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.

Friday, February 24, 2023

Problems with Plastic

I chose this book for it's title, because growing up I often heard someone exclaim "That's the last straw!" when they got frustrated. In this case, it's a call for action.

The Last Plastic Straw: A Plastic Problem and Finding Ways to Fix It (Books for a Better Earth)
by Dee Romito; illus. by Ziyue Chen 
40 pages; ages 6-9
‎Holiday House, 2023 

theme: environment, recycling, nonfiction 

Over five thousand years ago, the ancient Sumerians had a problem. They needed a way to avoid the icky substances in their beverages

Fortunately, these ancient folks were great problem-solvers and they came up with an idea: use a hollow reed to suck out the tasty liquid, leaving the sludgy stuff in the bottom of the cup. Even the Queen used a straw, though hers was a golden drinking tube encrusted with jewels.  

But there was another problem: some straw stems had residue that changed the flavor of the drink. Fortunately someone got the brilliant idea to wrap paper around a pencil to make a paper straw – and even patented the idea for how to do it! But there was another problem: could the top be bendy? And another problem…. And for each problem, people came up with a solution, and eventually plastic straws became ubiquitous.

Which led to an even bigger problem: too many plastic straws! Nearly 500 million straws are thrown out every day – in the US alone! And those plastic straws (and other things) don’t biodegrade. Instead, they break down into tiny bits called microplastics that stay around forever. They pollute oceans, endanger wildlife, and even show up in the food we eat! 

Fortunately, that’s a problem we can solve!

What I like about this book: I like the way Dee shows straws as a solution to a problem; even plastic straws solved a problem. I like how she focuses the end of the book on solutions. And of course, I like the back matter: an author’s note about more things that kids – and their families – can do, and a list of sources.

The Last Plastic Straw is part of the Books for a Better Earth series published by Holiday House. They  designed the series to inspire young people to become active, knowledgeable participants in caring for the planet they live on.

As a person who has tried to go straw-free, but still forgets to say “no straw” when ordering the occasional soda, I just had to ask Dee One Question:

Me: What was the last straw for you? And did you quit using plastic straws?

Dee: I’ve always tried to choose eco-friendly options, but wasn’t being as active as I wanted to be. Once I started researching and saw the photos of how much plastic pollution there is out there, we made the switch in our house away from plastic straws which has led to other earth-friendly choices. Sometimes we forget to say “no straws” or we’re on a road trip and the stainless steel are harder to keep clean, but we’ve started using agave straws (which are disposable and biodegradable) as our on-the-go option. And most of the time, you really don’t need a straw. It’s a habit and a convenience that I’m happy to give up for a cleaner earth and healthier sea creatures. As for writing this book, when I feel like the information I have can make a difference in the world, I want to write about it and share it!
Beyond the Books:

Find out more about alternatives to using plastic straws. Look for metal, bamboo, or even paper straws in stores or online. What other alternatives can you find?

Are there any companies manufacturing non-plastic straws near you? One company, Roc Paper Straws, makes paper straws Rochester, New York. The company is owned by a mother-daughter team who, when they started, had zero manufacturing experience and a giant dream. You can find out more about them at their website

Make your own paper straws. All you need is a pencil (or chop stick), some paper, glue, and wax. If you want your straws to be 100% biodegradable, use beeswax instead of paraffin to wax your straws. If you’re making straws for crafts, you don’t need to wax them. Here’s how to do it.
Dee Romito is a member of #STEAMTeam2023. You can find out more about her at her website, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

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, February 22, 2023

Explore Outdoors ~ Nests Revealed

 The forsythia growing on the east side of my house is untamed - a wild mess of branches that, every summer I threaten to cut back. I never do, because in the winter I discover all the bird nests that had been hidden within the leaves.

I am not the only one with a wild forsythia ... shrub? ... tree? A few years ago, Katharine Kresge wrote about  her forsythia: "Catbirds, mockingbirds and cardinals build their nests in it every year. Robins and hummingbirds frequent the bush and rest on its branches..."

This week, take a close look at the forsythia - and other bushes and shrubs - around your yard and neighborhood. Do you see any nests hiding within the tangle of twigs? Who do you think built those nests?

Friday, February 17, 2023

Animals on the Move

Animals are heading out on journeys every day. Some are long: migrations from summer home to winter home. Some are shorter: looking for food or a mate or a good place to make a den for little ones. These books take a look at animals on the move – and what happens when you can’t travel along your normal route.

theme: animals, migration, nature

Border Crossings 
by Sneed B. Collard III; illustrated by Howard Gray 
32 pages; ages 6-9
‎Charlesbridge, 2023

On a moonless night, padded paws silently step across pebbled ground. They make their way past thorn tree, through brush, and around a muddy marsh.

A male ocelot is on the move, across the Chihuahuan Desert, seeking a mate. But then he comes upon an obstacle so tall and slippery he can’t get over it. The wall runs right through ocelot country, splintering rich habitat into two pieces. Ocelot isn’t the only animal that crosses the border to find a mate, hunt, or graze. 

What I like about this book: I like how the author presents the borderlands as an environment that has been part of animals’ lives for longer than humans have inhabited that bit of land. That for them, the border is not something that divides, but just … home. The illustrations capture the beauty of the desert, and (I hope) will inspire some readers to learn more about the southwestern desert. And the back matter is a tremendous resource, packed with information about the ecology of the border region, a glossary, and great recommendations for further reading.

Animal Journeys  
by Carron Brown; illus. by Carrie May
36 pages; ages 4-8
Kane/Miller Book Publishers, 2023

Many animals make incredible journeys every year, month, and even each day. This is called migration.

Readers go on journeys with geese, lobsters, sea turtles, and butterflies in environments ranging from high mountains to the seashore. But some things are hidden from view. To reveal the different animals on their travels, readers will need to shine a flashlight behind the page – or hold the page up to a light source, such as a window. Which works even on a cloudy day (I tested this).

What I like about this book: This is a fun way to introduce a diversity of animals from around the world. And the last spread invites kids to look for animals on their journeys. Plus there is back matter that explains a bit more about how animals stay safe on their travels.

Beyond the Books:

Learn more about ocelots and how walls and other infrastructure fragments their habitat. You can find out more about ocelots (and hear some ocelot sounds) at the San Diego Zoo website. Two places to learn more about the impacts of the border wall are the Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity.

Explore the Chihuahuan Desert. Here are some resources to get you started: National Park Service; World Wildlife Fund; and this photo essay of plants and animals commonly seen on the desert.

Watch for migrating animals. As we move towards warmer spring weather, you might hear – and see – new birds flying overhead or stopping for a snack at local birdfeeders. Here’s a tool for following bird migration. Or you might discover butterflies returning to the gardens – check out this migration map for monarchs. 

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, February 15, 2023

Explore Outdoors ~ False Spring

 There is a joke in these parts about a mid-winter seasonal imposter called "False Spring." It's a day or two of sunshiny warmth where the mercury nudges above 45F and you head out for walks forgetting your hat. It's a trickster-interlude that fools some of the flowers which, given their lengthy residence at that end of the yard, should know better!
By Friday, lunchtime temps will be around freezing, and within a week it's likely that all those hopeful daffodils will be covered by a blanket of snow - if they're lucky. Ice, if they're not.
Before the next winter storm blows in, take a nature break. What's happening in the leaf-blown edges of the lawns and gardens in your neighborhood? Where are nubbins of greenery poking up? 

Friday, February 10, 2023

These Books Put Stars in my Eyes!

One of the things I’ve noticed about winter is the stars. They seem to shine brighter, and look bigger than they do other times of the year. Why? I don’t know – but I do know that people have been asking questions about stars since forever. So today I’m sharing two books for the young stargazers in your life.

theme: stars, women in science, biography

The Fire of Stars: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made Of 
by Kirsten W. Larson; illus. by Katherine Roy
48 pages; ages 5-8
‎Chronicle Books, 2023

I usually begin my picture book reviews with the first line or two of the story. But in this case, that’s a bit tricky. Because there are two stories happening at the same time in this book. One story is about the life of Cecilia Payne, the astrophysicist who discovered what stars are made of. The other story is about the life of a star. 

Just how does one tell two stories at once? Kirsten does it using a parallel structure, showing the lives of Cecilia and the star side-by-side. She compares the baby Cecilia to an unformed star, waiting for its future to begin. She shows Cecilia growing and discovering her world, as the star grows into its world. It’s easier to understand if you can see a picture of one of the pages (thanks to Chronicle for permission to share this). 

The star’s story: In a cloud of dust and dirt …

Cecelia’s story: Cecilia spends hours watching slimy slugs glide through the garden…

Definitely my favorite spread because: garden, slug, getting down in the dirt. As the star grows, things shift and separate. So, too, in Cecilia’s life. She is uprooted from her cozy home when her family moves to London. Cecilia wants to learn about science, in a world where men are scientists. She is the only woman in her physics class, she often doesn’t get recognition for her work. But she discovers something amazing: what stars are made of!

What I love about this book: I love the clever parallel story structure! I love the illustrations! The paintings of nebulae and galaxies look as though they could be photos from one of the space telescopes. They are sweeping, grand, colorful – out of this world! And I love the back matter. Kirsten provides more information about Cecilia Payne, a true “science superstar”, and gives a detailed look at how a celestial star is born.

I had heard that we are made of stardust, and I wondered just how true that was. Fortunately, there is a book coming out next month that can help answer that question – and a whole bunch more. 

Am I Made of Stardust?: Dr. Maggie Answers the Big Questions for Young Scientists
by Maggie Aderin-Pocock; illus. by Chelen Écija 
128 pages; ages 8 and up
Kane/Miller Book Publishers, 2023

This is a great book for curious future space explorers. There are activities to try, tons of “Astro facts,” and a robot named IQ (which stand for Interesting Question). There’s lots of information about stars and our solar system and humans in space. For example, the author talks about whether we can grow plants on other planets. 

But back to the question at hand: are we made of stardust? Yes! You, me, and nearly everything in the universe first came from a star. Stars are made of hydrogen and helium on the outside – that’s what Cecilia discovered. But at the center, new elements are formed, including iron, carbon, and silica. Those elements at the heart of a star are let loose when that star dies in a Big Bang called a supernova. The bits of stardust are flung through the universe and … who knows? Maybe some tiny bits are falling through our atmosphere as we read about them.

Beyond the Books:

Learn more about Cecilia Payne in this video from The Lawrence Hall of Science

Create some Star Art! Drop by illustrator Katherine Roy’s studio where you can watch a book trailer, and learn about how she uses a toothbrush to help create star art. Then grab some paints and paper (and maybe a toothbrush) to create your own star art! Need inspiration? Here’s some great photos of nebulae taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.

Stardust is falling all around us! Collecting dust from actual stars is hard – even for scientists with the right equipment. But you can collect dust from meteorites, sometimes called “falling stars.” Here’s how. 

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, February 8, 2023

Explore Outdoors ~ Looking for Tree Holes

 Last Friday I posted a review about Tree Hole Homes. So I went out on a short walk to see if there were any holes in the trees around my house and garden. A branch had recently fallen during a storm, but too recent for a decent hole to form. However, there were some nice holes in the apple trees near my garden.

I'm not tall enough to peer inside the one shown in the upper photo - and I wouldn't want to disturb anyone sleeping in there. But the bottom one - I can see through the tree. It's hollow inside. If I were a very small person, I could climb in there with a a good book! 

This week take a look for tree holes in your neighborhood. But don't disturb any sleeping creatures!

Monday, February 6, 2023

Celebrating the Days Between Seasons

According to the calendar, spring begins March 20. Six weeks from today, shadow or not, regardless of what the groundhog or marmot or armadillo saw in your neck of the woods. For most folks, the Vernal Equinox is the seasonal marker. It’s that point in the Earth’s orbit when the sun sits directly above the equator. It’s the day when hours of daylight equal hours of dark. It’s an important marker for those of us who plant seeds and tend gardens.

And yet for many of us, February 2 is more than Groundhog Day or Candlemas. A cross-quarter day, it’s a midpoint between seasons. And even though we were subjected to polar temperatures (-30F in some places) this week feels like the beginning of a new season. Maybe it’s the fact that days are noticeably longer. Maybe it’s the way the morning light turns everything apricot-colored and sets ice-encrusted twigs and needles to shimmer and glint like precious gems. Sure, we might will most assuredly get more frost and ice and snow and sleet, but something has shifted.

What does an emerging spring look like? Is it the drip of maple sap into a metal bucket? Is it the sound of birds squabbling near the feeder? The gurgle of a stream skipping over icy rocks? The smell of mud?

How do you measure spring? By the time it takes to shovel the driveway? The length of a day? The color of the sky? The sound of geese overhead? And when spring comes, where will X mark the spot? 

Friday, February 3, 2023

Tree Hollows Make Cozy Hiding Places

 Ages ago, when I was in fourth grade (I think), I read My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. The cover was a simple line drawing of a boy with a hawk perched on his shoulder, but inside was a detailed tale of a kid who lived off the land. He made his home inside a hollow tree and used the library to learn all about edible weeds. I wanted to live inside a tree, too – it sounded so cozy. 

I wasn’t the only one. After reading her copy of the book, Melissa Stewart also wanted to make a home inside a hollow tree. And the seeds for Tree Hole Homes were planted. Time passed, and she forgot about the book until … on a visit to Vancouver Island, Canada, she spotted a tree with a hole big enough for her to squeeze inside.

So she did. 

It was then, as she looked up into the hollow tree, that she knew she’d write a book about tree hole homes. The thing about writing books – and growing trees – is that they both take time. That serendipitous visit to Vancouver Island happened in 2011. Melissa’s book came out in October, 2022. In between those years, Melissa filled up notebooks with tree hole observations.

Tree Hole Homes: Daytime Dens and Nighttime Nooks 
by Melissa Stewart; illus. by Amy Hevron 
40 pages; ages 4-8
‎Random House Studio, 2022

theme: nature, animals, trees

Imagine this: One day while walking in the woods, you spot a towering tree with a hole big enough to slip inside. 

So you do.

From birds to squirrels, frogs to bears, many animals use tree hollows as a place to nest, rest, or just escape the world for a bit. A tree home can be calm and quiet – a place for a fisher to sleep during the day. Or it can be filled to the brim with activity, as cubs and kits and hatchlings explore their world. 

There is so much I like about this book, beginning with the endpapers! The first endpaper shows a child with a backpack walking toward a tree. There’s a spread before the title page where we see the child sitting inside that tree. They look so cozy and content! You meet them later in the book and also on the back endpaper.

I like the layout of the pages. Large text presents a big idea: a tree hole home could be large or small. Smaller text provides information about the featured animal (or two) that live in those holes. Here’s am example of the spread explaining just how busy a tree hole home can be, with seven little ones to care for. (I particularly like this spread because the raccoon kits are checking out the fungi growing on the tree!)

And of course I love that there is back matter. Three pages provide the vital statistics about the tree hole dwellers featured in the book: their scientific name, where they live, what they eat, and a fun fact. Plus there is a list of books for curious kids (and adults) who want to learn more about animal homes.

Beyond the Books:

Head over to Melissa’s website and check out the videos about Tree Hole Homes. There’s a fun video about how Amy created the art for this book by painting on wood (and leaving some of the wood grain showing). You can find a link to a Reader’s Theater here.

Read more about tree hollow habitats in this article published by the Concord Monitor

Go on a tree hollow scavenger hunt. Look for:
  •  A hole high in a tree
  • A hole low to the ground
  • A hole made by a limb that fell
  • A hole made by an animal
  • An old hollow
  • A new hole or hollow
  • Small holes in a tree
  • A large hole
  • Holes that look like they were made while seeking food
  • A hole used as a nesting or resting place
Adopt a tree hollow. Visit it every month and keep track of the activity in and around it. You’ll need a notebook, pencil, maybe binoculars, and something to sit on – choose a place where you can sit quietly, hidden from view.

Melissa 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 from my local library system.

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Explore Outdoors ~ Looking for Beauty

Last month I headed outside with a challenge to find five bits of beauty in the nature around me. It was cold, so I didn't go far - just up the road a bit - but there was plenty to see: snowflakes trapped in the curve of a beech leaf; the prickles and stickles of dried plants; the spiral of a desiccated goldenrod leaf; seeds whose parachutes never opened...

What beauty do you find
 outside your door?

Friday, January 27, 2023

Evolution and Future Technology: two middle grade books for mid-winter

I really try to review all the books that end up in my book basket, especially if I’ve requested them. But look! It’s the End Of January and I still have a dozen books from last year that I Haven’t Gotten To. Yet. So today I have a two-fer: two fun nonfiction books for middle-grade readers that came out in the fall.

The Museum of Odd Body Leftovers: A Tour of Your Useless Parts, Flaws, and Other Weird Bits 
by Rachel Poliquin; illus. by Clayton Hanmer 
88 pages; ages 7-11
‎Greystone Kids, 2022 

I loved this book from the moment I opened to the table of contents – which is set up like a map to the museum. And yes, there is a café and a gift shop, as well washrooms (located conveniently next to the Scurvy exhibit). I’m gonna steal a bit from the back cover, which is a perfect introduction to the book:

Did you know your amazing, incredible body is a living, breathing museum of evolution? Look closely and you’ll find bits and pieces that were useful way back when our lives were very different from what they are today.

Like back when wisdom teeth were perfectly fine and would have served humans well, but then some folks discovered farming… which allowed them to grow grains and eat mushy food and now who needs those big back molars? There’s an entire exhibit – er, section – devoted to monkey muscles, a leftover from when our monkey ancestors walked on all four feet. There’s a hands-on test to see if you have monkey muscles in your arms – and a toes-on test to see if you have any in your feet. If you disregard the signs and sneak into the museum storage, you can find even more cool left-overs, including the appendix (I personally don’t use mine, but it’s hanging around anyway).

This book not only gives readers a fun tour of vestigial structures, but a breezy look at evolution. Though it’s more the dark side of evolution: the things that didn’t quite work out or weren’t needed anymore as creatures evolved to fill new niches. I mean … think about the poor whales with hip bones they haven’t used since their great-great-greats gave up walking on four legs!

Superpower? The Wearable-Tech Revolution 
by Elaine Kachala; illus. by Belle Wuthrich 
112 pages; ages 9-12
‎Orca Book Publishers, 2022

Super strength. Super hearing. Super vision… superpowers through wearable technology! This used to be the stuff of sci-fi and now it’s coming to a place near you. And sooner than you think. We already have smart glasses, smart watches, smart phones and continuous glucose monitors. As author Elaine Kachala points out, we are in the midst of a fourth industrial revolution.

This book is divided into five chapters, beginning with explaining what wearable tech is. It’s more than just strapping on a computer. Wearable tech is a synergistic combination of textiles and technology. And an extension of what started ages ago with the first person strapping on a wristwatch. What’s beyond the Fitbits, VR headsets, and body cams? 

The thing is, Kachala notes, wearable tech changes our lives. Think about how prosthetic limbs have changed what people can do, and how augmented reality layers graphics over the real world (as in the Pokemon Go game). Not only that, wearables augment our “human-ness.” She provides examples of engineering tissues and organs, wound-healing technology, and the possibilities of brain-computer interfaces. Then Kachala dives into issues of privacy, safety, and ethical questions. Packed with sidebars about tech and backmatter, this is a book that will have young people brainstorming their future and possible evolution of our species. 

I invited Elaine over to the blog for a One Question interview.

Me: So do you sport any wearable tech? I don't even have a fitbit, but I do use my phone to track steps. It's in my pocket... does that count?

Elaine: I'm an avid exerciser, almost daily, but so far I don't use a wearable for exercise. I've had (human) gym coaches in the past and now I use programs like Peleton. I find coaching vs just tracking more useful. But I do have a wearable - it's a brain-wave sensing headband called Muse. Sport wearables are getting pretty sophisticated though, with coaching abilities, so I might just invest one day soon. As for your phone: Nope! It does not count as a wearable. Wearables are devices that are on, in or attached to your body.

Elaine is a member of #STEAMTeam2022. She and Natalie Aguirre had a great conversation about Superpower? over at Natalie’s blog, Literary Rambles. You can find out more about Elaine at her website and follow her on Facebook

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, January 25, 2023

Explore Outdoors ~ Frost Flowers


Out for a walk in the woods last month, we discovered these needle-sharp, spiky frost flowers decorating the thin ice of puddles. These frost flowers have nothing to do with plants. Instead, they are ice crystals that grow on tops of newly formed ice on ponds and lakes - and even on the Arctic Ocean. It has to do with how warm the air is compared to the water, and the granules of ice trapped on the puddle surface. Those nubby granules form perfect spots for nucleation and growth of these porcupine-like "frost flowers."

What's happening to puddles and ice in your backyard?

Friday, January 20, 2023

Books for Little Engineers

One of my favorite memories from homeschooling was all the engineering that went on around the house. One week it was building marble runs along a wall, another week it was designing a hand-powered elevator to hoist toys to the second floor. Inside winter activities are a great time to explore machines and building things.

theme: machines, engineering, reuse

Franny's Fix-It Shop 
by Edward Miller 
32 pages; ages 6-9
‎Holiday House, 2022

Franny Fixit can fix anything. Her robot friend, Robbie, knows a lot, too.

When a friend says he needs a new wagon, Franny suggests they fix it and give it a new coat of paint. She helps one friend fix a skateboard, another with a bike. As she repairs, she points out what’s broken and how it can be fixed. Along the way readers learn about wheels and axles, levers, inclined planes, and pulleys.

What I like about this book: I like how Franny presents repairing things as a way to help the environment. It’s a great way to reuse, recycle, or even repurpose things. I also like how she points out a problem, such as worn wheels, and then explains how they cause friction which slows down the skateboard. And when she talks about wheels and axles, illustrations show how axles are used in other applications. 

Working With Machines (Kid Engineer series)
By Sonya Newland; illus. by Diego Vaisberg
32 pages; ages 9+
Kane Miller Publishing, 2022

This book focuses on mechanical engineering. It introduces young readers to the concepts of work, force, and movement and the idea that they could be an engineer. Then it explains how simple machines work (levers, pulleys, axles, etc) and includes a hands-on activity to explore each type of machine. A great companion to Franny Fixit.

Beyond the Books:

Look for wheels and axles, wedges, screws, gears, levers, and other simple machines around your home. Around here I’ve got a wheelbarrow (lever and axle), skateboard (wheels and axles), and a pulley on the clothesline. What do you find?

Make a pulley out of an old thread spool. Then use it to pull a cup loaded with marbles up, up, up to the second floor. Here’s how.

Build a simple catapult to launch marshmallows into your cocoa cup. A catapult is a lever – one of the simple machines Franny talks about. Here’s directions.

Thanks for dropping by. Today we're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday, an event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copies provided by the publishers.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Explore Outdoors ~ Rosehips in the Snow


Rosehips provide nutritious lunches for birds and squirrels. But - look at those spiky stems! You've gotta be tough to harvest these tasty vitamin-packed berries.

This week, look for roses in your neighborhood. If you find some rosehips, look for bite marks or other evidence that they're being nibbled by local wildlife.

Friday, January 13, 2023

The Mother of Nuclear Fission

Over the past year, scientists got closer to making nuclear fusion (the combining of two atoms to produce energy) a reality. Meanwhile, let's check out the story of ...

The Woman Who Split the Atom: The Life of Lise Meitner 
by Marissa Moss 
264 pages; ages 10-14
Abrams BFYR, 2022

Lise Meitner was a curious girl who slept with a math book under her pillow. She grew up in Vienna where Jews had more opportunities than in other countries. Still, going to college, becoming a scientist – that was for sons, not daughters. Even going to high school wasn’t something girls did in most of Europe in the late 1800s.

But Lise persisted, eventually earning a doctorate in physics. She was ready to do research even if no one wanted to work with a woman. So Lisa made her own instruments and got to work. Eventually she partnered with other physicists and chemists and discovered how uranium decayed. She built a cloud chamber so she could see trails of radioactive particles, wrote papers, and gained acceptance in the scientific community. 

But just when it no longer mattered that she was a woman, it mattered very much that she was Jewish! Now all employees of the institute where she conducted research were required to be members of the Nazi party. Lise was no longer welcome as a scientific collaborator, and her name was stripped from her published scientific papers.

As German scientists turned their attention to chemical weapons and the race to build an atomic bomb, Lise turned her efforts to getting out of Germany. Alive. She wanted no association with the potential doomsday weapon and called for peace, not war.

What I like about this book: I like the way author Marissa Moss shows how hard it was for Lise to make her mark on science – and how easy it was for her contributions to be erased.  I like the comic panels that open each chapter, showing slices of Lise’s life – especially the drawing of her cloud chamber. And I like the back matter, which includes a timeline and profiles of  scientists mentioned throughout the book. There’s even a short physics glossary for those of us who still count electron shells on our fingers.

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 publisher.

This month, STEM Tuesday is featuring books about nuclear science and the scientists who discovered radioactivity. If you're looking for more books about atomic energy, please join us there!