Arts/Crafts, Homeschool, Science/Math, Education

Constellation Projector

This is a picture of author Kirsten Larson with the finished constellation projector.

Here’s an activity linked to THE FIRE OF STARS (Chronicle Books) perfect for the budding astronomer in your life. This constellation projector is simple to make with common household items. And the results are stellar, which you’ll see at the end!

What you’ll need

You will need: a flashlight, a toilet paper tube, tape, glue, scissors, sharp pencil, popsicle stick for spreading glue (optional) and constellation printable.

You will need:

  • a flashlight (or your phone flashlight)
  • a toilet paper tube
  • tape (washi tape looks really nice if you have it)
  • glue and a popsicle stick for spreading it if you want
  • scissors
  • sharp pencil
  • constellation printable, which you’ll find here at Homeschool 123 Homeschool 4 Me
  • Optional: construction paper or scrapbook paper to cover your toilet paper tube OR markers to color it.


This is a picture of Kirsten showing the constellations that have been punched and cut out.
  • Print out or copy the constellation printables on your printer, reducing them to 30 to 50% of the full size. You want the constellation to fit within the circle of the toilet paper tube.
  • Using the sharp point of the pencil, punch holes where the stars are on the constellation. Be very careful so you don’t poke yourself!
  • Cut a large circle around the constellation and and make little snips around the circumference so the edges fold more easily over the toilet paper tube.
  • Put glue on the edges where you’ve snipped, and glue the constellation over the toilet paper tube.
  • Cover the paper edges with washi tape or plain old scotch tape if you don’t have it.
  • You can decorate your toilet paper tube with markers or construction paper, and write the name of the constellation on the side.
  • When you are finished, go into a dark room or closet and put your flashlight inside the toilet paper tube to enjoy your constellation.
Kirsten showing how to bend the paper around the tube.

This is an image of the constellation project projecting lyra onto a wall.

For a video of a similar project, see this one from Natskies.

Books, Cultivating curiosity, Homeschool, Science/Math

Happy birthday STEM Book Giveaway


WOOD, WIRE, WINGS has been out in the world for nearly three whole months. In celebration, I’m giving away an autographed copy of WOOD, WIRE, WINGS, along with a copy of Vicky Fang’s HAPPY PAWS. To enter, sign up for my monthly newsletter here. That’s it! Giveaway ends 5/25 at midnight PDT. Sorry, US entries only.

#MentorTextMoment, Books, Science/Math

#MentorTextMoment: SWEET DREAMS, SARAH

As part of my writing process, I read dozens of books by other nonfiction authors. When I read, I make notes about the craft choices authors make in terms of voice, structure, POV, and other unique elements that add up to amazing books. I recently decided to share my notes (in a searchable format), so teachers and fellow writers can see what I find new and noteworthy. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.


The Book:


Author/Illustrator: Vivian Kirkfield, illustrations by Chris Ewald

Publication Info.: Creston Books, 2019

Ages/Grades: grades 2 to 5

Category: biography, STEM, STEAM, third-person POV

First lines:

Before the Civil War, Sarah obeyed her owner.

Hurry up.

Eyes down.

Don’t speak.

Overview (from the publisher): “Sarah E. Goode was one of the first African-American women to get a US patent. Working in her furniture store, she recognized a need for a multi-use bed and through hard work, ingenuity, and determination, invented her unique cupboard bed. She built more than a piece of furniture. She built a life far away from slavery, a life where her sweet dreams could come true.

What’s noteworthy for authors and educators:

One of the most transformational moments in my own writing was when I started to think about the craft of writing picture books as poetry, not prose. As a beginner, I often equated writing nonfiction picture books with writing an essay, which resulted in long, plodding paragraphs. Yikes! In SWEET DREAMS, SARAH, Vivian Kirkfield, shows us the magic of occasionally using short sentences, more like poetry, to keep the story moving. (Her opening is a perfect example.)

Also notable is how she shifts between a traditional third-person narrator and Sarah’s own experience. The opening lines above provide a perfect example. “Hurry up. Eyes down. Don’t speak.” are clearly words that Sarah hears as she works, though we aren’t told this directly. Overall, Kirkfield’s third-person narration stays very close to Sarah, the main character, giving us glimpses into her thoughts.

A final favorite is this book’s topic: invention! I find biographies about inventors to be so useful for students, in terms of teaching them persistence and the value of a growth mindset. What was it that Edison supposedly said? “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” That seems to be the path of all inventors (and creators like writers too), and Sarah is no exception.

Additional resources for authors and educators:

Books, Science/Math


TITLE: Plants Can’t Sit Still

AUTHOR: Rebecca E. Hirsch


PUBLICATION INFO: Millbrook Press, 2016

ISBN: 978-1467780315

SOURCE: review copy provided by publisher

INTENDED AUDIENCE: ages 5 and up

GENRE: nonfiction picture book


“Plants don’t have feet or fins or wings, yet they can move in many ways. Look closely and you’ll discover that plants can’t sit still.”

From the publisher: “Do plants really move? Absolutely! You might be surprised by all ways plants can move. Plants might not pick up their roots and walk away, but they definitely don’t sit still! Discover the many ways plants (and their seeds) move. Whether it’s a sunflower, a Venus flytrap, or an exotic plant like an exploding cucumber, this fascinating picture book shows just how excitingly active plants really are.”

WHY I LIKE THIS BOOK: Hirsch turns conventional thinking on its head with this playful book. Plants may be rooted, but they can’t sit still, as Hirsch’s refrain tells us. She uses vivid verbs to explain the many ways plants grow, move, and spread, all the while reinforcing what plants need to grow: water, sunshine, and room. PLANTS CAN’T SIT STILL is both a great read-aloud and a wonderful addition to an elementary classroom unit about plants.


  • See for yourself how plants reach and creep. Grow beans in a plastic bag. Find instructions here.
  • OutsideMom provides a lesson plan for learning how seeds move here.
  • Here’s a catchy tune about seed dispersal from Mr. R’s Songs for Teaching.

You’ll find way more cool books at Susanna Leonard Hill’s “Perfect Picture Books.” Every Friday folks review a host of new books. Join us!

Books, Science/Math

PPBF: Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine


TITLE: Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine

AUTHOR: Laurie Wallmark


PUBLICATION INFO: Creston Books, 2015

ISBN: 978-1939547200

SOURCE: personal copy courtesy of Wallmark

INTENDED AUDIENCE: ages 5 and up (biography)

GENRE: nonfiction picture book


“Ada was born into a world of poetry, but numbers, not words, captured her imagination.”

From the publisher: “Ada Lovelace, the daughter of the famous romantic poet, Lord Byron, develops her creativity through science and math. When she meets Charles Babbage, the inventor of the first mechanical computer, Ada understands the machine better than anyone else and writes the world’s first computer program in order to demonstrate its capabilities.”

WHY I LIKE THIS BOOK: STEM … women … need I say more? This book has been so well-reviewed, I’m a little late to the party. One thing that struck me was how Wallmark introduced the idea of one of Ada’s early inventions — a flying machine — and reintroduced the concept at the end to show Ada’s impact on the world: an early computer program called Ada, which allowed modern machines to fly. It creates a perfect circle and a satisfying read.


You’ll find way more cool books at Susanna Leonard Hill’s “Perfect Picture Books.” Every Friday folks review a host of new books. Join us!

Cultivating curiosity, Science/Math

Summer Fun-Coding Class

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 3.46.46 PM

We’ve all become a little frustrated trying to program our Mindstorm robot because we don’t understand the basics of programming. So, one of my goals for this summer was to work through’s Code Studio, a series of free, online coding classes designed for kids and adults so we can learn the basics.

The basics???

Well, it’s been 2 hours today, and I can’t get the boys off the iPads. They are moving through the lessons so fast I lost track of their progress. It’s a good thing keeps track though, so they can pick it up again later.

Finley even sent me one of the video games he created. Here’s the game if you want to check it out. (Note: I have not figured out how to win this one. Finley tells me not to move left or the Stormtroopers will appear and kill me.)

Books, Science/Math

PPBF: Blue On Blue



AUTHOR: Dianne White


PUBLICATION INFO: Beach Lane Books (2014)


SOURCE: library


GENRE: picture book


“Cotton clouds.

Morning light.

Blue on blue.

White on white.”

From the publisher: “Discover the joys of a wild rainstorm in this poetic picture book, illustrated by a Caldecott Medalist.

Join a farming family as they experience the full range of a thrilling seaside thunderstorm—from the wild wind and the very first drops; to the pouring, pouring rain; to the wonderful messy mud after the sun returns!

With gentle, rhyming text and vivid artwork from a Caldecott Medal–winning illustrator, this sublime depiction of nature’s patterns turns a storm into a celebration.”


WHY I LIKE THIS BOOK: Dianne White’s rhythmic text builds and bursts just like the thunderstorm it depicts. Beth Krommes’s illustrations add an additional layer to the story, showing the reaction of a girl and farm animals to the storm. Young children will love the rhythm and rhyme. In the classroom, teachers can use the book to discuss weather patterns.


You’ll find way more cool books at Susanna Leonard Hill’s “Perfect Picture Books.” Every Friday folks review a host of new books. Join us!

Books, History, Science/Math

PPBF: Ben Franklin’s Big Splash

Sorry the blog’s been so quiet, ya’ll. Following the whirlwind of the holidays, I’m now on deadline for two books with my publisher, Rourke Educational Media, and working on a third for a reading program. I took a short break to bring you a book I’ve been wanting to share for a while…

TITLE:  Ben Franklin’s Big Splash

AUTHOR: Barb Rosenstock

ILLUSTRATOR: S. D. Schindler

PUBLICATION INFO: Calkins Creek, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-62091-446-5

SOURCE: personal library


GENRE: historical fiction picture book


“Before the world knew the famous Doctor Benjamin Franklin, his neighbors knew him as Ben, the sturdy, saucy, smelly son of a soap-maker — the boy who, on sweltering summer days, snuck away from stirring soap and snipping candlewicks in his father’s shop to head straight for the river…”

From the publisher:

“Ben Franklin loved to swim and, at the age of eleven, he was determined to swim like a fish—fins and all! This fascinating and lively account of young Ben’s earliest invention follows the budding scientist’s journey as he tests and retests his swim fins. That first big splash led Ben to even more innovations and inventions. Includes Franklin quotes, a timeline, bibliography, and source notes.”

THEMES/TOPICS: history, invention

WHY I LIKE THIS BOOK: I read this one with my six-year-old last night, and he could totally relate to Ben’s passion for swimming. Plus, Ben swims in the buff, which kids find hilarious. (Don’t worry, Schindler keeps Ben modest.) As a parent, I appreciated that Ben’s swim fins and sandals didn’t work out as planned, but he didn’t give up. And just when the six-year-old wanted to know about Ben’s other inventions, I turned the page to find back matter highlighting some of Ben’s contributions.


  • What would you invent: What problems do you see around you? How could you solve them with a new invention? Draw a sketch or write a paragraph describing your ideas.
  • Ready to put your ideas to the test? NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab has a great video series on science fairs, which includes an overview of the engineering design process similar to Ben’s swim fin efforts.
  • PBS has eight lesson plans to accompany its series about Benjamin Franklin. Learn about inventions, newspapers, and more.

You’ll find way more cool books at Susanna Leonard Hill’s “Perfect Picture Books.” Every Friday folks review a host of new books. Join us!