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By: Arbordale Publishing,
One amazingly interesting creature is the octopus; this cephalopod can twist and turn its body into many shapes, suction to all types of surfaces, and use a cloud of ink to distract predators. This week, researchers uncovered the California two-spot octopus’s ability to sense light through its skin.
When the scientist shone a beam of light on the skin of an octopus the chromatophores (pigmented structures in the skin) expanded and the skin changed color. When the light was turned off, the chromatophores contracted again and the octopus was back to its original color. Why does this happen? Scientists determined that the octopus’ skin has proteins called opsins that work with the chromatophores for this reaction to occur.
(Read more about the experiments here)
Changing colors is nothing new in the octopus species; they can become red with anger, or transparent in sunlight. The more tools the creature has to camouflage itself the better chance for survival in the wild depths of the ocean where predators are abundant.
To learn more about the octopus or how other animals use light in the depths of the ocean here is a short underwater reading list!
Octavia and her Purple Ink Cloud
Octavia Octopus and her sea-animal friends love playing camouflage games to practice how they would hide from a “big, hungry creature.” Octavia, however, just cannot seem to get her colors right when she tries to shoot her purple ink cloud. What happens when the big, hungry shark shows up looking for his dinner? This creative book introduces basic colors along with the camouflage techniques of various sea animals; a great introduction to marine biology!
A Day in the Deep
Travel deep into the ocean way below the surface and you’ll encounter some creatures you never knew existed! This book takes you on a journey through the dark depths of the sea towards the ocean floor. Most ecosystems need sunlight, but deep in the ocean where the sun doesn’t shine animals have adapted some very interesting ways to see, protect themselves, and eat. Discover the unique habitats, adaptations, and food chains of these deep -sea creatures.
Ocean Hide and Seek
The sea is a place of mystery, where animals big and small play hide and seek! Can you imagine a shark hiding in the light? What about a clownfish in plain sight? Don’t believe it? Then, sink into the deep blue sea with Jennifer Evans Kramer and Ocean Hide and Seek! Surround yourself with the vibrant ocean illustrations of Gary R. Phillips. The ocean is an old, old place, and the exotic animals in the depths have learned to adapt to their surroundings to survive. Can you find the creatures hidden on every page? Or will you, too, be fooled by an ancient, underwater disguise?
As we continue to feature wildlife rehabilitators this month on the Sylvan Dell blog, this week we meet Kim Johnson from The Drift Inn Wildlife Sanctuary. She shares with us the trials and tribulations of rescuing wild animals.
Texan Kim Johnson often works with her veterinarian husband and a tiny volunteer group at her Drift Inn Wildlife Sanctuary in Driftwood to care for a wide variety of mammals, including raccoons, squirrels, deer, fox, skunks, even bobcats. “Every year is different and I never know exactly what to expect” says Kim, one of a small handful of licensed rehabilitators in her state, “During Hurricane Ike, 200 squirrels were delivered to my front door.”
Despite her hectic schedule caring for wild animals, many of them babies, for 14-18 hours a day, seven days a week, Kim never seems to lose her sense of humor. “If it’s native and it lives in Texas, it’s been in my house, and maybe even if it’s not native,” she quips.
In many of the pictures that Kim submitted for possible use in Animal Helpers, she is wearing a big smile and very heavy welder’s gloves. The grin is, of course, because Kim loves her job. The gloves are because she is smart and seasoned. After 33 years as a rehabilitator, Kim is keenly aware that those gloves are mandatory equipment for handling fuzzy babies that have big paws, sharp teeth, and claws.
Name: Kim Johnson
Name of organization/clinic: The Drift Inn Wildlife Sanctuary
Specialty/special areas of experience: Mammals, raptors
Years as rehabilitator/volunteer: 33 years
Busiest time of year: May-July
Number of hours you work per week during your busy season: 18+ hours a day 7 days a week
Number of volunteers in clinic: 4
Why did you become a rehabilitator/volunteer: For the love of nature and animals
Most rewarding aspect of rehabilitation: Release days and seeing an animal we thought would not pull through survive and be released!
As a rehabilitator, what is the most common question you are asked? If I touched it, will the mother come back?
Having cared for wildlife for so long, Kim cheerfully tells wonderful stories about the creatures that have come through her clinic, such as: A 7-week-old bobcat came to us on Christmas Day. He was cute as a button, cute in the “I have claws and teeth and know how to use them” kind of way. For some reason, people still think that all little wild animals drink cow’s milk. (Unless they arecows, they do not do well on cow’s milk.) After getting his weight up, this bobcat soon started to fit right in with the rest of the crew. He ate mice in nanoseconds, soon was jumping up on everything and getting more mischievous by the day! Seven weeks later, it was time to move him to a larger facility. This bobcat had grown four times the size he was when we got him. He was ready to mingle with his own kind. We transferred him to a much larger facility outside of San Antonio where there are 12 other bobcats. He will be released onto a 1,000 plus acre refuge. We will miss him; but, as with all of our animals, we feel blessed to have them and to be able to give them the care they need for the time we do.
Favorite animal story: We got a call that an adult raccoon had his head stuck for the entire night and half of the day in a bird feeder in a tree. As I got there sure enough, he had wedged himself to where he could rest on the edge of the feeder as he contemplated his problems. I told the lady that I could save the coon but not the feeder. She suggested that they have a warning for purchasers of said bird feeder that it could also capture raccoons. I got on a ladder and proceeded to unscrew the feeder and remove it from the tree. So far so good. I quickly realized that the coon was not coming out of the feeder without a chisel or saw and some serious drugs (for the coon of course). I decided to put said coon and feeder in the back of the SUV and take him the eight miles down the road to the house where Dr. Johnson (Ray) could tranquilize him and we could then figure out how to release the raccoon from his feeder. Halfway home, I have visions of the coon releasing himself from the feeder and kicking my tail in the car all the way home. Luckily, for both of us he was quite stuck and we made it home. Ray was almost laughing too hard to sedate the bugger but we got it done and although he never completely passed out, he was docile enough to unscrew the rest of the feeder and chisel the wood from around his neck without so much as a scratch on him! He looked at us and groggily ran off without so much as a thank you.
What advice would you offer to children considering a career in wildlife rehabilitation?
Become a veterinarian who specializes in wildlife. There are few out there and more are needed!
Remember Animal Helpers: Wildlife Rehabilitators is FREE for the month of October at www.sylvandellpublishing.com, or Read it on your iPad, by downloading the free app Fun eReader in iTunes and entering the code: 2WZ637 in the red box on the App Registration page.
The Junior Master Gardener Program and the American Horticultural Society announced the winners of the "Growing Good Kids" Book Awards on July 20th. This year's blue-ribbon crop is as follows:
The Mangrove Tree: Planting Trees to Feed Families, by Susan L. Roth & Cindy Trumbore (Lee & Low)
Meadowlands: A Wetlands Survival Story, by Thomas F. Yerzerski (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Planting the Wild Garden, written by Kathryn O. Galbraith and illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin (Peachtree)
For more information about the prizes, which honor "engaging, inspiring works of plant, garden, and ecology-themed children's literature," go to the Junior Master Gardener website. Don't miss the list of classics, which includes Miss Rumphius, The Lorax, Too Many Pumpkins, among many others.
Blog: Margo Dill's Read These Books and Use Them!
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I am excited to be giving away Stranger Moon and doing it with Rafflecopter for the first time! I would love it if you tried out Rafflecopter with me by doing as many of the tasks as you can below and then getting all the possible points to win this AWESOME book. The contest goes until Sunday, March 11 at midnight (so enter on Saturday or before), and it is open to anyone–(Canada and U.S.–you can get a hard copy; overseas–you can get an e-book). So, here we go. . .
Stranger Moon by Heather Zydek
*Middle-grade novel, contemporary fiction
*12-year-old girl as main character
*Rating: I loved Stranger Moon! I think middle-grade readers will, too. It has several boy characters that are friends with Gaia, and it has bugs (LOL), so I think it will appeal to both boys and girls. If you have a child being bullied, this book is great conversation starter.
Short, short summary: It’s summer break, and Gaia is searching for a Luna moth after she finds a Luna moth wing pressed between the pages of an old insect guide. When she convinces her friends to go with her to search for the moth, they encounter a strange woman in the woods who EATS bugs. She freaks them out, of course, but she also peaks their interest, and they go on a hunt to find out whom she is. In the meantime, they pick up another misunderstood classmate, encounter the bullies– THE EMMAS, and deal with their own issues. Gaia has a father who pays NO ATTENTION to her since her mother died, and she is tired of feeling like she’s invisible in her own home. So, as you can see, there’s a lot going on in this book. As more information is revealed about the mystery woman, readers can try to guess her identity. Once it’s discovered, they can debate what they would do with the info. The author does a great job of moving the story forward and tying up all these subplots in the end.
So, what do I do with this book?
1. This is a terrific book to open up conversations with children about how they are feeling at home, about bullying, about friendships, and so on. Use the characters in the book. How did you feel when Gaia and her friends got into the big fight? What do you think about the Emmas? and so on.
2. Your young readers may or may not be into insects. If they are, then ask them to find out about Luna moths on their own. If they aren’t, what are they passionate about? What would they spend their summer vacation searching for? Have them write a journal entry about this and compare themselves to Gaia.
3. The characters in this book are complex and well-developed–they are perfect for character studies. You could teach character motivation, character feelings, and even problem-solving (how characters solve problems in the story). Allow students to choose their favorite character and then write a letter as if they are that character. They could also write a journal entry.
Don’t forget to enter the giveaway below! Please email margo (at) margodill.com if you run into any problems.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
The Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards (the Cybils) were announced on February 14th. You'll lots of good reading in a variety of categories, from book apps to young adult fiction.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science recently announced the winners of the AAAS/Suburu Science Books & Film Prize for Excellence in Science Books. The prize honors books for children. You'll see only the winners on the AAAS site. The list of finalists is accessible only to subscribers of Science magazine.
With all the interest in school and community gardens these days, the list of "Growing Good Kids" book awards is a wonderful resource. The latest winners, announced last weekend, are as follows. (Don't miss the roster of classics, too.)
Water, Weed and Wait, written by Edith Hope Fine and Angela Demos Halpin; illustrated by Colleen Madden (Tricycle Press, 2010)
Nibbles: A Green Tale, by Charlotte Middleton (Marshall Cavendish, 2010)
In the Garden with Dr. Carver, written by Susan Grigsby and illustrated by Nicole Tadgell (Albert Whitman & Company, 2010)
A description from the American Horticultural Society:
The Junior Master Gardener Program and the American Horticultural Society honor engaging, inspiring works of plant, garden and ecology-themed children's literature through the new "Growing Good Kids—Excellence in Children's Literature Awards" Program.
This award recognizes a select group of children's books that are especially effective at promoting an understanding of and appreciation for gardening and the environment.
You'll find additional children's book titles about gardening today at A Year of Reading. That post inspired this one. Thanks, Franki and Mary Lee.
Susan Wyndham, the literary editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, compiled a list of ''15 Australian books - and some extra suggestions - that every Australian can enjoy if they want to understand our literature, our country and ourselves. Culture is a conversation and knowing these books enables us to talk to each other." You can read Wyndham's list here.
As a followup to Wyndham's list, journalist and children's book expert Judith Ridge rounds up the "15 Australian picture books that everyone should know." She's planning to do the same for middle-grade and YA books, too. Ridge writes, "It is a list that, if you read them all, would go some way towards an understanding of. [...] the preoccupations Australian children's literature, and what those preoccupations say about Australian childhood and adolescence (or perhaps our adult perceptions of and ideas about Australian childhood and adolescence)."
The prolific children's book author Dick King-Smith died earlier this week. King-Smith's book The Sheep-Pig (published in the U.S. as Babe: The Gallant Pig) was the basis for the movie "Babe." Obituary at the Guardian. (news via @pwkidsbookshelf)
Jason Wallace's debut novel, Out of Shadows, won the UK's Costa Children's Book Award. The Herald Scotland reports that Out of Shadows, based on the author's experiences in post-independence Zimbabwe, was turned down by more than 100 agents and publishers before Andersen Press picked it up. The book will be published stateside by Holiday House in April.
Back to the States, Rita Williams-Garcia's middle-grade novel One Crazy Summer has won the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction. Details at Read Roger, the blog of The Horn Book's editor, Roger Sutton.
Will One Crazy Summer go on to win the Newbery? We'll see soon. The Newbery, Caldecott, Coretta Scott King, etc., are announced on Monday morning, January 10th. The American Library Association provides more information.
Speaking of the Coretta Scott King Award, author Kyra E. Hicks offers some thoughts on potential winners of the prize for "outstanding books for young adults and children by African American authors and illustrators that reflect the African American experience." See Hicks' blog,
In the car
An unabridged audiobook of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl (HarperChildren's Audio, 2005). Monty Python's Eric Idle is the narrator. It had been a long time since I read this one, but I remember Charlie's yearning as he breathed in the delicious chocolate aroma on the way to school. I'd forgotten how insane the Oompa-Loompas' songs are.
We're on the hold list for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Random House Audio, 1999). Audiobooks have proved to be an ideal remedy for people (like me) who get fidgety/impatient/insanely bored in the car.
Junior, age 11
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth, by Jeff Kinney (Amulet Books, 2010). The latest in the popular series.
Controlling Earth's Pollutants, by Christine Petersen (Marshall Cavendish, 2010). An ideal hour of reading for the kiddo: cocoa, blanket, cozy chair, and a book on pollution.
On the nightstand is Nic Bishop Lizards (Scholastic, 2010). Fantastic photos, per usual with Bishop. "Lizards lead lives that are full of surprises." Yeah.
In the Wild, a picture book written by David Elliott and illustrated by Holly Meade (Candlewick, 2010). Poems about wild animals. Sheesh, this is a beautiful book, with its watercolored woodcuts and all. I asked my son to vet this one for the second grade class I read to. He thought they'd like it.
Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gum, by Meghan McCarthy (Paula Wiseman/Simon& Schuster, 2010). We're thinking the second graders will like this one, too. Great idea for a nonfiction picture book.
Lots of Cybils middle grade/YA nonfiction books, including The Dark Game: True Spy Stories, by Paul B. Janeczko (Candlewick, 2010). Two of the most famous Civil War spies were women. I never knew that.
Second-grade class read-aloud
Lousy Rotten Stinkin' Grapes, written by Margie Palatini and illustrated by Barry Moser (Simon & Schuster, 2009). A new take on the Aesop fable. Very funny, with priceless expressions on the animals' faces. The class loved it. Now, clearly, we must get a hold of Palatini and Moser's Earthquack! (Simon & Schuster, 2002).
"Above all, a good science book is imbued with passion for science and nature, and invites readers to engage with, imagine, and experience science in ways they may never have thought of before."
Danielle J. Ford, in "More than Just the Facts," from A Family of Readers: The Book Lover's Guide to Children's and Young Adult Literature, edited by Roger Sutton and Martha V. Parravano. Candlewick Press, 2010. 368 pages.
Merry Christmas, everyone! And happy 2010, too.
I hope your holidays are filled with books and reading. One present in Junior's stocking tomorrow morning is going to be Brian Floca's Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11.If Santa gets his act together and stops eating Zapp's barbecue potato chips and catching up on hometown news with his mom, Junior may also find Theodore Gray's book The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe under the tree. It's for grown-ups, but I think there's enough there for children interested in science. With a little help, Junior picked out Julia Child's My Life in France for his grandma.
Over at PBS Parents' Booklights blog, I've shared a list of favorite books about volcanoes. (I ran this same list here at the blog a few years back.) I hope you'll stop by and mention your top volcano tales, too.
Photograph: Augustine Volcano, Alaska. Photographer: Game McGimsey. Image courtesy U.S. Geological Survey. Via WikimediaCommons. See Alaska Volcano Observatory for more information.
International Rock Flipping Day is Sunday, September 20th. Turn over a rock, see and identify what's under it, and write a blog post or submit a Flickr set of photos. (And put the rock right back where you found it.) It sounds like something a six year old invented, but the credit goes to several grown-up nature enthusiasts, including one "doyenne of invertebrate bloggers." You'll find more information at Wanderin' Weeta, a nature blog.
Junior and I participated last year and found Asian shore crabs, mussels, and clams under rocks at the beach. See this report from September '08.
Dave Bronta, a flip-day founder who blogs at Via Negativa, wrote, "[P]eople flipped rocks on four continents on sites ranging from mountaintops to urban centers to the floors of shallow seas. Rock-flippers found frogs, snakes, and invertebrates of every description, as well as fossils and other cool stuff. As before, we advise wearing gloves for protection, and getting the whole family involved — or if you don’t have a family, rope in some neighborhood kids."
Five, six, and seven year olds interested in the rocks themselves might like Nancy Elizabeth Wallace's Rocks! Rocks! Rocks! (Marshall Cavendish Children's Books, 2009), a picture book that introduces concepts about rock formation and other topics in simple language. (I wish the author hadn't cutely called igneous rocks "iggy," but I doubt kids will care.)
For more in-depth reading, older children can look for National Audubon Society First Field Guide to Rocks and Minerals (Scholastic, 1998).
Review copy of Rocks! Rocks! Rocks! provided by the publisher. The Audubon Society field guide from our home collection.
Wouldn't you know it? Just as soon as I say the kiddo isn't reading, I spot him with his nose in a book once or twice. So I'll put aside parental anxiety for now. Jeez. Lesson learned.
We finished up Joy Cowley's middle-grade novel Chicken Feathers as a read-aloud; it's about a boy and a talking chicken who also likes to drink moonshine. Yes, a mite heavy on the quirk factor. Junior liked it.
This morning at the bookstore I picked up (for Junior) two novels recommended for their humor—David Lubar's Invasion of the Road Weenies, and Louis Sachar's Wayside School Is Falling Down. (I remember first hearing about the Wayside School books in Beth Kephart's Seeing Past Z: Nurturing the Imagination in a Fast-Forward World, a must-read book about encouraging children's reading.) I also bought some nonfiction: [Simon] Basher and Adrian Dingle's Periodic Table, which comes with a poster of the same.
Back in 2007, the Farm School blog reviewed The Periodic Table:
Artist Simon Basher and chemistry teacher Adrian Dingle have created a vivid rogues' gallery of elements guaranteed to bring the periodic table to life and appeal to kids of all ages. I'll be the first to admit I'm the originally fuddy-duddy, but there's something about this anime-style, Facebook approach to the periodic table that's remarkably engaging. Not to mention a sensible approach to making the subject—indeed, the individual elements—memorable for everyone from fourth or fifth graders to college seniors (not to mention home educating parents who majored in, say, history).
In science-award news, the following books are finalists for 2008 AAAS/Suburu SB&F Prizes. AAAS stands for the American Association for the Advancement of Science. SB&F refers to Science Books and Films Online, "a critical review journal." The shortlist was announced earlier this month. From what I can determine, the YA selections are adult titles that would appeal to teens, too.
- Children's Science Picture Book
Babies in the Bayou, written and illustrated by Jim Arnosky (Penguin Group,
Mendel: The Friar Who Grew Peas, by Cheryl Bardo, with illustrations
by Jos A. Smith (Harry N. Abrams. 2007)
Turtle Summer: A Journal for My Daughter, by Mary Alice Monroe,
with photographs by Barbara J. Bergwerf (Sylvan Dell. 2007)
Vulture View, by April Pulley Sayre, with illustrations by Steve Jenkins (Henry Holt, 2007)
Where in the Wild? Camouflaged Creatures Concealed and Revealed,
by David Schwartz and Yael Schy, with photographs by Dwight Kuhn (Tricycle Press, 2007)
- Middle Grades Science Book
Being Caribou: Five Months on Foot with a Caribou Herd, by Karsten Heuer (Walker & Co., 2007)
Circulating Life: Blood Transfusion from Ancient Superstitions to Modern Medicine, by Cherie Winner (Twenty-First Century Books, 2007)
Dinosaur Eggs Discovered: Unscrambling the Clues! by Lowell Dingus, Luis M. Chaippe, and Rodolfo Coria (Twenty-First Century Books, 2007)
Frog Heaven: Ecology of a Vernal Pool, by Doug Wechsler (Boyds Mills Press, 2007)
Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion, by Loree Griffin Burns (Houghton Mifflin, 2007)
The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science, by Natalie Angier (Houghton Mifflin, 2007)
An Ocean of Air: Why the Wind Blows and Other Mysteries of the Atmosphere, by Gabrielle Walker (Harcourt, 2007)
Is Pluto a Planet? A Historical Journey Through the Solar System, by David A. Weintraub (Princeton, 2006)
The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring, by Richard Preston (Random House, 2007)
by Pat Murphy, Ellen Macaulay, and the staff of the Exploratorium
(Little Brown & Company, 2007)
Stellar Science Projects about Earth's Sky, by Robert Gardner (Enslow, 2007)
Temperature, by Navin Sullivan (from the Measure Up! Series) (Marshall Cavendish, 2006)
Nominations for the Cybils close tonight at midnight.
If you're stuck for some science books in the nonfiction category, Susan at Chicken Spaghetti has a nifty post with the science book prize shortlist for the 2008 American Association for the Advancement of Science Subaru Science Books and Films Online Prizes. I know the Gregor Mendel picture book by Cheryl Bardoe was published in 2006, but
The Periodic Table: Elements with Style!
created (and illustrated) by (Simon) Basher, written by Adrian Dingle
128 pages; for ages 10 and up
Kingfisher Publications (Houghton Mifflin Co.)
I've been looking forward to reading this book ever since I saw it mentioned on Carol's and Rebecca's blogs.
Artist Simon Basher and chemistry teacher Adrian Dingle have created a vivid rogues'
The official announcement has been made over here, at the Cybils blog. You can find the remaining short lists up today, too, including Nonfiction Picture Books, one of our family's favorite categories.
In alphabetical order:
Marie Curie (volume 4 in the Giants of Science series) by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Boris Kulikov; Krull's Isaac Newton made it to last year's short list
The Periodic Table: Elements With Style! created (and illustrated) by (Simon) Basher, written by Adrian Dingle
Smart-Opedia: The Amazing Book About Everything, translated by Eve Drobot
Maple Tree Press
Tasting the Sky: a Palestinian Childhood by Ibtisam Barakat
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion (from the Scientists in the Field series) by Loree Griffin Burns
The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sís
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Who Was First?: Discovering the Americas by Russell Freedman (whose Freedom Walkers won this category last year)
Getting down to brass tacks now is the Judging Panel, comprised of
Tracy Chrenka at Talking in the Library
Emily Mitchell at Emily Reads
Camille Powell at Book Moot
Alice Herold at Big A little a
Jennie Rothschild at Biblio File
* * *
It was a wild ride. Five panelists, one newborn baby, a couple of holidays over several months, and 45 nominated children's nonfiction books published in 2007 -- on the subjects of history, science, mathematics, reference, biography, memoirs, humor, how to, essays, popular culture, music, and more. Much more.
What an absolute delight to work on the MG/YA nonfiction nominating panel alongside Susan at Chicken Spaghetti, Vivian at HipWriterMama, Mindy at Proper Noun Dot Net, and KT at Worth the Trip, all under the leadership of master wrangler and organizer Jen Robinson. The other panelists made the job of distilling the 45 nominated titles down to seven as easy as possible under the circumstances, and I continue to be amazed at how smoothly our negotiations and jockeyings went. Thank you each, thank you all for several marvelous months.
While we had a fraction of the books some of the other panels had to read (though more than I had to deal with last year on the poetry panel), our hunting and gathering skills were put to work tracking down titles for which review copies weren't furnished. So I'd also like to thank the patient and quick-working libraries in our system that sped books to me, often shortly after processing. And lastly, a big thanks to my kids, who put up with a good deal of questioning, poking, and prodding about what they liked and didn't about the the books they read, with and without me.
And special thanks, again, to Anne Boles Levy and Kelly Herold for coming up with the idea of the Cybils and organizing everything.
One of the reasons I wanted to serve on this particular panel is that for our family, and so many other home school families we know, high quality nonfiction titles are the backbone of our curricula, as well as our some of our children's favorite free-time reading. I wanted, through the Cybils, to be able to publicize some of the best of the bunch, so you and your kids can include these new gems on your "to read" lists.
The other reason is that I realize, sadly, that for many non-home schooling families, nonfiction children's titles are considered the second rate, second tier, B List, utility grade, inferior choice when it comes to children's books, and I wanted to be able to use an opportunity like the Cybils, with such a terrific short list of books of marvelous depth and range, to show that children's nonfiction is not only chock full of superior choices, but every inch the equal of fiction.
I'd like to encourage other readers and fans of children's nonfiction, especially those who are concerned about what children's nonfiction author Marc Aronson calls "nonfiction resistance", to keep up with the subject on Marc's blog, Nonfiction Matters
And one final note -- a raft of terrific children's 2007 nonfiction titles didn't make it to the list of nominees to be considered for the above short list. If your favorite wasn't nominated, it's because you didn't speak up for it. Don't let that happen next year.
by Alexandra Siy and Dennis Kunkel
Colorized electron micrographs devoted to a routine bodily function are the big draws in this picture book for seven to ten year olds. For the layman, I'll translate: you will marvel over the tinted, blown-up photos of delightfully disgusting environmental irritants like pollen, mildew, and household dust. The almost glowing orange dust mite (765 times its actual size) practically defines the word "gross."
Grainy (and markedly less compelling) black-and-white photographs show children in different sneeze-inducing situations, like spicing up food, dusting furniture, and snuggling with a cat. These pictures and their captions (" 'Pass the pepper, please,' Isaiah says.") indicate that the book is for younger readers. But the science explanations start with the relatively simple ("A sneeze is a reflex, an automatic reaction that can't be stopped once it starts."), and advance fairly quickly. ("The electrical impulse zips along the axon until it arrives at the synapse, the point of communication between two neurons.") The neuroscience particulars may elude all but the savviest in the target age group. My advice for younger scientists: enjoy the micrographs now, and hang onto the book for tenth grade biology.
Sneeze! was on the longlist in the Cybils awards' middle-grade/young-adult nonfiction category.
The Whale Scientists: Solving the Mystery of Whale Strandings
by Fran Hodgkins
Houghton Mifflin, 2007
64 pages, with color photographs
Another excellent offering in Houghton Miffin's Scientists in the Field series, The Whale Scientists explores theories about why whales beach themselves; not surprsingly, we humans figure into both the causes and the solutions. In fact, our changing relationship with these sea creatures provides the book's arc. Hodgkins begins with a history of industrial whaling and ends with the story of a successful (and labor-intensive) rescue of two pilot whales. Outfitted with satellite tags, they continued to provide scientific data even their release back into the ocean. The scientists in the book include a Smithsonian curator, a specialist in whale necropsies, and a Woods Hole expert on whale ears, who makes analogies to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
A Cybils longlist nominee in the middle-grade and young-adult nonfiction category, The Whale Scientists is particularly well-pitched for its age range, well-documented, and good reading for children in the fifth grade on up. Every Scientists in the Field title I've read so far can be appreciated by grown-ups, too. I'm certainly game for a whale watch now!
Each year the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) gives out the Orbis Pictus award for excellence in children's nonfiction books. Here is this year's roster, announced last week. Some of these books are familiar Cybils nominees*, while others don't ring any bells to me at all. I'm off to the library to put in a request for Clarabelle. I can't resist a good cow book.
M.L.K.: Journey of a King, by Tonya Bolden
Black and White Airmen: Their True History, by John Fleischman*
Helen Keller: Her Life in Pictures, by George Sullivan
Muckrakers, by Ann Bausum*
Spiders, by Nic Bishop
Venom, by Marilyn Singer
3-D ABC: A Sculptural Alphabet, by Bob Raczka*
Animals in the House: A History of Pets and People, by Sheila Keenan
Clarabelle: Making Milk and So Much More, by Cris Peterson
Living Color, by Steve Jenkins*
The Snow Baby: The Arctic Childhood of Admiral Robert E. Peary's Daring Daughter, by Katherine Kirkpatrick*
Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion, by Loree Griffin Burns*
The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain, by Peter Sís*
Today marks the beginning of Nonfiction Monday, a weekly event started by Anastasia Suen. Going forth, the author plans to gather together all Monday blog posts about nonfiction for children. Curious five to eight year olds should look for Suen's latest book, Wired, which is all about electricity*. Junior has already applied much of what he read there to what he sees in the neighborhood: "Look, Mom. It's one of those step-down transformers!" You can catch the roundup later this afternoon at Suen's blog Picture Book of the Day.
Thank you to Franki, at A Year of Reading, for the Orbis Pictus news.
MotherReader is thinking about the differences between fiction and nonfiction picture books and how some titles toe the line between the two categories. She writes, "It's certainly easy when your book is titled Bees and it's all facts about, you know, bees."
Her comment sent me scurrying to the shelves for Honeybees, written by Deborah Heiligman and illustrated by Carla Golembe. Sporting good information and lots of bright colors, it's a picture book that my son and I read often a few years back. Bees haunted Junior's preschool playground in the summer, and he was terrified of them—and found them endlessly compelling and worthy of many conversations. He still can watch those honeycomb things with live bees that you see in nature centers forever. I bet that when he spots Honeybees this afternoon, he'll want to read it again.
Honeybees is straight-up nonfiction; it's not one of those line-toers that MotherReader mentions. For more facts, don't miss the Nonfiction Monday roundup at Picture Book of the Day, which will be posted later this afternoon.
by Deborah Heiligman
National Geographic Society, 2002; 2007 (paperback edition)
by Sandra Markle
Lerner Publishing, 2007
Age range: 8-12; younger for read-aloud
Just because it has eight arms doesn't mean an octopus's life is easy. Sure, growing back a tentacle when necessary is helpful, but much of its existence is spent on the lam from predators. This nonfiction picture book for older readers even shows an oh-so-pretty coral snarfing up a baby octopus. When an octopus isn't escaping or hiding from something, it's looking for a meal. Dead dogfish shark, anyone? Focusing on the eat-or-be-eaten nature of an octopus's life gives the information a dramatic arc, and readers find out fascinating facts about what the strange-looking creature does to protect itself. A prolific science and nature writer, Sandra Markle conveys her subject matter clearly, and the book, part of a series called "Animal Prey," features large color photos throughout, which correspond well with the text.
The National Science Teachers Association and the Children's Book Council cited Octopuses—and 31 other titles in 8 categories—in the brand-new 2008 edition of Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12. A great resource for parents as well as teachers and librarians, this list is one that many of us anticipate with glee every year.
A hat tip to The Miss Rumphius Effect for NSTA book-list news.
Summer is the ideal time to hand this guide over to the 5- to 9-year-old neighborhood (or nature center) explorer. Despite an occasionally cautionary tone ("You need a grownup along for safety"), Jim Arnosky's picture book celebrates the "smallest of streams" that often fascinate children. Resembling a nature notebook, the illustrations in light-filled blues, yellows, and greens highlight such information as the geographic origins of brooks, creatures you'll find in them and nearby, and ideas for investigating such "inviting places."
In an author's note, Arnosky says that The Brook Book (Dutton, 2008) "is organized in such a way as to help you get the most out of your class visit to a favorite brook," but kids don't need to begin their journey at school to enjoy reading and gleaning some inspiration from this one. As the author says, "[A brook] quenches your thirst for nature in its wildest form."
Children's book author Anastasia Suen collects reviews of nonfiction titles on Mondays; see her Picture Book of the Day for a variety of reading suggestions.
Last week I posted a bit from scientist Edward O. Wilson's memoir, Naturalist. A blog entry by tech writer David Pogue reminded me that Wilson is the "father" of the enormous online project called the Encyclopedia of Life. Here is an excerpt from an interview with Wilson. In answer to a question about how the EOL project came to be, Wilson said,
Because remarkably–and this is little known even in the scientific
community–we’ve only begun to explore this planet. It was 250 years ago
this year that Karl Linnaeus, the great naturalist in Sweden, began what
became the official form of biological classification: two names, like
“homo sapiens” for us, and ranging the species in hierarchies according to how much they resemble one another. 250 years ago.
And in that period of time, we have found and given names to perhaps
one-tenth of what’s on the surface of the earth. We have now found 1.8
million species. But the actual number is almost certainly in excess of
10 million, and could be as high as a hundred million, when you throw
I love what this means for scientifically oriented children when they grow up—there's so much out there, waiting for them to discover. Of course, one of Wilson's main points is that we all have to work hard to protect our world, too.
Naturalist quickly leaped to the top my list of favorite books read lately. I especially enjoyed the parts about his peripatetic childhood in the South. He even spent a year at military school—when he was only 7. What he wrote about his Harvard colleague James Watson, one of the discoverers of DNA and "the most unpleasant human being [Wilson] had ever met", made me want to read more about that scientist, too.
Speaking of just beginning to explore the planet, the kiddo and I paged through Tony Waltham's Great Caves of the World (Firefly Books, 2008), mostly just looking at the photographs and noting where we'd like to visit. New Mexico, for sure, to see Carlsbad Caverns. If we were scientists or National Park management, we could get into the awesome-looking Lechuguilla Cave, in the same area. (See photo.)
The farther-flung caves under Australia's Nullarbor Desert also caught our eye. Waltham writes, "The Nullarbor has hundreds of blowholes, nearly all too small to enter. Some link to known caves, but others merely indicate that there is a lot more cave passage still to be discovered beneath the Australian desert." A similar theme to Wilson's.
Like Great Caves, Edward O. Wilson's Naturalist is a book written for adults, but would be fine for older teenagers who like science. The next time I'm at the library, I'll look for The Earth Dwellers: Adventures in the Land of Ants, by Erich Hoyt (Simon and Schuster, 1996), a YA nonfiction book about Wilson and others. I'm unable to find a picture-book or middle-grade biography of the scientist. Anyone know of one? An opportunity for a writer, perhaps.
Photograph: Lechuguilla Cave Pearlsian Gulf, by Dave Bunnell. Used under the conditions specified by a Creative Commons Attribution- Share Alike 2.5 license.
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When I read Hank Golet's story on the Connecticut Ornithological Association's email list, I knew it was the perfect intro to a blog post about field guides and other nature-related gifts. Hank kindly gave me permission to reprint the tale here. (Note: Roger Tory Peterson [1908-1966] invented the modern field guide; he lived in Connecticut for many years.)
Reading [another birder's] lost Peterson Field Guide story reminded me of one of my own experiences.
I was birding at Menunketesuck flats in Westbrook, probably 20 years ago, and left my signed Peterson Guide on the seawall. I didn't know it was missing until I reached for it two days later, and found it wasn't in the wooden box behind the seat in my pickup. Somehow I remembered putting it on the wall and drove down to Westbrook never expecting it to still be there. The guide was where I left it...but I didn't mention that it rained all of the day before. I took the book home and put paper towels between every page to dry it out the best I could but it still had/has that "expanded" look.
Peterson always signed his works with a red soft pen that was not waterproof. His signature had faded badly in my guide but it was still readable. Roger and his wife Virginia used to like to come down to the dock at the end of the road where I live here in Old Lyme. One early evening I was there when they came down. I showed him the guide and told him the story of my leaving it on the seawall and asked him if he would sign it again. He did but he didn't have his red pen so he signed it with my black ballpoint.
So, I may have the only Peterson field guide signed twice, once in red and, right underneath, in black.
Besides that, I probably have the only Peterson Guide (the same one) that has a black tire mark across the third page in, from when the bag that I was carrying it in came off the back of my motorcycle on I-95 and the car behind me ran over it.
Following are some resources for finding an equally stalwart book for naturalists young and old.
Luke Tiller's Under Clear Skies, a top-notch birding blog, recently posted about holiday gifts for birders; some of the DVDs mentioned would be great for children. Plus, Luke has a few other ideas for kids, too.
At Scientist, Interrupted, GrrlScientist points out some cool new natural-history books—many of them kid-friendly—including a pop-up affair with sound called Birdscapes and a graphic novel about Darwin. She also reviews a nonfiction title for adults, Dry Storeroom #1: The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum, "a charming and affectionate tour through the the inner workings and
politics of London's Natural History Museum by paleontologist and
trilobite expert Richard Fortey." And for children, Grrl Scientist gives high marks to Sparrows, a picture book.
The 10,000 birds blog maintains a wonderful archive of reviews of books and equipment. The Birder's Library has a lovely list of books for children, and 100 Scope Notes' consideration of Animals: A Visual Encyclopedia makes that one sound like a good holiday present for young nature-lovers.
Finally, don't miss the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) top science books for children and teens (finalists for the AAAS/Suburu SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books).
Happy reading! Many thanks to Hank Golet for his contribution.
Photograph by Hank Golet. All rights reserved.