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?

Friday, April 5, 2024

A Farm is a Farm...


Outdoor Farm, Indoor Farm   
by Lindsay H. Metcalf; illus by Xin Li 
32 pages; ages 5-9
Astra Young Readers, 2024

theme: farming, comparison, rhyme

 Outdoors, indoors, big or bitty, through the seasons, country, city … Farms are farms no matter where. What’s the recipe they share?

This fun-to-read, rhyming book follows two farm kids through the seasons. One lives on an outdoor farm, where “field meets sky.” One works with their parents on the indoors farm, where trays are stacked on shelves that reach floor to ceiling. Where outdoor crops get sun and rain, indoor crops get mist and artificial light.

What I like about this book: I like the way pen-pal letters bookend the story. And I really like the compare-and-contrast structure of the book. Readers are introduced to two very different ways of growing fresh vegetables. And there’s back matter! Lindsay Metcalf talks about why farms are changing and shares more information about planting, growing, and harvesting on the two types of farms. There are also links to activities, such as how to grow your own hydroponic crop in a bottle.

Xin Li gallery

Being a gardener, I knew I had to ask Lindsay a couple or three questions.

Me: How did the idea of writing about indoor gardens come to you?

Lindsay: A video came to my attention about AeroFarms, a vertical, aeroponic farm in a large New Jersey warehouse. I immediately wanted to write about them in some capacity and made a note in my ideas file. Then, when Vivian Kirkfield’s 50 Precious Words contest came up that spring, I decided my entry would compare and contrast that vertical farm outdoor family farm I’d grown up on in north-central Kansas. My dad and brothers still raise corn, soybeans, milo, and sometimes wheat.

Me: I love the compare/contrast structure - and the seasonal arc. Can you talk about how you came to that structure? 

Lindsay: The compare/contrast element was present from the very first draft. At that time, I was calling the two farms “old farm” and “new farm,” but I decided that language pitted them against each other, when really, I wanted to showcase the innovation and adaptation in both types of farms. The seasonal structure came after several drafts. I realized I needed an arc that tied both farms together. The seasons were a natural fit.

Me: Do you grow veggies? If so, do you have an outdoor garden or an indoor garden?

Lindsay: I do, although not particularly well. We have a couple of small outdoor plots here at home that I’ve been building up with compost for the last few years. Last year we grew several varieties of tomatoes, cilantro, basil, okra, and cantaloupe. My dad keeps a large garden at his farm, usually with potatoes, onions, cucumbers, lettuce, bush beans, and several other things, including a perennial failed stand of carrots. Sometimes I help with that garden as well. I also have a tiny indoor garden that I am planning to set up in the next week or so.

Thank you, Lindsay. Now let’s go do some activities that take us…

Beyond the Books:

Visit a farm. If you don’t live near farms, contact your local cooperative extension office and ask where you could visit a farm. You might find a berry farm or a dairy farm, a veggie farm or a tree farm… or maybe an indoor farm!

Grow your own carrots in recycled water bottles. Cut the bottles off at the shoulder and poke holes in the bottom for drainage. Fill with potting soil. Plant a few seeds – you’ll thin to one strong seedling eventually. Put the carrot water-bottle-planters in the sun on your porch or balcony and make sure they have water. Add a bit of compost every week or so. Carrots usually take 50-60 days to mature. I check to see how big their shoulders are.

Support your local farmers! Visit farm markets and buy some vegetables to make a fresh salad or lunch snacks.

Lindsay 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. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Explore Outdoors ~ Look Closely to Find Spring


 Spring has sprung, they say. And sure, a couple of daffodils have bloomed. But for the most part, my yard is boring...

It looks bare and brown with a bit of moss here and there and scraggly tufts of grass and lots of dead leaves.

But look closer...

... lots of teensy mustards blooming. You can tell they're mustard flowers because they have four petals. These are growing in thin soil over rocky ground and I think they are one of the rock cresses. 

What's growing in your lawn?