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?

Friday, March 29, 2024

If a Tree Falls...

One Day This Tree Will Fall     
By Leslie Barnard Booth; illus. by Stephanie Fizer Coleman 
40 pages; ages 4-8 
Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2024

theme: trees, ecology, life

Look at it. Wounded, worn, twisted, torn. One day this tree will fall and this story will end.

But before that day, we should know how this tree began as a tiny seed, folded inside a cone. Using lyrical language, Leslie Barnard Booth shows how this tree grew, surviving the challenges of storm and wildfire. And she shows how, even as it dies, it provides life for the forest.

What I like about this book: I love how Leslie shows a Douglas fir tree as more than just a tree; it is a habitat for hummingbirds and squirrels, spiders and insects. Even after it falls it continues to provide a place for moss and fungi to grow, a home for ants and salamanders, and hollow spaces for larger animals to curl up and nap. This is a perfect life cycle story, accompanied with lovely art. You’ll never look at a tree the same way after this. And there is Back Matter! So if you want to learn more about life, death, and life after death in the world of the Douglas fir, Leslie’s got you covered.

I’ve got an oak trunk lying beyond my garden that I’ve been watching for the past handful of years. It was struck by lightning and threatened to fall, so we had to cut it. Most went to firewood, but the trunk was so big that we decided to leave it to nature. It’s one of my favorite places to explore (currently at the lichen, moss, fungi stage). So I knew I just had to ask Leslie a Couple Questions:

Me: How did you come to this structure, this way of telling the story? 

Leslie: The seed of this story came from a few places. At the preschool my children attended and where I worked for a time, a group of kids in another class were doing this amazing study of a rotting stump. They were dissecting it and learning about all the little critters that lived inside it. At the same time, I was reading Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees. This book made me think of trees differently—as responsive organisms with dramatic life histories. The incredible drama of a tree’s life is often hidden from us because it occurs on a timescale too long for us to observe and appreciate. But in a book, we have all the time we want! We can spend 1,000 years watching a single tree! So, I knew I wanted this book to cover a tree’s whole life, and to be dramatic—to show the tree’s active struggle to live. I decided I wanted the reader to care about the tree, to love the tree, to identify with it, so that the idea of the tree eventually falling and dying is sad. But then, I wanted to prove to the reader that trees live on, even after they die. Which is true! A dead tree, as those preschoolers discovered, is absolutely chock full of life. So, knowing that’s what I wanted to accomplish, it occurred to me to set up the story of the tree almost like a cradle to grave biography, but one where the concept of “grave” is upended. Because, in the context of a forest ecosystem, a tree’s story has no end. 

Me: Did you explore other ways of telling the story?

Leslie: The initial version of the book was called GROW and it included more emphasis on the way the tree reacts and responds to its environment. My editor wanted to really focus in on the tree’s death and decay as the heart of the story, and she was so right! Which is all to say that the basic structure stayed the same, but that I had to chisel away some major pieces to make space for the book's central theme to really come through. 

Thank you, Leslie. And now, let’s do some activities that take us…

Beyond the Books:

Go log-looking. When you find a downed trunk or a stump, take some time to really look at it. Draw a picture of moss, lichens, fungi and other things growing on your log.

If you find a small log, look around it. Are there nooks and crannies for animals? If you can roll it a little bit, see what’s hiding under it – just remember to roll it back.

Collect tree seeds and plant them. Acorns, pine seeds, maple seeds, sycamore, buckeye … put a couple seeds in an old yogurt cup with some soil and see what grows! Just be mindful of where you plant it once it starts growing. 

Leslie 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, March 27, 2024

Explore Outdoors ~ appreciating the other side of a flower

  This shaggy yellow flower is not a dandelion! It's a coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) and is the first flower to push up through the soil in mud season - at least in our area of upstate NY. One way you can tell it's a coltsfoot is that there are flowers, but no leaves. Dandelions shoot up leaves first, then bloom.

Another way you can tell is by the stem. Dandelions have smooth stems that leak sticky white sap when you break them These stems look rather scaly with all those bract-like leaves on the stem. And when their leaves do finally emerge, they are roundish - like a colt's foot, not spear-shaped like dandelion leaves.

What do you notice when you look at the back sides of flowers growing near you?

Friday, March 22, 2024

Celebrating Seeds and a book anniversary

 I missed this book by a fellow Sleeping Bear Press author when it released last year, so I’m celebrating its One Year Anniversary! Full disclosure: I am a gardener and seed-saver… so yeah, I may be a bit biased.

Every Little Seed  
by Cynthia Schumerth; illus. by Elisa Paganelli 
32 pages; ages 5-8
Sleeping Bear Press, 2023

theme: gardening, rhyme, family

 Grandpa told Mom, and Mom told me: The secret of a plant lives in every little seed.

When spring finally arrives, it’s time to plant seeds. This story follows a girl, her grandpa, and her mom as they plant and tend their garden over a season, We are introduced to a variety of garden tools – a wonderful illustration shows all the different things you might use, from claw-cultivator to trowel! The story brings us full circle, by collecting seeds for planting the next year.

What I like about this book: There are so many things to notice, from the differences in seeds to the small creatures that call the garden home. Some of them help pollinate the flowers; some of them are nibblers, chewing on plants we don’t want them to eat! So I appreciate that non-chemical solutions are shown for dealing with unwanted hungry garden guests.

There’s back matter, too (which you know I love!) with information about what’s inside seeds, invasive plants and animals, and some seed-related activities. And the illustrations are lovely. Here's a sample from Elisa Paganelli's gallery

Since I am a gardener, I knew I just had to ask Cynthia Schumerth a question or three…

Me: Hi Cynthia. I save seeds from the beans and pumpkins in my garden, and from flowers growing in my garden and around my yard. I’ve been known to collect seeds from flowers along roadsides and even from other people’s gardens! With their permission, of course. Do you save seeds? And what do you like to save?

Cynthia: I do save seeds.  Most of the seeds I save are from my annual flowering plants. My favorite are my Cosmos flowers.  When they dry on the stem, their seeds form a star.  You just have to slide your fingers over them and they release like magic. I always save my zinnia and marigold seeds too.  I even planted a lemon seed I saved and it grew into a lemon tree. I live where it’s cold in the winter, so I have to keep the tree inside from October to May. If you pinch the leaves they smell like lemon, it’s pretty neat.  But I’ve never gotten any actual fruit. I’ve also collected milkweed seeds and spread them out in open fields and along the roadside. It’s my way of helping the monarchs who need milkweed to lay their eggs on.

Me: Yes – dried cosmos seedheads are like asterisks in the garden! Did your own gardening experiences inspire your book? 

Cynthia: I grew up in a gardening family.  I had country grandparents who grew mostly vegetables and berries and of course fields of wheat and corn. I spent many hours in the garden with my Grandma picking peas and strawberries and red currants. And my sister and I helped Grandpa collect the corn seeds from the dried field corn. In the city my grandparents had a vegetable garden, and they grew beautiful flowers.  I learned a lot about flowers from them.  In parts of their garden they didn’t collect seeds, they’d just flatten the dried up plants down and let them reseed for next year. My parents had a large vegetable garden and several large flower beds.  They were always working out in the garden and of course we all helped.  I think we ate more than we picked! I guess you could say my grandparents and my parents helped me write this story by teaching me all about gardening and love as I grew up. 

Me:  Do you have favorite seeds and flowers?

Cynthia: While cosmos is my favorite seed to collect, my favorite flower is the violet. My second favorite is the forget-me-not. In our first house I grew forget-me-knots along our fence line and for some reason the birds would come along and cut the stem just under the flower head and all the pretty blue flower heads would fall to the ground. I often wonder why. I think Hollyhock seeds are interesting. It’s just really fun to take a closer look at dried up flowers in the fall and see all the different ways you can find their seeds hiding on the plant. It’s also interesting to see all the different shapes that seeds come in even if you don’t collect them.

Thanks for dropping by to talk about seeds and gardening, Cynthia. And now for one of my favorite parts of writing reviews – doing things that go…

Beyond the Books:

Plant some seeds and watch them grow. Beans, sunflowers, and other flowers are fun to grow – and you can even grow them in pots on your balcony, porch, or roof if you don’t have a garden.

Watch flowers you plant – or that you find growing in your neighborhood – throughout the season. Can you tell when they are producing seeds? Collect seeds from different flowers to examine. Cosmos, calendula, bee balm, and yucca are interesting to look at. What do you notice about these seeds? Plant some to see how they grow.

How do seeds get from a parent plant to a new place to grow? Look for milkweed or dandelion seeds, burdock seeds, and seeds in berries. What do you notice about these seeds? How do you think they end up in a new place?

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, March 20, 2024

Explore Outdoors ~ Spring Trees

The Vernal Equinox occurred an hour before midnight. So (despite the snow) it's officially Spring! And for the last couple weeks, some of the trees in my yard have been getting ready to flower. Here are two of them: a red maple and a birch.

What are the trees doing in your neighborhood?

Friday, March 15, 2024

The Hole Truth and Nothing But...


This Book Is Full of Holes: From Underground to Outer Space and Everywhere In Between 
by Nora Nickum; illus. by Robert Meganck 
40 pages; ages 6-9
Peachtree, 2024

theme: emptiness, science, art

What is a hole? A hollow place. An empty space. A part of something where there’s nothing at all.

But wait, says author, Nora Nickum. There is something to these holes – and so many places to find holes. From indentations in your waffles to nesting cavities in trees, there are holes all around us. Think about holes in the ground, or in a wiffle ball. Holes in a sprinkler or holes in the ozone layer. Sock holes, worm holes, animal burrows, Swiss cheese … this book is filled with holes!

What I like about this book: It’s fun! Nora provides great examples of holes we can find in our everyday life, from man-made stuff to nature. For each example she provides a layer of explanatory text. The back matter is just as fun. There’s an entire section called “English is full of holes,” where Nora focused on idioms and phrases we commonly use: loophole; down the rabbit hole… And there’s a section about black holes which are not holes at all.

I reached out to Nora with a few questions…

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

Nora: The first holes I found myself wondering about were the teeny tiny holes in airplane windows and big, beautiful blue holes in the ocean. As I wrote, it turned into a book about all different kinds of holes, and what makes a hole a hole. Then I went down a lot of rabbit holes doing research about all different kinds of holes, and picking my favorites to include in the book.

Me: Are donut holes really holes?

Nora: It depends. Some donuts do have holes, of course. Bakers probably first made a hole in donuts because the gooey dough in the middle wouldn't fully cook in the frier. Dough would be punched out of the center when the donut was made. But larger bakeries now have machines that shape donuts to be rings so there's nothing left over. The term "donut hole" these days is often used for a spherical mini donut which is not a hole--and which, fortunately, is much tastier than a hole would be. 

Me: Are you telling the hole truth here?

Nora: Well, this is a nonfiction book, so yes, the hole truth and nothing but the truth. There are no holes in my research, and you can't poke any holes in my arguments. Putting fictional things in this nonfiction picture book would be like trying to put a square peg in a round hole, so none of that. Just pure, not-silly-in-the-least nonfiction. Okay, maybe I found some room for some silliness.

Hole-some Beyond the Books activities:

Go on a hole-finding expedition through your house. You might find some clothes with holes, pots, a guitar, faucets, and more… How many holes can you find?

Look for holes in nature around you. Check for holes in trees, logs, in the ground, in leaves and flower petals. 

Make a pinhole eclipse-viewer. All you need are two index cards (or ½ sheets of cardstock) and a pushpin or very sharp pencil. Instructions in this very short video.

Nora 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 f&g provided by the publisher.

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Explore Outdoors ~ Who's hanging out in the Crocuses?


Last week I noticed crocuses popping up in yards down in town. Lots of crocuses. So I wandered over to see whether any insects might be checking them out. I expected bees - maybe early bumble bees, though to tell the truth, March 10 is very early for anyone to be waking up and heading outside.

I didn't see any bees, but I did notice flies. Some were tiny and dainty; others were like this stout fellow.

What flowers are blooming in your neighborhood?
And what insects are visiting them?

Friday, March 8, 2024

It's Raining, It's Pouring ...

A Place for Rain   
by Michelle Schaub; illus. by Blanca Gómez 
32 pages; ages 4-8
‎Norton Young Readers, 2024

theme: rain, problem-solving, environment

We watch the raindrops drop.

Children, warm and dry inside, watch the rain pour down, puddle, pool, and fill the playground and parking lot, flood sidewalks, and run off into the road where it mixes with grit and grease. From there, the stream of water runs into storm drains and eventually into creeks, groundwater, or the ocean. 

The kids begin to wonder if they could collect some of that rain for a droughty day. And maybe they could keep it from pooling on the playground. Their solution: build a rain garden.

What I like about this book: I love the language, the onomatopoeia of plink, plop, pitter-patter, splutter-splatter. I like how Michelle Schaub highlights an important environmental issue by showing one solution –  a solution many cities are embracing as they focus on mitigating stormwater damage. And I really like that the Back Matter shows how people of all ages can Make Room for Rain with step-by-step instructions on how to build a rain garden.

A couple weeks ago, I caught up with Michelle (via the wonders of email) and asked her a couple questions.

Me: What inspired you to write a picture book about building a rain garden?

Michelle: I’ve always been passionate about using water and land sustainably, and I planted my first rain garden over ten years ago to help solve the problem of stormwater flooding my driveway. As I worked on the garden with my own children, I thought that the process would be fun to explain in a picture book.

Me: Why do you think this is an important story to share with children?

Michelle: In the face of doom and gloom news about climate change, A Place for Rain provides children with positive, attainable actions they can take to make a difference, whether it’s planting a full rain garden, or simply adding a rain barrel to a downspout to catch and reuse water.

Me: I agree, Michelle! Now for my favorite part of my Friday picture book reviews …

Beyond the Books:

Next time it rains, observe how and where the rain collects. What do you notice?

How much rain falls in a rainstorm? You can measure your rainfall if you have a big bucket and a ruler. Put the bucket in an open spot in your yard or driveway – not under roof eaves or trees. Then, after the storm measure how much rain fell.

Collect rainwater that comes off your roof by putting buckets under the eaves or a rain spout. How much collects? What could you use collected rainwater for? (water flowers, wash your bike, flush toilets…)

Michelle has written many books for kids, including Dream Big, Little Scientists. You can check out my review here on this blog

Michelle 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, March 6, 2024

Explore Outdoors ~ A Wee Pine Tree

This past year was a huge pine cone year! There are cones covering my yard, the road to the hayfield, and edges of the fields. Stepping on soggy white pine cones isn't nearly as dicey as treading on roly-poly acorns, and for the time being I have left them alone. Partly because, on one of my walks, I discovered a few white pine younglings sprouting up.

 I got to wondering who, if any of my wild neighbors, might snack on white pine seeds and cones - or even tender needles. Turns out there are a bunch of local mammals and birds who might, including:
black bears
gray squirrels
red squirrels
eastern cottontails
white-footed mice
eastern chipmunks
white-tailed deer
yellow-bellied sapsucker
black-capped chickadee
white-breasted nuthatch
pine warbler
pine grosbeak
red crossbill
white-winged crossbill
evening grosbeak
pine siskin.

In addition to food, White pines provide nesting sites. Here are a few birds who make their homes in the white pines:
sharp-shinned hawks and cooper's hawks (nests on large branches next to the trunk)
broad-winged hawks (nests in a crotch near the top of the tree)
barred owls (nest in trunk cavities and use the tree as a roost)
least flycatchers
blue jays
common ravens
American crows
common grackles
mourning doves
olive-sided flycatchers
yellow-rumped warblers (and other warblers)
evening grosbeaks
purple finches

Even more birds use white pine needles as nesting materials. So I'll be leaving my cones scattered around my yard for a bit longer... 

You can find out more about White pines and how they fit into our ecology here.

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?