Friday, October 27, 2023

Winter is Coming...

On a Flake-Flying Day: Watching Winter's Wonders
by Buffy Silverman
32 pages; ages 4-9
Millbrook Press, 2023

theme: winter, nature, animals

On a feather-fluffing, seed-stuffing, cloud-puffing day…

… leaves rustle and frost glistens. Winter is coming and the animals and plants are getting ready for it. Some change color, some snuggle together, and some take loooong naps.

What I like about this book: The language is spare and lyrical, sometimes rhyming and always evocative of the season. If the words aren’t enough to get you up off the couch and into your jacket and boots (don’t forget a hat!) then the photos will! They are so bold and enticing. And there is back matter with more information about each plant and animal featured in the pages. There’s a few books suggested for further reading, and a glossary so folks reading the book aloud can answer such questions as, “what does molt mean?”

I love Buffy’s books about seasons SO much that I just had to ask her One Question

Me: What do you like best about winter?

Buffy:  My favorite experience in winter is waking up to fresh snow and trekking down to our lake. On a cold, cold morning, the snow squeaks beneath my boots and the air tingles in my nose. At first glance, the snow is an unbroken blanket of white. But soon I start to notice tracks--the heart-shaped hoof prints of a deer, the tail-dragging trail of a deer mouse, a straight line of fox prints across the snow-covered ice, and occasionally the bounding track of a weasel. Although I love the winter stillness, I'm excited to see that some wildlife is out and about. And that's the connection to ON A FLAKE-FLYING DAY--winter is a great time to explore and see what's happening in the natural world!

Beyond the Books:

Before winter comes, what do you notice about the natural world right now? Go outside with a notebook and write down things you notice about trees and plants and birds and animals.

The first day of winter in the northern hemisphere is usually December 21st, though the wintry season often starts long before that. How will you know when winter gets to you?

Be a Winter Explorer. Go outside and give yourself time to notice what you see, hear, smell, feel. Does winter have a taste? 

Check out Buffy's other seasonal books here (fall) and here (spring)

Buffy 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, October 25, 2023

Explore Outdoors ~ Parachute Seeds

This is the season when trees drop walnuts and hickory nuts onto our road, and purple berry juice speckles our driveway. Tall roadside weeds with dandelion-like flowers are going to seed, sending dainty parachutes out to ride the least breeze.

Sometimes the parachute fibers hang on, reluctant to leave the safety of the seedhead. After all, where will they end up? They don't file flight plans and no one has given them a map. 

Look for plants producing parachute seeds in your neighborhood. 
  • What kinds of plants make these seeds?
  • Collect some parachute seeds from different kinds of plants and draw them. What do you notice?
  • How far do the seeds travel on a breath of air?
  • What do the fibers feel like?
  • What do the seeds and fibers look like under a magnifying lens?

Friday, October 20, 2023

Mole Day!

Mole and Tell (Celebrating Science)
by Catherine Payne and John Payne; illus. by Elisa Rocchi
40 pages; ages 7-10
Science, Naturally!, 2023

What’s that date written on the board?

When the students file into Mr. Cantello’s fourth-grade science class, they notice a date written on the board: 10/23. What does it mean? Is it a field trip? A test? Maybe it’s Earth Day? Not Earth Day, Mr. Cantello says, but it is a science holiday. It’s Mole Day, October 23.

Is this a day to celebrate spots on our skin? To celebrate tiny animals that tunnel underground? Nope. It’s a celebration of a number. Avogadro’s number, to be exact: 6.02 x 1023. It’s a counting unit used by scientists all around the world. Sort of like a dozen, but instead of 12, a mole is 602 billion trillion. That’s 602 followed by 21 zeroes! Scientists write it as 6.02 x 10 to the 23rd because seriously, writing 602,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 every time you need to use it takes up too much space!

What I like about this book: I think the authors do a good job introducing the concept of a mole. And having a group of kids explore what a mole of something is might encourage readers to wonder. There’s some discussion of elements, and an illustration that shows the periodical table along with molar mass (the number of grams in a mole of an element), plus a discussion about the kinds of scientists who use moles to measure things in their jobs. I do wish there had been a sidebar explaining more about who Avogadro was and how he (and others) developed this measurement.
I wanted to know more about how Cathy and John decided to write this book, so I asked Cathy One Question:
Me: What inspired you to write about such a big number?

Cathy: I've been fascinated by the mole since learning about it in my high school chemistry class. In addition, I love homonyms! This book was the perfect way to combine my love of language with my interest in science. For this book, we focused on breaking down scientific concepts, explaining the mole and the periodic table as best we could. We wanted children to have a solid understanding of the mole so that they would have a good foundation for units of measurement.

There isn’t any back matter beyond a glossary, but Science Naturally provides an activity-filled teacher’s guide at their website. I’ve added a few more activities below at…

… Beyond the Books:

How much would a mole of avocados weigh? Cathy admits she likes to play with language, so why not? Since 6.02 x 1023  is Avogadro’s number, why not play around with avocados? You can even weigh one (or more) right there in the produce aisle.

Mole Day is next Monday. What kind of food will you make to celebrate? Here’s a couple of ideas to get you started: guaca-mole, pie a’la mole, ani-mole crackers.

Go play a game of whack-a-mole. If you can’t find one (because it IS an ancient and venerable arcade game) try making your own out of cardboard. Here’s how.

Make up your own Science Holiday. What science thing do you want to celebrate? 

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

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Explore Outdoors ~ A Fall Walk in the Woods

 Last week we had a few glorious days filled with sunshine and temps somewhere in the 50s (F). The sort of weather that tempts beetles to wander across the lawn, and bees to visit the still-flowering asters. So I headed up the woods road to see what I could find. 
On the east side of the house, the forsythia has decided to show off its fall colors AND brighten up the season with flowers. I was attracted to the contrast between leaf and petal.
Then, up into the woods, crunching through a new-fallen carpet of leaves. But look! There's still a lot of greenery, so more colors on the way.



I saw a lump on the underside of fallen oak leaf. Upon closer inspection, I discovered it is hard, and covered with bumps and those wild "hairs" - it is most likely a gall made by a gall wasp.



Walking through the hayfield I came across this wolf spider hanging out on a sunny leaf. I love looking at the details of aging leaves...



This week, go for a walk in a park or meadow - as wild a place as you can find. What fall treasures will you discover?

Friday, October 13, 2023

Stories in Stone

 When I was a kid, my dad would take the family out on rock-hunting expeditions. Sometimes we looked for topaz, fossils, and other treasured stones we could bring home. Other times we’d explore the spectacular geological wonders in our backyard: Bryce Canyon, Arches, Zion, the Grand Canyon. Now I live in a place where receding glaciers left moraines and drumlins. So I thought I share two wonderful books about rocks and landforms.

Themes: rocks, geology, erosion

Nature Is a Sculptor: Weathering and Erosion
by Heather Ferranti Kinser
32 pages; ages 5-9
Millbrook Press, 2023

Nature is a sculptor. With water, ice, and wind…

…it etches and scrapes, carves and molds canyons and cliffs, arches and columns. This combination of lyrical writing and spectacular photographs might leave you wanting to head out on a car trip to see whatever rock formations you’ve got nearby.

What I like about this book: I love the photos – you can armchair tour national parks from around the country. There’s back matter, too, that tells more about weathering, erosion, and deposition. Another section describes nature’s tools: wind, water, and ice. And there’s a sculpture gallery that explains more about each type of feature, from hoodoos to half dome.

A Stone Is a Story
by Leslie Barnard Booth; illus. by Marc Martin
40 pages, ages 4-8
Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2023

A stone is not just a stone. A stone is a story.

And it’s an adventure story. Imagine being shot from a volcano, wrenched apart by roots, molded and carved and swept out to sea! This is another take of water, wind, and ice that mold a chunk of rock into something you might tuck in your pocket and take out to tell a story about one day.

What I like about this book: The language is lyrical and captivating, and pulls you under its spell even while it tells a story of geology and the rock cycle. It will make you want to put a pebble in your pocket! Back matter explains rock types (igneous, sedimentary, metamorphic) along with this challenge:

Now go forth and
do what geologists do!
Step outside, look around, and start asking
questions about the rocks and landscapes
in your part of the world.

I always want to know more about how an author comes to their book. Heather was kind enough to answer One Question:
Me: What made you want to write about erosion as a tool for creating beauty?

Heather: Thanks for the question, Sue! I was first inspired by a look through the Next Generation Science Standards for educational topics to write about. The standards for "Earth's Systems" sent me in the direction of weathering and erosion, and I was able to write a lovely ode to rock formations, based on my own admiration for all things stony. But it was my editor at Lerner/Millbrook, Carol Hinz, who nudged me to include more information about weathering and erosion processes within the manuscript. Incorporating a greater level of detail while still maintaining a spare and lyrical text was a tall order. But I'm delighted with the result, and with the way Carol pushed me to ensure that the book would offer teachers a valuable curriculum tie-in.

Leslie shared her story last winter in this blog post

Beyond the Books:
Step outside and look around. What questions do you have about the landscape around you? Write them down. Then find the answers. Our big question one year was how did fossils end up on top of our hill?

Explore a place that nature has sculpted. It might be a rocky shore, or a waterfall, sandy dunes or a canyon. Maybe it’s a weird-shaped hill at the far end of town left behind by the last glacier, or some kettle ponds.

When you visit the ocean or a lake or a mountain, keep a lookout for an interesting stone. Something that tells the story of the place. You might even find a wonderful stone while digging in the garden or looking for frogs down at the local stream.

Heather and Leslie are both members of #STEAMTeam2023. You can find out more about them at their websites,  and

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 or Edelweiss.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Explore Outdoors ~ Beauty in Old Flowers


My coneflowers are no longer their vibrant purple. After a summer of hard work, producing pollen and nectar, they are showing their age. The color has faded and the petals have dried and curled. Seeds are ripening, and birds are already dropping by to check them out. 

Soon sun and wind and rain and snow will take their toll and they'll look more like this.

This week, look for beauty in aging flowers. What do you notice?

Friday, October 6, 2023

Meet the In-betweeners

Nature's Rule Breakers: Creatures That Don't Fit In
by Jessica Fries-Gaither
32 pages; ages 5-9
Millbrook Press  (October 3, 2023)

theme: animal behavior, nature, STEM

People try to organize nature into categories. But nature doesn’t always cooperate. Sometimes it breaks the rules.

This is a book about in-betweeners. Animals that don’t fit precisely into one box or the other, or could easily fit into both. Take, for example, owls. They’re night flyers, right? But not the Eurasian Eagle-owl. It flies at dawn and dusk. What about something more … definite. Like fish – they’re either salt water or fresh water, right? Nope.

What I like about this book: Nature is messy, and sometimes defies our attempts to make sense of it. Even something as basic as whether an animal is male or female… some are both! And some change gender depending upon environmental conditions! This is great for nature, and animal populations that want to weather evolutionary changes. Not so great for scientists trying to pin down exactly how these animals live, what they eat, and how they fit into the ecosystem. Back matter discusses why we have in-betweeners, and provides a few more examples. A glossary and resources round out the back matter.

I wanted to know more about how Jessica came up with such an intriguing idea for this book, so I asked her a couple questions. All at once. Without even a breath in-between.

Me: So how did this book come about? Did you start collecting interesting facts and then decide to write a book? And what got you interested in "in-betweeners" anyway?

Jess: In early March 2021, I was scrolling through my Twitter feed when I came across a tweet that simply read "Biology isn't binary." I liked the tweet, shared it with a couple of friends, and went on my merry way...but the words stuck. I started thinking about all the ways in which we (myself included) present biology concepts to kids as binary even though they really aren't. And I wondered, how could a picture book help address this issue and introduce a little grey into kids' thinking?

I started brainstorming binary categories (male/female, warm-blooded/cold-blooded) as well as examples of things that didn't fit neatly into one category (a platypus, for example) and then reached out to a friend and fellow science teacher (at my school, actually) to help expand my list. We talked about everything from bilateral gynandromorphism* to flowers with male and female parts vs plants that are male or female to many human traits that exist on a continuum rather than discrete categories (height, skin color, eye color). Her enthusiasm propelled me forward, and I started researching and writing. I shared my first draft with her just a few weeks later.

Her scientific feedback, along with the comments from my critique partners, helped me think critically about which animals and plants to focus on, and how to explain concepts to a lay audience. I also thought carefully about the order in which I presented the categories and exceptions. After much trial and error, I landed on beginning with more familiar categories (nocturnal/diurnal) and then moving to less familiar ones and ones that would be more compelling (male/female, dead/alive).

My next big milestone in the book's journey was June 2021, when I participated in SCBWI Ohio North's Triple Scoop Picture Book Revision ReTREAT (a three-week virtual workshop dedicated to revising a single manuscript). We were placed in small breakout groups with an author or agent as a coach; I was lucky enough to be placed in a science-focused nonfiction group with author Sara C. Levine. Each Saturday we had a virtual critique session and then worked to revise our manuscripts over the following week before our next session. Carol Hinz, Associate Publisher of Millbrook Press and Carolrhoda Books (imprints of Lerner Publishing Group) joined our final session and gave us feedback on our work. She seemed interested in my manuscript, so I submitted it to her. She asked me to revise and resubmit and so I did, and a few months later, she took the manuscript to acquisitions.

*here’s a great article that helps explain gynandromorphism

Beyond the Books:

Visit an in-betweener! Some plants break the rules by eating bugs instead of getting all their nutrition from sunlight. You might find Venus flytraps and pitcher plants in a zoo or plant conservatory nearby.

Tardigrades break all the rules! They can appear dead for years, and then under the right conditions, re-activate. Find out more about tardigrades – and how they can survive in space – here.

Jessica 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, October 4, 2023

Explore Outdoors ~ Watching the Season Change


The first signs of fall came in mid-September: a single leaf nestled amongst plantain and dandelion leaves. A week later, more leaves were checking out their new seasonal wardrobe, but still clinging tightly to their branches. 

Meanwhile, maple samaras formed drifts on my porch: sugar maple, striped maple, boxelder. Samaras are the papery winged seeds that helicopter through the air as they are let go from the trees. Turkeys and finches eat the seeds, and occasionally squirrels and chipmunks do. You can, too, if you want to put in a little effort. It's a bit like shelling peas, and you might want to roast the seeds.... here's an article sharing how to eat a maple seed.
What seasonal changes do you notice in your neighborhood?