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.


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.


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.

Another Way to Find Book Reviews

Have you ever been looking for book reviews on a certain book, and not felt you have gotten all you could have from the search? I know you probably have already discovered this, but when searching for book reviews of Dinotrux, I accidentally found a new way to search for book reviews. Instead of searching for “Dinotrux book review” in the web, try “Dinotrux” in images.

Results of a standard web search:


(Note: I did this search yesterday and I don’t know how my post ended up on the first page. It’s a fluke, I’m sure.)

Here’s what an image search looks like:


Seems like a lot more and better options, although maybe that’s because I’m a visual person.

In any case, I’m going to try to include images of the cover from now on so people can find my reviews. Up to know I have just added Amazon links, which has been fast and easy and gives readers a quick way to find out more, but wouldn’t show up in an image search.

I am very curious what you think. Did you already know about searching by image? What do you think of searching by image, does it lead to more finds? How do you include book cover images in your reviews and why?

Reading and Writer’s Block

Recently our local Arizona indie bookstore, Changing Hands, held a stellar event for those interested in children’s books. Changing Hands does a wonderful job attracting dynamic and popular kidlit authors and illustrators, as well as others industry insiders, to give an annual panel discussion (in the past they have featured local author Stephenie Meyer).

The discussion this time was lively and entertaining, an informative exchange between the experts and the audience. At one point an audience member brought up the topic of writer’s block. Two of the participants stated something that surprised me. They admitted that reading their way out of writer’s block did not work for them.

One author said that he had read a lot as a kid and before he became a writer. Now that he writes, however, he doesn’t want to read anything. First of all, when he has his editor mind working, he finds himself being critical of others. Also, he admits that he is afraid he will pick up other writer’s voices, something that certainly does happen.

Another panel member chimed in that he doesn’t read either. He is concerned he will read something really fantastic (he mentioned Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games), and it would be too discouraging. He thought it would make him want to quit because he would compare himself to that standard and not be able to reach it.

These remarks make a lot of sense. I had always thought that writer’s block occurred when “your well is empty” and you need to read to refurbish yourself. Maybe reading doesn’t make you a better writer after all, at least not when you are actively writing.

Another panel member suggested that blocks are often the result of problems you don’t know the solution to yet, and that walking away or free writing might help the process along. Going to a movie or taking a walk might give that part of your brain that is chugging away on the problem a chance to finish processing.

I have to admit that when I have “my editor’s hat on,” I find it extremely difficult to be creative. Recently I had a copy editing job that continued on for several weeks. Every time I set down the job and tried to do my own writing I would stumble around looking for the perfect words for each sentence I wrote. Now the job is over, the words flow.

What do you do when you are struggling with writing? What do you think of the idea that reading might not be helpful?