Scorpions: Armored Stingers

Scorpions: Armored Stingers by Sandra Markle is part of the Arachnid World series. This book gives an overview of scorpion biology as well as compares scorpions to other arachnids.

Why am I reviewing it? First of all, because it has been nominated for a Cybils award in the MG/YA nonfiction category. Secondly, here in the Sonoran Desert region of Arizona we have quite a few different kinds of scorpions. Many people who move to the area have questions about scorpions and often when people don’t have facts they create stories or myths to fill in for what they don’t know. Scorpions goes a long way to dispel the myths.

Sandra Markle often uses a technique she calls “faction,” where she develops a character  and uses fiction-style techniques in her nonfiction books. Her Hip-Pocket Papa is an example. In this book and others in the Arachnid World series, however, she uses a more traditional nonfiction format.

Most of the pages contain a “Scorpion Fact” in a short sidebar, such as what happens if a scorpling (young scorpion) loses a leg. This captures the interest of a young reader thumbing through the book. Soon he or she is reading the text to find out more.

I always appreciate books with hands-on activities to reinforce learning. Markle has included an activity in the back matter to investigate a human’s sense of touch as it compares to the senses of a scorpion.

Cybils Notes:  The photographs in this book are rather blah, although I do recognize that photographing a creature with a painful sting is not always an easy task. On page 21 it is implied that a scorpion’s stinger will keep a meerkat from eating it. In fact meerkats regularly eat scorpions and are quite adept at avoiding the stingers.

You might not think much about scorpions if none are found where you live. If scorpions are a part of your environment, however, having a book like this is helpful for understanding them. Recommended for budding arachnologists or to accompany a unit on arachnids.

Review of another book in this series:

Orb Weavers: Hungry Spinners by Sandra Markle

Reading level: Ages 9-12
School & Library Binding: 48 pages
Publisher: Lerner Pub Group (T) (March 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0761350373
ISBN-13: 978-0761350378

Stem Friday is at NC Teacher Stuff today. Click through for links to more excellent STEM books.

If you would like to participate in STEM Friday in the future, go to the new STEM Friday blog for more information.

Garbage: Investigate What Happens When You Throw it Out

Garbage: Investigate What Happens When You Throw It Out with 25 Projects (Build It Yourself series) by Donna Latham is packed full of hands-on activities that are sure to open your eyes to the immense issue of trash and the need for recycling. It has been nominated for a Cybils award in the MG/YA nonfiction category.

Some of the facts about garbage are staggering. According to Latham, Americans generate 260 million tons of garbage per year, which is enough to cover the state of Texas, twice. The average family produces 6,600 pounds of waste, sufficient to fill a three-bedroom house. (Too bad she didn’t include the figures she used to calculate those comparisons. It could have been a cool math activity).

Not everything that goes into the garbage can has to go there, however. Vegetable food waste can be composted in a compost heap or worm bin. A discarded household item may be reused for other purposes, such as converting an old door into a workbench, or may be sold or donated to someone else who may have a use for it. Recycling keeps even more trash out of the landfills. I love the idea of making junk mail into paper bead necklaces (pp. 82-83). What about the sailboat made out of reused plastic bottles?

Because this is STEM Friday, where’s the science? Many of the activities, such as “Break It Down” (pp. 40-41), “Simulate Water Pollution” (pp. 44-45), and “Compare Cleaners” (pp. 56-57) are already science experiments. Many of the others have potential to be science experiments or even full-blown science fair projects with a little thought. For example, “Grow an Avocado Plant” (pp. 72-23) can be made onto a science experiment if you grow several pits at a time under varied the growing conditions, perhaps testing whether certain water pollutants adversely effect growth.

Cybils Notes: I actually pulled this book out for review earlier and then returned it because I thought some of the activities were not completely safe as presented. For example, sorting trash to see what is in there is a fine idea (pp. 24-25), but there’s no suggestion to wear protective gloves (depending on the source of the trash) or even to wash your hands afterwards (any used cat litter in there?). At first glance Trash Running (page 3) sounds like a perfect way to combine exercise and environmental awareness, but after finding a bloody syringe in my curbside recycling bin once (someone tossed it there from the street), I think grabbing random trash while running could be extremely hazardous. What if there’s a syringe or piece of broken glass or poisonous spider in that paper wad you pick up? Do you want your children handling something like that, carrying it with them and potentially falling on it? Trash pick up should be done slowly, carefully and with attention fully on the task at hand.

But let’s not throw the book out altogether. To be fair, trash running is an activity that is being promoted by outside organizations, Latham is just passing the idea on. Many of the activities are safe and enlightening. The book would be a useful resource to accompany a lesson on the environment (say for Earth Day) or even a unit on earth science. With 25 activities to chose from, you are sure to find one that fits your needs.

Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover: 128 pages
Publisher: Nomad Press (August 1, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1936313472
ISBN-13: 978-1936313471

Stem Friday is at Growing With Science today. Click through for links to more excellent STEM books.

If you would like to participate in STEM Friday in the future, go to the new STEM Friday blog for more information.

Garter Snake at Willow Creek Lane

Garter Snake at Willow Creek Lane by Janet Halfmann and illustrated by Anne Wertheim, the newest in Smithsonian’s Backyard Book series, is an engaging overview of one season in the life of Garter Snake.

The text models a fiction format with the Garter Snake being the main character who experiences rising conflict, which keeps the story interesting and memorable. The story starts dramatically with Garter Snake’s birth on the first page (yes, some snakes give birth rather than lay eggs). She overcomes several challenges that include encounters with Bingo the dog, but all ends well with her finding a safe, warm place to overwinter. In between, the reader learns a great deal about the life history of garter snakes in general, including what they eat and how they defend themselves. Note:  there is a scene where Garter Snake plays dead, which might be slightly disturbing to sensitive children.

Anne Wertheim’s bright illustrations illuminate the page. The close-up versions of Garter Snake looks like she is going to slither right off the page.

We read the larger softcover version, which is a perfect size to share with others, but Soundprints provides the book in variety of options. You can download an audio version. The book also comes in a “microbook” format, with a plush toy snake. We have several of the microbooks from the series. They are 5 7/8 inches by 4 3/4 inches, a size which is definitely attractive to youngsters with little hands.

Garter Snake at Willow Creek Lane is just what you would expect from the high-quality Smithsonian Backyard series, sure to inspire children to learn more about snakes and nature in general. With so many options, I’m sure you can find a version that fits your needs.

We previously reviewed Little Black Ant on Park Street from the same series.

Make a snake craft and learn more about garter snakes at Growing With Science.

Reading level: Ages 4-8
Paperback: 32 pages
Publisher: Soundprints (July 15, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1607272091
ISBN-13: 978-1607272090

This book were supplied by the publisher for review purposes.

Stem Friday is at Shelf Employed today. Click through for links to more excellent STEM books.

If you would like to participate in STEM Friday in the future, go to the new STEM Friday blog for more information.

What Do We Know About Stars and Galaxies?

To round out our celebration of World Space Week with books, let’s take a look at some new nonfiction books about galaxies. What Do We Know About Stars & Galaxies? by John Farndon and Milky Way and Other Galaxies (The Solar System and Beyond) by Megan Kopp are two books sure to excite children about exploring space.

Quick, what is dark matter? Did you know that our galaxy may be the victim of a galaxial* car crash in the future, as we come closer and closer to the Andromeda galaxy?  If you studied astronomy before the 1990’s you might not have heard of many of the exciting new advances. Using numerous colorful artist’s renditions and actual photographs, these books take children far into space to reveal what science is discovering about how galaxies form and behave.

In Milky Way and Other Galaxies, Kopp delves more into the technology that is used to study galaxies. She covers the Hubble Telescope, the James Webb Telescope, the Spitzer Space Telescope, which senses infrared radiation, and the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-2, affectionately known as the AMS-2.

What Do We Know About Stars & Galaxies? is available at two different reading levels, level 3 in Express and reading level 6. (Interestingly, Amazon lists the reading level of the Express version as young adult. Hum…) Farndon is an experienced science writer with over 300 books, and his expertise is evident. I definitely learned a few things from this book.

Several of the books I shared earlier in the week were appropriate for future astronauts. These book are must-reads for future astronomers.

The World Space Week website

Growing With Science will has a few related hands-on activities.

*(Caution:  made-up word)

What Do We Know About Stars & Galaxies? Level 6

Hardcover: 48 pages
Publisher: Raintree
ISBN-10: 1406226289
ISBN-13: 978-1406226287

What Do We Know About Stars & Galaxies? (Raintree Freestyle) level 3- Express

Reading level: Young Adult (??? – no, level 3)
Library Binding: 48 pages
Publisher: Heinemann-Raintree (August 1, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1410941620
ISBN-13: 978-1410941626

Milky Way and Other Galaxies (The Solar System and Beyond)

Reading level: Ages 9-12
Paperback: 32 pages
Publisher: Capstone Press (August 1, 2011)
ISBN-10: 1429672277
ISBN-13: 978-1429672276

These books were supplied by the publisher for review purposes.

Stem Friday is at Celebrate Science today. Click through for links to more excellent STEM books.

If you would like to participate in STEM Friday in the future, go to the new STEM Friday blog for more information.