Wednesday, December 20, 2023

 Merry Solstice & Happy New Year

'Tis the Season to:

Slide on ice
Tromp through the snow
Sled down a hill
Build a snow fort
Save a snowball in your freezer (for July)

I'm taking a winter break. See you in mid-January!

Friday, December 15, 2023

How to Be an Earth-keeper

Caring for Earth (Ultimate Spotlight)
by Sandra Laboucarie and Sarah Reynard; illus. by Julie Mercier
12 pages; ages 5 & up
Twirl, 2023

theme: ecology, nature, environmental protection

Nature is all around. We can learn a lot from nature by observing how plants and animals interact in the wild.

The environment we live in is full of complexity, and this book shows five detailed views of the nature around us. It’s an interactive book with flaps to open, wheels to turn, tabs to pull, and pop-ups. It is also written with a permaculture sensibility, showing how families could create a forest garden as well as develop a fruit and vegetable garden. One spread focuses on a house built with nature in mind, and the book ends with suggestions for how people can create an environment that is good for the earth in their neighborhood and at school

What I like about this book: As a gardener, there are things I definitely liked in this book. For example, showing how to create a raised bed using straw bales. There’s a family in our town who started their gardens this way a few years ago, and now they have deliciously rich soil in their beds. I also like the multi-layered pop-up showing a forest garden and the layers of fruit trees, fruiting shrubs, and flowers that could grow with taller trees in your backyard, local park, or schoolyard.

 And I like that, in the "natural house" they included a composting toilet. If nothing else, this book will provide openings for questions and may inspire you to grow a small fruit tree in your yard for the birds!

Beyond the Books:

Explore nature right out your front (or back) door. What kinds of trees and shrubs live around you? What do you notice about them right now? Draw a picture of your favorite tree and save it where you can look at it later. Try drawing a picture of your tree each month and see what changes you notice.

What kinds of wildlife shares your neighborhood? Maybe you see squirrels, birds, insects. Maybe you hear coyotes howling at night …. Get to know some of your wild neighbors.

Think of three things you can do to make the Earth a better place for all the plants and animals (including people). Write down one of the things – then go do it.

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.

Book reviews are taking a winter break ~ I'll be back with more book talk in mid-January.

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Explore Outdoors ~ in a new place

 Most of my exploring outdoors happens right outside my back door: in the garden or along roadsides I ramble. Usually within a three-mile radius of my home. My goal is to find something of beauty each day. Then last month I had the opportunity to travel somewhere new...

I boarded a train and headed out west. On the trip out, it was fall. A couple weeks later, on my return trip, we were treated to a dusting of snow on the red rocked landscape of southern Utah. 

If you have the opportunity to travel this winter, take some time to sit with the landscape. And look for some of the earth's beauty surrounding you.

Friday, December 8, 2023

Earth Out of Balance

 Themes: climate, environment, immigration

A couple years ago I put this book aside to review for an Earth Day post. Then things piled up… after this summer of disasters – wildfires, floods, storms – it’s abundantly clear that our Earth is out of balance.

Our World Out of Balance: Understanding Climate Change and What We Can Do
by Andrea Minoglio; illus. by Laura Fanelli
72 pages; ages 8-12
Blue Dot Kids Press, 2021

The book opens with an explanation of global warming and why we should stop it. So many reasons! Among them: rising sea levels that threaten communities, loss of forested land, urban heat islands, displaced wildlife, and extreme weather events. The book is broken down into 15 chapters, each one explaining a specific environmental problem related to climate chaos. Included in each chapter is a “how you can help” section and one on “how people are helping.” The book ends by focusing on actions readers can take and how they can be part of the solution. One person seems so small when you’re looking at a huge problem. But every small action you and your friends take adds up to make a difference. There’s also a list of community science projects kids and their families can get involved with.
Where Can We Go? A Tale of Four Bears
By Dai Yun; illus. by Igor Oleynikov
40 pages; ages 4-8
Greystone Books, 2023

One orange and purple evening, Papa comes home with only one small fish in his paws. He says, “We are moving tomorrow.”

Papa isn’t sure where they are going, but it will be a place where seals abound. Except … when they get to a place with food, it’s not seals they end up eating. It’s scraps from the garbage dump. And when they get tired, Papa looks for a place to sleep.

Have you ever wondered what would happen if the three bears had invaded Goldilocks’s house? Only, in this story it’s not curiosity that drives them to try out the beds, the chairs, the bowls of food. It’s climate change.

What I like about this book: I like how the illustrator brings us right into bear culture. Papa and Mama wear necklaces of bones and Mama has ear piercings. I like how the bears explore the house, find a bed that is “just right,” and later decide they need to find something more suitable for bears. It has a wee feeling of cynicism – perhaps something lost in translation? – but it is a good book for opening a discussion about climate change, refugees, immigration, or even sparking ideas for putting a new spin on an old story.

Beyond the Books:

Think of three things you can do to make the Earth a better place for trees and animals. If you live in a drought-stricken area, you might think of ways to cut wasteful use of water. If you’re concerned about melting sea ice (which makes it hard for polar bears to hunt) you might come up with ways you can get from one place to another without using a car.

Do you know of any animals in your area that are being forced out of their home by climate change or habitat loss? Where do they go?

If you had to leave Right Now, what would you grab to take with you? If you live in an area where you might have to evacuate due to flooding or fire, you may want to make a “grab-and-go” bag. Here’s some advice from a place that’s seen its share of wild fires.

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, December 6, 2023

Explore Outdoors ~ Leaves are Habitat


I did not rake my leaves this year. I know! How slothful of me! But here's the thing: fallen leaves create habitat for any number of tiny creatures. Those leaves provide a winter home for butterfly and moth caterpillars and pupae. Even adults! Here's what Justin Wheeler says on the  XERCES Society blog:

Great spangled fritillary and wooly bear caterpillars tuck themselves into a pile of leaves for protection from cold weather and predators. Red-banded hairstreaks lay their eggs on fallen oak leaves, which become the first food of the caterpillars when they emerge. Luna moths and swallowtail butterflies disguise their cocoons and chrysalises as dried leaves, blending in with the “real” leaves.

Leaves also provide homes for spiders and snails, worms, beetles, and other tiny critters that provide meals for chipmunks, birds, and amphibians. Sure, amphibians aren't fans of frozen dinners, but they appreciate the plump insects that take flight in spring.

Friday, December 1, 2023

Life on a Very Small Scale

We are made of cells, and cells are made of smaller parts, and those smaller parts are made of things we can’t even see. Today’s books explore the microcosm of life.

theme: life, cells, atoms
Happy one-year anniversary to Jason Chin’s book, The Universe in You: A Microscopic Journey (Neal Porter Books, 2022). This is one of those picture books that I think is a perfect crossover for the 8-12 crowd. As I recall, my biggest desire when I was in fourth grade was to have a microscope so I could see really tiny things.

The Calliope Hummingbird is the smallest bird in the United States.

It measures 8 centimeters (just over 3 inches) from beak tip to tail. “Small enough to fit in your hand,” writes Jason Chin. The Western Pygmy Blue butterfly is smaller than a penny, the smallest bee is 2 millimeters long (that’s the height of two pennies stacked together). And even that isn’t as small as…. A hair, a skin cell, a strand of DNA. This book takes us on a tour of very small things.

What I like about this book: What a great way to explore cells and molecules and atoms and elementary particles without needing to own your own microscope, electron-scanning microscope, and particle accelerator. I like how Jason gets to the building blocks of life, the universe, and everything page by page. And he does it using beautiful language that pulls you along, and some comparisons that make you want to turn the page. Plus there is smaller text that explains stuff, like showing how big a millimeter is, and explaining why dead cells are important. In the end those particles and atoms and molecules are arranged into cells that form you … “a singular person who can think and feel and discover the universe within.”

Back matter includes a spread on the building blocks of matter, with more information about elementary particles (quarks and nutrinos and gluons and more!), atoms, and elements. Another spread focuses on the building blocks of life: cells, genes, single-celled life, and more. This is a great companion to his earlier book, Your Place in the Universe. [review copy provided by the publisher]

If you’re looking for a book for slightly younger kids, and one that focuses on cells, here’s one. I checked it out of the library before the pandemic, and am finally getting around to sharing it!
Cells: An Owner's Handbook
by Carolyn Fisher
48 pages; ages 3 - 8
Beach Lane Books, 2019

Hi! I’m Ellie. No, not the dog. Follow the arrow. I’m a cell!

Ellie is a skin cell who lives on the “derriere of a Boston terrier”. You can’t see her because she is very, very, very small – but she has all the working parts of an animal cell: nucleus, ribosomes, mitochondria – the works. Cells make up all sorts of living things: plants, whales, people. Yes, you are the owner of 37 trillion cells (give or take a few). And this handy guide book will help you take care of them so that they last you a lifetime.

What I like about this book: I love the breezy, sassy attitude of Ellie the cell. She is a fun guide to the world of the microscopically small. She shows unicellular (one-celled) organisms, multicellular (many-celled) organisms, and things that don’t have cells at all. I love how she makes complex ideas easier to comprehend (blood cells make blood; bone cells make bone) and how the food we eat and exercise we do are essential to our cells’ health. Ellie takes a cell-fie, explains the small print in the lifetime guarantee, and even tells jokes. Back matter includes blueprints for cells (and jokes).

Beyond the Books:

Look at some things around your house using a microscope (if you have one) or a magnifying lens. Here’s a short list of fun stuff to look at: Velcro, sand, yarn, leaf, tree bark, onion skin, insect wings, moldy bread, a feather, fabric, stamp, snowflakes, and rocks.

Draw a picture of what you see when you look at something under a magnifying lens or microscope.

Write a story about what the world would be like for you if you were the size of a sunflower seed or a grain of sand.

If you want to get a microscope for your kids, Popular Science magazine has a review here. There are even some portable scopes to carry on walks.

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. Publishers. 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.

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?

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.