Friday, March 1, 2024

In this corner ... Climate Change

Animal Climate Heroes
by Alison Pearce Stevens; illus. by Jason Ford 
104 pages; ages 8-12
‎Godwin Books, 2024

Just as every story needs a hero, every hero needs a supervillain. In this book that supervillain is Climate Change. “It’s not a living, breathing supervillain,” writes Alison Pearce Stevens, “but it acts like one just the same.” Every year the effects of climate change worsen: record-breaking disasters; wilder wildfires; more severe storms bringing floods – or no rain at all.

It’s time to call in the superheroes! And just who might these heroes be? You could be one. Your voice and actions are your superpowers. But you – and your human friends – are not alone. There are already superheroes out in the wild working to help keep our climate in check. They are the great whales, sea otters, forest elephants, and echidnas, each a hero in their own way. 

They aren’t the only climate heroes in nature. Indeed, there’s a whole bunch of unsung climate-fighters, from algae to trees. But these four are the ones Alison focuses on because of the impact they have on maintaining carbon balance on our planet. Each animal superhero gets its own chapter that details how it captures carbon through its life cycle. There’s also a section in each chapter that shows how we humans can help these animal heroes.

At the end there’s a section on how you can be a climate hero, with practical actions kids – and other humans – can take. They range from the simple (turning off lights and electronics not in use) to those that take more planning, such as planting gardens and trees. The book is illustrated throughout with cartoon drawings, which help keep the Superhero Vibe going.

I wanted to know more about how Alison came up with her idea, so I asked her a question:

photos: Images for a Lifetime
Me: How did you come to the idea of casting climate change as the supervillain instead of, say, fossil fuel corporations? And by doing that, how did it structure the story you wanted to tell?

Alison: Interesting question. No one has asked that before! I honestly never considered casting the fossil fuel empire as the villain, so your question really made me stop to consider why not. It comes down to the spark behind the idea for the book—I heard someone say their favorite fact was that sea otters help fight climate change. Right off the bat, that set up the clash as it’s described in Animal Climate Heroes—animals taking on climate change, itself. As for structure, I initially set it up like a boxing match, with the opponents in opposite corners of the ring, but it morphed into a superhero book during the writing process.

I really don’t know that I could have recast the supervillain as anything else, because animals can’t fight the fossil fuel empire. There simply isn’t a direct interaction there, at least not in a way that animals can have any kind of impact. They can and do, however, help to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which helps us fight climate change. These animals (and others) really are superheroes, and we need to protect them—and other natural spaces—if we want to keep our planet from warming too much.

Thanks, Alison. Alison is a science writer and award-winning children’s author who is also 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 copies provided by the publishers.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Explore Outdoors ~ Tree-gazing

 With leaves gone, it's easier to see lichens and other fungi growing on trees. Here's one I found just a couple weeks ago, along our road. I've walked by this tree nearly every day, but on that day I stopped and spent time looking at it. Really getting to know it - lichen patches and all. 

What will you notice when you go tree-gazing?

Friday, February 23, 2024

An Antarctic Adventure

My favorite time of year to read about polar adventures is in the winter, when snow and sleet swirl around my house and my road resembles a sloped ice rink. That’s when I whip up a steaming mug of hot cocoa and sit by the window, reading about adventures in far off (and much colder) places.

This book doesn’t come out till March 5th, but I wanted to squeeze a review before spring thaw – just in case you want to go outside on a totally NOT-Antarctic-but-still-cold-and-snowy expedition

My Antarctica: True Adventures in the Land of Mummified Seals, Space Robots, and So Much More 
by G. Neri; illustrations by Corban Wilkin 
96 pages; ages 7-10
‎Candlewick, 2024

Themes: Antarctica, animals, adventure

When I was a kid, I dreamed of being an explorer. I hoped to trek to the Poles or dive into the Mariana Trench or rocket to the Moon one day.

Instead, Greg Neri grew up and started writing books for kids. Lots of books – and that unexpectedly landed him in Antarctica. He was (finally) an explorer!

This book is a fun, wonderfully illustrated scrapbook-like memoir of Neri’s expedition to Antarctica as one of three artists/writers to be awarded a National Science Foundation fellowship. Neri confesses that he wasn’t the best science student in school, but he wanted this opportunity to join the expedition and spend time around lots of scientists, all of whom “seemed to be looking for answers to life’s big questions.” He wanted to bring back stories and photos he could share with kids, adventures that might inspire them to explore science.

Neri, who lives in Florida, had a lot to learn, starting with how to dress. Fortunately, he got outfitted with the right gear – SO many layers! He introduces the scientific community living at McMurdo research station and what they’re working on: geology, plants and animals, outer space. His job: to follow different science teams into the field and learn about their research – and then try to explain it to kids.

Here's what I love about this book:
  • The front end papers show a map of Neri’s flight to Antarctica and a map of the ice shelf and landscape;
  • The mix of photos and Corban Wilkin’s annotated comics and illustrations .They not only show what the scientists are working on, but life at the South Pole;
  • The lists he makes (as you probably know by now, I am a list-maker!). His lists include things you won’t find in Antarctica, things you will find, vehicles found around the research station, critters living on the continent, the things people wear, and toilets. Yep, you heard right – toilets; and
  • Back matter, which includes an authors note, facts about Antarctica, books, websites, and other stuff curious folks will want to know.
Beyond the Book:

Fold an origami penguin. You need origami paper or gift wrap with one side that’s white. Here’s a video showing how to make one.

Go on your own expedition to Antarctica. You can start here

Print out 2-3 photos of what you might see if you visited Antarctica. Then add your own cartoon art and a bit of a story. 

You can check out the Antarctic Artists and Writers Collective here. They host events and exhibitions to celebrate Antarctica and have recordings archived on their website. They have a Facebook page, too.

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, February 21, 2024

Explore Outdoors ~ Winter Weeds wear snowy top hats

 Winter is every bit as good for flower-watching as any other season. It's all about appreciating the  seeds and pods and (sometimes prickly) stems. 





When you look closely you can see dainty curls and spirals...





... or perhaps the scraggly hairs and thin points of dried bracts.

 What beauty are you finding in the winter weeds and flowers around you?


Friday, February 16, 2024

Books that Explore Volcanoes

 There are so many ways to explore volcanoes: you could hike up a dormant volcano (there are plenty hanging around North America), or fly over an active volcano. There are also plenty of ways to share your volcano discoveries: you could paint pictures, take photos, write poetry, film a video. Here are two books that take different paths up a volcano.

theme: volcanoes, geology, nature

Climbing the Volcano: A Journey in Haiku 
by Curtis Manley; illus. by Jennifer K. Mann 
48 pages; ages 4-8
Neal Porter Books, 2024

dormant volcano—
but at sunrise each day
it blazes

This book is an adventure story. Author, Curtis Manley shares a “there and back again” tale in which a family hikes up Oregon’s South Sister volcano. Along the way, we discover tiny toads, a trail of pawprints through the snow, butterflies … and what the world looks like from a raven’s point of view. 

What I like about this book: The entire story is told through a series of haiku – small snapshots of the journey. The journey extends over the course of a day, and also through different ecosystems as the family climbs above treeline. There is also back matter: more information about the South Sister volcano; things to carry with you on a mountain hike; a visual guide to the plants and animals observed along the way; and a bit about what haiku is and how you can try to write your own. They may be short, notes Curtis, but they are powerful. Also, did I mention the illustrations? They are marvelous! Make sure you peek under the dust jacket so you can see the ”undies.”

I can’t believe that I’ve had this book lost in my book basket for two years! (That’s what happens sometimes when they come as F&Gs … they are very “slouchy” and easy to lose track of) 

by Gail Gibbons 
32 pages; ages 4-8
‎Holiday House, 2022

The ground begins to rumble. Loud roars, hissing, and violent blasts are coming from deep inside the Earth. Suddenly ….

Ash, lava, rocks, and steam shoot into the air! We’ve got a volcano. Author Gail Gibbons introduces children to the inner earth layers, and what happens when a volcano breaks through the crust. Bold, bright colors will entice children to linger over the illustrations.

What I like about this book: One thing Gail does in her books is show the details. In this one she shows the tools and equipment volcanologists use as they study the volcano, maps of the tectonic plates, and an inside look at how a volcano forms. I like that she includes a list of what to do when there’s a volcano warning and an introduction to famous volcanoes. This book is so fact-filled there is no need for back matter. 

Beyond the Books:

Tour a volcano – above and inside! You can do this safely with this National Geographic video 

Create and map a volcano. Here’s a NASA video that shows how.

Last year, Lestie Barnard Booth shared her field trip to the Fagradalsfjall volcano in Iceland. You can read it here. And here is the CBS 60 Minutes video about it.

Climb a volcano – if you don’t have one nearby, hike up a mountain. What plants and animals do you see on your hike? What do you hear? What does the world look like from the top? Share what you discover by writing your own haiku or drawing a picture.

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 14, 2024

Explore Outdoors ~ the way snow collects

 A couple of weeks ago I took my camera out into the snowstorm. It was one of those "snow globe shook and flakes are flying" days. The snowflakes were fat and heavy and ... wet! Noisy, too - I could hear them SPLOT on the ground as they fell. A good day for watching how snow collects on branches, twigs, and pine needles.

Next time it snows, watch how - and where - the flakes collect.

Friday, February 9, 2024

There's no lack of animal books!

 I am still dredging up books from the bottom of my book basket! Here are two wonderful picture books about animals that were published last year.

theme: animals, ecology, cumulative story

Kind, A call to care for every creature
By Jess McGeachin
32 pages; ages 3-7
Kane Miller EDC Publishing, 2023

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book, given the title, “Kind.” And what did “a call to care” mean? I almost didn’t pick it for review, but I’m glad I did – what a remarkable book. Here’s the first few lines:

In this book you’ll find
Many kinds of things
Some have slippery scales
Some have feathered wings

But kind is more than type
Kind is how to care
For creatures that you meet
And places that we share

On each spread, illustrations depict the diversity of creatures in a group: butterflies, spiders, snakes, penguins. Short verses remind us to be kind to these animals, and at the end remind us to care for our planet and ourselves. 

What I like about this book: What a great resource for exploring similarities and differences within a type of animals. Take butterflies for example. Some are large, with thick bodies while others are tiny. And who knew that there are so many different kinds of frogs! In addition to appreciating the biodiversity of life around us, this book shares a great SEL message. It reminds us to treat those that live around us –  no matter how they look or sound, no matter how many legs or wings they have – with kindness. And it does all of that that using lovely, lyrical language.

Creep, Leap, Crunch! A Food Chain Story      
by Jody Jensen Shaffer; illus. by Christopher Silas Neal 
48 pages; ages 4-8
‎Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2023

There was a blue sky with a bright shining sun, a glorious, life-giving, fiery sun. The day had begun.

We see trees, and plants, and there – right there – is a cricket nibbling sweet grass. A mouse sees the cricket and pounces, because nothing tastes better for breakfast than a crunchy cricket. A milk snake swallows the mouse that gobbled the cricket that nibbled the grass… you can see how this is going, right?

What I like about this book: I like the cumulative structure for a food chain story. I also like that in this story, there’s not a 100-percent chance of catching the food you pounce on. The cricket is too fast for the mouse that, in turn, evades the snake, and so on. Truth is, hunting is hard and sometimes the hunter misses its prey. There is also back matter – an illustrated glossary explaining what a food chain is, more about the setting of this tale (a temperate deciduous forest), and a bit about each of the animals featured.

One more thing I like about this book is … what it’s wearing underneath the dust jacket. The case cover for most of the books on my shelves wears the same illustration as the dust jacket. But every now and then I peek under the jacket and find a surprise. You can find out more about book “undies” here – and they even give out awards

Beyond the Books:

Get to know the biodiversity in your neighborhood. How many kinds of frogs live around you? What about birds and butterflies? How about trees? Maybe draw a picture of all of the different kinds you see.

What can you do to be kind to the environment where you live?

What sort of food chains might you find in your area? Look for animals that eat plants, and find out what eats them. See if you can create a chain of hungry animals that live around you.

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 publisher (KIND) and Blue Slip Media (CREEP, LEAP, CRUNCH).

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Explore Outdoors ~ Nature's Window


I love the way snow clings to beech leaves. It collects in the curls and hollows, along veins and ridges... and pulls my attention to the leaf details. This one, for example. Who gnawed that picture window in it? And do you notice the points along the margin?

What do you notice about winter leaves this week?

Friday, February 2, 2024

Arthropods and the People who Love Them!

 It’s Groundhog Day – and that means that we are Halfway To Spring! Soon there will be snowfleas hopping about, and sap moths – I can’t wait. But for now, while snow and ice make bug life hard, I’m sharing a couple of fun books. You get a two-fer today because my book basket is filling up faster than I can post reviews…

themes: nature, insects, arthropods

Is this a House for a Hermit Crab?
By Megan McDonald; illus. by Katherine Tillotson
40 pages; ages 4-8
‎ Neal Porter Books, 2024 (originally published 1990)

I became acquainted with hermit crabs while doing field research on Cocos Island, Costa Rica. I loved watching them toddle across the beach, carrying snail shells on their back. So when I had kids, of course I read them this book. Now, re-visioned with new artwork, it is just as fun to read as it was more than 30 years ago.

Hermit Crab was growing too big for the house on his back.

So up, onto the shore he climbs as he sets out to find a new house. Something that will give him room to grow and keep him safe from his enemies – especially the porcupine fish. Hermit Crab tries one improbable thing after another – a rock, a tin can… but before he can complete his quest, a wave washes him back into the sea where a hungry porcupine fish lurks!

What I like about this book: The language! Megan McDonald indulges our senses with words that evoke the sounds of the crab scuttling along the beach. Scritch-scratch, scritch-scratch. Then there’s the repetition of this line every time Crab sets off to find a new home: he stepped along the shore, by the sea, in the sand. And there is back matter. Megan explains more about hermit crabs and includes fun facts, such as how many legs they have and how they are best friends with sea anemones. And – whew! Hermit Crab manages to find a home in the nick of time so he doesn’t become a fish meal.

If you read my blog much, you know I am passionate about bugs! So I was eager to get my tarsi on this new-to-the-States book!

The Girl who Loves Bugs
By Lily Murray; illus. by Jenny Løvlie
32 pages; ages 4-8
‎Peachtree, 2024  

 Evie loves bugs! Fat bug and thin bugs and bugs that can fly, beautiful butterflies filling the sky.

She loves bugs SO much that she brings them inside. And then they … escape! On the day Great Gran and the family are coming to visit. What happens when they sit down for a big meal and find bugs on the plates and chairs? But ... instead of being sent to her room, Evie learns that Great Gran loves bugs, too. Together they come up with a marvelous solution for Evie’s desire to care for her mini-beasts.

What I like about this book: What a fun story for kids – and inspired by a real entomologist: Evelyn Cheesman. I like the way we discover that "loving bugs" is fine, as long as they are loved and admired in their own habitat (which is where they feel safest). I love the endpages filled with fanciful insects. And there is back matter! Lilly Murray tells us a bit more about Evelyn Cheesman and shares two fun buggy activities

Beyond the Books:

Some hermit crabs line up to trade shells with their friends. Here’s a video showing how hermit crabs switch shells. And some hermit crabs don’t even bother with shells. They use plastic bottle caps and other trash. You can find out more here.

Pretend you are a hermit crab seeking a safe place to snuggle. What sorts of things might you choose for your home? A sleeping bag roll? A large pillow? A cardboard box? Try it on for size…

Make a Bug Hotel for the beetles and other insects hanging out in your yard. Bug hotels can be pretty simple. Begin with a wooden frame (a CD crate works well) and fill with bundles of sticks, pine cones, leaves, moss, and lichens. This article from University of Vermont can help you get started.

Want to read more about Evelyn? Check out this review of Evelyn The Adventurous Entomologist  I wrote just a few years ago.

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, January 31, 2024

Explore Outdoors ~ Seeds in the Garden

 I am one of those "lazy" gardeners who doesn't clean up at the end of the season. I leave the seedheads standing, hoping that birds will drop by and chow down on the seeds over winter. And sure enough, they have.

Not all seeds are gone... many of the milkweed pods are still filled with seeds and their fine, fibrous parachutes. Every time we get a strong wind, I expect these seeds to take flight. But no, even though the wind tugs at their fibers, they continue to cling to their cozy pod. Maybe next storm...

What seeds are you finding in gardens and along roadsides?

Friday, January 26, 2024

Fighting about Fossils...

I grew up in the land of Dinosaur skeletons. I loved to visit the natural history museum at the University of Utah just so I could walk through the dinosaur exhibit and imagine those thunderous creatures stomping across the hillsides. What I didn’t know – and didn’t learn until much later – was how much our exhibits depended on a war… a Bone War! So I was delighted when this book came out just a couple months ago…

The Bone Wars: The True Story of an Epic Battle to Find Dinosaur Fossils 
by Jane Kurtz; illus. by Alexander Vidal 
40 pages; ages 3-8
‎Beach Lane Books, 2023

theme: biography, paleontology, fossils,

In 1863 two smart, bold young men met for the first time. They had a lot in common. O.C. Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope were fascinated by science.

They tromped around fossil beds together and even named fossils after each other. Friends forever, right? Until…

Marsh pointed out a mistake Cope had made in describing Elasmosaurus. Cope had attached the skull to the tail end, and Marsh was delighted to point out this error! From now on it was all-out competition to see who would make the next big fossil discovery. No more working together for these two. Instead there was trickery! Espionage! Skullduggery!

What I like about this book: Young paleontologists will love reading about the race to discover new dinosaur fossils and the work it takes to get them out of the rock and into museums. The discoveries Cole and Marsh uncovered inspired other scientist to look for bones as well as eggs, skin, footprints – even fossilized poop (called coprolite, in case you’re wondering). Even now paleontologists are out in the field searching for more bones and fossilized dino-bits.

Then there’s the story of two dedicated scientists who could have been great, but ended up destroying their lives in a bitter rivalry that grew into the Bone Wars. What could they have accomplished had they worked together?

Back matter includes notes from the author and illustrator, who remind readers that scientists are learning more about dinosaurs every day. And there’s a list of resources and suggested reading for curious kids who want to dig deeper.

Beyond the Books:

Think like a paleontologist with the educators at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. This 20-minute video encourages viewers to make close observations, form a hypothesis, and use information from fossils to understand more about extinct creatures. There’s also a visit to the Fossil Prep Lab to learn how fossils are prepared for research and display.

Check out these fun activities from the Los Angeles Natural History Museum – from coloring pages to dying dino-like eggs to making your own fossil. 

Plan how you could tackle a huge project that needs to get done. Maybe it’s cleaning out the garage, or mowing and raking the yard. Would it be better to have someone help you? How would you divide the work? When things don’t go smoothly, how might you solve disagreements? Once you’ve thought things through, gather your team and tackle that project.

Here are reviews of other books about paleontologists:
The Dinosaur Expert, by Margaret McNamara

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 Blue Slip Media.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Explore Outdoors ~ Birds playing in the snow

 This week we've had some snow ... which means when squirrels zip over to the feeder, I can see their tell-tale tracks in the snow. Deer and squirrels aren't the only ones leaving tracks. My friend, Trish Engelhard, and I have been enjoying evidence of some bird fun outside our back doors.

photo by Trish Engelhard

Over on Trish's side of the hill, the birds have been making Snow Angels!







Meanwhile, on my hill the juncos are holding square dances.




What kinds of stories do the birds leave in the snow where you live?


Friday, January 19, 2024

How the Sea Came to Be

I’m always on the lookout for good books that show evolution of life on our planet. I can’t believe I missed this one when it came out last spring – but I got a copy last month and I’m glad I did. It’s lovely! Just look at the gorgeous cover art ...

How the Sea Came to Be (And All the Creatures In It)  
by Jennifer Berne; illus. by Amanda Hall 
56 pages; ages 6-10
‎Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2023

theme: ocean, marine animals, evolution

Billions and billions of years long ago,
when the Earth was young and new,
the world was so hot, rock melted and boiled,
and fiery, wild winds blew.

The birth of our planet was hot and sizzly. Volcanoes exploded. Asteroids crashed from the sky. But over time our planet began to cool. Rains washed into low spots, filling oceans and creating habitat ripe for emerging life. Simple organisms paved the way for ribbed and frilled creatures, spongy clusters clinging to rock, worms, trilobites … eventually fish.

What I like love about this book: I love the language in this book! So many verbs. The young Earth sizzles, simmers, bubbles and burbles. As it cools, the crust heaves and puckers, wrinkles and bulges. I love that you have to turn the book, at one point, to get a vertical view of the deep, deep sea. The lyrical language introduces young readers (and listeners) to geology, oceanography, marine biology, and the diversity of life that has inhabited the seas over four and a half billion years.

And there is Back Matter! We are still discovering, still learning, says Jennifer Berne in her author’s note. Gate-folds open to show more about ocean creatures through time. There’s a glossary of key terms and concepts, and lots of resources: books, videos, webpages, museums and aquariums. This book is a tremendous resource for any classroom – and guaranteed to ignite the imagination of any child interested in the ocean.

Beyond the Books:

Visit a museum and look at the displays of fossils of ancient sea life. My favorites are trilobites!

Check out this video of Trilobites (here). Remember when I said trilobites are my faves?

Write or draw a story about exploring the ocean and some ancient creatures you find.

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. Since this book also appeals to older readers, look for us on Monday over at Marvelous Middle Grade Monday. 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, January 17, 2024

Explore Outdoors ~ Funky Winter Fungi

 Welcome Back to a New Year of nature breaks, seasonal observations, and outdoor exploration. I now have a macro-lens that clips onto my mobile phone! And that allows me to see things "up close and personal"  - it's like having a hand-lens attached to the camera. So of course I took it out for a walk!

I love lichen, so of course I just had to take some photos! Some lichens look crusty and tough, but it's not until you look closer that they look a bit ... scaly, like tiny dragons raising their heads above the field of leafy fronds.

Others look sharp and dangerous - like deer antlers!

There are all kinds of soft fungi growing on old logs. These looked like someone had pushed a bunch of yellow trumpet-shaped tacks into the wood. Hey look! you can even see the mycelium network spreading across the log.

What tiny natural wonders will you discover this week?