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.