Penguin Secrets Revealed

secret-of-the-puking-penguinsSecret of the Puking Penguins . . . and More! by Ana María Rodríguez

Secret of the Puking Penguins and the other books in the Animal Secrets Revealed! series are actually well kept secrets themselves. Hidden behind the blaring, attention-grabbing titles are serious books for kids interested in real science. Ana María Rodríguez interviews five actual scientists about their research and describes new and interesting discoveries that they have made.

In the first chapter, scientists Anthony Herrel and Jay Meyers investigate how chameleons’ incredible tongues work. The tongues are not only sticky, as many of us already knew, but also are physically shaped to act like a suction cup. As the activity at the end of the chapter demonstrates, the suction cup action works much better at grabbing prey than stickiness alone.

The second chapter is about sensory apparatus in alligators. It isn’t until the third chapter does the reader find out about the “puking penguins.” As anyone who lived through the penguin craze of a few years back knows, penguins regurgitate food to their chicks. Rodríguez discusses how three French physiologists are so fascinated by the king penguins’ ability to hold food in their stomachs for long periods that they decided to study it further. By taking samples, the scientists revealed the penguins produce numerous antimicrobial substances (antibiotics) in their stomach to help preserve the food, including one completely new substance that no one had discovered before! How cool is that?

The final two chapters are about research of cuckoos, a bird that lays its eggs in the nests of other birds, and about how peacock feathers create their iridescent colors. “Chapter Notes” at the end are numbered references from each chapter. This is a nice touch that parallels how literature would be cited in an actual scientific paper, getting budding scientists ready to produce the real thing.

Other than the author should have included a few more activities to reinforce learning (there is just one), this book is fascinating and informative for young readers interested in science. Now let’s get the secret out.

Reading level: Ages 9-12
Library Binding: 48 pages
Publisher: Enslow Publishers, Inc. (September 1, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0766029557
ISBN-13: 978-0766029552

Here’s another book from the same series.

nonfictionmonday

Nonfiction Monday is a blogging celebration of nonfiction books for kids. For more information, stop by Picture Book of the Day. This week’s post is at The Miss Rumphius Effect.

Bouncing Baby Spiders

Babies are always cute, but some people might have trouble with using the words cute and spider in the same sneakyspinning-baby-spiderssentence. Those readers may change their minds after picking up Sneaky, Spinning Baby Spiders by Sandra Markle. In this book Markle has combined spectacular photographs of baby and adult spiders with carefully crafted text. For example, the photograph on page five of a jumping spider flying through the air as it pounces is amazing.

The accompanying text is exactly the right balance of factual and lively to make it informative and fun to read. It must have been difficult not to slip into anthropomorphism when the subject is babies, but the author kept just the right tone. Markle writes “mother spider,” but not “mom.” She also uses feminine pronouns instead of the neutral “it.” Those touches draw the young reader in.

Although the author has done a great job with the text, I did find one inaccuracy. Whenever an author is not an expert on a topic and has to rely on others for photographs, a chance for errors creeps in. In this case, the spider identified on page 24 as a “slender sac spider,” genus Chiracanthium, is actually a giant crab spider, genus Olios. One the plus side, the photographs also represent spiders from throughout the world, instead of from only one area or continent as so often is the case.

At the end of the book, the map of where the spiders are found is a nice touch. I also like Markle’s paragraph about how she was inspired to write this book by finding a spider’s web intact after a severe storm. It is a warm, personal note that sets the tone for the entire book.

All in all, Sneaky, Spinning Baby Spider is a wonderful addition to any library.

Reading level: Ages 4-8
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Walker Books for Young Readers (October 28, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0802796974
ISBN-13: 978-0802796974

For a related activity, visit Spider Webs at Growing With Science blog. Edit: Check More About Baby Spiders for a list of children’s picture books about spiders.

nonfictionmonday

Nonfiction Monday is a blogging celebration of nonfiction books for kids. For more information, stop by Picture Book of the Day. This week’s post is at Simply Science.

Wonderful Windmills

Wind and windmills were “hot” topics at our house last week, and therefore I was pleased to find The Wind at Work: An Activity Guide to Windmills by Gretchen Woelfle. Even though it is an older book (1997), it virtually stands alone on the topic of wind power and windmills for children.

Wind at Work covers the history and social aspects of using wind as a power source in great detail. From the early Persian windmills, through the use of windmills to pump water in the American West, Gretchen Woefle has done her homework. She provides many fascinating historical tidbits, such as how the saying “rule of thumb” came about. Who knew that the official seal of New York City has a windmill on it because windmills were so critical to early New Yorkers? In the final chapter, titled “Fulfilling the Promise,” Woefle explores the future potential of wind turbines as a renewable energy source. Even if you had some inkling of about wind power, Woelfe really brings home how important windmills and wind turbines were to our past and are to our future.

The chapters in this book are well-researched and clearly written. The accompanying activities, however, are a bit of a disappointment. Rather than emphasizing and/or clarifying concepts from the text of the chapter where they are included, the activities often seem to fit awkwardly. For example, for the chapter on ancient wind machines, the activity is to make a weather vane and wind sock. I think those would have fit better with the chapter on “A Windmiller’s Life” where the author says that the windmillers were the village weathermen. The “A Windmiller’s Life” chapter contains an activity to draw a landscape. The examples shown are landscapes with windmills, but the activity doesn’t suggest to draw windmills or even try to incorporate the idea of wind, simply draw a landscape. Surprisingly, the book does not contain a single activity for making a pinwheel, model windmill or even a kite that moves by wind.

Weaknesses with the activities aside, Wind at Work brings deserved attention to an often-overlooked topic. For those interested in wind as a power source, in history and/or in some of the modern environmental issues concerning wind power, this book stands out from the rest like a proud windmill at the top of a hill.

Reading level: Ages 9-12
Paperback: 156 pages
Publisher: Chicago Review Press; 1st edition (June 28, 1997)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1556523084
ISBN-13: 978-1556523083

From the same author, based on a true story:
Katje, the Windmill Cat (Paperback)
by Gretchen Woelfle (Author), Nicola Bayley (Illustrator)

If you are interested in some hands-on projects related to wind, visit Wind Power at my Growing With Science blog.

nonfictionmonday

Nonfiction Monday is a blogging celebration of nonfiction books for kids. For more information, stop by Picture Book of the Day.

Tarantulas Inside and Out

While looking for a book to review this morning, Uncover a Tarantula by David George Gordon popped out at me, and I remembered it fondly. A few years ago I was helping a fourth grader who was a reluctant reader with his report about tarantulas, and I brought in my copy of the book to help him find some cool facts. He opened the book and started exclaiming. Before I knew it, the whole class was gathered around, totally fascinated. He proudly showed them what he had discovered. It was a wonderful moment.

The Uncover series are definitely unique. They contain a plastic model of whatever organism is being studied right in the middle of the book. As the reader turns the pages, he or she delves deeper inside the tarantula (in this case), like viewing a dissection. Around the central model is an explanation of the inner organs that are displayed at that page, and also detailed information about the biology of tarantulas and spiders in general.

The text is good and I even learned a few things, like the practical joke itching powder once contained the urticating hairs (stinging hairs) of tarantulas, and how tarantulas walk with eight legs to keep under control. Although it must be a organizational nightmare to create these books, the work is worth it because the model creates a visual and physical experience like no other.

The first thing that an educator might say when seeing the plastic model is, “Will it hold up to probing fingers?” Although the plastic looks flimsy, it is also flexible and it will definitely hold up to standard classroom use. Library level wear and tear could be another matter. I do know of one copy that is used at a museum and it is still intact.

What I particularly like about the text is that it presents the scary aspects in a factual way instead of playing them up to generate sensationalism. Too many books these days go for the creepy, scary aspects of arthropods to generate interest, when in reality the arthropods are pretty fascinating without all the hype once you get to know more about them.

Although listed as for ages 9-12, this book could easily be used with older ages and even adults. Take a look inside this book and you will be amazed.

Uncover a Tarantula: Take a Three-Dimensional Look Inside a Tarantula!
by David George Gordon

Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover: 16 pages
Publisher: Silver Dolphin Books (September 29, 2004)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 159223237X
ASIN: B00112AVMI

nonfictionmonday

Nonfiction Monday is a blogging celebration of nonfiction books for kids. For more information, stop by Picture Book of the Day. This week’s post is at All About Children’s Books.