About Hummingbirds

May 23, 2012

Visit STEM Friday and see the excellent recommendations today.

About Hummingbirds

by Cathryn Sill

Illustrated by John Sill

Peachtree, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-56145-588-1

Grades K-3

Nonfiction picture book

The hummingbirds have returned to New Mexico, so I thought this would be a good book to preview. Our feeders are out and almost empty already.

“Hummingbirds are small birds that get food from flowers.”

About Hummingbirds, in the Peachtree About… series, shows the life and habits of hummingbirds of different species. Short, lyrical sentences deliver the facts on the left side of the spread, while the right side shows in vivid, lush color the image from the text opposite it.

The subject matter covers food, adaptations, behaviors, flight, perching, size, coloration, and breeding in language easily understood by the younger learners. The pictures show specific species and are just gorgeous.

Back matter includes further information about hummingbirds, a glossary, further reading, and websites. This is a lovely Peachtree book and will be a hit with any young birder.


Look up information about five different birds. Choose a measurable fact and record it for each bird under the birds’ names. Then make a bar graph that will compare the different birds. You might want to use bill length, wingspan, weight, or any other statistic you like. Discuss your results. You can order them from increasing sizes or decreasing sizes.

Here is a place to get a graph page.

Find lots of bird choices here.

For older readers, you may want to read Hummingbirds by Jeanette Larson  and Adrienne Yorinks. Here’s my blog post on that book with more sites and activities.

National science standard: Characteristics of  organisms; life cycle

Book provided by publisher


June 8, 2011


Facts and Folklore from the Americas

By Jeanette Larson and Adrienne Yorinks

Illustrated by Adrienne Yorinks

Charlesbridge, 2011

ISBN # 978-1-58089-332-9

Grades 2-6

Going to ALA? The Nonfiction Book Blast Panel is presenting June 26 at 8:00 AM. I’m signing at Lerner booth 916 on Sunday at 10:00. I’m signing at Peachtree booth 1243 on Saturday at 11:00.

“Hummingbirds defy the limitations of their tiny size and other physical constraints that most species could not conquer. When early European explorers first saw a hummingbird, they thought it was a cross between an insect and a bird because of its small size.”

I’ve watched the hummingbirds sip nectar and then return to fight on our front deck, and they are fascinating birds. Tiny and fierce, they dive and drive away competitors in their territory. I’ve watched their diving behavior and thought they were fighting the entire time. Some of it is courting behavior!

Larson’s and Yorink’s Hummingbirds revealed a new view of these beautiful, iridescent birds that can fly in any direction. The book gives facts in a narrative text with retold folklore interspersed about the hummingbirds that matches the category discussed in the chapter. This is a creative way to present the information while digging into the folklore about these birds.


The art is done in fabric collage with a quilted feel. The stitching follows specific hummingbird species in quality representations that matches the information in the narrative. The extensive back matter includes a glossary, additional reading, bibliography, tale sources, bird resources, hummingbird sanctuaries, web sites, art notes, and a glossary.

The book covers a wide range of topics: Life science, history, legends, myths from the Americas, and animal habitats. It’s a beautiful book and worth reading straight through or in small chunks. What a wonderful way to introduce readers to birds and folktales!

Read an interview with Jeanette and Adrienne at Donna Bowman Bratton’s Writing Down the Kid-Lit Page.

Download a coloring page from a hummingbird folktale.

Activity 1

Look up information about hummingbird statistics, such as size, weight, wing beats per minute. Create a chart to display the information in an easy to understand way. Illustrate it with one of your favorite hummingbirds.

This site has good hummingbird information.

Activity 2

Research information about two other small birds. Design a chart to compare the different statistics of hummingbirds with the other two birds you choose.

This website has pictures of small birds. Be sure to click on the photo for a beautiful close-up of the birds.

A Bird’s World has lots of information about birds.

National Geographic has some bird information.

This site has links to more bird information.

National Science Standard: organisms and their environment

Book provided by publisher for Librarian’s Choices Best 100 Books.

Vulture View

May 18, 2011

Vulture View

By April Pulley Sayre

Illustrated by Steve Jenkins

Henry Holt & Company, 2007

ISBN # 978-0-8050-7557-1

Nonfiction Picture Book

“The sun is rising.

Up, up.

It heats the air.

Up, up.”

Vulture View is a poetic look at nature’s best scavengers—vultures–written in Sayre’s lilting, yet scientific style. In very few words, she shows the soaring birds riding upward on the thermals as animals below are ruled out for food until they spot a reeking carcass.

“Vultures like a mess.

They land and dine.

Rotten is fine.”

The vultures go on to clean and preen their feathers before returning to soar on the thermals until night falls, where they glide downward to roost with other vultures until the sun warms up the next day.

Jenkins’s collage art adds to the story with rough textures and bold colors. It echoes the roughness of these birds that play such an important role as nature’s recyclers. Back matter provides more details about the birds, their family, and information for young scientists.

Vulture View is a perfect way to introduce scavengers in the food chain, recycling within nature, and adaptations by these birds to live eating their bacteria laden food. It’s simple enough for young children yet addresses a science standard for fourth and fifth graders. It’s an honor book for the Geisel award. The book might even make you a fan!

Activity 1

Look up turkey vultures and find out at least two adaptations they’ve developed to cope with their eating habits. Write a paragraph explaining how these adaptations aid the vulture.

The Turkey Vulture site has great information. I found this site in the book’s backmatter. Thanks, April!

This site has interesting facts and adaptation information.

Activity 2

Choose another bird and learn 5-7 facts about it. Then use the book as a pattern to write in a poetic style to convey that information to a reader. Illustrate the bird.

National Science Standards: organisms and environment; diversity and adaptations

Book provided by author.

See April Pulley Sayre and nine other nonfiction authors (including me!) at the 2011 ALA Conference on June 26 at 8:00 A.M. at the Nonfiction Book Blast panel. We have handouts, too!


December 15, 2010

Welcome to Nonfiction Monday. Add your links in the comments below and I’ll update them throughout the day.

The Little Brainwaves Investigate…ANIMALS

Illustrated by Lisa Swerling and Ralph Lazar

DK Publishing, 2010

ISBN # 9780756662806

Ages 5-10


“What is an animal? All living things fall into two main groups. They are either an animal or a plant. They all grow, feed, and have young. But animals can do something plants can’t do—they move) or at least most of them can)? Join the little Brainwaves to find out more.”

This is a book I wish I’d written. From the beginning, it captures the spirit and joy of learning about animals and reveals the fascinating side of this area of life science.

This series, for younger audiences, follows the Brainwaves series for older kids using the little characters called the Little Brainwaves, a set of helpful guides to direct the reader throughout the book.

The book begins with an introduction to animals, distinguishing vertebrates from invertebrates. It also introduces scientific nomenclature in a simple way. It’s divided into clear sections, with small segments of information explained in an easily understandable way. Spreads following further distinguish the animals and their activities, including details about the different groups. It covers life cycles, parents, habits, habitats, and invertebrates. The concluding spread gives interesting facts and a little history about animals and grouping. A detailed glossary and index make up the back matter.

Bright, inviting photos are mixed with the Little Brainwaves guys in an attractive layout. The designer did a wonderful job on this book. It’s appealing and bright, friendly and fascinating. It would make a great story time book or would be a good book to book talk. It’s a great reference and an even better bargain at a reasonable price for a resource kids will return to again and again.


Choose an animal from the book. Look up its scientific name. Then create that animal’s life cycle in an interesting way, showing the stages it undergoes as it is born, develops, and becomes an adult. Include a timeline in the project. This might be a power point, a chart, or a diorama. Maybe you can create another way to show information about your animal.

For more animal information, see National Geographic’s pages.

The Animal Diversity Web has examples of animal life cycles.

Enchanted Learning has good life cycle examples.

This site has a variety of information.

Growing With Science has lots of great life cycle ideas.

National Science Standard: life cycle of animals; organisms and their environment

 Book provided by publisher.


Welcome to Nonfiction Monday. We have some great books and posts about literature for kids today and every Monday. Take a look at them all!

Wild About Nature blog has a review of Jean Marzollo’s new book, Pierre the Penguin: A True Story. They will also be giving a copy away to one lucky reader!

Abby the Librarian has  a review of OLD ABE, WAR HERO by Patrick Young.

Bookends  Booklist Blog has BONES by Steve Jenkins.

 NC Teacher Stuff has a review of SHATTERING EARTHQUAKES by Louise and Richard Spilsbury.
Bookends  reviews Steve Jenkins’ fascinating  BONES.

Stacey has Ubiquitous at her blog.

The Cath in the Hat has She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story, a picture book biography about the first woman inducted into the Hall of fame. It’s by Audrey Vernick and illustrated by Don Tate.

Bookish Blather continues  reading the YALSA nonfiction award shortlist titles with The Dark Game by Paul Janeczko.

Roberta at Wrapped in Foil offers a book nominated for a Cybils in the nonfiction MG/YA category.  Journey into the Deep is by Rebecca L. Johnson.

Pink Me has a review of Code Quest: Heiroglyphs by Sean Callery and  illustrated by Jurgen Ziewe.

Jone at Check It Out reviews three dinosaur books from the Cybils NFPB nominees–and dinosaurs are always a hit with kids.


April 21, 2010

Dinosaurs Eye to Eye

By John Woodward

Digital Sculptor Peter Minister

DK Publishing, 2010

ISBN #978-0-7566-5760-4


Grades 3-7

“The age of dinosaurs began some 230 million years ago, near the beginning of the Mesozoic era. Dinosaurs went on to dominate life on Earth for 165 millions years—a vast span of time that permitted the evolution of a dazzling variety of species.”

This oversized, information-packed book holds a fascinating look at dinosaurs, their evolution and demise, and their relationship among other vertebrate animals. Set within the timeline of the Mesozoic era, the book fills in the story of the appearance of dinosaurs and sets the stage of the Earth on which they lived. Large images of the reptiles with explanatory captions, photographs, and graphics fill each spread and the information is appealing and up to date. From Postosuchus—a massive jawed predator that likely preyed on dinosaurs to the mighty T. rex, dinosaurs roam the pages. A two page glossary and index complete the back matter. The book has an excellent table of contents broken into the three Mesozoic eras.

This book is sure to appeal, particularly to the large group of dinosaur-loving children. The dense text and small size of the captions may interest better readers, but the illustrations and fast facts can intrigue any level of reader.

Activity 1 (older readers)

After reading the book, find five different examples of adaptations that different dinosaurs developed. Write and explain how these adaptations enabled the dinosaur to be better suited to live and compete in its environment.

More about dinosaur adaptations

More about adaptations

Activity 2 (younger readers)

Look up characteristics of reptiles and characteristics of birds. Choose a specific dinosaur and explain how it fit into one of those groups.

Characteristics of reptiles

Characteristics of birds

National Science Standard: diversity and adaptations

Book donated by publisher

Toco Toucans Bright Enough to Disappear

February 11, 2010

Toco Toucans Bright Enough to Disappear

By Anastasia Suen

Bearport Publishing, 2010

Disappearing Acts Series

ISBN #978-1-936087-45-7

Nonfiction picture book

Grades K-3

Look Again

“In the lush tropical rain forest, brightly colored fruit can be seen growing in trees. Look closely, however. One of the pieces of fruit isn’t really fruit. It’s bird called a toco toucan!”

Among the many species of the toucan, the toco toucan is the most recognized, with its cartoon-like beak and coloring. But it’s exactly that coloration that provides its camouflage in the rain forest, and that’s the purpose of this series of books—to show examples of animals that hide within plain sight. This colorful bird has adaptations that allow it to eat, sleep, reproduce, and hop around in trees successfully.

Bright, colorful pictures illustrate the short text sections. New words are bolded within the narrative passages and colorful captions accompany the pictures. The book has a table of contents, a picture glossary, and an index. Further reading and Bearport online sections complete the final page.

The clear, sharp writing makes this book perfect for the lower grades and leads the way to a discussion of adaptations and camouflage for science classes.

Activity 1

Create a chart that shows the different ways a toco toucan uses camouflage to keep safe.

Activity 2

With the children, make a list of the events in a toco toucan’s life cycle. Then have them use the list to write a paragraph explaining the life cycle.

See more activities at the author’s page.

Examples of other toucans 

Here’s a printable crossword puzzle.

Work the online puzzle.

Bearport Books has more books about unusual animals and camouflage.

Anastasia Suen, the author of over 100 books, has more information at her website.

National Science Standards: life cycles of organisms; organisms and their environment

Book provided by publisher

What Darwin Saw

October 14, 2009


*What Darwin Saw: The Journey That Changed the World

by Rosalyn Schanzer

National Geographic Children’s Books, 2009

ISBN #978-1426303968

Grades 3-6 and up

48 pages

Nonfiction PB

*Nominated for the Cybils award in the NF PB cagegory.

“Even though Darwin has never been much of a student, he is destined to become one of the greatest scientists in history. And why is that? It is because Darwin’s astonishing discoveries will forever change the way people think about our planet and every single thing that lives here.”

“Darwin’s great adventure will last four years, ten months, and two days. It will affect everything he does for the rest of his life.”

A twenty-two year old Charles Darwin jumped at the chance to travel around the world as a naturalist-companion to the captain of the ship The Beagle, and the voyage that ensued opened his eyes to questions that would change the face of science for years to come. Written from the perspective of Darwin’s early years and his journey on The Beagle, Schanzer details his notes and explorations in short snippets of text and graphic-style illustrations in vibrant acrylics that show the path and documents the discoveries he found as the Beagle sailed from Europe to South America and on around past Australia and Africa.

The art is gorgeous and fits the youthful air of Darwin as well as documenting his finds. The text, found in sections, divisions, and bubbles, is reader friendly and chock full of fascinating information. As a former science teacher, I enjoyed learning things I never knew about this intrepid explorer and gentleman. Back matter includes a wealth of information that asks hard questions and provides a tree of life diagram, along with more fascinating details.

In the 200th year anniversary of Darwin’s birth and the 150th year anniversary of the publication of his On the Origin of the Species, controversy over his conclusions is still very much alive, but there is no disputing the wealth of information he uncovered. No matter what your beliefs are, this book is one that should be read.

Activity 1

Choose one of the animals from the book that Darwin saw and create a graphic organizer to illustrate the variety of species that are in that animal group.

Activity 2 This activity is based on Darwin’s information about the volcanoes he saw on the trip.

Look up shield volcanoes and stratovolcanoes. Compare the two in their formation and eruptions. Find the meaning of these volcanoe related terms.

pyroclastic flows, lahars, subduction zone, ring of fire, tephra, pahoehoe, low viscosity, fissure eruptions, calderas

Information about stratovolcanoes can be found here. 

Information about shield volcanoes can be found here.


Visit Rosalyn Schanzer’s site to find out more about this author/illustrator.

For more details about the book, visit this site.

This page has links for all sorts of information about volcanoes.

National Science Standard: Science as a human endeavor; Nature of science, History of science


Although I preferred What Darwin Saw over this book, it also contains good information.

One Beetle Too Many by Kathryn Laskey and illustrated by Matthew Trueman


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