Outstanding Science Books Galore

The National Science Teachers Association announced its annual all-stars in science trade books for children from kindergartners to teens. The 2009 list (of books published last year) follows after the break. I've mentioned the titles and included bookstore links, and the NSTA web site includes full details and commentary about each book. Special thanks go to The Miss Rumphius Effect blog for the heads up on the NSTA news.

Continue reading "Outstanding Science Books Galore" »

Fun with Field Guides + Books for Natural-History Enthusiasts

Peterson Guide 2 (2) 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 gift 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.

Life Encyclopedia, Caves, and Untapped Potential

399px-Lechuguilla_Cave_Pearlsian_Gulf 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 Pogue's 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 in bacteria.

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.

We Are. Rock Flippers.

IMG_1431 International Rock Flipping Day dawned pleasant and sunny after yesterday's Hanna-induced monsoons. It was low tide when we arrived at the beach, on the Long Island Sound. Low tide leaves a lot uncovered—perfect conditions for flipping.

IMG_1418 (crab) Under one of the first rocks we turned over were some small Asian shore crabs. In addition to being quite invasive in the Sound, they're very fast and hard (for me) to photograph. So, my assistant courageously volunteered to hold one while I snapped away. (Click on any photo to enlarge it.)

IMG_1428 (mussel)The assistant then found a whopper of a clam, and within a few seconds figured out how to make the clam squirt his mom. The next creature of interest was this mussel (left), which had been minding its own business in the water, under a stone. There are lots of mussels in the intertidal zone.

On top of a rock near one of the beach's jetties were some cormorants sunning themselves and drying out their wings. IMG_1435 (cormorants)

I like an old Audubon Society field guide, Atlantic & Gulf Coasts, for identifying what we see at the beach, but could use an updated one. Covering seashore life from plants to whales, the edition I have does not, alas, mention the shore crabs. Children may want to look at the color photographs in the book; otherwise, it's geared for grown-ups. For the kiddos, the DK Eyewitness title Seashore is informative, and Jim Arnosky's nonfiction picture book Beachcombing comes recommended by my friends over at the blog Literate Lives.

An excellent book (for adults) about the Sound is Margins: A Naturalist Meets Long Island Sound, by Mary Parker Buckles; not a guide book, it's more essay-ish in form.

Via Negativa is compiling a list of all the participants in today's rock-flipping festivities. I will add links here over the next couple of days, too. Keep reading after the jump for the roster so far.

Continue reading "We Are. Rock Flippers." »

International Rock-Flipping Day, Sept. 7th

1289407473_50af3d1f97_m rock International Rock Flipping Day, September 7th, sounds like something a six year old invented, but the credit goes to several grown-up nature enthusiasts, including one "doyenne of invertebrate bloggers." Turn over a rock, see and identify what's under it, and write a blog post or submit a Flickr set of photos. I am so there. Junior has flipped rocks for three years after studying pill bugs in first grade.

According to the blog Via Negativa,

"In case you missed all the hoopla last year, here’s the post that started it all, and last year’s participants are linked here. On 9/2/2007, people 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. Be sure to replace all rocks as soon as possible after documenting whatever lies beneath them."

More details are at Via Negativa. A description of one participant's experiences last year can be found at the blog of Marcia Bonta, a writer and naturalist.

Although it isn't exactly about flipped rocks, one similar book that we liked was Jean Craighead George's All Upon a Sidewalk, a middle-grade title about an ant, Lasius Flavus, and her search for food in a big city. An older nonfiction selection that holds up just fine.

End-of-Summer Reading List at Our House

In the last several weeks we've been canoeing, kayaking, swimming, watching cartoons, and reading books. Here are a few titles that our 4th grader liked. (4th grade, as of today! I can't believe it.)

Katie Loves the Kittens, a picture book by John Himmelman. Katie the dog is over-enthused about her family's new arrivals. She keeps scaring them when she doesn't mean to. We could relate to her funny struggles with self-control.

Sisters of Scituate Light, by Stephen Krensky, with illustrations by Stacey Schuett. One of Junior's favorite books of the summer, this nonfiction picture book (for kids six and older) tells how two Massachusetts girls saved their town from a British raid during the War of 1812.

Discovering SuperCroc, by Pamela Rushby.  Fossils/paleontology/"giant beasts," in National Geographic's Science Chapters series.

Pirates! Raiders of the High Seas,
a DK Reader by Christopher Maynard. Easily read in one sitting.

Turtle Summer: A Journal for My Daughter, by Mary Alice Monroe, with photographs by Barbara J. Bergwerf. Winner of the ASPCA's Henry Bergh Children's Book Award, this nonfiction picture book about loggerhead sea turtle conservation is a must for beach lovers. The close mother-daughter relationship depicted in the book is heartwarming.

The Scrambled States of America Talent Show. A nutty followup to the nutty Scrambled States of America, Laurie Keller's picture book for children seven and older shows a raucous geography pageant.

About Habitats: Wetlands, a short nonfiction picture book by Cathryn P. Sill, with watercolor paintings by John Sill. A simple introduction to the concept of wetlands, with a sentence or two per spread. In small type at the bottom of the page are things to look for in the full-page watercolor illustrations. The Sills have a whole "About" series on various animals, too.

A Fine Evening for Moths

800px-An_Arkansas_Luna_Moth When I was in my 20s, I never dreamed that Moth Night would be the highlight of my week, but there you go. The event took place at the local nature center, and while we waited for the sun to set (and for the moths to come out), everyone roasted marshmallows at a bonfire and made s'mores. Aided by a few of the dozen or so kids there, a guest zoologist rigged up some bright lights and a white sheet between two trees and painted moth elixir (a mix of honey, beer, and mashed bananas) on some other trees along the nearest trail. I was hoping for big green luna moths, the kind featured in John Himmelman's picture book A Luna Moth's Life. They were no-shows, but we did observe a few of their smaller brethren on the sheet. Walking the trail, we noticed that ants and beetles enjoyed the moth brew, too. A Luna Moth's Life, by the way, is a nice introduction to moths for children aged three and older; there's only one sentence per page and Himmelman's illustrations are close-up and visually interesting.

When we came home, we sat outside in the dark and watched the moths on our front window. Junior and I made plans to set up our own moth sheet; the blog La Paz Home Learning has some good instructions here. Full on s'mores and newly endowed with moth lore, we lingered in the yard for a while, reluctant for a fun evening to end.

The nature center staff had brought out several books, which they recommended for moth- and butterfly-gazing. Some children will need some help using these guides, which are written for adults.

Discovering Moths: Nighttime Jewels in Your Own Backyard, also by John Himmelman

Butterflies through Binoculars, by Jeffrey Glassberg (There are eastern and western guides for North America.)

A Field Guide to Moths of Eastern North America, by Charles V. Covell, Jr.

And for my fellow Nutmeggers, The Connecticut Butterfly Atlas, edited by Jane O'Donnell, David Wagner, and Lawrence Gall

Here's an informative web site, too: Butterflies and Moths of North America.

Image: An Arkansas Luna Moth, from Wikimedia Commons

"The Brook Book"

9780525477167L  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.

Sandra Markle's "Octopuses" + Outstanding Science Books for Kids

Cv_0822560631 Octopuses
by Sandra Markle
Lerner Publishing, 2007
40 pages
Age range: 8-12; younger for read-aloud
ISBN-13: 978-0-8225-6063-0

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 in a clear, straightforward style, 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.

Buzz, Buzz

MotherReader is thinking about the differences between fiction and nonfiction picture books and how some titles toe the line between the two categories. Being certain that a book is nonfiction, she says, is "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)
32 pages
ISBN: 9781426301575