Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Explore Outdoors ~ Roadside Perfume

  While walking along the road last week I poked my nose in the posies in hopes of spying pollinators. Instead, I was treated to a delightful scent.

I never realized just how sweet Dame's Rocket (Hesperis matronalis) flowers smelled. That's probably because I think of them as "those wild and weedy invasive mustards..." Which they are. Wild. Weedy. Mustards. Invasive. They originally come from Eurasia, and were brought to this continent in the 1600s as an ornamental for gardens.

 Like its cousin, garlic mustard, Dame's Rocket is aggressive. A single plant can produce 20,000 seeds - if you gathered every single seed it would take you just under 6 hours to count them all. 

Lots of folks call this flower a wild phlox. But put the two side-by-side and you can see they aren't even related. Phlox have five petals; Dame's rocket has four. Phlox leaves are smooth, Dame's rocket are rough and tooth-edged.

Both have fragrant flowers that attract bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies. And both provide essential oils used in perfume. 

What do the flowers in your neighborhood smell like?

Friday, June 7, 2024

Science, Bias, and Measuring our World

Thomas Jefferson’s Battle for Science: Bias, Truth, and a Mighty Moose! 
by Beth Anderson; illus. by Jeremy Holmes 
48 pages; ages 7-10
‎Calkins Creek, 2024

theme: science, history, biography

Young Thomas Jefferson measured his world … animals and plants, mountains and streams, weather and crops. He recorded sizes and shapes, temperatures and times, distances and speeds (even his own). 

Science was certain, peaceful, measurable. Or so Jefferson believed. But when a French scientist wrote about the animals of America – saying the land was swampy and cold, the bears were smaller, the wolves downright puny – Jefferson got furious. He would show that buffoon! 

Jefferson is certain that America has ferocious and grand animals, such as Moose. So after the revolution, Jefferson declared a war of his own. A war against faulty facts. He would use science to fight this war. He would prove that American animals were large and magnificent - even if he had to mail a Moose to France to do so!

What I like love about this book: I love the endpapers – they are filled with life-sized tracks of North American birds and mammals. I love how Jeremy Holmes captured the feeling of science at the turn of the 19th century in his illustrations: identification tags and labels laid out on graph paper; documents tacked to wooden walls… even the color palette feels old-fashioned.

Then there is the language – it is downright fun. I love how Beth Anderson shows Jefferson’s reaction to the French critic: Hogwash! Absurd! Outrageous! I love how she shows Jefferson’s skepticism: where did Buffon get his information if he’d never been to America? (This, dear readers, is the sort of skepticism we need to nurture today! Just sayin’) And I love the back matter. In the author’s note, Beth dives deeper into Thomas Jefferson’s love of science and dissects the problems with mistruths. She reminds us that “scientific truth is always changing and growing” and asks readers to continue to fight against biases and untruth in scientific thinking, as Thomas Jefferson fought against Buffon’s  mistruths.

And that was when I knew I just had to ask Beth A Few Questions:

Me:  Why did you want to write this book? I feel there is an underlying lesson in it 

Beth: The more I dug into Thomas Jefferson’s obsession with science and this event, the more connections I found to today and for kids. So many important ideas and issues to ponder! It’s more important than ever that we raise critical thinkers. Truth matters. It’s vital for us all to examine our sources for bias and misinformation. Jefferson and Count Buffon both eventually admitted they were wrong when presented with evidence. While the story deals with a theory about animals and simple concepts like bigger isn’t necessarily better and different doesn’t mean inferior, I’m hoping that kids will be able to take the understanding gained from this to more crucial applications as mentioned in the back matter that result in really dangerous and damaging patterns of thinking. I also loved that Jefferson’s efforts to disprove Buffon’s theory fit the scientific inquiry process that kids use today. The past connects to today in so many ways! 

Me: What faulty facts are we fighting today?

Beth: We have all kinds out there—all that was being passed around during Covid is just one area where faulty facts piled up. Unfortunately many areas have become politicized and polarizing which makes it hard for us to examine issues intelligently, admit if we’re wrong, and recognize reality. Faulty facts have invaded medicine, history, democracy, environmental science, and more. We are in an age when it is becoming ever more difficult to sort truth from non-truth. We are deluged with information from legitimate as well as dubious sources, and now the emergence of AI makes this all even harder. As I said, it’s so important that we raise kids to think and question in constructive ways. Though the illustrations of Jefferson and Buffon’s dinner debate show Jefferson’s inner turmoil, historical sources describe him as respectful and polite despite Buffon’s condescending attitude. Buffon was one of Jefferson’s scientific heroes. Imagine how disappointing that was and how hard it was for Jefferson to dispute Buffon’s information. It’s clear that they both had to let go of their emotional attachment to what they WANTED to be true. 

Me: What can we do to help our children become scientifically literate?

Beth: We are really fortunate to have such a fantastic array of children’s books about science these days. I think wide exposure to gain knowledge and nurture a sense of wonder and curiosity about the natural world is where scientific literacy starts. Then we provide opportunities to practice experimentation and investigation, collect and analyze data, and model critical thinking. An important piece of this is that scientific truth evolves as our understanding grows. Science is really quite irresistible! With the love of it, comes the literacy.

Beyond the Books:

Measure your world. What do you measure, and what tools do you use to do the measuring? Record your measurements and share them with others.

What are the largest (and possibly most majestic) animals that live near you? Use the process of scientific inquiry to support your thinking.  

What kinds of animal tracks can you find in the wild places near your home? (perhaps a park or local wooded area). You can find a handy field guide to animal tracks from Maine Fish and Wildlife at 

Beth is a member of #STEAMTeam2024. You can find out more about her at her website.

Today we’re joining Perfect Picture Book Friday. It’s a wonderful gathering where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. On Monday we'll be hanging out at Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with other  bloggers. It's over at Greg Pattridge's blog, Always in the Middle, so hop over to see what other people are reading. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Explore Outdoors ~ A Rose by Any Other Name ...

 What do you notice about the flowers below? Look at each of them and jot down what you observe.

From the top left, going clockwise they are bird cherry, amelanchier, strawberry, and apple. You might have noticed they have five petals and a lot of stamens in the center. And that might have led you to wonder whether they are related. Yes, they are. All of these belong to the rose family, Rosaceae. It's a big family and, in addition to roses, includes amelanchier, apples, pears, apricots, plums, cherries, peaches, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, and almonds. And those are just the familiar fruits and berries (and nuts) that we eat.

You might also wonder whether all flowers in the rose family are white. Most are white to pink, but there are some brambles with fuchsia petals, and cinquefoil flowers with yellow petals, flowering crab apple with bright pink and roses in all colors.

This week, go on a "rose-hunting" field trip. 
Look for flowers that might be related to roses. You might find strawberry flowers in your lawn, apple and cherry blossoms on trees at a park, and cinquefoil along the roadside.

Friday, May 31, 2024

For Plants It's All About The Soil

 The Soil in Jackie’s Garden
by Peggy Thomas; illus. by Neely Daggett
32 pages; ages 5-8
‎Feeding Minds Press, 2024

theme: gardening, compost, pollinators

This is the soil in Jackie’s garden.

For those of us who garden, everything begins with the soil. And so it is with this book. Even before seeds can grow, we have soil. And worms. In this cumulative story, Jackie and her friends sow seeds, nurture plants, harvest fruit, and recycle scraps in the compost bin to ensure that the cycle of growth continues.  

What I like about this book: With it’s “house that Jack built” structure, this story is fun to read and will have kids repeating some lines before long. In addition to the story, Peggy Thomas tucks extra information into text boxes: explanations of xylem and phloem, a closer look at root tips and leaves, how plants breathe. Readers will see the garden through seasons of growth, ripening, and harvest. And then there are the close-ups of compost critters – one of my favorite spreads. Back matter contains more information about the soil cycle. 

While I love books that include the occasional vertical spread, I found that having an entire book open that way was difficult for me to hold on my lap. But if you’ve got kids who lay on their tummies to look at books, this format makes perfect sense!

Beyond the Books:

Watch how a seed grows. You’ll need bean or pumpkin seeds, a clear glass jar or plastic cup, paper towels, and an old t-shirt. You can find instructions under “Watch pumpkin seeds sprout” at Patricia Newman’s lit links.

Make some compost. But if you don’t have room to build a compost pile in your yard, you can make compost in a plastic soda bottle. Here’s how. When I did it I used newspapers, banana peels, apple cores, orange peels, egg shells, carrot peelings, and dried leaves.

Plant a bucket garden for pollinators. I use five-gallon buckets, but you can use smaller containers – even a plastic waste basket will work. You’ll need to drill some holes in the bottom for drainage and fill with potting soil. Here’s how to create a $5 bee garden.

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.

Monday, May 27, 2024

Explore Outdoors ~ Fungus Among Us!

Last week I had the marvelous opportunity to share science fun with a student at our local elementary school. She is passionate about mushrooms, and had checked out my book, FUNKY FUNGI (written with Alisha Gabriel). The school librarian asked whether I could spend half an hour with her exploring mushrooms. So of course, I said YES!

I shared around 50 photos of mushrooms and coral fungi and staghorns and lichen that I'd found in my garden, yard, and nearby woods. Then we dissected a portobello mushroom from the local grocery store, following the directions listed in the activity from FUNKY FUNGI. We had So Much Fun! 

Over the long Memorial Day weekend, I went walking through the woods again and I added a few new fungi photos to my collection - check them out. 

What Cool Fungi will You Find this Summer?



Friday, May 24, 2024

The Den that Octopus Built

The Den That Octopus Built 
by Randi Sonenshine; illus. by Anne Hunter 
32 pages; ages 4-8
‎Candlewick, 2024

theme: ocean, octopus, homes

This is the ledge of sandstone and lime, 
layered with shells cemented by time, 
that shelters the den that Octopus built.

Octopuses build dens. Not only that, they decorate around the outside – sort of like creating a garden. (Wait… isn’t there a song about that?) This octopus also decorates herself with shells to keep safe from predators, and nurtures her eggs that she keeps safe in her den.

What I like love about this book: I love the way Randi Sonenshine works “cephalopod” into her verse. Because, if kids can toss out long words like brachiosaurus, then cephalopod should be a piece of cake. I also like the way that the end of the book is a new beginning. And I especially like the back matter, where Randi discusses why octopuses is right (not octopi) and tentacles are not. She also talks about octopus suckers, smarts, and their short (not-so-sweet) lives.

I loved this book so much that I just had to reach out and ask Randi a Couple of Questions:

Me: In your author notes you mention that you were inspired by Rita. 

Randi: Yes, I was very fortunate to get an up-close and personal meeting with Rita, the resident Giant Pacific Octopus, at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta.
meet Rita!

Me: What did you learn from her? and how did you learn it (I imagine observation, but...)

Randi: My encounter with Rita allowed me to experience a lot of what I learned in my research through all of my senses. I watched her incredible powers of transformation in action: she went from a pale smooth, pinkish-purple to a highly textured bright rusty-red as she swam up for our visit. Her texture and color became even more pronounced when I was feeding her and she was “feeling me out” for the first time. It's hard to describe what I felt and sensed during that first “handshake,” to be honest. Feeling her suckers, which were smooth and cool, but not clammy, while looking each other in the eye/eyes was mind-blowing! This sounds a bit corny, but otherworldly is the best way I can describe it. There was a definite sense of cognition on an almost-human level, like a mutual acknowledgement and understanding.  I could sense her intelligence, and that's not something I could have learned from all of my reading, watching, and interviewing. 

Randi shaking hands with Rita
Me: What else can you share about your research for this book?

Randi: I learned so much fascinating information in my research, that I begged for another two pages of back matter. Alas, I didn’t win that battle, but I was able to include a section on hard bottom/cold-water reefs and the need for conservation efforts. I became especially interested in this topic when I interviewed Dr. Danny Gleason, a professor and researcher at Georgia Southern University and Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary, (which was the inspiration for the setting and illustrations by Anne Hunter). Cold water reefs aren’t formed from living corals like tropical reefs, but from sediments (sand, mud, and shell-fragments) impacted and cemented over time. That’s what inspired the first lines you quote.

Beyond the Books:

Find out more about octopuses. The best way is to meet one in person at an aquarium, but if you can’t do that, you can check out this video about octopuses.

Make an octopus from a paper plate, or a toilet paper tube. Check out ideas for papercraft octopuses here.

If you were an octopus, what sort of a den would you build? Draw a picture of what your octopus home would look like. I would probably build mine out of pillows and blankets so I could curl up and read a good book!

Randi is a member of #STEAMTeam2024. She’s written other books about animals that build: The Nest That Wren Built  and  The Lodge That Beaver Built. 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, May 22, 2024

Explore Outdoors ~ a field trip to Sapsucker Woods

 A couple weeks ago we headed up to Sapsucker Woods (Cornell Lab of Ornithology) for a wildflower walk. I can hear you asking: what about the birds? Oh, they were there - noisy and generally high in the trees where we couldn't see them. Meanwhile, the wildflowers were hanging around, close to the trail, showing off their prettiest blossoms and smiling for the camera.

wild geranium 

These are native woodland plants, found in eastern forests in North America. I think the leaves look like hands with fingers spread out.



 White trillium, another woodland native.











Jack-in-the-pulpit (above) and some fern fiddleheads (below)

Sweet woodruff - it looks like it's related to bedstraw, and it is.


a quiet spot to listen to frogs singing....

and then off to see the geese! Oh, look at those cute fluffy babies!

Friday, May 17, 2024

How to Ask a Caterpillar a Question

 One Long Line: Marching Caterpillars and the Scientists Who Followed Them
by Loree Griffin Burns;  illus. by Jamie Green
64 pages; ages 7-11
‎MIT Kids Press, 2024

“This is a story about unusual caterpillars, curious people, and fascinating conversations,” writes Loree Griffin Burns. The caterpillars are pine processionaries. The caterpillar watchers are Jean-Henri Fabre and Terrence Fitzgerald, one working in France, one working in America, their studies separated by nearly a century.

And the conversations … they were with the caterpillars. How does one ask a caterpillar questions, you ask? If you’re Henri you play tricks on them and observe how they respond. Henri noticed that the caterpillars walked head-to-rear. He noticed that they seemed to follow a strand of silk – except for the leader who was tasked with finding the way. What would happen if he took away their leader? Would a caterpillar always follow the one in front of them? And what would happen if he could get them to march in a circle? When Henri died, he thought he’d answered his questions. But…
   … there was more to find out. At the turn of the millennium Terrence Fitzgerald, an entomologist at SUNY Cortlan began asking his own questions of caterpillars. He’d studied other social caterpillars who used pheromones to communicate, and he wondered whether Henri’s pine processionary caterpillars might have used pheromones. Henri was not around to chat with, but he could ask the caterpillars. One question he asked was: if the leader didn’t lay down any silk, would the others still follow? Terrence would have to play some tricks to get the caterpillars to answer – just like Henri did. You can find out more about his research and watch a video here.    
I love how Loree brought Henri and Terrence’s experiments to life. I love how she showed their process of asking questions, testing, and repeating the tests to learn how the caterpillars do what they do. Most of all, I love how she shows that “Science is one long line of learning.” Henri Fabre wasn’t the first naturalist to wonder about – and study – pine processionary caterpillars. Terrence Fitzgerald won’t be the last. Questions about these caterpillars (and other caterpillars) will continue as long as there are curious naturalists.

It’s not just questions about caterpillars either. Scientists are asking millions of questions about whales and space and dinosaurs and trees and fungi. What sorts of things are you wondering about? And how can you answer those questions?  

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.

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Explore Outdoors ~ apple blossom pollinators

 Last week I was walking by my friend's garden and the air was filled with the sweetness of apple blossoms. The tree was busy with pollinators: honey bees, flies, wild bees. Here are a couple of the pollinators that took enough time at the blossoms to get pollen on their legs and elsewhere.



What pollinators are you finding on the flowers growing in your neighborhood?

Friday, May 10, 2024

An Ocean Adventure with Michelle Cusolito

A Window into the Ocean Twilight Zone: Twenty-Four Days of Science at Sea 
by Michelle Cusolito 
144 pages; ages 10 & up
‎Charlesbridge, 2024

This is an adventure story! Author, Michelle Cusolito takes readers on a twenty-four day research expedition with scientists from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). Destination: the North Atlantic. 

The scientists aboard Research Vessel (R/V) Sarmiento de Gamboa want to learn more about the ocean twilight zone. It lies about half a mile below the surface and scientists know “more about the surface of the moon than they know about the twilight zone,” says Michelle. The scientists are trying to learn more about the biodiversity and food webs in this zone, and how carbon moves from Earth’s atmosphere to the surface of the ocean, down through the twilight zone and eventually to the sea’s floor. To do that, they’ll use sophisticated equipment to help them collect and analyze samples from the ocean.

Chapter by chapter, Michelle introduces the reader to the vessel and the crew. As they head out to sea, she introduces the scientific equipment and the kind of data the researchers hope to collect. Of course, they don’t depend totally on new tech – there’s plenty of old-school ways to collect information about the ocean as they travel.

In one chapter, Michelle focuses on the MOCHNESS – not a monster, but a sophisticated collecting and sensing system. The nets collect creatures from different depths: lanternfish, octopuses, and a diversity of bioluminescent creatures. The sensors collect information about water temperature, salinity, oxygen and light levels. Other chapter focuses on cutting edge technology employed via water sled and underwater robots.

And then there’s the adventures: storms at sea, glitches in hardware that require creative solutions to recover equipment. I like how Michelle ends the book with a discussion  of the future of ocean science. She also presents early findings from the research trip and provides tips for kids who want to study the ocean. And the end pages are maps- so you won’t get lost as you travel along with the crew.

This was such a wild adventure story that I had to ask Michelle a Few Questions ...

Me: Tell us one surprising thing you learned from your adventure at sea. 

image provided by author
Michelle: I learned that Life Savers candies are used in a surprising way in ocean research! Here’s what I wrote in the book (page 79): Weights are attached to one of the candy rings, which is attached to the MINION [an underwater robot]. When the MINION is lowered overboard and into the ocean, the water dissolves the candy. Once the candy ring breaks, the weights fall off and the MINION reaches neutral buoyancy in the twilight zone, which means it hovers at a desired depth rather than sinking deeper or rising back to the surface. Not all Life Savers are up to this task, however. The ones that dissolve at the correct rate are individually wrapped fruit or butter rum ones, which are larger than those in a roll.
Me: How did you come to be part of the expedition? And what was your role/job? 

Michelle: It’s rare for Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) to bring a children’s book author out on an expedition where berths are in high demand. I’ve built a strong working relationship with WHOI since I first connected with them while researching for my first book—Flying Deep: Climb Inside Deep-Sea Submersible Alvin—nine years ago. I strongly believe in WHOI’s mission and do what I can to support it. Writing books that feature their research is one way to do that.
I had three jobs while at sea:
  1. Researching for my book. This included conducting interviews, taking notes, and shooting lots of photos and videos;
  2. Working with another science communicator on board—Marley Parker—to write daily blog posts about the expedition for WHOI; and
  3. Assisting the scientists as needed.
Photo © Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Marley Parker

I generally worked 12-14+ hour days, just like everyone else. (It’s a 24/7 operation). I was on deck and in the lab with the scientists every day and during some overnight shifts. There were times when I’d go to bed at midnight and my alarm would go off at 3:00 am to go document the recovery of a piece of equipment. I’d be on deck working ten minutes later. (Except for the one time I was so exhausted that Marley couldn’t wake me!) 

I loved being in the action and assisting when needed. One of my favorite memories is from a day I helped process the animals brought up in the nets. I got to see creatures that most people will never see. The photo above is of me holding an Atolla Jelly from that day.

Me: A lot of your research was interviews and photos. How did you store your valuable information while at sea? 

Michelle: This expedition took place in May of 2021, so we had to quarantine in a hotel in Spain for two weeks before boarding the ship. While in quarantine, Marley and I conducted Zoom interviews with many of the scientists and engineers. This helped us get a head start on building our understanding of what we’d be observing. I took notes during the interviews, and we recorded them. I later transcribed those interviews. All of the work done in quarantine was backed up to the cloud because we had relatively good internet in the hotel. Once we got on the ship, it was a whole different ball game. 

We had a very poor internet connection on the ship. Marley and I struggled to email simple word documents and relatively small photos back to WHOI for our daily posts. We’d often have to send them late at night when most people were sleeping (and therefore, not using the internet).

On the ship, I took notes in regular old spiral notebooks - I used a total of four for this book! I had brought several pocket-sized notebooks (including a waterproof one) thinking I’d use them on deck, but I never did. There was no time for notetaking on deck. I’d do that as soon as I got back inside. 

I also kept a journal where I collaged and glued in memorabilia while in quarantine. I also recorded my personal feelings and thoughts, not necessarily intending to use them in the book, but a few bits did get in. (The sidebar on page 66-67 was pulled from my journal)

I also took thousands of photos and dozens of videos. I backed those up to an external drive.

Me: Thank you for taking us along on your ocean adventure, Michelle! 

Michelle is a member of #STEAMTeam2024. You can find out more about her at her 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 copy provided by the publisher.

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Explore Outdoors ~ Birds and Bugs Together!

Saturday is World Migratory Bird Day! Did you know that insects are an important food source for migratory birds? If you love to watch birds, make room in your yard for bugs!

Friday, May 3, 2024

Meet some Super Animal Dads

Superdads! Animal Heroes 
By Heather Lang & Jamie Harper 
32 pages; ages 3-7
‎Candlewick, 2024

theme: animal families, STEM

Bringing up babies in the wild is a mighty big job. Animal moms usually get the credit since they’re the ones who do most of the parenting. But some dads take the lead…

Who are these unsung dad heroes? And what do they do? Some, like the brown kiwi, incubate eggs and keep them safe until they hatch. In fact, there’s lots of dads who care for eggs: water bugs, seahorses, and frogs. Some dads hide their young by building a shelter or hiding them under his wings. Dads feed their young and some play with them and teach them life skills, such as hunting or singing.

What I like about this book:

Last year I reviewed Supermoms! so I was really looking forward to a book about dads. Heather and Jamie did not disappoint.

I like the way this author/illustrator duo presents the caretaking tasks dads do as superpowers, from child care and feeding to defending and teaching. And I like that the featured dads come from a diverse list of animals that include fish, amphibians, insects, birds, and mammals.  The cartoon illustrations are fun – like when the wolf pups play tug-of-war with dad – and the animal dialog gives readers an opportunity to stretch their role-playing skills.

And, there is Back Matter! One spread gives each superdad a chance to share a fun fact about his superpower. There’s also a list of books and online resources for curious kids to explore.

Reproduced by permission of the publisher* (full permission at bottom)

I had so much fun reading this book that I just had to ask Heather and Jamie a couple of questions:

Me: Hi Heather. I want to know how you found so many cool examples of Superdads. Can you talk about how you explored your research?

Heather: We knew from our Supermoms! research that moms do most of the parenting in the wild, so finding superdads would be more challenging. But luckily Jamie and I both love a good treasure hunt!

We began with a small list of remarkable dads that we’d discovered while working on Supermoms! Some of those came from a field trip we took to see the Museum of Science’s Nature’s Superheroes exhibit in Boston. Next, we searched the web, books, science articles, blogs, even social media. We watched webcams, YouTube videos made by nature enthusiasts, and many documentaries, including PBS Nature episodes. 

Along the way we reached out to experts for ideas, to confirm facts, and to clarify details. Sometimes this resulted in us cutting an animal. For example, contrary to what you might read, there is no real evidence that male bats nurse their young! I think reaching out to experts to fact check and ask questions is always one of our favorite research steps. Often our scientists share rich details we can add to the text or use in our back matter, and their enthusiasm is always contagious.

With a small pool of dads to choose from we worked to develop categories of parenting behavior. We landed on five: incubation, making a home, feeding, protection, and play. Then we played around with different combinations of animals in each category. We asked ourselves whether the facts were sufficiently different? Did they show a variety of parenting strategies and ecosystems? Which could lead to the funniest images and speech bubbles? What would look the best? It was a complex puzzle, but perhaps made easier by the fact that there were fewer dads to choose from. 

Me: This one’s for Jamie. What goes into deciding how to present illustrations on the page? In Superdads, pages are divided into panels, like a comic book. 

Jamie: Using a comic-book style was a new experiment for me, and a fun one because it gave me the opportunity to show an action happening over a period of time and not just in a single moment. In a way, moving from one panel to the next provides a pause, in the same way turning the page does. Those pauses allow for so much play like creating a surprise, exaggerating an emotion, extending the story, or simply allowing the reader to take a breath. It’s tricky, that’s for sure, but it gives you lots of extra tools when illustrating a book. I got to practice using multiple panels in Supermoms!, which let me loose to challenge myself further when making Superdads. I do wonder… will it be tough to return to illustrating a book, that doesn’t have this “comic book” format?!?

Me: Enquiring minds want to know - Is there a Superkids book in the works? 

Heather & Jamie: What a terrific idea! Actually, we do have some superkids in our next book in the series . . . Supersquads! (coming in 2025). Making these books together has been one giant collaboration, so writing a book about animals that team up in the wild seemed like the perfect choice!

Beyond the Books:

Observe some animal superdads. Some of the easiest to watch are birds. You might see them collecting nesting material or defending their territory by singing and chasing other birds. Do they help keep eggs warm? And can you catch them bringing home take-out meals for the chicks?

Do you have a parent, grandparent, or close relative with “superpowers?” What are they?

Think about the kinds of superpowers you have. You might have super-friendship abilities, a super-imagination, or you’re super-creative. (I once thought I could fly if I practiced. It didn’t work…)

Heather and Jamie are members of #STEAMTeam2024. 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.

* SUPERDADS! ANIMAL HEROES. Text copyright © 2024 by Heather Lang and Jamie Harper. Illustrations copyright © 2024 by Jamie Harper. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Explore Outdoors ~ before the blueberries...

 About 10 days ago I noticed the buds swelling on the blueberry bushes. You can almost feel the impatience of the white flowers inside waiting to burst forth! 

What small bits of beauty will you discover this week?

Friday, April 26, 2024

The Wolves of Yellowstone

 Aha! I’ve found a stash of wolf books in my basket. I’m sharing two of them today, both about wolves reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park. They are great stories to share during Earth Week.

theme: environment, wolves, animal behavior

The Unlikely Hero: The Story of Wolf 8 (A Young Readers' Edition) 
by Rick McIntyre and David A. Poulsen; illus. by John Potter
120 pages; ages 9-12
Greystone Kids, 2024

This is the first book in the Chronicles of the Yellowstone Wolves series and is based on Rick McIntyre’s research and sightings of Wolf 8 when he worked for the national park. Written as close to a wolf’s perspective as possible, this story tells how Wolf 8 struggled as a pup after his family was captured from the wild and introduced to their new home: Yellowstone. It is by turns an adventure tale and a tale of scientific discovery. And while no one can truly know what a wolf thinks, after 44 years of wolf-observation Rick might just come close enough.

Readers follow Wolf 8 as he grows, plays – and fights – with his brothers, and eventually moves away to a new family. We watch him as a father teaching his own pups to hunt, and defending his new pack against other wolves as well as buffalo and grizzlies. The book is filled with a wealth of sound scientific information on wolf behavior and sidebars through which Rick explains how he and other wildlife scientists come to understand the wolves.

If you like stories about underdogs, this one’s for you! 

The Wolves of Yellowstone: A Rewilding Stor
by Catherine Barr; illus. by Jenni Desmond
48 pages; ages 5-8 (and older)
‎Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2022

Yellowstone National Park is home to nearly 2,000 different kinds of wildlife. Birds, fish, elk, bison. Lynx, mountain lions, bears, coyotes. And wolves – at least now there are wolves. Not too long ago it was a place without wolves. Hunters shot wolves if they chased cattle. The US government didn’t interfere with the wolf hunts, and in 1926 the last wolf was killed.

And then things got out of hand. Without wolves, the elk population grew. And grew. And grew. Their grazing changed the habitat, and other animals left. In 1995 Yellowstone made the decision to reintroduce wolves to the park. First, though, they had to trap the wolves. Then they penned them in enclosures so the wolves wouldn’t try to return to their Canadian homes. Finally, after 10 weeks or so, they released the wolves into the wildest parts of the national park.

With the return of the wolves, something started to happen. The elk population declined, and other animals increased their presence in the park. As the number of elk went down, grass had a chance to grow, and trees reappeared along riverbanks. Trees provided habitat for songbirds. Reintroducing wolves created a chain of positive impacts on the ecosystem.

Here’s what I like about this book: The endpapers. The front one, filled with elk tracks; the back one with wolf tracks and hummocks of grasses. I love the illustrations and the section on “how nature works” and there’s a lot of information about wolf life and behavior in this book. If I could change one thing it would be to make the text larger and, on the dark pages, give it more contrast to make it easier to read.

Beyond the Books:

Read: Learn all about the wolves at this Yellowstone National Park page

Watch: 60-Minutes story on the Yellowstone wolves and a PBS (short) video on wolves

Observe: Visit a zoo (or Yellowstone National Park) where you can watch wolves. The Yellowstone wolves are gray wolves, but some zoos have red wolves. Both are interesting to watch.

Draw a picture of a wolf. Compare it to a dog you know … what similarities do you notice? What differences?

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, April 24, 2024

Explore Outdoors ~ tricolored bumble bee

 Last week - on the first sunny day since the rain (and maybe since the eclipse...) I headed outside to see who was up and about. Yes, there were flies in the forsythia, and a woodpecker drumming on a tree somewhere nearby. Then I heard buzzing... the sort of buzzing a bumble bee makes. Sure enough, down in the tiny purple deadnettle blossoms.

There were actually two of them - probably queens out for lunch and possibly house-hunting - Bombus ternarius, commonly known as the tricolored bumblebee (aka orange-belted bumblebee). It was a good day to be flitting about; I also saw a mourning cloak butterfly and a smaller orange butterfly that wouldn't stay still long enough for me to get a good look at it. 

What's buzzing, flitting, and flying about in your neighborhood?

Friday, April 19, 2024

Unexpected Discoveries!

 The Lost Forest: An Unexpected Discovery beneath the Waves
by Jennifer Swanson
56 pages; ages 9-14
‎Millbrook Press, 2024

This book takes readers on an expedition to an underwater forest. Not a forest of kelp or coral, but a forest of cypress trees. Wait! What? Yes – a forest that once grew along the southern gulf coast of the US that is now submerged in 60 or more feet of salt water.

Author Jen Swanson introduces us to the scientists and their story about finding the forest, taking core samples of the sea floor, carbon-dating, and more. Along the way she tosses in sidebars for deeper info dives and QR codes (with links provided) for videos so you can see what the scientists saw.

Here’s the thing: the ancient underwater forest is around 60,000 years old. Our world looked much different then. With so much of the planet covered in ice sheets, the ocean didn’t cover as much of the gulf coastline as it does now. These forests grew on solid ground some 30 to 60 miles farther into the gulf than the current shoreline. Makes one wonder what would happen if the remaining ice sheets melted…

The book is organized in six chapters, with one focused on the first dive, one showing what the scientists looked for – and discovered, and one detailing their attempts to map the forest. There’s a great graphic (and accompanying text) showing the steps of gene sequences. And there’s a discussion about how scientists continued their research during the pandemic.

For me, the final chapter was the most meaningful, as it asks how current ocean depth might provide insight into how climate has affected the ocean in the past. I particularly liked seeing how quickly animals can adapt to unique environments, such as when hurricanes uncovered the forest from layers of mud. The newly emerged trees created micro-ecosystems, providing places sea creatures could use for shelter. The discovery of the forest also raises questions about what might happen to the future of our current coastlines as the planed warms.

I also like the back matter, which includes hands-on activities and more things to explore.

After reading The Lost Forest, I had some questions for Jen:

Me: In your author notes you mention that you were an “adjunct” member of the team. How did that happen?

Jen: I am lucky enough to be good friends with one of the scientists on the team at Nahant Marine Science Center. Dr. Brian Helmuth was one of the experts on my Astronaut-Aquanaut book and we've stayed in touch since then. He called me one day and told me about the underwater forest project and I was sooo excited. He was like, “Hey, would you like to be a member of our team? And maybe even write a kid's book about it?”

I said, “Brian, are you giving me the exclusive on your story?” and he said, “I guess I am.”
My response was, “I'm in!”  I was invited to go on one of their research trips into the Gulf, but those were postponed due to covid. But instead, I got to participate in several of the online team meetings they had. They gave me access to all of their reports, the photos, and the videos. The entire team helped to edit the book and were with me every step of the way. They are SO great to work with! I'm very proud to tell their story.
Me: You love to visit scientists in the field and in the lab. Why is that an important part of your research?
Jen: Seeing the science in action is the best! You can't beat it. You get to watch the scientists perform experiments. You're there when they make connections with the research, and if you're very lucky you're there when they make the discoveries. For me, it's so exciting to see the scientists in their labs, out on the boats, or just be in the meetings while they are discussing what they've learned. It's like how many feel being front row at a concert or something. Yes, I'm a true science geek!

Me: I like how the book ends with considerations of climate change. Because, back in the time of heavy glaciation, the ocean was 30-60 miles away from the current shoreline. And that makes me wonder what a 1-foot sea level rise might look like 25 years from now. Your thoughts?

Jen: Well, that's a good question. And one that we probably don't want to learn the answer to. From what I've read, a 1-foot sea level rise would be devastating to many, particularly the ones that live on any of the coasts near the ocean. For me, I live about 5 miles from the ocean. That might bring the ocean literally to my doorstep as there isn't much in Florida to stop the water once it rises. The one thing I've learned from living near the coast for over 25 year is that water wins! It goes where it wants to, and it's very tough to stop. So, let's hope that this doesn't happen.

Jennifer is a member of #STEAMTeam2024. You can find out more about her at her website, She is also the creator and co-host of Solve It! for Kids podcast

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.


Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Explore Outdoors ~ spring flowers

 Forsythia is blooming like fireworks! And when you look closely at the flowers, you can find tiny visitors. What's blooming in your neighborhood? 

Friday, April 12, 2024

Wilma's Words to Save the Water

Of Words and Water: The Story of Wilma Dykeman--Writer, Historian, Environmentalist
by Shannon Hitchcock; illus. by Sophie Page
32 pages; ages 6-9
‎ Reycraft Books, 2024

theme: Rivers, environment, biography

Born in the Blue Ridge Mountains near the French Broad River, Wilma Dykeman was an only child. Her first words were – “Water coming down.”

Using lyrical language, Shannon Hitchcock tells the tale of an environmentalist who deserves to be better known. An only child, Wilma spent her days exploring ponds and meadows and the creek that ran nearby. She earned a scholarship to college, and after marrying she returned to the Blue Ridge Mountains and the river of her home. She traveled up and down the river, collecting stories about the people who lived there and noticed the pollution that killed the trout and threatened peoples’ livelihoods. Wilma wrote a book about the people living along the river, and a publisher accepted the book. On one condition: she remove what she wrote about water pollution. Wilma refused. She wanted to inspire people to clean up the water and believed that  factories and businesses could coexist with clean water.

When her book was published – about seven years before Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring – people paid attention. 
What I like about this book: I always love a good story about someone working to make this world a better place to live, whether you’re a fish or a person. Her motto was “Be good to the earth, fair to other people, and use words to fight injustice.” Good words to live by whether you live near a stream or in the middle of a city.

I also adore Sophie Page’s artwork. She uses clay, paper, fabric, and wire in her pictures which give them a three-dimensional quality. Blues and greens run through nearly all of the double-page spreads … almost like a river connecting them.

Shannon graciously answered Two Questions:

Me: Why Wilma? What drew you to her story?
Shannon: This book is part of the storytellers’ series I've been writing for Reycraft. In that series we're looking at all the different ways human beings have shared stories. We started with oral storytelling, moved on to sharing stories through music, then story quilts. After that I started searching for an Appalachian author, somebody who shared stories through the written word. Wilma was born in Asheville where I now live, and after seeing an exhibition about her in my local library I thought she would be a good subject. So I started my research.

Me: There is something special about canoeing or rafting down a river: the smell, the sounds, the way the air feels different than on shore. Have you traveled down the French Broad (or maybe another) river? 

Shannon: No, I haven't traveled down the French Broad. The closest I have come is traveling down the Yadkin River on an inner tube! 
Me: Tubing down a river sounds like a relaxing way to spend a hot summer day! Thanks for joining us here on the blog. And for folks who are interested, I had a longer conversation with Shannon a couple years ago about "writing from a sense of place." You can read that over at the GROG blog.

Beyond the Books:

Spend some time near a river – or even in a boat on a river. What do you see? Listen: what sounds do you hear? Does the air smell or feel different the closer you get to a river? Write or draw your observations.

If you have a stream or creek or river nearby, visit it at different times of the year. How does it change? Besides you, what other animals hang out at the river?

Create a mixed-media picture that shows something of the world around you. Some materials to use: different kinds of paper (store bags, giftwrap, origami, construction); fabric; natural materials; clay or play-dough; paint, pencil charcoal, or ink.

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

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Explore Outdoors ~ Lichens and Moss

 There's something about lichens that enchants me. I love the idea of cooperative housing (fungi and algae living together) and how they are such pioneers. Lichens grow on rocks and tombstones and old picnic tables and even trunks and limbs of trees. Here are some I saw over the past week. Granted, the moss is pretty cool, too!

What kinds of lichen have you found lately?