit loved playing, and even more loved competing. Soon she was winning tournaments, and at the age of 15 became a grandmaster.

What I like about this book: I like how Laurie shows Judit as a ferocious and fearless chess player – and also as a young girl who does other things, too. Chess doesn’t look as exciting as soccer or skating, but for the players it’s an electrifying game of strategy. As a non-chess player, I appreciated that back matter includes a section on the mathematics of chess. Not only do young players learn to recognize patterns and develop spatial reasoning, playing chess helps critical thinking – because players need to think several moves ahead and be able to quickly change their strategy.

We’ve got a couple chess boards on the game shelf, but for some reason I never got the hang of chess. So I had to ask Laurie One Question:

Me: Did you play chess as a child?

Laurie: I did, but only for fun – I never competed. Playing the game didn't inspire my writing, but my knowledge of chess definitely helped me get into the mind of Judit Polgar. 
I think the best way to learn to play is by doing chess puzzles. These are not entire chess games but rather the board is set up with only a few pieces. The goal is to figure out how to get to checkmate by using a limited number of moves. Chess puzzles offer the opportunity to practice the rules of the game and to improve pattern recognition skills.  

Beyond the Books:

Read more about the life of Judit Polgar at her website here.

Learn the rules of Chess and how to move the pieces. Here’s one site. ChessKid is another place that’s set up for kids to learn how to play (requires that you sign up)

You can play other, non-chess games to increase your powers of pattern recognition. Here are a few: Uno, Clue, Memory Minesweeper, Tetris, and Connect Four. If all you’ve got is pencil and paper, try tic-tac-toe.

Laurie is a member of #STEAMTeam2023. She has written tons of biographies about women in STEM, many of which I have reviewed on this blog. 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. 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 Blue Slip Media.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Explore Outdoors ~ Bees are Still Busy

Summer is winding down, and everyone - trees, flowers, animals - is getting ready for fall. The roadsides are filled with yellow and purple flowers, goldenrods and asters, with a few bright orange jewelweed blooms tucked here and there. Berries are ripening and leaving purple splots on the road where they fall.

The bumblebees are busy, too, out slurping nectar and getting pollen all over their legs and faces. Which is great for these late-bloomers that will be going to seed in a couple weeks.

This week, take a few moments to watch the bees - and enjoy the late summer blooms.
  • what color are most of the flowers growing along your roadsides?
  • what kinds of bees do you see?
  • how is the landscape changing as summer comes to a close?

Friday, September 8, 2023

Sloths on a Blog Tour!

The Upside-Down Book of Sloths
by Elizabeth Shreeve; illus. by Isabella Grott 
40 pages; ages 7-10
‎Norton Young Readers, 2023

Theme: animals, prehistoric animals, nonfiction

Slow. Sleepy. Weirdly adorable.

You might think you know a lot about sloths. But hold tight to that branch, says Elizabeth Shreeve. “Because everything you thought about sloths is about to turn …
… upside down!"

 For example, sloths are small. But long ago (like 40 million years ago) they were huge! Nearly as big as an elephant at the zoo! And you know that sloths hang out in trees and eat leaves. But back in the prehistoric times, some sloths took to the ocean to hunt for tasty sea grasses.

What I like about this book: One thing you notice about this book is that some pages feature large text with conversational language, and some have smaller text with sidebars that provide more details and facts. That makes this book useable on two levels: one as a picture book to read to the younger kids (6-7), and a middle grade level for the 8-10 year old crowd. Even with sidebars and fact-features, there’s additional back matter: a timeline of sloth history, an author’s note, and a list of books and web links where curious kids (and teachers) can learn more.

I also loved the way Elizabeth teases readers with facts and then notes that sloths weren’t always like that. “Long ago… they …” – and you have just got to turn the page to find out what they did! So I had to ask Elizabeth One Question

Me: I liked the way you compared present day sloths to prehistoric sloths - and the phrase, "But long ago..." Can you share how you came to that structure for this book?

 Elizabeth: Structure is so important for nonfiction! Otherwise we’re just relaying facts. I was initially attracted to the topic—flabbergasted, in fact!—by the differences between modern tree sloths and prehistoric giant ground sloths. My research files quickly grew full. All I needed was a way to organize and highlight what I’d found. 

After drawings lots of charts, I settled on a structure that pairs and compares the six living species of tree sloths with their prehistoric relatives. The first pairing was easy: size! The smallest tree sloth (the pygmy sloth of Panama) weighs about 7 pounds while the largest ground sloth, Megatherium, reached 8,000 pounds. From there I identified other attributes such as lifestyle, range, diet, behavior…all sorts of intriguing features.  

This compare-and-contrast approach, turns out, ties in well with language arts curriculum (check out the Teacher Guide on my website) and offered a way to structure all the research I’d done, with the refrain “but long ago…” as a repeated nudge to carry the reader through the book.

Beyond the Books:

Can you move as slow as a sloth? And why do they move so slowly, anyway? You can find out in this article from the Smithsonian Institution.

Make a sloth corner-page book mark. Here’s directions – and a video on how to do the origami folds!

Just how big were our prehistoric ancestors? Here's a video comparing modern with ancestor sizes (about 7 minutes long) and here's an article.

The Upside-Down Book of Sloths is on a Book Blog Tour! Here's a list of the stops so you can catch up with 'em: 
Sept 5: at Erin Dealey's blog  
Today - right here! 
Sept 12: answering Six Questions with Mary Boone 
Sept 15: chatting with Beth Anderson about how educators can use Sloths in their classroom 
Sept 20: at Maria Marshall's blog with the STEAM Team group.  

Elizabeth 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. 
On Monday we'll be hanging out at Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with other  bloggers. It's over at Greg Pattridge's blog, Always in the Middle, so hop over to see what other people are reading. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Explore Outdoors ~ Shadows in the Flowers

Usually when I go walking, I look for insects in the flowers. But last week I found something just as interesting: shadows! The sun was just at the right angle to make shadow of the flowers stamens.

This week, look for shadows in the flowers blooming in your neighborhood.

Friday, September 1, 2023

This Giraffe teaches Math

Giraffe Math
by Stephen Swinburne; illus. by Geraldo Valério 
40 pages; ages 4-8
Christy Ottaviano Books (Little, Brown & Co), 2023

theme: giraffes, math, interactive

Do you like giraffes? Do you like math? What if you put them together?

Twiga, a young reticulated giraffe, acts as a tour guide to the world of giraffes – and math! From their ossicones to their hooves, tongue length and spot pattern, we learn about the wonderful way giraffes have adapted to their environment. And we get lots of cool facts, like a single hoof is as big as a medium pizza! (I really should not write reviews before breakfast!)

What I like about this book: What a fun way to make math concepts accessible. Take the first spread about height: there’s the facts (13-20 feet tall), a comparison to other animals (including a third-grader), and an introduction to triangles. How do triangles figure in giraffe math? So glad you asked. Imagine a thirsty giraffe at a watering hole. With long legs and a not-quite-so-long neck. They spread their legs and bend their neck… and if you look at them from the front, they look like a triangle. What sort of triangle depends on how tall they are. You can see how math just sort of worms its way into a book about giraffes. I mean – there’s a whole spread about patterns!

I also like the artwork. The illustrations were created with paper collage, acrylic paint, and color pencil and they positively invite children to take a closer look! There is also back matter, with information about the giraffe’s lifecycle and where they live in Africa (and a range map), a glossary, some metric conversions, and a pop quiz to see what you remember. There were no questions about pizza!

I wanted to know more about Steve’s writing, so I asked him a Couple of Questions:

Me: Why - and when - did you decide to write the book from the giraffe's point of view? 

Steve: Twiga was in my first draft of the manuscript. Right from the start, I heard this voice, this narrator, a giraffe that wanted to tell its own story. Who better to introduce readers to fascinating facts about giraffes and their relationship to other creatures than the animal itself. I wanted the book to be a kid-friendly guide to giraffes, and I realized that a friendly, welcoming giraffe named Twiga would be the perfect tour guide to the world of giraffes. Of course, Twiga means giraffe in the Swahili language. 

Me: What about kids who love giraffes and hate math? (That would be me!) I want my math sneaked up sideways on! I don't want to know it's even there...

Steve: It’s SO ironic that a guy who disdains math, hated math in school, has an aversion to arithmetic, writes a book with MATH in the title. Thank goodness, Twiga is there to help me with the numbers. I was a kid who hated math in school and I wish I had had this book that uses a giraffe’s gentle voice and lots of cool natural history to ease me into understanding some early math concepts like measurements, shapes, percentages, etc. It’s like the song says, “Just a teaspoon of sugar makes the medicine go down in the most delightful way!” So for the kid who hates math, my advice is let Twiga be your guide to some very cool giraffe facts with just a smidgen of math.

Me: Yes! I wish I had a Twiga to help me learn some math. Thank you, Steve. Now let’s go…

Beyond the Books:

Learn more about giraffes. You can find books at your library, and get lots of great information from the Giraffe Conservation Foundation – where you can even adopt a giraffe! They even have a downloadable workbook with all sorts of activities.

If you were a giraffe, what sort of spot pattern would you have? Draw your own unique spot pattern. Then, if you want to, head over to this page to see how well you do spotting the differences between real giraffe coat patterns.

Not all giraffes are born with spots! Just recently a spotless giraffe was born in a zoo in Tennessee. Check out this article from NPR.

Steve is a member of #STEAMTeam2023. You can find out more about him at his website

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 copy provided by the publisher.