May 27 – Rachel Carson Day and Interview with Shana Keller

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday commemorates the birthday, on May 27, 1907, of Rachel Carson, the famous ecologist who launched the modern environmental movement with her 1962 book Silent Spring, which documented the dangers of pesticides to the environment. Silent Spring and Carson’s continued advocacy for the environment ultimately resulted in the banning of the pesticide DDT. To honor the day, learn more about the life and legacy of this influential woman whose work continues to impact our world. To learn more about Rachel Carson, visit rachelcarson.org.

I received a copy of Fly, Firefly! from Sleeping Bear Press for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own.

Fly, Firefly!

Written by Shana Keller | Illustrated by Ramona Kaulitzki

 

As the wind curled through the forest on a breezy night, a little firefly was blown out to sea. “WHOOSH! Now he was farther than he meant to be.” Floating on the current, “he saw the sparkles that flashed and glowed.” He dove in search of the twinkling lights, but deep water was not the place for him.

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Image copyright Ramona Kaulitzki, 2020, text copyright Shana Keller, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

A woman and her niece, strolling along the beach, saw him sinking. The woman scooped him up and gently placed him in her niece’s hand. “‘Little firefly,’ Marjie said. / ‘It’s not flies that you see! / That’s bioluminescence swirling / and twirling through the great sea!’” Marjie carried her treasure up the beach to the edge of the woods, where hundreds of glittering friends and family were waiting to welcome him back, and she set him free.

Following the story, Shana Keller includes a discussion about Rachel Carson—scientist and author of Silent Spring and other books whose experience inspired this story­­—and a description of fireflies and bioluminescence.

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Image copyright Ramona Kaulitzki, 2020, text copyright Shana Keller, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Shana Keller’s glowing and lyrical story about one misdirected firefly that sparks an act of compassion and discovery will inspire children to learn more about both fireflies and the bioluminescent sea creatures that attracted him. The fact that the story is based on an actual event in the life of Rachel Carson will also appeal to readers, who may enjoy sharing one of their favorite marvels of summer with this influential environmentalist and author. Told in the first person, the story directly invites children to observe nature around them and lend a hand in protecting it.

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Image copyright Ramona Kaulitzki, 2020, text copyright Shana Keller, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Ramona Kaulitzki’s illustrations are as beautiful as a summer sunset. Under the pink and lavender sky, dots of light flit among the bushes and low-standing trees. Children first meet the firefly at the center of the story as he’s tumbling head over tail in the wind toward the rippling ocean. As the firefly mistakenly dives into the waves, kids will empathize with his plight and be cheered when Marjie and her aunt rescue him. Kaulitzki’s gorgeous underwater images highlight the diversity of marine creatures found close to shore as well as those that glitter with bioluminescence. The brilliant glow of the firefly on the dusky pages glimmers like a precious jewel and serves as a beacon of the hope and promise of nature.

A unique book for kids who love nature and to inspire studies of bioluminescence, Fly, Firefly! would be a shining addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 5 – 7

Sleeping Bear Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1534110335

Discover more about Shana Keller and her books as well as extensive teacher and homeschool resources and readalouds of her books on her website.

To learn more about Ramona Kaulitzki, her books, and her art and find free coloring pages to download in her shop, visit her website.

Meet Shana Keller

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Shana Keller grew up a middle child in Middle America wondering exactly how clouds stayed in the air. She’s traveled all over the country and some parts of Europe with her family and moved too many times to count. She’s settled in Pittsburgh for now, a city built just for kids and one that she finds secretly inspiring. One of her favorite quotes is from Benjamin Banneker. “Every day is an adventure in learning.” That said, she graduated from the University of Miami, Florida, with a degree in Communications, from UCLA’s screenwriting program, and took a course in songwriting from Berklee College of Music. Her goal is to never stop learning.

You can connect with Shana Keller on

Her website | Twitter | Instagram

I’m excited to talk with Shana today about her books, her inspirations, and her extensive travels. My writing partner Jakki’s sons Steve and Jack also loved Fly, Firefly! and had some questions for Shana.

Steve asked: We like to capture fireflies. Did you capture fireflies as a kid?

I did! My brother and sister and I would compete to see if we could get one of them to land on us.

Jack wondered: Did you watch real fireflies to write your story?

I was so lucky and grateful to live close to where Rachel Carson lived in Pennsylvania while I wrote this story, and to have a pond in our yard. We had frogs, fish, birds, and a good number of fireflies. I watched them every night in the summer when the weather was warm. There was so much wildlife in our backyard! We had chipmunks, groundhogs, wild turkeys, voles, and woodpeckers.

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Our back yard in Pittsburgh. On the bottom right is the pond. Our cat loved to sleep on the picnic table up the small hill. Can you see it behind the little tree? Back there is where the groundhog moseyed around.

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One of the koi fish in our pond surrounded (and protected) by lily pads.

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A groundhog just past the picnic table in our (former) backyard.

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A picture of our frog in the same pond as the koi. Lots of critters lived in it and used it for water.

We don’t live in Pittsburgh anymore and I really miss that yard. Sadly, I haven’t seen any fireflies in my new neighborhood in North Carolina.

Jack and Steve said: We’ve brought frogs back to a pond. Have you ever rescued an animal?

Yes! In the traditional sense, our last dog Abby, was a pound puppy. (Though she has passed, I included a photo.) She always stayed up with me while I wrote, no matter how late it was. I still miss her, so it was the neatest surprise for me to see a beagle in the illustrations for Ticktock Banneker’s Clock. Abby was part beagle.

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Abby running in the snow. She always looked like a deer or rabbit the way she bounded and jumped!

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Jazzy standing outside on our deck.

Today, one of our cats is also a rescue. Her name is Jasmine, but we call her Jazzy. And yes, in the literal sense I have rescued a handful of animals! My most memorable one was when I was about ten or eleven years old and I rescued a squirrel from my aunt’s swimming pool.

The little squirrel had tried to jump from one tall tree to the next and missed. He fell into their round pool. The water was too low, and the ledge was too high for him to climb out. I didn’t want him to drown, so I looked around the yard and grabbed a tree branch to see if he would climb onto it. He didn’t. Then, I ran into the shed and grabbed the biggest (which was also the heaviest) shovel I could find. The squirrel swam away from me even faster than before! I chased after him wielding the long shovel and tried not to rip the lining of the pool. Round and round we went until he finally slowed down long enough, I was able to scoop him out.

I’ve also stopped to scoot turtles along if I see them in the middle of the street. This one (photos are of the same turtle) was the littlest and also brightest green turtle I have ever seen in nature.  

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A little turtle crossing the street.

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A picture of the same little green turtle after I moved him. It looked like he was headed toward a pond. I helped him cross the street so he could get there.

Hi, Shana! What fantastic stories about your love of nature and your pets! Thanks so much for sharing all of these beautiful pictures with us. I can see that nature has really been a life-long inspiration. What sparked your idea to write this particular story?

A few years ago, I read a letter Rachel Carson wrote to her friend Dorothy Freeman in a book called Always, Rachel. In her letter, Rachel and her niece, Marjorie (nicknamed Marjie), came across a firefly while at her summer home in Southport, Maine. Around midnight, Rachel and Marjie headed down to the shore to secure Marjie’s son’s raft.

On the shore, they turned their flashlights off and saw a sea filled with “diamonds and emeralds.” The sparkling was bioluminescence, a (likely) form of marine plankton called Dinoflagellates. Rachel joked with her niece how one gem “took to the air!” Of course, it was a firefly! Well, further in the letter, Rachel tells her friend that she had already thought of a children’s story based on her experience. That sentence is what sparked the idea! 

What kind of research did you do in writing Fly, Firefly! and the back matter about bioluminescence that follows the story? What was the most surprising thing you learned about fireflies?

With this story, I headed to the library first to learn as much about the area Rachel was located in (Maine), and the insects and bioluminescence there. Once I sorted through all of my facts, I reached out to an entomologist here in North Carolina, the director of the Rachel Carson Homestead in Springdale, Pennsylvania, and a marine biologist who studied at the very same Marine Biology Lab Rachel did.

I also read Rachel’s books to get a sense of her voice and style. It filters through in her letters, but her books definitely have a poetic aura about them.

The most inspiring thing I learned was the importance and prominence bugs have in our world. We take them for granted. We call many of them pests. But the truth is, they are an important part of our ecological system. As I discovered with fireflies, when you have them, it is a good indication that your ecosystem is in great health.

What inspired you to write Fly, Firefly! in verse?

While I was researching, I discovered Rachel Carson had a love of poetry. Though this is not pertaining (that I know of) to the children’s story she discusses; in another letter written to her, she was quoted by her friend Dorothy (regarding Rachel’s poetic aims), as having said, “I just want it to be simple and clean and strong and sharp as a sword—for it has work to do!”

I did my best to honor her vision in that way, so I kept it lyrical, simple, and clean!

In your bio, you describe how you’ve traveled and lived all over the country and in parts of Europe. What took you to all of these places? Can you name a favorite place in the US? In Europe? Why are those places special to you?

People always assume I was a military brat when I’m asked about the places I’ve lived. Family and school took me/us to Oklahoma (my birth state), Kansas, Florida, Pennsylvania and Texas. Adventure and jobs took me/us to Colorado, New Mexico, Virginia, Germany, & North Carolina.

My mom simply said she had wanderlust and gypsy blood. I definitely got my love of travel from her. Although now, with my kids in school we have settled down. At least until they graduate. J

My absolute favorite place in the United States is Big Bend national park. My mom and I camped there the year before I left for college. It’s right on the border of Texas and Mexico in a NO-FLY zone which means zero light pollution. Seeing the vast Milky Way at night is something I will carry with me forever. I wish every kid could see the sky that I saw.

My favorite place in Europe was in Berlin. It was the bombed Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church left as it was after the war and converted into a museum. When I first saw this monument of destruction but also of hope, it impacted me in a strong way. My photo from over ten years ago is on the left and does not do it justice. The photo on the right is what it originally looked like. It is definitely worth a Google search to see more pictures of it and compare the before and after.

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My photo of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. Notice the top tower is broken.

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An online photo of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. See how big it was before the bombing?

You’ve also recently released Bread for Words: A Frederick Douglass Story from Sleeping Bear Press that relates how Douglass, born into slavery, taught himself to read and write despite overwhelming challenges. Your powerful telling of this story is written in first person. Why was writing Douglass’s story in first person important to you?

I was first introduced to Douglass’s autobiographies in college. I thought this was way too long of a wait to learn about someone who was the most photographed person in 19th century America and considered one of the greatest orators in our nation.

Frederick struggled for years in a hostile environment while he learned to read and write. To honor his accomplishment, one he was clearly proud of, I wanted to present this story in the same format he had and give children direct access to his own words.

 

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Can you describe a little about your process in writing Bread for Words?

I read Douglass’s autobiographies of course, but I also studied his speeches. I was able to take a trip to Baltimore and meet with Urban Ranger and docent, Bradley Alston thanks to the folks at Baltimore National Heritage Area. His insight and knowledge not just of Frederick Douglass but of the Baltimore Douglass grew up in was incredible. Touring the Frederick Douglass–Isaac Myers Maritime Park and museum (a place I highly recommend) with Bradley Alston rounded out my research. I’ve included a few photos from that trip!

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A recreation of Frederick Douglass arriving in Baltimore. (Photo taken at the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park and Museum.)

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A recreation of the letters Frederick Douglass saw carved into the wood. (Photo taken at the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park and Museum.)

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This is me learning what it was like to caulk a ship, a job Douglass had. They took long rope, dipped it into tar and used the hammer and tool to wedge it in for a watertight seal. (Photo taken by Bradley at the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park and Museum.)

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What Baltimore Harbor looks like today.

Did you always want to write for children? How did you get started?

I didn’t expect to, not at first. I always thought I would write screenplays. I got started when my oldest daughter came home with a small paragraph from school about a man named Benjamin Banneker. It was during Black History Month, and I was amazed that I had never heard of this scientist and astronomer. Curious, I began to research him. When I discovered he built a strike clock using only a pocket watch and a pocketknife, that was the story I shared with my daughter, and that’s when the idea to put it in picture book format took place. I haven’t stopped writing picture books since.

You’re really enthusiastic about connecting with readers. What’s your favorite part of book events and meeting kids? Do you have an anecdote from any event you’d like to share?

Yes! In fact, before all the quarantines, I had such a special moment with a group of fourth graders on the day I shared Bread for Words with them. A student referred to the picture that’s on the back of the cover and said, “See how Frederick wants to be with his friend?” The kids interpreted that image as Frederick waiting for his friend to finish with his tutoring so that they could play and hunt and eat together. But also waiting, so that his friend could teach him.

It seems so obvious now that they mentioned it, but my original interpretation was one of exclusion, not simply waiting. To them, all Fred had to do (which Fred actually did) was ask his friend for help. One of the 4th grade boys even said, “I’m glad he had a friend that could help him.” I agreed and said, “It’s amazing how all the kid’s helped each other, isn’t it?!” And there was the real ‘lesson’ which another student pointed out and said, “We have to help each other if we can.” That kind of interaction is my favorite part about school and library visits!

It does make me wonder how other students will interpret this image.

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Bread for Words – back cover. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

What’s up next for you?

Hopefully more picture books! I’m working on a WWI story, as well as a picture book that highlights the effects of light pollution on migratory birds. I also just finished a very cool Coast Guard story that I can’t wait to share with my editor.

Thank you, so much, Shana for this wonderful talk and your generous pictures! I wish you all the best with all of your books and am really looking forward to reading them as I’m sure kids are too!

You can connect with Shana Keller on

Her website | Twitter | Instagram

Rachel Carson Day Activity

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Firefly Flight Maze

 

This little firefly wants to join her friends in the forest. Can you help her through the maze to find them in this printable maze?

Firefly Flight Maze Puzzle| Firefly Flight Mage Solution

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You can find Fly, Firefly! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

May 20 – World Bee Day

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About the Holiday

Today is World Bee Day! These top-notch pollinators work hard to transport pollen from one flower to the next, so that plants can make their seeds, grow fruit, and launch the next generation of plants! In a larger sense, they keep the world spinning smoothly, by helping plants grow. World Bee Day was created by Slovenian beekeeper Bostjan Noc, president of the Slovenian Beekeepers Association, who first proposed the idea to the United Nations in 2014. The international holiday is meant to show appreciation for bees and other pollinators, and to acknowledge that some bee species are endangered. Make sure to respect and celebrate our bee friends today by reading books about bees, planting a pollinator garden, or installing a sustainable beekeeper. Visit https://www.worldbeeday.org/en/ and http://pollinator.org to learn about the importance of bees and the holiday. To summarize: bee friendly and keep reading.

Thanks to Millbrook Press for sharing a copy of How to Build an Insect for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own.

Review by Dorothy Levine

How to Build an Insect

Written by Roberta Gibson | Illustrated by Anne Lambelet 

 

Have you ever wondered how to build an insect? Well, wonder no longer! Get ready to discover the world of creepy-crawlies with this hands-on, information-packed, quirky instruction-book! Ready to begin? First, gather your supplies. Got your “HEADS” jar? Great! Nearly every living creature has a head, and each one has a head that’s just right for them. So, pick a head from the jar and let’s get building. Next add a thorax and an abdomen to your creation. “What else should we add?” you may wonder. “What about bones like ours? Should we give it a skeleton? No. There isn’t any room for big bones inside a small insect. An insect has its skeleton on the outside. It is called an exoskeleton. The exoskeleton keeps the inside stuff in and the outside stuff out.” 

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Image copyright Anne Lambelet, 2021, text copyright Roberta Gibson, 2021. Courtesy of Millbrook Press.

After the correct number of legs and wings go on, the critical (and funky) five senses are added. “How will our insect see? Let’s give it some eyes! How many? Two? Guess again. Five!” The fun facts continue as sensory elements are added. Did you know, “An insect can have its ears anywhere”? This is “music to my knee ears!” a grasshopper chirps in, adding a comedic flare.

Finally, after adorning insects with “hair, or horns, or spikes, or spots” the builder is instructed to finally give their creation “a place to live and a snack.” The completion of the insect and its release into its habitat is followed by an detailed spread of a fly up close that contains further information about different insect body parts. The book also includes a glossary and information on how to create critters out of art materials and recycled parts.  

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Image copyright Anne Lambelet, 2021, text copyright Roberta Gibson, 2021. Courtesy of Millbrook Press.

The young narrator of How to Build an Insect leads readers on a journey of how to build an anatomically correct insect, with a new body part detailed on each spread. Readers will learn about comparative anatomy, what exactly classifies an insect as an insect, and how insect bodies compare to those of humans and other animals. With intricate illustrations detailing bug bits and parts, leaves, berries, skeletons, exoskeletons and a map of “how to” instructions, the book reads like a super-cool science scavenger hunt. The how-to pages are filled with scientific vocabulary that allows readers of all ages to learn the names of insect body parts, from thorax to mandibles, proboscis, cerci, spiracles, and more. 

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Image copyright Anne Lambelet, 2021, text copyright Roberta Gibson, 2021. Courtesy of Millbrook Press.

Roberta Gibson cleverly constructs a creative non-fiction storyline jam packed with enchanting scientific facts. Gibson pulled from her knowledge working as an entomologist and research specialist in crafting this fantastic premiere nonfiction picture book. Her well-crafted writing puts complex terms into digestible and interesting explanations that are accessible for kids and adults alike. The writing is snappy, humorous, educational and engaging, featuring silly insect dialogue, and questions bolded for readers to ponder. What more could one possibly ask for?

Anne Lambelet’s masterful illustrations not only provide visually entertaining content to accompany the story, but also provide further information and humor for curious, detail-oriented readers. Insects watch as a brown-skinned, unseen narrator assembles their own insect in their very own science learning space. Sometimes the insects pop in with silly dialogue or engage in human activities, all while maintaining their scientifically accurate appearances. The artwork matches the narrator’s curiosity and close attention to detail perfectly, while maintaining a funky, beautiful art style that is consistent throughout. Spreads are backed by beautiful bursts of purples and greens and feature labeled insect and human anatomy charts; intricate bug- and art-making tools are scattered throughout.

How to Build an Insect is a perfect book for science lovers, outdoorsy individuals, bug enthusiasts, and worm savers of all ages! Also, a good read for those who are less insect-lover-inclined to learn more about how these creatures are not all that different from us humans. A worthwhile addition to libraries, classrooms, and home collections. 

Ages 5 – 9

Millbrook Press, 2021 | ISBN 978-1541578111

Discover more about Roberta Gibson and her books on her website.

To learn more about Anne Lambelet, her books, and her art, visit her website.

World Bee Day Activities

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Bee an Insect Lover Activities

 

Enjoy these fun and creative How to Build an Insect Activities and Experiments from Millbrook Press!

How to Build an Insect Activities

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Download this Pollinators and Agriculture Poster that artfully teaches about how pollinators work in harmony with agricultural landscapes.

Pollinators Poster

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You can find How to Build an Insect at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

to support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

May 10 – It’s Garden for Wildlife Month

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About the Holiday

As May’s warm weather and rain creates a perfect environment for growing a garden, today’s month-long holiday, established by the National Wildlife Federation, encourages people to plant a garden that will benefit birds, butterflies, bees, and other insect pollinators. This is easier than it may sound and can be accomplished in a variety of ways and sizes from a single pot or container to a dedicated “meadow” plot. Planting native flowering species makes a positive impact on your local area. To watch a video with five tips to help you garden for wildlife, find plants native to your region, and learn how to have your space recognized as a Certified Wildlife Habitat, visit the National Wildlife Federation website and Garden for Wildlife. Sharing today’s reviewed book is another wonderful way to learn how to make their yards, front gardens, and even whole neighborhoods inviting to wildlife.

A Garden to Save the Birds

Written by Wendy McClure | Illustrated by Beatriz Mayumi

 

One day while Callum and his sister Emmy were eating breakfast, a bird hit their window. They and their mom rushed outside to check on bird. It was okay and flew away, but that’s when Callum noticed that the window glass reflected the sky, and the birds couldn’t tell the difference. Later, Callum, Emmy, and their mom read about birds and learned lots of things they didn’t know – like how there are fewer birds now and how lights at night affect their migration. 

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Image copyright Beatriz Mayumi, 2021, text copyright Wendy McClure. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

They decide to do things around their house to help the birds. They put out feeders and add decals to the windows. “But some of the things we do to help the birds,” Callum says, “are the things we don’t do.” In the fall, they’re mindful of where birds can find food. Even the Halloween Jack-o-lantern plays a part. And they plant bulbs to prepare for spring. It doesn’t take long before they attract a lot of different kinds of birds.

At night they take to turning off the porch lights and lowering the blinds so as not to confuse the birds. Callum looks up at the sky to see dark silhouettes flying by. “I never knew so many birds migrated at night,” he says. “I know now the moon helps them find their way.” He likes that now they and “the moon are working together.”

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Image copyright Beatriz Mayumi, 2021, text copyright Wendy McClure. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

During the winter, Callum and Emmy make sure the birds have shelter and fresh water. They also talk to their neighbors about the birds and some of the changes they could make to help them. At first Callum thinks their next door neighbor isn’t interested in helping, but then they notice that he’s turned off his porch light too. It turns out that everyone on the block is making positive changes.

When spring and summer roll around again and all the flowers and grasses are blooming, Callum discovers that they’re not only helping the birds, but that bees, butterflies, and other pollinators are attracted to the neighborhood too. In fact, the neighborhood has made such an impact that it is recognized with a sign as a certified wildlife habitat. Callum is glad that they have all worked together to make their block a welcoming home for birds and other wildlife.

Backmatter includes a discussion on the decreasing bird population, how kids and their families can create welcoming environments around their homes, and online resources for more information.

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Image copyright Beatriz Mayumi, 2021, text copyright Wendy McClure. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

In her charming and educational story, Wendy McClure strikes just the right tone to engage kids in learning about birds and how they can make changes around their homes to attract and help nurture birds and pollinators. Her storytelling is friendly and kid-centric, and readers will be drawn to Callum’s perspective and concern for wildlife and want to get involved in local environmental activism themselves. Adults will also find helpful and interesting tips on simple ways to make a yard or even a small area bird– and pollinator-friendly. 

Beatriz Mayumi’s lovely and detailed illustrations depict the variety of backyard birds that visit inviting landscapes as well as the beauty of garden plantings. She also clearly and realistically portrays the kinds of feeders, water bowls, nesting boxes, and natural vegetation that attract birds year round. In her images, Mayumi also reminds readers about light pollution and where it comes from in a neighborhood setting. Her beautiful illustrations of the gardens created with such care as well as her depictions of Callum and his family and the whole neighborhood working together will inspire readers to get involved in helping to save the birds.

A charming and inspirational story as well as an excellent guide to turning any area into a sanctuary for birds and pollinators, A Garden to Save the Birds is a book that families and classrooms will turn to again and again. It is highly recommended for all kids and for public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8 

Albert Whitman & Company, 2021 | ISBN 978-0807527535

Discover more about Wendy McClure and her books on her website.

To learn more about Beatriz Mayumi, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Garden for Wildlife Activity

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Garden for Wildlife Board Game

 

Plant flowers, install a bird feeder and birdbath, build some birdhouses, and leave a layer of leaves then invite the birds, butterflies, and bees to your garden plot to win the game!

Supplies

Directions

  1. Print one set of playing cards and garden plot (if using) for each player
  2. Print playing die
  3. Color garden plot, paper, or paper plate (optional)
  4. Choose someone to go first.
  5. Each player gets one roll of the die per turn.
  6. Roll the die and place the face-up object in your garden plot. If the player rolls the bird, butterfly, and bee before they’ve added all the other elements, play passes to the next player 
  7. Players continue rolling the die and adding objects to their garden plots. After a player collects them all, they must roll the bird, butterfly, and bee to win.  

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You can find A Garden to Save the Birds at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

April 26 – National Audubon Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday honors John James Audubon, who was born on this date in 1785. Audubon was a French-American ornithologist, naturalist, and painter who traveled across America, documenting the birds he found in his detailed illustrations of them in their natural habitats. Audubon’s greatest work was The Birds of America, which is considered one of the finest ornithological works ever completed. This book contains more than 700 North American bird species with 435 hand-colored, life-size prints of 497 bird species. The Audubon Society is a far-reaching organization dedicated to conservation and education and is actively involved in issues that threaten bird populations. To learn more about the Audubon Society and its work, visit the organization’s website.

To celebrate today’s holiday, take a walk in your area or even your backyard and take special note of the birds you see. If you’d like to attract more birds to your backyard, consider hanging a bird feeder or making a temporary feeder from a pinecone, peanut butter, and seed as in the activity below. 

Thanks to Bloomsbury Children’s Books for sending me a copy of Birds: Explore their extraordinary world for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Birds: Explore their extraordinary world

Written by Miranda Krestovnikoff | Illustrated by Angela Harding

 

To love birds is to marvel over everything about them from their smooth gliding flight and beautiful songs to their colorful plumage and intricate nests that protect fragile eggs from the elements and predators. With a stunning number of species, birds are found around the world and living in every kind of climate. In Miranda Krestovnikoff and Angela Harding’s eye-catching compendium, readers learn about seven families of birds – birds of prey, seabirds, freshwater birds, flightless birds, tropical birds, tree dwellers, and passerines. 

Each chapter opens with general facts on the behavior, anatomical features, and habitat that determine the order in which a bird is categorized. Integrated with this information are descriptions of specific birds within the order. In the section on Birds of Prey, for instance, readers learn about sparrowhawks; fish-eating ospreys; and golden eagles, which can “spot a rodent from over a mile away and a rabbit from nearly double that distance.” Children also learn about extreme birds of prey: the fastest, largest, smallest, tallest, and baldest and how their distinctive feature helps them thrive. Kids also discover how they “can tell when each species of owl prefers to hunt by looking at the color of its eyes.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-birds-explore-their-extraordinary-world-owls

Image copyright Angela Harding, 2020, text copyright Miranda Krestovnikoff, 2020. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

The next chapter takes readers to coastal areas to learn about the seabirds that scour the water from the sky, searching for food and waders, that are found along the water’s edge and “feed on the variety of high-protein invertebrates that lie hidden in the mud.” Children learn about the birds that populate warmer waters, such as blue-footed boobies, terns, and frigatebirds as well as those who survive in colder waters, such as gulls, and kittiwakes. Readers will also find a fascinating description of the gannet and learn how it can safely “dive into the sea at speeds of 60 miles an hour from an impressive height of up to 100 feet” to feed.

From sea birds, readers move on to freshwater birds like ducks, swans, grebes, and Canada geese. Even the bright flamingo is here with its distinctive scoop-shaped beak that is “uniquely designed to be used upside down and helps them to filter out tiny brine shrimps and blue-green algae from the water, which, when digested, give them their pink color.” The flamingo isn’t the only bird with an unusual way to acquire their prey, and kids will discover the clever ways pelicans, herons, and kingfishers (which use “objects such as sticks, feathers, and even discarded popcorn as lures”) find food.

And then there are the “more than 50 bird species across the world [that] stay firmly on the ground (or on water)” or just “choose not to fly very often.” These flightless birds include kiwis, kākāpōs, southern cassowaries, ostriches, and Penguins. Penguins vary in size, from the “little penguin (also known as the fairy or blue penguin)” which comes to shore to nest only at night and stave off predators with their oversized voices, to the emperor penguin. Occasional fliers include great bustards, domestic chickens, and tinamous.

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Image copyright Angela Harding, 2020, text copyright Miranda Krestovnikoff, 2020. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

When you hear about extravagant birds, you most likely think of tropical birds. “Rainforests are packed with a range of incredible species with dazzling plumage and bizarre courtship displays.” Readers will learn about the appearance and mating rituals of scarlet macaws, Raggiana birds of paradise, and the Andean cock-of-the-rock. A detailed description of the bowerbird and the male bird’s careful and artistic nest (or bower) building is funny, poignant, and even a little bit human. Then readers are treated to some tropical bird extremes: smallest bird, longest bill, and smelliest as well as a poisonous species and one that makes its own musical instrument.

Of course, woodlands are the home of many bird species, and in the chapter on Tree Dwellers, readers learn about acorn woodpeckers and great hornbills that use trees for food and shelter; tawny frogmouths and potoos that use trees for camouflage; and nuthatches, greater honeyguides, and yellow-bellied sapsuckers, which find all the food they need among the bark, leaves, and branches of trees.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-birds-explore-their-extraordinary-world-chickens

Image copyright Angela Harding, 2020, text copyright Miranda Krestovnikoff, 2020. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

Next up are passerines, or perching birds, which make up the “largest group of birds, with over half of all known species falling into this category.” Corvids, a group that includes the common raven, crows, magpies, and rooks, are considered to be the most intelligent birds. “These birds have a remarkable ability to solve problems in order to find food, in some cases performing better than young children or chimpanzees!” Readers will be impressed with their tricks and clever use of tools (that even include cars). Children learn about cooperative breeders, which rely on their extended family to help raise the young from year to year. Passerines also include many of the garden birds we find in our backyards and which fill the air with song. Readers discover facts about blue tits, robins, and finches in this section.

The next sections give detailed and interesting information on the features we most associate with birds: their feathers, beaks, eyes, nesting habits, eggs, migration patterns, and birdsong. The book ends with perhaps the most adaptable birds in the world: those that make their homes on glaciers, mountain tops, and in the Arctic snow as well as urban birds, which live among people in crowded cities, nesting on tall cathedrals and skyscrapers and foraging for food in garbage cans and on the street.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-birds-explore-their-extraordinary-world-woodpeckers

Image copyright Angela Harding, 2020, text copyright Miranda Krestovnikoff, 2020. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

For young ornithologists, Miranda Krestovnikoff, a wildlife expert, offers a compelling, eye-opening, and accessible introduction to a wide variety of birds, placing them in their natural environments and revealing intriguing facts and tantalizing tidbits that inform and will spark a continued interest in learning more about the world’s feathered creatures. Krestovnikoff’s engaging writing style will captivate readers and keep them turning the pages to discover birds that are both familiar and new to them. The comprehensive nature of the book allows kids in all parts of the world to learn more about their native birds while creating a global connection with these most recognized and widely distributed creatures.

Accompanying Krestovnikoff’s text are Angela Harding’s beautiful linocuts that depict birds in mid-flight, capturing prey on land and water, engaging in mating rituals, and building and protecting their nests and young. Harding’s use of natural colors and exquisitely etched landscapes set off each bird in breathtaking illustrations that invite readers to linger to enjoy their full impact. Each illustration is captioned with the bird’s species.

A gorgeous and educational book that readers of all ages will love dipping into again and again, Birds: Explore their extraordinary world is a must for bird lovers and highly recommended for home, school, and public libraries.

Ages 7 and up

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2020 | ISBN 78-1408893913

Discover more about Miranda Krestovnikoff and her books on her website.

To learn more about Angela Harding, her books, and her art on her website.

National Audubon Day Activities

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Beautiful Birds Word Search Puzzle

 

It’s fun to watch for different kinds of birds when you take a walk or in your own backyard. Can you find the names of twenty types of birds in this printable Beautiful Birds Word Search Puzzle? Here’s the Solution!

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Pinecone Bird Feeder

 

Pinecone bird feeders are quick to make and great for your backyard fliers. The combination of peanut butter, lard, or vegetable shortening and a quality seed mixture provide birds with the fat and nutrition they need to stay warm and healthy during the winter.

Supplies

  • Pinecones
  • Peanut butter, vegetable shortening, or lard
  • Birdseed
  • String
  • Knife or wooden spreader
  • Spoon

Directions

  1. Tie a long length of string around the middle of the pinecone
  2. Spread the peanut butter, vegetable shortening, or lard on the pinecone
  3. Sprinkle a thick coating of birdseed on the pinecone, pressing it into the covering so it will stick
  4. Tie the pinecone feeder onto a tree branch or other structure
  5. Watch the birds enjoy their meal!

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You can find Birds: Explore their extraordinary world at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

April 21 – It’s Global Astronomy Month

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About the Holiday

Instituted by Astronomers Without Borders, a group who sees in our shared sky an opportunity to create “a global community that appreciates, studies, and shares the wonders of the universe, to broaden perspectives, transcend borders, and improve lives,” The group’s goals are twofold: to inspire and empower a worldwide community of astronomy enthusiasts and educators through astronomy-related programs and to cultivate a diverse, international community dedicated to sharing the Earth’s resources equitably. To try to accomplish these goals, Global Astronomy Month brings people together with arts activities, parties, and special events. To find resources, such as April sky maps in English and Spanish, and more information on how you can participate, visit the Astronomers Without Borders website.

The Little Spacecraft That Could: New Horizons’ Amazing Journey to Pluto and Arrokoth

Written by Joyce Lapin | Illustrated by Simona Ceccarelli

 

As the little spacecraft blasted away from the launch pad on January 19, 2006, she thought that her name—New Horizons—“was a brave-sounding name. And you had to be brave to fly to the edge of the solar system.” New Horizons was on her way to Pluto—the first spacecraft to do so. Zooming through space, her engines dropped away in stages. Free of these engines the little spacecraft, “no bigger than a small piano… streaked through space at more than 10 miles per second.”

While she soared, New Horizons wondered what she would find when she finally reached Pluto. She knew that everyone was counting on her to provide answers about this mysterious planet. People had a lot of questions, and New Horizons had a lot of time to ponder them. In fact, it would take her “nearly 10 years to reach Pluto.” Things were going well for New Horizons. She was on track and jogging along at 36,000 miles an hour… but then on August 24, 2006, astronomers decided Pluto wasn’t big enough to be considered a planet and demoted it to dwarf planet status.

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Image copyright Simona Ceccarelli, 2021, text copyright Joyce Lapin, 2021. Courtesy of Sterling Publishing.

Planetary scientists didn’t and don’t agree with this change, and New Horizons? She just wanted to complete her mission, and she had to concentrate on what came next—meeting up with Jupiter at just the right time to take advantage of this giant planet’s gravitational pull to speed up her trajectory toward Pluto. Carefully, New Horizons got into position. She sped faster and faster and was flung into space, heading toward her destination at “nearly a million miles per day.”

Now and for the next eight years, New Horizons would fly on autopilot while she took a well-deserved nap that would conserve fuel as well as her computers and instruments. Periodic wake-ups by the scientists on Earth made sure everything was going well. Finally, on December 6, 2014 it was time for New Horizons to wake up and go to work. She wouldn’t be landing on Pluto but doing a “flyby” 7,800 miles away from the surface of Pluto. At this distance the photographs she took would be clear and her other instruments for listening, smelling, feeling, and measuring other aspects of Pluto and its atmosphere would work too.

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Image copyright Simona Ceccarelli, 2021, text copyright Joyce Lapin, 2021. Courtesy of Sterling Publishing.

New Horizons couldn’t wait to get started and began snapping pictures “from half a million miles out.” What people saw when she sent back her photos “sent the internet on fire.” It appeared that Pluto was holding a white heart—a valentine for Earth. “Everybody loved the dwarf planet with a heart!” This heart is actually a glacier made of nitrogen, which on Pluto’s cold surface forms ice instead of gas like on Earth

On July 14, 2015, New Horizons at last reached her optimal distance, and what wonders she uncovered! Towering ice mountains, valleys deeper than the Grand Canyon, “‘ice blades’ the height of New York City skyscrapers,” and “‘ice volcanoes’…that spew out icy slush instead of lava.” This was only the beginning of what scientists discovered. Measurements also showed that Pluto was larger than was thought—bumping it up “from second-largest dwarf planet to the largest.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-little-spacecraft-that-could-control-room

Image copyright Simona Ceccarelli, 2021, text copyright Joyce Lapin, 2021. Courtesy of Sterling Publishing.

New Horizons also took pictures and measurements of Pluto’s moons and, after snapping one last picture: Pluto “‘crowned’ with the hazy blue glow of its atmosphere” while lit from behind by the Sun, New Horizons was off for Arrokoth, an object in the Kuiper Belt that hadn’t even been discovered when she blasted off from Earth all those years ago. A billion miles later, New Horizons reached Arrokoth on January 1, 2019. New Horizons continues to send information about this fascinating body, and because she’s still so “robust…her team wants [her] to visit an even more distant Kuiper Belt world in the 2020s. No one doubts she can do it.

In addition to the story about New Horizons’ journey, each page contains illustrated insets with detailed facts and information about the New Horizons spacecraft, Pluto, our solar system, how the planets were named, and more.

Back matter includes a timeline of New Horizons’ journey, an extensive glossary, a list of books for further reading and research, and a list of internet resources where readers can see videos and learn more about New Horizons and her mission.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-little-spacecraft-that-could-pluto-heart

Image copyright Simona Ceccarelli, 2021, text copyright Joyce Lapin, 2021. Courtesy of Sterling Publishing.

Joyce Lapin’s thrilling true tale of New Horizons’ mission to Pluto and beyond lends pep and personality to this little spacecraft that the world watched blast off with the heart and anticipation of a parent sending their child off on their first day of school. Her engaging storytelling helps kids understand and appreciate the magnitude of New Horizons’ flight and all it has accomplished. Lapin’s clear descriptions of the various stages of the mission, scientists’ expectations, and the tricky maneuvering necessary to put New Horizons at the right place at the right time are delivered smoothly and concisely.

Scientific vocabulary and definitions are woven seamlessly throughout, enhancing the reader’s understanding without their losing any of the suspense. Kids will identify with the childlike nature of New Horizons’ confidence in herself and commiserate with her dismay when Pluto is demoted. Readers will cheer on this little spacecraft as her mission is expanded and will be excited to learn more about what New Horizons has already discovered and what she will find in the future.

Simona Ceccarelli’s illustrations are nothing short of phenomenal. Photographic in detail, Ceccarelli’s vibrant images take kids from the launchpad with the fiery rocket boosters produce clouds of smoke as the spacecraft climbs into the sky, into outer space, where they see how the engines disengaged to set New Horizons free to navigate past Mars, pick up speed from Jupiter (shown in its colorful, striped glory) and rocket past Saturn (the rocky debris of its icy rings clearly visible) to become just a dot in the black sky.

Ceccarelli also takes readers into the control room where graphs, screens, coordinates, and more line the walls and computers stand side-by-side on the desks and carefully observed by the mission’s directors. Images of the heart on Pluto include internet snapshots that will remind some readers of how the world reacted to the first images sent back by New Horizons.

The final images of Pluto, showing a landscape of ice blades, deep canyons, mountains, and swirling patterns of color and then backlit by the Sun, are breathtaking. The spacecraft itself is lightly anthropomorphized with expressive eyes and mouth and cable-thin arms. Drawn from all sides, the images of New Horizons give kids a good a look at this amazing spacecraft.

A sensational achievement in presenting the scientific and human accomplishments involved in the New Horizons mission as well as an exhilarating overview of our solar system, The Little Spacecraft That Could would be a stimulating addition to science units for elementary and high school students to spark a love for astronomy, engineering, research, and other related subjects. The book will be a favorite and is a must for home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 7 and up

Sterling Children’s Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-1454937555

Discover more about Joyce Lapin and her books, visit her website.

To learn more about Simona Ceccarelli, her books, and her art, visit her website

Global Astronomy Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-rocket-to-the-moon-tic-tac-toe-game

Out-of-This-World Tic-Tac-Toe Game

 

You can launch your own Tic-Tac-Toe Game with this set you make yourself! With just a couple of egg cartons, some crayons, and a printable game board, you’ll be off to the moon for some fun! Opposing players can be designated by rockets and capsules. Each player will need 5 playing pieces. 

SUPPLIES

  • Printable Moon Tic-Tac-Toe Game Board
  • 2 cardboard egg cartons
  • Heavy stock paper or regular printer paper
  • Crayons
  • Black or gray fine-tip marker

DIRECTIONS

To Make the Rockets

  1. Cut the tall center cones from the egg carton
  2. Trim the bottoms of each form so they stand steadily, leaving the arched corners intact
  3. Pencil in a circular window on one side near the top of the cone
  4. Color the rocket body any colors you like, going around the window and stopping where the arched corners begin
  5. With the marker color the arched corners of the form to make legs
  6. On the cardboard between the legs, color flames for blast off

To Make the Capsule

  1. Cut the egg cups from an egg carton
  2. Color the sides silver, leaving the curved section uncolored. (If your egg cup has no pre-pressed curve on the sides of the cup, draw one on each side.)
  3. Color the curved section yellow to make windows
  4. With the marker, dot “rivets” across the capsule

Print the Moon Game Board and play!

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You can find The Little Spacecraft That Could at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

April 20 – It’s Medical Laboratory Professionals Week

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About the Holiday

Instituted in 1975, Medical Laboratory Professionals Week aims to raise awareness of and an appreciation for the importance of laboratory professionals to patient care. Better and more accurate diagnoses as well as targeted treatment are accomplished through the specialized knowledge and dedication of laboratory technicians. This year, especially, we celebrate these individuals who have worked tirelessly to help create a vaccine to combat the COVID-19 virus. Laboratory Science can be an exciting and rewarding career choice for science– and medical-minded students. To learn more about today’s holiday and the work of laboratory professionals, visit the American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science website and LibraryScienceCareers.

Germs Up Close

By Sara Levine

 

You know they’re there. It’s hard to forget, since people keep reminding you: “wash your hands,” “use sanitizer,” “sneeze into your elbow,” “don’t leave food out too long.” But since you can’t see the germs, it can be hard to remember all the time. If only you could see what everyone is warning you about that might make it easier. Well, now you can with Sara Levine’s book Germs Up Close (and I mean really, really close), which also tells you exactly where germs come from and what they do.

How can you see a germ? “With special magnifying equipment and some dye to make their parts show up,” you can see exactly what different kinds of bacteria, protozoa, fungi, and viruses look like. And you might be surprised to discover that they are very “interesting and beautiful to look at.” Levine lets you in on some fascinating facts about each type of germ, including how its name is pronounced, its common name, its microscopic appearance, where it lives, some diseases it causes, and some more you ought to know. So, let’s get started.

Okay, let’s have a show of (clean) hands! “Have you ever had a cavity? An ear infection? Strep throat?” Yeah? Then you’re already acquainted with bacteria. Sounds bad, huh? Well, yes and no. Levine explains that the majority of bacteria on your body are actually helpful. It’s the bad bacteria that can make us sick that are called germs. In her section on bacteria, Levine introduces kids to salmonella, spirillum, staphylococcus, streptococcus, and Escherichia coli (better known as E. coli) with colorful photographs of each of these “round, hotdog-shaped, or wormlike and squiggly bacteria.

Next up are protozoa. You know not to drink pond water or dirty water, right? These little, one-cell-big guys are the reason why. Here, kids learn about “trypanosoma, the germ that causes sleeping sickness,” plasmodium, which causes malaria, and giardia, which causes giardiasis, an intestinal infection. Turning the page, they’ll discover different kinds of fungi, some of which are edible, like mushrooms and yeast, and others which can produce itchy rashes, yeast infections, or ringworm. 

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Copyright Sara Levine, 2021, courtesy of Millbrook Press.

And now we come to a germ you’re all very familiar with: the virus. If you’ve had a cold or the flu or “been vaccinated against viral infections that used to be very common such as mumps, measles, and chickenpox,” you’ve heard about viruses. And, of course, we all know about the coronavirus. But what do these germs look like? Kids get to see them in all of their round, peas-in-a-pod, peanut-shaped, or knob-covered wonder. 

But how can we stop germs in their tracks or fight them when they do invade? “The good news is that our bodies take care of most of this for us” through our immune system. Levine gives kids a detailed overview of the ways our skin, mucus, saliva, and stomach acid combat the germs that assail us. She also talks about the different kinds of white blood cells we have and how each kills germs. Illustrations show what the five types of white blood cells look like and their comparative sizes.

Levine reminds kids of all the ways people can protect themselves from surface and air-borne germs as well as germs that are transmitted through food and water. Her discussion on vaccines explains how they work and prepare white blood cells to recognize and fight germs. Still, sometimes we do get sick, and Levine reassures kids that there are medicines for each kind of germ that can make the better.

A glossary, a list of eleven careers that revolve around germs or helping sick people, and resources for further reading or research follow the text.

Sara Levine strikes just the right balance of humor and hard science facts in her engaging and educational book about the germs that make us sick as well as good bacteria and fungi, how our body protects us from most germs, and the vaccines and medicines that help us get well. Through her compelling writing style, Levine presents complex concepts in ways that make it easy for readers to embrace biological and medical science and get excited about research and learning more.

The stunning color photographs of various types of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and viruses with their unusual shapes – some sporting protrusions like a hairbrush and others that look like they could be the stars of their own sci-fi picture book or TV show – will wow kids and spark a fascination for this important field of knowledge and research.

A fantastic book to add to home libraries for kids who are interested in medicine, biology, veterinary science, and other research sciences, Germs Up Close is a must for school libraries to enhance science, STEM, and research lessons as well as for public library collections.

Ages 5 – 10

Millbrook Press, 2021 | ISBN 978-1728424088

Discover more about Sara Levine and her books on her website.

Medical Laboratory Professionals Week Activity

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Look Out for Germs! Word Search

 

Find the twenty-three words associated with germs in this printable word search puzzle.

Look Out for Germs! Word Search Puzzle | Look Out for Germs! Word Search Solution

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You can find Germs Up Close at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

April 14 – It’s Global Astronomy Month

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About the Holiday

Instituted by Astronomers Without Borders, a group who sees in our shared sky an opportunity to create “a global community that appreciates, studies, and shares the wonders of the universe, to broaden perspective, transcend borders, and improve lives,” Global Astronomy Month brings people together with arts events, parties, and special events. To find resources, such as April sky maps in English and Spanish, and more information on how you can participate, visit the Astronomers Without Borders website.

Thanks to Abrams Books and Blue Slip Media for sending me a copy of The Stuff Between the Stars for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own. I’m excited to be hosting a giveaway of the book. See details below.

The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe

Written by Sandra Nickel | Illustrated by Aimée Sicuro

 

Vera had always been fascinated with the night sky. As she gazed up through her bedroom window, she saw when “the stars were stirring, and something bright stirred in Vera too.” She began studying everything she could about the stars, planets, and how they interacted in the night sky. She even made her own telescope from a cardboard tube and a lens. At seventeen Vera began attending Vassar College as the only astronomy major in her class. Here, she could use the school’s telescope whenever she wanted.

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Image copyright Aimée Sicuro, text copyright Sandra Nickel. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

While at Vassar, she fell in love with Robert Rubin, a mathematician. They married and soon Vera was going to have a baby. During her pregnancy, she explored an idea she had: “was it possible that galaxies rotated around a center in the universe like the Big Dipper circled the North Star?” By the time her son was born, Vera decided she was right. Vera presented her conclusions at a meeting of America’s top astronomers. They thought her ideas were “outlandish” and “ridiculous” and told her so. “Vera felt like the smallest, slowest star on the edge of their galaxy” and wondered if she’d “ever really be an astronomer.”

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Image copyright Aimée Sicuro, text copyright Sandra Nickel. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

After Vera had a baby girl, she decided to concentrate on a new question that she thought would be fun. She wondered if galaxies were scattered haphazardly or whether there was “a pattern to where they spun.” After many months of staying up late into the night doing calculations, Vera determined that galaxies were “clumped together like dew drops on a spider’s web.” This was a major discovery; one that earned her a doctorate in astronomy. Instead of criticizing her, America’s top astronomers ignored her.

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Image copyright Aimée Sicuro, text copyright Sandra Nickel. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Vera had two more children, and as her family grew she dreamed of observing galaxies from a mountaintop like the senior astronomers and watch gravity work within galaxies. She began teaching astronomy at colleges in Washington D.C., and other astronomers began hearing about her and wanting to know more about her ideas that had been dismissed in the past. More than ever Vera wanted to view the sky from an observatory in the mountains—one like the Carnegie Institution had in the California mountains.

One day she went to the Carnegie Institution and announced that she would like a job there. When the director and other scientists learned about her work and theories, they were so impressed that she landed a job. While the other senior astronomers worked on other questions, Vera studied the “slow-moving stars at the edges of the galaxies.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-stuff-between-the-stars-galaxies

Image copyright Aimée Sicuro, text copyright Sandra Nickel. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

In Arizona Vera studied the Andromeda Galaxy and the stars on its outside spiral. What Vera found was astounding. Instead of moving slower at the edges of the galaxy because of waning gravity from the center, these stars moved at the same speed. She remembered that earlier astronomers had theorized about a mysterious, unseen “dark matter” with its own gravity that “might be at work in the universe.”

Vera believed dark matter “could fill the space between the stars.” In fact, she was sure it was there by the way the stars moved. Once again, when Vera revealed her findings, most astronomers didn’t want to believe it. They didn’t want to believe that all this time they’d only been studying a small fraction of the universe. After Vera studied two hundred more galaxies, the astronomers had to agree that she was correct. At last “Vera was no longer at the edge of astronomy, she was at it’s very center.”

Backmatter includes an Author’s Note detailing more about Vera Rubin’s work, a timeline of Rubin’s life, resources on quotes found in the text, and a selected bibliography.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-stuff-between-the-stars-observatory

Image copyright Aimée Sicuro, text copyright Sandra Nickel. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Sandra Nickel’s straightforward and comprehensive storytelling gives kids a well-rounded view of Vera Rubin’s life as she doggedly pursued a career in astronomy despite all the naysayers and snubs along the way and made an astounding discovery that still baffles scientists today. Rubin’s inspirational example will resonate with young readers and give them a pathway to accomplishing their own goals. Nickel does an excellent job of explaining the complex ideas Rubin studied, theorized on, and wrote about, allowing readers to fully understand her impact on the field of astronomy and our understanding of the universe. Nickel’s lyrical prose is also sprinkled with metaphors that link Rubin’s feeling and life changes to the night sky she loved to observe.

Through Aimée Sicuro’s mixed-media illustrations, readers follow Vera Rubin as she matures from a curious child who loves watching the night sky to a college student to a mother to an astronomer making discoveries that changed the way scientists understood the universe. Her detailed images give kids visual representations of Rubin’s work and ideas, including a complex mathematical calculation she works on while her family sleeps and her idea that galaxies were clumped together. Depictions of the Palomar Observatory will thrill space buffs and show readers why Rubin so wanted to study the sky from a mountain top. The final image of a group of children gazing up at the night sky as a shooting star flashes by offers an inspirational quote from Vera Rubin.

A superb biography that will inspire and nurture young minds, The Stuff Between the Stars is highly recommended for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 6 – 9

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2021 | ISBN 978-1419736261

Discover more about Sandra Nickel and her books on her website. You can also find curriculum guides and activity sheets to download on her site.

You can connect with Aimée Sicuro on Instagram.

Watch the book trailer for The Stuff Between the Stars!

The Stuff Between the Stars Giveaway

I’m happy to be teaming with Abrams Books for Young Readers and Blue Slip Media in a giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of The Stuff Between the Stars by Sandra Nickel | illustrated by Aimée Sicuro

To enter:

  • Follow Celebrate Picture Books
  • Retweet a giveaway tweet
  • Bonus: Reply with your favorite constellation for extra entry

This giveaway is open from April 14 to April 20 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on April 21. 

Prizing provided by Abrams and Blue Slip Media

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | No Giveaway Accounts 

Global Astronomy Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-astronomy-coloring-page-telescope    celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-astronomy-coloring-page-kids

Explore the Galaxies Coloring Pages

 

Indulge your love of star stuff with these printable coloring pages!

Looking through the Telescope | Studying the Stars | Milky Way Dot-to-Dot

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-stuff-between-the-stars-cover

You can find The Stuff Between the Stars at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review