My Life in the Wild: Penguin and Cheetah

Today we have two high-quality books in Animal Planet’s My Life in the Wild series, Penguin by Meredith Costain and illustrated by Gary Hanna, and Cheetah by Meredith Costain and illustrated by Mick Posen.

You can feel the caliber of these books starting with their well-crafted, padded covers. In Penguin an emperor penguin tells the story in first person, saying, “My life begins inside an egg.” After his mother and father struggle to survive through the difficult winter, the chick hatches, his mother and father feeds him, and before you know it, he is all grown up and ready for his first swim. This part is written for the beginning reader, with large illustrations full of color and texture.

Following the main story there are four pages of more detailed information with smaller illustrations that are just right for an adult to read and discuss with a child who wants to know more. Finally there are pictures of ten different kinds of penguins and a quiz to help the reader observe the differences more closely.

Cheetah follows a similar format, but the illustrations are even more amazing. Illustrator Mick Posen uses digital technology to its fullest, creating images that blur with movement. You feel like you could reach out and feel the fur of the little cheetahs. His images are as 3D as you can get on a flat page.

In “Meet the Cat Family,” there are illustrations of six more kinds of cats: lions, jaguar, serval, margay, tiger and lynx. Once again the quiz invites the reader to observe closely. “How many have short tails?”

These books would be great to accompany a trip to the zoo or a unit on life cycles.

There’s a new penguin movie coming out November 18, Happy Feet Two (See trailer below). A popular movie like this will often spark a child’s interest in an animal that is featured, so be prepared to pull out an informational text like Penguin and help him or her find out more.

Penguin by Meredith Costain and illustrated by Gary Hanna

Reading level: Ages 4 and up
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Kingfisher (September 27, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0753467240
ISBN-13: 978-0753467244

Cheetah by Meredith Costain and illustrated by Mick Posen

Reading level: Ages 4 and up
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Kingfisher (September 27, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0753467259
ISBN-13: 978-0753467251

The books were provided by the publisher for review purposes.

Stem Friday is at Simply 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.

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.