Perfect Picture Book Friday: Vulture View

Author: April Pulley Sayre
Illustrator: Steve Jenkins
Publication Info: Henry Holt and Company, 2007
Intended audience: Preschool and up
Genre: nonfiction, picture book (32 pages)
Themes/topics: nature, animals, science, natural history
Opening and synopsis:
“The sun is rising.
Up, up.
It heats the air.
Up, up.
Wings stretch wide
to catch a ride
on warming air.
Going where?
Up, up!”
With her signature lyrical style, April Pulley Sayre tackles the seemingly ungraceful topic of turkey vultures. These animals eat what we wouldn’t dare — stinky, rotting meat. In “Get to Know Vultures” Sayre explains the turkey vulture’s important role in breaking down large, dead animals so mice, beetles, maggots and worms can do their jobs and return nutrients to the soil. She also notes areas that budding scientists might want to study when they grow up. For example, scientists know little about how the vultures communicate and what they do in the winter.
Resources/activities: Sayre includes many resources in “Get to Know Vultures,” however her rich Web site provides even more resources. For teachers, she provides appropriate curriculum standards….here. She also recommends the Turkey Vulture Society. You’ll find a turkey vulture dot-to-dot and crossword puzzle on the State of Ohio’s parks page….here.
Why I like this book: One of my favorite nonfiction PB authors, Melissa Stewart, originally recommended this book as an outstanding example of picture book nonfiction. Sayre’s strength is her lyricism, which makes turkey vultures interesting and attractive. And, of course, Sayre’s stellar writing is paired with illustrations by the legendary Steve Jenkins. The duo have created a not-to-be-missed reading experience.
Every Friday bloggers review “Perfect Picture Books.” Find a complete list of book reviews organized by topic, genre and blogger at author Susanna Leonard Hill’s site.

Almost April Fool

April Fools’ Day came early to our house this year with a visit from Punxsutawney Phyllis. Phyllis, as you may recall, was on her world tour to promote her newest book, April Fool, Phyllis! Now the real April Fools’ Day (Sunday) has snuck up on me.

This year the boys are old enough to understand practical jokes and the  purpose of the day. They love telling jokes and think just about anything is funny. It got me thinking, what sort of pranks could I play on them to celebrate the day? So, without further ado, here are a few ideas I’ve come up with thus far.

  • Make a fake pillow mommy under the covers and wait for the unsuspecting boys to rush in and announce, “Time to wake up!”
  • Dye their milk green and tell them it came from a green cow. (FamilyFun had a similar idea.)
  • Declare it backwards day and let them wear their clothes backwards.
  • Give them an apple…with a gummy worm climbing out of it.
  • In the spirit of the Punxsutawney clan, create my own treasure hunt. I have to think carefully about the prize though. No maple candies for us with Easter and all that Easter candy right around the corner.

Do you have a favorite April Fools’ Day prank? I’d love to hear your ideas for injecting some fun into the day.

Monarch Migration

First I send a big thank you to fellow blogger Mamadestroy for prompting this post and providing the source materials. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!

Some of you have been following our adventures as we attempt to grow painted lady butterflies from caterpillars. Our little guys should be making a chrysalis any day now.

Now here’s your chance to get into the butterfly act and become scientists from the comfort of your armchairs without committing to raising caterpillars.

Scientist need your help tracking monarch migration. Each fall, monarchs migrate to Mexico (and some to Southern California) where they spend the winter. Come spring, the females return to the U.S. and lay their eggs on milkweed in the southern U.S. Once the caterpillars hatch into butterflies this new generation continues north for the summer.

Monarch migration is mysterious. The butterflies overwinter in the same forests year after year. Amazingly, these butterflies know where to fly even though no monarch makes the trip to Mexico more than one. Still, logging in Mexico has made monarch migration a “threatened phenomenon” since many of the trees where monarchs spend the winter have been destroyed.

You can help the monarchs. Record sightings of monarch butterflies, eggs and caterpillars, as well as milkweed (their food source)….here. This data helps scientists learn how climate change and other factors affect this butterfly beauty.

The site also has integrated maps of reported sightings…here. The Kids section provides a host of resources, including videos of caterpillars hatching from their eggs and butterflies bursting from their chrysalis. National Geographic Kids also has a wonderful overview of creature including video…here. If you are a teacher or homeschooling parent, these resources would be an excellent accompaniment to a spring unit or caterpillar study.

Have you seen a monarch in your neighborhood? Report it and help scientists learn more about this fascinating creature.

Spring Seed Sorting

Here’s a fun spring activity that touches on many different subject areas — spring seed sorting.

Here’s what you need:

  • Various seeds (pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, beans, apple seeds, popcorn, strawberry seeds, pear seeds, for example)
  • White paper
  • Marker
  • Glue

Here’s what you do:

  • Have your child sort the seeds by color and shape
  • Squirt glue on the paper, and have your child glue the like seeds together
  • You can give your child the names of the seeds you’ve provided and have him/her guess which is which
  • Label the seeds

More things to do and discuss:

  • Do the sizes of the seeds predict how big the plant will be?
  • Seeds contain embryonic (baby) plants, as well as the food they need to grow. Which of your seeds do we eat as food? If you pop the popcorn, you can see the white food puffed up. Yum!
  • How are strawberry seeds different from all other seeds? (Answer: They live on the outside of the strawberry).
  • How are the black sunflower seeds that birds eat different from the sunflower seeds people eat? (Answer: The tough seed coat has been removed.)
  • What do seeds need to germinate? Can you start a seed without water? Light? Soil? (Hint: You can germinate seeds without soil. Try wetting a paper towel, placing a seed inside and putting it in a plastic baggie. Tape the baggie to a well-lit window and see what happens.)
  • Encourage your child to try new foods so they have more seeds to add to their collection.

Nancy Elizabeth Wallace’s book, Seeds, Seeds, Seeds, prompted this activity. In the book Buddy receives a package from his Grandpa with five seed-related activities for him to explore. You can easily replicate Grandpa’s activities in your own home.

Perfect Picture Book Friday: Just One Bite

Author: Lola Schaefer
Illustrator: Geoff Waring
Publication Info: Chronicle Books, 2010
Intended audience: Preschool and up
Genre: nonfiction, picture book (32 pages)
Themes/topics: nature, animals, science
Opening and synopsis: ”With just one scoop, a worm can eat… –> . this much dirt (and everything in it)!”
Schaefer and Warning reveal how much nectar a butterfly sips and how much bamboo an elephant bites. They rely upon simple sentences and vivid visuals to show how much 11 animals consume in only one bite. Backmatter includes more detailed discussions of 12 creatures and their eating habits. For example, reticulated giraffes use their sticky saliva to coat thorns making them easier to chew. Komodo dragons can eat up to five pounds of food every minute. That’s a lot of meat!
Resources/activities: This book is a great excuse for a trip to the zoo. Our zoo features komodo dragons; after reading about their insatiable appetites, I was ready to take a peek at them again. If you can’t make it to the zoo, check out National Geographic’s Kids site for more information about animals and their appetites. Finally, the National Science Teachers Association, which selected the book as an Outstanding Science Trade Book, recommends a scaling activity found….here.
Why I like this book: This book is a cross between two of my favorite Steve Jenkins books, Actual Size and Time to Eat. Children find animals fascinating, and this book spurs discussion about animals and their environments.
Every Friday bloggers review “Perfect Picture Books.” Find a complete list of book reviews organized by topic, genre and blogger at author Susanna Leonard Hill’s site.

Spring Project Update

The caterpillars are here!

They survived an overnight on our porch (I forgot to check for delivery…ooops!) They also endured a trip to Cooper’s school yesterday where the curious preschoolers crowded around and watched them eat and eat and eat.

Growing butterflies has proved to be a bit of an emotional roller coaster, however. So far this morning, only one of our five caterpillars is eating, and he’s markedly bigger than the others. I’m not sure what might have happened overnight. Uh oh! This may require a second effort, perhaps one where I remember to check the porch for packages.

We continue to water our seeds and keep them in the windowsill. So far, no sprouts, but I’m crossing my fingers.

Eagerly awaiting very hungry caterpillars

Yesterday was the first day of spring. This year, I’m working hard to make sure we have lots of spring fun. Aside from our seed-related activities, I’ve ordered painted lady caterpillars from Insect Lore. Choosing among ladybugs, butterflies and ants was tough, but butterflies definitely offer the most drama.

So, here’s the deal. Insect Lore is shipping us caterpillars in a cup with special food. The caterpillars should feed, molt and grow for about a week. (Did you know, caterpillars molt? As they grown they burst out of their skin, revealing the new skin underneath. Eric Carle never mentioned that one.) Then they should build a chrysalis and transform into butterflies within about a week.

Our kit includes a special butterfly-net habitat so we can feed and watch the butterflies for a couple of days before we release them into our backyard. I’ve already double-checked to make sure painted ladies will survive in our area. I know from research I’m doing for a book that some butterflies are very picky eaters. Monarchs stick to milkweed. Karner Blues love only lupine.

The boys are excited. One of their Nature’s Miracles books is called Once There Was a Caterpillar. We’ve read it over and over to learn about the caterpillar life cycle: eggs, caterpillar, pupa (in a chrysalis), butterfly. As I’ve noted before, I love this series because each book contains ideas for talking with your children about the subject. as well as activity suggestions, books to read and useful Web sites.

Do you have any spring activities on your agenda? How do you celebrate the arrival of sunshine, warmth and new life?

First Day of Spring Fun

March 20th marks the first day of spring this year. At our house, I’m hoping spring will mean the end of an intense winter storm with high winds and cold rain. Didn’t the Punxsutawney clan predict only six more weeks of winter?

Nevertheless, we are celebrating the beginning of spring at our house by engaging in a number of spring activities. As we drive and play outside, I encourage the boys to look for signs of spring: buds and blossoms on trees, ants scurrying about, birds singing their spring songs, bunnies hopping, warming weather. We’ve talked about spring weather and how it differs from winter. (NOTE: Click here for a Kindergarten spring weather lesson plan.) Finally, last week I took Cooper and Finley to Lowe’s where they each picked a packet of seeds and a pair of gardening gloves. We started our seeds in egg cartons since it’s still too cold to sow them outside. They are so excited about their plants, spritzing them with a spray bottle every day; I am crossing my fingers they germinate.

Many of our spring activities have been inspired by Scholastic’s Nature’s Miracles book series by Judith Anderson and Mike Gordon. The set includes four books — one each about seeds, caterpillars, tadpoles and raindrops. Each book explains a natural cycle; for example Once There Was a Seed  begins with a young girl and her grandfather planting a seed and follows that seed as it sprouts, blooms, produces pollen, and dies and spreads its seeds starting the cycle over again. The back of the book includes for reading the book with your child and suggestions for more spring activities, books for additional reading and helpful Web sites.

Hopefully warm spring weather has made it your way. Happy spring!

Sid the Science Kid: Little Scientist Day

Sid swag

First a big thank you to two fantastic bloggers who shared some sunshine with me this weekend. Check out Vivian Kirkfield at Positive Parent Participation and Jarmila Victoria Del Boccio at Making the Write Connections. These two ladies were gracious enough to pass on the Sunshine Award.

Here’s what makes me happy: hundreds of preschoolers, toddlers and their parents squealing with delight, dancing in their seats and screaming like crazy for….Sid the Science Kid. Never heard of Sid? Imagine animated, childlike Muppets conducting hands-on science investigations and encouraging kids to investigate, explore and discover. That’s Sid, a creation of The Jim Henson Company, which airs on PBS.

My children have enjoyed the show for a couple of years now. So, when PBS SoCal hosted “Little Scientist Day” featuring Sid at the California Science Center, I snapped up tickets. We enjoyed “real-live” Sid singing songs from the show and had a sneak peek at a yet-to-be-aired Easter episode about rocks. The museum also had a number of investigations set up throughout. We made slime out of polyvinyl alcohol and sodium borate. You can to the same thing at home with school glue and borax (scroll to the bottom of that post for directions for making “alien goop.”)

Our hosts: Sid and Jamie Annunzio Myers

As a parent of budding scientists, I love the Sid show. Each episode includes a real science investigation that you can replicate at home from instructions on the PBS Parents site. We’ve made applesauce to discuss irreversible change, bounced balls to explore elasticity and much more. Each activity includes learning objectives, a materials list and step-by-step procedures.

Parents and teachers also can follow the two Sid-related blogs for more activity ideas and ways to implement the investigations at home and school.:

Let’s face it, children are natural scientists. Early introduction to hands-on investigations plays into their natural curiosity and can instill a life-long passion for science.

Perfect Picture Book Friday: Bug Shots

Author: Alexandra Siy
Illustrator: Dennis Kunkel
Publication Info: Holiday House, 2011
Intended audience: Ages 6 to 10
Genre: nonfiction, picture book
Themes/topics: science, nature, insects
Opening and synopsis: ”Bugs bite. Some drink blood. Bugs rob. They steal food from gardens and fields. Bugs kill — mostly each other, but also plants, animals, even people sometimes. Bugs destroy. They eat houses, clothes, and furniture. Bugs bug. (Is bugging a crime?)”
In her latest book, Siy invites children to become Fellow Bug Investigator (FBI) agents, surveying page after page of bug “mug shots” (photomicrographs) and learning more about them via their “rap sheets.” Thus informed, Siy encourages  children to deliver a verdict: are bugs good, bad or just plain bugly?
Why I like this book: Siy is one of my favorite nonfiction science writers for children. We love her Cars on Mars book, which chronicled the adventures of Spirit and Opportunity as they roved the Red Planet. She has a snappy, engaging style that ensures her subjects are never boring. With that said, this book would be nothing without Kunkel’s photomicrographs — essentially colorized pictures taken using a scanning electron microscope. Imagine a honeycomb-like grasshopper exoskeleton magnified more than 3000 times. Picture the hairs on a water strider’s legs magnified 2100 times, so you can truly understand how it walks on water. Even my three-year-old wants me to read him this book because the pictures captivate him.
Resources: This would be a great addition to any unit on bugs. Teachers and homeschoolers also can reserve time on the University of Illinois’s BugScope so kids can control the scanning electron microscope on their own while taking a close up look at the bugs they captured.
At home w collect our own bugs and look at them using our 99-cent magnifying glasses (thank you 99 Cent Store). I also bought a bug catcher at Target for a couple of dollars a few weeks ago. This can provide endless hours of entertainment on a nice spring day. A friend introduced me to Insect Lore a wonderful Web sit chock full of fun bug products. We just ordered painted lady larvae. Finally, Penn State has a list of fun bug  sites for kids….here.

Every Friday bloggers review “Perfect Picture Books.” Find a complete list of book reviews organized by topic, genre and blogger at author Susanna Leonard Hill’s site.