Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Explore Outdoors ~ Winter Berries


I know I've posted pics of partridge berries in the past. But still, when I find them poking out from between fallen leaves (fall) or melting snow (spring) I'm always surprised by their splash of color. The leaves are thick, and you can feel the veins. The berries are interesting because they are formed by the fusion of two flowers. I've heard they make good trail snacks or you can toss them into a salad. But I usually only see a handful of berries, so I leave them for the chipmunks and turkeys.

These native plants grow low-to-the-ground, so they make good ground cover. Since I usually find them in wooded areas I'm thinking they might do well in a shaded part of my yard - and now I'm wondering if I could plant those berries and get some seedlings? You can find out more about partridge berries here.

What kind of berries provide a splash of color in your neighborhood this week?

Friday, November 24, 2023

Food, Glorious Food!

Today I offer a banquet of books to feast your eyes on while contemplating leftovers…  The Themes are: food, animals, cooking

The Sun Shines on the Jungle
by Michael Slack
board book; ages 3-5
‎Candlewick, 2022

The sun shines on the jungle.
Plants grow, reaching for the sun.

And then the munching begins. Beetles eat the leaves. Spiders eat the beetles. And before you know it you’ve got a full-fledged food chain on your hands!

What I like about this book: It is deceptively simple. Simple text with lovely illustrations showing one thing eating another. It’s not until you’re four spreads in that you begin to think: Hey! That animal ate the one I just saw on the previous page! But wait – there’s more. 

 Lifting the flaps, we can see inside the predators’ tummies. What a fun way to begin a discussion about who eats whom – perfect reading before any meal.

 My kids always enjoyed cooking up things in the kitchen, whether it was messing around with pizza dough, tossing chips into cookie dough, or making their very first sandwich. We didn’t have a kid cookbook, so our culinary adventures were more … math and science labs (for want of a better description).

 Now here’s a visual guide to cooking for kids who just might want to make their own snacks!

Look and Cook Snacks: A First Book of Recipes in Pictures
by Valorie Fisher
48 pages; ages 4-7
‎Astra Young Readers, 2023

The idea behind this book: illustrate recipes in a step-by-step fashion so kids who can’t yet read (and visual learners) can take some ownership of their kitchen adventure. And with recipes like these, who wouldn’t want to? Lime Fizz, pickled peanut, avocado smashup (something I made last night with no help, btw), easy-peasy pickles, and yummus – which is like avocado smashup but with chickpeas. And a lemon instead of a lime.

What I like about this book: It’s fun and kid-friendly, contains lots of math stuff and enough mashing and smashing to entertain anyone – but an adult needs to be nearby to help with the sharp stuff, the hot stuff, and the grindy stuff (blender). Also, there is Front Matter. A how-to-use-this-book page introduces symbols that indicate servings, time needed for the recipe (or a step) and a hand in a red circle to indicate “get help from a grown-up.” There’s a visual guide to tools used for measuring, mixing, cooking, and a wonderful guide on how to tell whether your muffins are done using the toothpick test. At the end is a page that shows things you can substitute – heck! I can think of a few adults who could use this book.


Since we’re talking about food and food chains, I could not resist this one!

Poop for Breakfast: Why Some Animals Eat It
by Sara Levine; illus. by Florence Weiser
32 pages; ages 5-10
Millbrook Press, 2023

What’s for breakfast? Poop’s for breakfast!

Sounds disgusting, sure – but some animals eat poop. There’s even a name for this: coprophagy. And they do it for a number of surprisingly good reasons, says Sara Levine. For butterflies, it can help make their eggs stronger. To get grass- (and leaf and bark)-digesting bacteria into their guts, baby elephants eat droppings from their mom and other members of the herd. Some animals need food to travel through their digestive system twice so they … well, you get the picture.

What I like about this book:
Each spread gives an example, and then in a sidebar provides a detailed explanation of how coprophagy is an adaptation for that animal. Final spreads show why it isn’t for humans. The language is easy to read, humorous in places, and never gets boring. Plus there is back matter that includes a visual field guide of scat and invites readers to be “poop detectives.” There's also a tongue-in-cheek textbox listing synonyms for poop. Not on the list: coprolite.

Beyond the Books:

Did you eat turkey on Thanksgiving? If it was a wild turkey it might have eaten acorns and berries, insects and snails – even a frog! And then you ate it. Can you draw a food chain for a wild turkey that ends up in your tummy?

Make something you like to eat. Maybe it’s a sandwich or pancakes, or maybe you love chocolate chip cookies. Whatever it is, help gather ingredients, measure things, mix … and definitely taste-test. Sometimes you have to test more than one (especially with cookies, right?).

You have probably seen signs of animals in your neighborhood: round pellets in the grass, maybe berry-laden scat near your garden. Wouldn’t it be great to know who was there? Here are a couple books that were written for young nature detectives: Tracks, Scats and Signs (Take Along Guides) by Leslie Dendy and Mammal Tracks and Scat: Life-Size Pocket Guide by my friend, Martha Mitchell (illustrator) and Lynn Levine.

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.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, November 22, 2023

Explore Outdoors ~ Fall in the Garden

 The cool thing about gardens is that they have different personalities throughout the seasons. Purples and pinks predominate in spring, yellows in the summer, joined by purples in August, and by late fall it's mostly faded petals, silky white milkweed parachutes, and ... brilliant red blueberry leaves!

 Notice the colors - and textures - in gardens around you this week.

Friday, November 17, 2023

Animal Discoveries and Inspiration

Today I’m sharing two new books about mysterious and inspiring animals written for the 8-12 year old crowd. The first is about animals that glow in the dark; the second about animal-inspired inventions. Both were published by Millbrook Press this fall.

Mysterious Glowing Mammals: An Unexpected Discovery Sparks a Scientific Investigation
by Maria Parrott-Ryan

Some of the coolest discoveries come about by accident. Take this one: forest ecologist Jonathan Martin was looking for tree frogs that glowed when exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light. So he got a UV flashlight and went outside to look for some clinging to trees in his northern Wisconsin backyard. And guess what? He didn’t find any.

So he went out again, to see what he could find. Night after night. If he couldn't find frogs, could he find lichens that glow under UV light? Then one night he heard a chirp coming from his bird feeder. His flashlight revealed … a flying squirrel – which, by itself isn’t unusual. Flying squirrels are common. But this one glowed bright pink!

And that set off a chain reaction. Martin texted a biologist friend who shared the observation with another colleague and they began wondering: had any scientists documented biofluorescence in other mammals? One study did, in opossums. So they did what any other curious folks would do – they began an investigation.

This book dives into the how, and a bit of the why, of biofluorescent animals – but mostly it raises questions. The study is far from complete, and the last chapter outlines what directions the scientists hope to explore.

What I really like about this book (aside from the fact that it’s an amazing story) is that the author, Maria, shares her own explorations with a UV flashlight. She also clearly explains the difference between bioluminescence (when organisms make their own light using chemicals, like fireflies and fungi) and biofluorescence (when organisms absorb UV light and release it as a glow). Now I want my own UV flashlight! (Fortunately, you can find them in stores and online)
Wild Inventions: Ideas Inspired by Animals (Sandra Markle's Science Discoveries)
by Sandra Markle

Since ancient times, humans have observed animal adaptations and modified them for their own use. “When animals give people ideas for inventions, it’s called bioinspiration,” says Sandra Markle. People have used their animal-inspired ideas to build homes, armor boats, design safety helmets, and more.

Take architecture. If you’re looking for a way to keep a home cool when the temperature outside goes up, up, up, check out how termites build their mounds. Termites construct their home around a central chimney and a series of passageways that act as airducts. The bees use a combination of water and fanning their wings to cool their nest – much like draping a wet bandana over a fan.

Engineers have studied echolocation used by bats and dolphins to create ultrasound and sonar – and now, LIDAR, which uses light instead of sound to help self-driving cars navigate. Gecko toepads have generated ideas for adhesives, as has the glue of certain worms. Markle highlights many inventions based on animal adaptation, and encourages readers to observe the animals around them. Maybe you’ll come up with some ideas for your own “wild inventions” she poses.
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 publisher.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Explore Outdoors ~ Sunlit Leaves


Last week I noticed that most of the trees nearby had lost their leaves - except for these few that look like paintbrushes dipped in sunlight.

Fall is the season when deciduous trees drop their leaves. But they don't all turn color at the same time, and they don't drop their leaves at the same time. Autumn comes gradually, with colors changing over the month and leaves falling in their own time. And there are always a few stubborn trees - a couple oaks this year - that cling to a bunch of leaves long after the rest have floated, whirled, and blown away.

What do you notice about the trees in your neighborhood this week?

Friday, November 10, 2023

Books for Moon Gazers

I love watching the moon at night. Sometimes it's so bright I can see the shadows of trees on the ground. Other nights the moon is hidden, leaving the world in darkness (as it will be on Monday night). Here are two books that celebrate the moon and those of us who love basking in its light.
theme: moon, animals, nonfiction
Thank You, Moon: Celebrating Nature’s Nightlight
by Melissa Stewart; illus. by Jessica Lanan
48 pages; ages 3-7
Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2023

Thank you, Moon, for being Earth’s constant companion in space and making life on our planet possible.

Each spread opens to a scene of a moonlit night, and large text offers thanks to the moon for providing night light to animals that use the moon to navigate, gather food, and hunt – and a surprising way a tree uses moonlight. A second layer of smaller text explains more about each scene, from gravity to animal life cycles to pollination.

What I like about this book: I like how the two layers of text provides different ways for readers to enjoy this book: reading the lyrical, large text as a bedtime story or reading the sidebar text for information. Back matter provides more information about how the moon lights up our night sky, and more about the animals and tree included in the book. I also love the illustrations, done in watercolors and colored pencil – they add to the nighttime mood of the book.
I had One Question for Melissa: How did you come to write this book as a Thank You to the moon?

Melissa: Hi Sue. Thanks so much for continuing to support STEAM TEAM authors in this way. All the credit for the idea behind this book goes to my editor, Katherine Harrison. In February 2020, she tagged me on Twitter, alerting me to a conversation about how animals respond to the Moon’s cycle, and asked “Is this something you’d potentially be interested in writing? I just can’t get enough of the moon these days, and I feel like you could bring something special to it.” She also included a beautiful, eerie, mysterious image of the Moon partially obscured by clouds. It was an irresistible invitation.

Melissa has a knack for writing about irresistible topics. Earlier this year I reviewed her book Whale Fall (you can find that review here). Melissa Stewart is a member of #STEAMTeam2023. You can find out more about her at her website,
While rummaging through my book basket I found another moon book – in fact, there are a whole bunch that have come out this year!

The Moon Tonight: Our Moon's Journey Around Earth
by Jung Chang-hoon; illus. by Jang Ho
36 pages; ages 3-7
‎Blue Dot Kids Press, 2023

The Sun sets below the horizon, and the Moon rises. Once the Sun disappears, the Moon lends its light to the dark.

A father and daughter explore their world as the moon moves through its phases. A waxing crescent moon rises early in the evening, while the quarter moon is seen higher in the sky, above the trees. After achieving fullness, the moon wanes until – there is no moon in sight! Every night the moon changes, cycling through its phases. But, the author says, “you can always see the same phase of the Moon at the same time in the same place.” This book has a more educational focus, including an activity and back matter explaining five things to know about the moon.

Beyond the Books:

Take a moon walk (without leaving the Earth). What other animals are out at night using the light of the moon?

Write your own Thank You letter to the moon. Or the stars, or trees, or something in nature that you feel thankful for.

Keep track of the Moon for a month. You probably know that the moon goes through phases, from full to half to … where did it go? Make a calendar for four weeks, and each night draw what the moon looks like to you. Do you notice any patterns in how the moon grows and shrinks? Where – and when – does the moon rise? Is it always in the same place? Is it always at the same time? Do you ever see it in the sky during the day?

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 and Blue Slip Media (Thank You Moon).

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Explore Outdoors ~ Fall Fungi

 Fall is a great time to look for mushrooms and other fungi. Some blend right in with the colors of the fallen leaves; others provide contrast. Here are a couple of fungi I came across this fall.

What funky fungi are you finding this fall?

Friday, November 3, 2023

Space Medicine and Exploration

 I have a couple books today for kids who love space and might want to be an astronaut or astronomer. The first is all about keeping healthy in space.
Spacecare: A Kid's Guide to Surviving Space
by Jennifer Swanson
80 pages; ages 8-12
‎Mayo Clinic Press Kids, 2023

Living in space is not like living on Earth, writes Jennifer Swanson. It’s dark and cold. Or sunny and hot. And then there’s the whole lack of gravity thing, which can affect our earth-adapted body in so many ways. Even if you’re safely aboard the International Space Station, which has atmospheric pressure and temperature regulation, your body will feel the effects of microgravity, radiation, and all other sorts of space phenomena.

Space can affect our eyes, our heart, our brain, and our bones. It affects our muscles, our sense of balance, and our sleep cycle. In this book, Jen takes a close look at how living in space puts new stresses on our body, and how space doctors help astronauts adapt to their new environment. Their research doesn’t stop when astronauts return to earth – they follow the health of returned space voyagers to see what (if any) long term effects there are from space travel. 

Questions from kids are sprinkled throughout the book, and answered by astronaut Megan McArthur. They ask things like: do cuts take longer to heal in space? and what happens when you sneeze? There are plenty of “Mayo Medi-facts” boxes throughout the book that explain health issues, and a full spread showing what a well-stocked first aid kit should contain (for Earthlings on their home planet). And there are sidebars about space technology, from space suits to growing food in space. Plus space squid!

This book was a lot of fun, so I had to ask Jen Two Questions:

Me:  It feels like you’ve been writing about space and astronauts for a long time. What is it about space travel and exploration that captures your imagination so much?

Jen: This is only my second book about astronauts. But I've done other space books and I have a couple more in the works. What I love so much about exploration in general, whether it be in space or under the ocean, is the amazing ingenuity of the humans who make this possible. I mean, wow, building a place that keeps humans alive in an environment that is so hugely hostile to them take some really cool thinking and awesome engineering. Using that place to do science to investigate, explore, and solve questions about our place in the universe? Even better!

Me: If you had a chance to go to the International Space Station, would you? And what would you want to study?

Jen: Actually, I'm not sure. I'm not great in confined spaces... I'd much rather write about the cool science and engineering being done to get humans to space and also what they do up there. If I did go, I'd love to study more about the effects of radiation on humans. That fascinates me.

Jen Swanson is a member of #STEAMTeam2023. You can find out more about her at her website, She is also the creator and co-host of Solve It! for Kids podcast

Thank you, Jen. Now let’s check out another book for space-bound teens.

The Big Backyard: The Solar System beyond Pluto
by Ron Miller
104 pages; ages 13-up
Twenty-First Century Books , 2023

If you could travel to the farthest reaches of our solar system what would you find? It’s a cold, dark world out there, filled with comets, floating icebergs, strange dancing particles, and other stuff left over from the formation of our solar system. Author, Ron Miller starts with the birth of our solar system some 5 billion years ago, and the formation of planets.

Then we go on a planet hunt (with some historical sky-watchers), explore the Kuiper belt, and then head on beyond Pluto. Just how far does the sun’s light reach? And what’s between our solar system and those distant stars? “The nearest stars,” he says, “are so far away that their light takes more than four years to reach Earth.” Even from that distance they have an effect on our solar system, and he shows how modern researchers study the distant sky – our “big backyard” he calls it.

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, November 1, 2023

Explore Outdoors ~ A Leaf's Point of View


This week, look at the world around you from another point of view ~ perhaps that of a leaf or a pinecone on the ground. 
  • What do you notice?
  • What do you smell?
  • What are the textures of your neighboring leaves?
  • Who is hiding under you?