WILD Alphabet + The Cybils! + NOVA

September 29, 2010

Nominate your favorite book for the Cybils.

You have 12 categories for your nominations and they are open until October 15. I’m a first round judge for nonfiction picture book and excited to get to read all these fabulous books. Stop by and take a look!

Other news: My first guest blog post is up on the NOVA website. Take a look!


Wild Alphabet

by Mike Haines and Julia Frolich

Kingfisher, 2010

ISBN #780753464724

Ages 3 and up

A is antelope, B is bison, C is chinchilla…

This alphabet book opens each spread with a pop up animal depicting the letters of the alphabet and two or three facts about the animal. The animals aren’t usually the ones commonly recognized for those letters, and the facts are child-friendly and interesting. 

The small trim makes it easy for children to hold. The animals are in color on the left side, with the pop up spreading across the center of the two pages in black and white. The first letter begins immediately and Z ends on the back, with back matter on the back cover. The focus seems to be more on the animal than the letters, although it can be fun to trace each letter within the moving parts.

Sure to capture a young child’s fascination with motion, the book is appealing and fun to look through. I played with the motion myself as I read the book and showed it to friends, too. Sturdy pages should stand up to frequent use and the motion is small enough to hold up well.

Activity1 (young ages)

Create an animal alphabet book of your own. List the letters of the alphabet and animals from the book on blank pages. Look for pictures of other animals and paste them under the correct letter.

You can find animal pictures at this site.

More animal pictures.

Activity 2 (older children)

Classify the animals from the book into groups, using the headings mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian, and fish. Then look for pictures to add animals to the chart.

You can find animals at this site.

More animal pictures.

National science standard: characteristics of animals

Book provided by publisher


April 7, 2010

Cocci, Spirilla & Other Bacteria 
by Steve Parker

Compass Points Books, 2010

Kingdom Classification Series

Grades 4-6

“It’s all around us—in the air, soil, and water, in our homes and buildings, in cars, trains, ships, and planes, and in every dark corner you can imagine. Yet we cannot see it. The microscopic world is everywhere, but it is strange and unfamiliar. It’s home to living things that are so unusual and different from bigger animals and plants that they could be mistaken for aliens from another planet. Many of these creatures are bacteria—the most common and widespread life-forms on Earth.”

This fascinating look at the ubiquitous bacteria begins with numbers. Anywhere from 10 million to 1 billion bacteria exist today in our world. And they aren’t all bad. Bacteria help plants grow, aid digestion in animals, rot way dead bodies, make medicines, and more. The book takes the reader through the changes in classification to individual kinds of bacteria to how they multiply and infect us. The destructive, or pathogenic, bacteria section includes information on plant diseases as well as animals and infection. The comprehensive information is up to date and written in an easily understandable style. Latest information includes the use of bacteria in genome study and genetic engineering.

Bright photographs, sidebars, and subheadings make the book appealing and attractive, inviting the reader to pick it up and browse. The book ends with a comparison of bacteria and viruses, a completely different (viruses aren’t considered as a living organism) animal! Prions are mentioned in a sidebar.

This excellent book is a great read and reference book. I blogged on a companion book, Molds, Mushrooms, and Other Fungi, from the same series in a January post. This series fills a need for the middle school age science classes, where classification is studied.

Activity 1 

A plan to map the living bacteria in and on humans, known as the “microbiome,” is one of the next goals in the study of bacteria. Look up the latest information about the microbiome. The first results came out this year.

 See where bacteria congregate on the body.

Find out about mapping bacteria.

Learn more about the bacterial microbiome

Activity 2

Research viruses and prions. Based on what you know about characteristics of living things, find out why they aren’t considered to be living organisms.

Look here for a definition of living things

Here’s an easier to understand version of living things definition

For younger children, try the book reviewed here.

Book donated by publisher.

Molds, Mushrooms, and Other Fungi

January 20, 2010

Molds, Mushrooms, and Other Fungi

By Steve Parker

Compass Points Books, 2010

ISBN #978-0756542238

Grades 4-7


     “The world is full of living things, from tiny bugs and delicate flowers to giiant trees, huge elephants, and massive whales. But nothing lives forever. Eventually all plants, animals, and other forms of life die. But what happens to them?

     The answer: They become food for fungi. This kingdom of living things includes mushrooms, toadstools, molds, mildews, yeasts, and many others. Fungi are nature’s recyclers.”

     This upper elementary-middle school level book, presented in a picture book format, defines and discusses the Kingdom Fungi. It begins with an explanation of cells, including the fact that fungi are eukaryotic, and goes on to detail the life processes of the variety of fungi that exist. Places of growth, the below the ground decomposing structures, and the helpful and harmful aspects of fungi complete the book.

     The information is broken into sections interspersed with large, fascinating photos of fungi, parts, and their effects. The back matter includes a classification of life table, fungi classification, a glossary, further resources section, and an index. Chock full of facts, my only quibble with the book is that it comes off a bit crowded. The information, however, is excellent and it’s good to see a quality book with some depth on a lesser studied group of organisms put into an interesting read.

Activity 1

Research yeast and find out how it makes bread rise. Look up Louis Pasteur and read about his early experiments with fermentation to find out how yeast is involved in his experiments that lead to the Germ Theory.

Activity 2

Explain how fungi and their hyphae play a role in the food chain and food web.

Activity 3

Look up the symbiotic relationship that exists in lichens.

Activity 4

Design an experiment that has to do with where molds grow well and what might inhibit their growth. Use the scientific method and write up the experiment. Conduct the experiment and then make your conclusions.

Great information for more details.

This site makes fungi about as fun as you can make it! 

Take a look at these fabulous mushroom pictures.

National Science Standard: structure and function in living systems; diversity and adaptations of living organisms

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

Birds of a Feather

June 17, 2009


By Kevin Henkes

Illustrated by Laura Dronzek

Greenwillow Books, 2009

ISBN #978-0-06-136304-7

Picture book





In the morning, I hear birds singing through the open window.


This simply told, imaginative story expresses in few words the wonder and delight of birds and lets the reader’s imagination soar. It’s deceptively simple, which makes it perfect for preschoolers or anyone who likes to let their imagination soar.

The activities for today are geared toward the preschool set. The book also lends itself to imaginative art activities and descriptions of what they imagine in their own minds.

Activity 1

Identify the colors of the birds on the spread showing the colors. Use a bird book to look up the names of other birds that are red, yellow, blue, or brown.

Activity 2

Identify the birds on the spread showing bird sizes. In a reference book, look for birds the children might be familiar with and decide it they are big or little birds compared to the ones in the size spread.

Other books about birds:

About Birds: A Guide for Children by Cathryn Sill and John Sill

Birds, Nests & Eggs by Mel Boring

National Science Standard: classifying

A New World Adventure

June 3, 2009


Animals Christopher Columbus Saw

By Sandra Markle

Illustrated by Jamel Akib

Chronicle Books, 2008

ISBN # 078-0-8118-4916-6

Nonfiction, 46 pages

Would you believe that, once, worms inspired people to explore the world? In fifteenth-century Europe, silk made from the thread of silkworms was more valuable than gold?

After arriving on what he named San Salvador in his search for a route to the Indies and the silk and spices of Cathay, Christopher Columbus found neither the silks and spices he expected, nor the route to Cathay, but he did encounter animals along the way. This book relates the story of Columbus’ search for a water route and ties in the animals he encountered along the way. The background for the lure of silk and the caterpillars which spin the coveted cocoons begins this narrative account of Columbus’ journey and his unexpected findings. The history of spices from afar, the idea for the trip and money from King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, and the securing of the three ships continues the story of his journey to the New World. From silkworms to camels to parrots, the book details the sorts of animals he met along the way. It doesn’t include information about the domestic animals taken along with them.

Sidebars fill in additional details about the animals and provide interesting aspects of each in context of Columbus’ voyage. Subdued washes of color in chalk pastels portray the natives and animals in an appealing, realistic manner. A map, glossary, further information sources, and an index complete the book.

Activity 1

Identify the animals Columbus encountered and make a list of them. Look up each animal and categorize it as vertebrate or invertebrate. Then group the vertebrates as mammals, fish, amphibian, reptile, or bird.

Activity 2

Using the spread on pages 20-21, illustrate a food chain from the Sargasso Sea.

 Identify the producers and consumers. Draw out the example and label each organism. Use arrows to show the energy flow from producer to consumer. See my post “A Wolf Story” for definitions and more food chain facts. See further information here.

For more about Christopher Columbus, check out these books.

Follow the Dream: The Story of Christopher Columbus by Peter Sis

A Picture Book of Christopher Columbus  by David A. Adler

There are more recent books about Columbus as well. These two I happen to like. This particular book seems to be the only one about the animals Columbus met on the voyage. 

Markle has written other books about explorers and animals. See the Chronicle site to view her other titles.

National Science Standards: systems, order, and organization; characteristics of organisms

A Tall Tail

March 11, 2009

Little Skink's TailLittle Skink’s Tail

By Janet Halfmann

Illustrated by Laurie Allen Klein

Sylvan Dell Publishing, 2007

ISBN# 9-780976-882381

Picture book



Little Skink starts the day looking for breakfast, but after a hungry crow attacks from above, Little Skink is fortunate to be alive. Unfortunately, she’s missing her lovely blue tail. Happy to be alive, Little Skink wishes she had another tail, and goes about the forest trying on tails of other animals. Finally, when none of them will do, she discovers that her tail has grown back.



As she lay basking and thinking, a cottontail rabbit hopped in front of her rock. “Hmmm, I wonder how I’d look with a tail like that?” Little Skink thought. She pictured her new look. “Very cute,” she thought to herself, “but too puffy-fluffy.”



Activity 1

Introduce invertebrate and vertebrate and define the words. Skinks are reptiles and classified as vertebrates.


Look up information about how skinks can lose their tails.


Discuss the major groups of vertebrates—amphibians, reptiles, fish, birds, and mammals. Talk about what they have in common, which is a backbone.




Activity 2

Look up characteristics of reptiles.


List the characteristics of reptiles. Next, look up characteristics of amphibians (whose members are frequently confused with reptiles) and list them. Name as many reptiles and amphibians as the students can think of.


Use library books to add to the list.


Suggested books:

A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians by Robert C. Stebbins and Roger Tory Peterson

My First Pocket Guide Reptiles and Amphibians by S. Kirshner



Ask your librarian about other good books on reptiles, amphibians, and vertebrates.


National Science Standards: characteristics of organisms










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