The Manatee Scientists: Saving Vulnerable Species

The Manatee Scientists: Saving Vulnerable Species by Peter Lourie, part of the respected Scientists in the Field series, follows scientists from around the world trying to learn more about manatees in a race protect them from extinction.

Manatees are fascinating. Distantly related to elephants, these large, lumbering herbivores live exclusively in warm waters. They are found in Florida, the Caribbean, the Amazon, and West Africa.

As the title suggests, the book follows leading manatee scientists in their studies. Peter Lourie documents the techniques the scientists use and the problems they encounter. In the Amazon River basin, the author accompanies Fernando Rosas on a boat trip to follow radio-tagged manatees that have been released from captivity.  He flies with John Reynolds, who does an aerial count of manatees in warm Florida waters, and shows researcher Lucy Keith rescuing West African manatees trapped behind a dam in Senegal. Sadly, one of the problems the scientists encounter in trying to preserve the wild populations is that the people who live along the rivers in both South America and Africa rely on manatees for food.

Peter Lourie is a photographer as well as author, and took many of the numerous color photographs. His narration adds a real sense of adventure to what the scientists are doing.

Cybils notes: It would have been nice to see a bit more about what the scientists were finding out. By that I mean I wondered what their results were, not just their methods. For example, it would be nice to learn if manatees really are useful to keep down vegetation in lakes that serve hydroelectric plants. Also, it would probably have been appropriate to mention the Steller’s sea cow, a relative of the manatees that really did go extinct.

The Manatee Scientists: Saving Vulnerable Species has been nominated for a Cybils award in the MG/YA nonfiction category. It will be a big hit with nature lovers and budding scientists. For informal science, use the book to accompany a trip to an aquarium that houses manatees, or even better, a trip to Florida to see manatees in the wild.

Video of Florida manatees in action:

Reading level: Ages 9 and up
Hardcover: 80 pages
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children (April 11, 2011)
ISBN-10: 054715254X
ISBN-13: 978-0547152547

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 Booktalking blog for more information.

STEM Friday Roundup and Star of the Sea

Welcome to the December 9, 2011 edition of STEM Friday.

Are you looking for Science, Technology, Engineering or Math children’s books? Then you’ve come to the right place. We’ve gathered some of our favorites here today.

For our contribution, we are featuring Star of the Sea: A Day in the Life of a Starfish by Janet Halfmann and illustrated by Joan Paley. This lovely picture book has been selected as one of the 2012 NSTA (National Science Teachers Association) Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K–12.

Once again award-winning author Janet Halfmann has come up with a charming and informative story for readers 5 and up. Ochre sea star has a busy day looking for food and avoiding becoming food for other animals. The limpet extends its mantle and is too slippery for ochre sea star to grasp, but she is able to open and eat a mussel using her powerful arms. She manages to escape from a hungry fish, but isn’t so lucky when it comes to an encounter with a sea gull. (Note:  sensitive children may be alarmed that the sea star loses one of her arms, but remind them that she will be able to grow a new one again soon.)

In the backmatter Halfmann provides detailed information about the life history of ochre sea stars, including facts about their anatomy, locomotion, and reproduction. This type of background material is so helpful for busy teachers who don’t have time to gather a lot of other sources to look up all the answers to questions that might come up ahead of time. In this book, it’s all at their fingertips. She also includes sources to “Find Out More.”

Star of the Sea would be useful for units on marine animals (my nephew was just studying marine invertebrates in fourth grade), and also lessons on food chains. For informal science, it would be a great tie-in to a trip to an aquarium or the beach, especially to tide pools.

I couldn’t help myself, the book inspired some related activities:

1. For children who haven’t visited an aquarium or a beach, it helps to give them something concrete to explore. Sometimes you can find dried sea stars in craft stores to show. Otherwise, toy stores often carry realistic toy models.

2. To investigate how the sea star’s tube feet act like suction cups, allow the children to free explore with some inexpensive hook-style suction cups used as to hang household items. Let them try to attach and detach the suction cups to different surfaces. Which surface works best, rough or smooth? What happens if you moisten the suction surface with a damp sponge, versus a dry suction cup? Which comes off more easily?

Brimful Curiosities has wonderful starfish craft to accompany the book. Notice how she uses real shells, also available in craft stores.

Growing with Science has hands on activities about Tide Pool Invertebrates

Monterey Bay Aquarium has a wealth of lesson plans and guides. Be sure to listen to I am a Sea Star.

Our STEM Friday posts:

Ugly Animals by Gilda and Melvin Berger

An eye-popping book reviewed by Jeff at NC Teacher Stuff

Amazing Kitchen Chemistry Projects You Can Build Yourself by Cynthia Light Brown and illustrated by Blair Shedd

Cooked up today by Laurie Thompson.

Lightning, Hurricanes, and Blizzards: The Science of Storms by Paul Fleisher

Highlighted at Booktalking by Anastasia Suen

The Mangrove Tree: Planting Trees to Feed Families by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore with collages by Susan L. Roth.

The story of Gordon Sato, reviewed today at rovingfiddlehead kidlit.

MotherReader has a Science and Stories program for preschoolers called “Motion and Force” featuring:

Move! by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page
Forces Make Things Move by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Hot Rod Hamster by Cynthia Lord
What is Velocity? by Joanne Barkan
What’s Faster Than a Speeding Cheetah? by Robert E. Wells

Enterprise STEM By Shirley Duke, part of the Let’s Explore Science series

Shirley shares her book at Simply Science.

If you would like to participate in STEM Friday in the future, go to Booktalking blog and click on STEM Friday 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.