October 17, 2012


Ocean Sunlight

How Tiny Plants Feed the Seas

By Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm

The Blue Sky Press, 2012

ISBN #978-0545273220

Grades K-5

Nonfiction picture book

“Dive into the sea! Now flip over slowly, and look up. The water is shimmering with light—my light. I am your sun, your golden star. All ocean life depends on me; so does all life on land.”

I love books about the food chain, and this one delivers on a grand scale. Ocean Sunlight begins with an  explanation of photosynthesis and its value, and then goes on to relate that ocean plant life is part of the food chain. Seaweed is obvious, but the explanation of the food-producing phytoplankton is one of the best I’ve seen.

The book continues with the photic levels, explaining the amounts of light at the different divisions of the world’s oceans and shows the food chains in them. It continues to the deepest levels and discusses adaptations that the life has there to survive, including marine snow, the detritus that falls to the sea floor. The cycle concludes with the sun’s heat causing the water to move upward and bring the nutrients and CO2 back around.

This book can be read with many different grade levels and matched to the level of the children’s understanding. The art is bright and inviting and adds details to the informational text. It’s a lovely book and could lead to many discussions about food chains and webs while making a perfect introduction to the concept.

Several pages of back matter give much more detail, but as a science teacher, I’d love to have seen sources, a glossary, and more reading included in the back matter. Nonetheless, it’s a terrific book and one that every science teacher should know and introduce.

Activity 1 (younger)

List the plant and animal life in one of the food chains depicted in the book. Create a diagram or flow chart to show the different levels. Label and illustrate the food chain.

National Geographic has good information.

Here’s a fun food chain e-game.

Activity 2 (older)

Look up the word chemosynthesis. Compare and contrast the food production by chemosynthesis with photosynthesis. Identify what hydrothermal vents are. Then explain how tube worms and clams at deep sea vents use the hydrogen sulfide to make food.

This site has good information, but you might want to enlarge it so it doesn’t look so intimidating.

National Geographic has good information.

This site has a comparison of photosynthesis and chemosynthesis.

Author website with information

This review was a good one.

National Science Standard: LS2: Ecosystems: Interactions, energy, and dynamics

Common Core: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.4.5 Describe the overall structure (e.g., chronology, comparison, cause/effect, problem/solution) of events, ideas, concepts, or information in a text or part of a text.

Book provided by Scholastic for Librarians’ Choices Book Reviews

The Life of Rice

November 30, 2011

The Life of Rice

From Seedling to Supper

By Richard Sobol

Photographed by Richard Sobol

Traveling Photographer Series

Candlewick Press, 2010

ISBN #978-0-7636-3252

Ages 5-8; could be read with older children

40 pgs

“When I saw a woman ahead in a bright yellow silk shirt frozen in a soft blanket of green rice plants, I couldn’t bear it anymore. I asked permission to stop for just one minute, and the Thai police commander, Colonel Dewa, reluctantly agreed. ‘Make it quick,’ he said as I grabbed my camera. ‘I am only letting you do this because for Thai people, rice is what keeps us alive. It is as important to us as the air that we breathe.’”

Author Richard Sobol was in Thailandfor another reason the first time, but he went back to learn more about rice and photograph this grain so valuable to so many people in the world. The Life of Rice documents the life cycle of rice from the author’s invitation from the king ofThailandto attend the Thai National Celebration of Rice to the harvesting of the rice from the fields.

Large photographs on each spread document the progress of the growing rice alongside the Thai people growing it. The work in the fields is explained and the photos show the progress at each step. Detailed captions add to the information of the text.

The book is rich with facts about rice and the Thai culture as well. It would lend itself to a social studies lesson or a science lesson. Seasons, monsoons, life cycle, and cultures follow naturally from reading this book. I first read it as a Cybils NF picture book first round judge last year and liked it, but it didn’t make the finals. I think it’s quite suited to an older reader, too.  It’s a fascinating look in detail of an interesting plant and makes a fascinating read.

Activity 1 (for younger ages)

Use a graphic organizer or circle to trace the life cycle of a rice seed. Label and illustrate each step. Cook rice and share it with the learners.

Learn about the rice life cycle here.

This chart shows the rice growth at stages.

Activity 2

Look up the different varieties of rice. Create a comparison chart to show their characteristics. Find a recipe that incorporates each kind to add to the chart.

This site tells about rice and cooking the varieties.

Read more about the kinds of rice at this site.

Activity 3

Research the nutrients in rice. Write an explanation of what they are and how the body uses them.

This site includes information about the different kinds of rice.

National Science Standard: growth and development of organisms

Book provided by publisher for 2010 Cybils committee.

The Green Mother Goose

April 27, 2011

The Green Mother Goose

By Jan Peck and David Davis

Illustrated by Carin Berger

Sterling Publishing; Sterling Children’s Books, 2011

ISBN #978-1-4027-6525-4

Picture book

Besides The Green Mother Goose, Jan Peck and David Davis are the authors of many other books for children. I’ve seen their terrific school visit program, too, and it’s a fun one.

“Together we’ll do it—

We’ll help save the Earth,

Our emerald home,

The place of our birth.

Come now, rhyme with me,

Let’s turn our hearts loose,

And fly ‘round the world

With Green Mother Goose.”

This clever, creative book takes a look at classic nursery rhymes and makes them “green.” The suggestions in each rhyme explain or provide ways that everyone can help improve the Earth. Rather than preaching about saving the Earth, the information is available for the taking in a fun-filled, short rhyme that will stay with you. Authors Peck and Davis surely had great fun matching rhymes with green ideas.

The Green Mother Goose is a great book to open dialogue with kids about the Earth, recycling, and what they can do on their own. The rhymes cover the simplest steps, like recycling, to the more complex additions of windmills and solar panel additions. It also opens the discussion of new vocabulary, for the book is rich in terms related to helping the environment.

The whimsical appeal of the art serves to focus and expand on the ideas behind the writing and sets a perfect tone for the book. The cut paper collage comes from “found papers and ephemera.” The book is produced with a “practice what you preach” style mentioned on the credits page.

The Green Mother Goose lends itself to a unit for Earth Day, reading, units on the environment, recycling, story time, and introducing the National Science Standards about organisms and their environments and changes in environments. It would make a fun poetry memorizing unit and a wonderful Reader’s Theater production. I can also see it in a PTA program and school wide presentation produced by the students—especially for Earth Day activities.

It’s delightful to pick up a book and really love it. This is one of those books. It would be an excellent lesson if paired with the original Mother Goose nursery rhymes. What a fun discussion!

 Activity 1

Choose one of the rhymes from the book. Identify the environmental concept from the new rhyme and research it to find more information. Write a paragraph explaining the problem and suggest some ways to help.

Activity 2

Make a list of activities mentioned in the book to help save the Earth. Create a poster suggesting things kids can do to help the environment and Earth. Decorate the poster with cut paper collage similar to the art in the book.

Saving the Earth suggestions

Activities to help

National Geographic’s green tips

National Science Standards: organisms and the environment; changes in environments

Book from my own autographed library collection. Jan and David signed it at TLA!

Planting the WILD Garden

April 20, 2011

Planting the Wild Garden

By Kathryn O. Galbraith

Illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin

Peachtree Publishers, 2011

ISBN #978-1-56145-563-8

Ages 4-8

Nonfiction picture book

Welcome to Week 2 of Peachtree’s Blog Tour. This week I’m featuring a book I loved and hope you enjoy it, too. Check out all the other blogs on the  tour this week here.

“The farmer and her boy plant their garden. They drop seeds—tiny, fat, round, and oval—into the earth. From these seeds, pumpkins and peas, carrots and cabbages will grow.

In the wild meadow garden, many sees are planted too, but not by farmers’ hands.”

From the seed-filled endpapers to the bibliography, this lovely book takes the reader outdoors to nature and all the fascinating ways seeds grow new plant life. Beginning in the garden, a woman and child place seeds in the earth. At the same time, seeds are being distributed in nature by animals, people, and even plants themselves, that will grow into new plants, providing food and distributing more seeds in the way only nature can do. 

The text flows up and down, almost as if on the wind on one spread and popping from a seed pod on the next. The pencil and watercolor art spreads across the pages and the soft colors convey a peaceful sense of busy activity. Minnows, rabbits, raccoons, foxes, and people join the parade of seed distributors in a realistic, yet adorable, rendering.

This book would be a wonderful introduction to a nature unit, a seeds unit, life cycles, or spring book. It opens up the world of nature and the cycles that occur and the marvels of science unfold in its pages. Galbraith’s text is equally matched by Halperin’s art. Peachtree produces beautiful picture books and this is an outstanding one.

Activity 1

Look up the life cycle of a particular seed. This image shows an acorn in its life cycle. Use folded paper to illustrate four stages of the acorn as it grows.

Activity 2

Plant a bean seed in a paper cup and set up a germination of several seeds in a plastic bag with a wet paper towel so the children can see how the seed sprouts. Have them record the progress by keeping a written or drawing log and record the date.

Write about their activity or do one together.

Activity 3

Look up more information about how seeds are dispersed in nature. This site has animated examples.

Here is more about what seeds need to grow.

National science standard: organisms in the environment; life cycles of organisms

Book courtesy of Blue Slip Media

Arbor Day Square

August 4, 2010

Arbor Day Square

By Kathryn O. Galbraith

Illustrated by Cyd Moore

Peachtree Publishers

ISBN# 978-1-56145-517-1

Grades 2-4

Picture book

“’Hmmm.” Katie takes a deep breath.

‘Everything smells new,’ she tells Papa.

And everything does.

 Their prairie town is growing weeks by week. Now they have stores with glass windows. A church with a steeple. And a schoolhouse with desks for all seventeen students to sit in long rows.”

In beautiful language, this gentle book relates a story of Arbor Day in its infancy through the eyes of young Katie and her father in a growing prairie town. The town lacks one thing—trees. So the townspeople take up a collection of coins to use to send away for fifteen trees. When the trees arrive, the people come together to plant all of them, including the flowering dogwood that Katie and Papa claim as their own special place in memory of Katie’s mother. As the trees grow year by year, so does Katie. The story comes full circle at the end to reveal the town square filled with trees as the neighbors again gather to celebrate planting trees.

Soft pencil and watercolors support the text in lovely, clear colors with accurate details of prairie life at that time filling the pages with energy. The story is followed by an author’s note about the founding of Arbor Day by J. Sterling Morton. First celebrated in Nebraska on April 10, 1872, Arbor Day is now celebrated by every state, commonly around the last Friday in April.

Look for a new teacher’s guide coming this fall to accompany this lovely book . I’ll be the author of the guide—my seventh teacher’s guide. Peachtree has guides to many of their books, so visit them here.


Although Arbor Day has passed for this year, it’s never too early to read this book or to make plans! Find the date of your state’s Arbor Day. Look up the trees that grow best in that state’s climate zone. Plan a celebration of your own. Buy and plant a tree as part of your Arbor Day celebration.

This site will show you the date of Arbor Day in your state.

See celebration ideas here.

Find out which climate zone you live in.

Learn more about Arbor Day at the Arbor Day Foundation site.

Nonfiction Monday is here at Moms Inspire Learning.  Visit to see all the great nonfiction offerings.Nonfiction.monday

National Science Standards: Science as a human endeavor; characteristics of organisms; organisms in their environment

Book donated by Peachtree Publishers

A Desert Food Chain

January 27, 2010

A Desert Food Chain

A Who Eats What Adventure in North America

By Rebecca Hogue Wojahn and Donald Wojahn

Lerner, 2009

ISBN #978-0-8225-7501-6


Grades 3-6

“As the sun goes down, the Sonoran Desert comes to life. All day, most of the animals shielded themselves from the broiling sun in tunnels, burrows, and dens. Some huddled in arroyos—streambeds that hold a smidge more shade than the rest of the desert. As the air temperature drops, the hot ground starts to cool. And the desert animals creep out to explore their prickly landscape of cactus and brush. Daytime flowers close their blooms, but nighttime flowers spread their petals to welcome visitors.”

Another fascinating parade of organisms marches across the pages in this desert version of the Follow That Food Chain series by Lerner. Elf owls, suguaro cactus, chuckwallas, pallid bats, roadrunners, rattlers, pinacate beetles, centipedes fill the spaces as consumers and producers, allowing the reader to chose the direction the food chain takes—and finding the end in a variety of ways. Along the way, the book provides a fascinating look at the individuals comprising the chain. Set in the desert southwest of the United States, the Sonoran Desert provides an abundance of life in the arid, seemingly lifeless land.

Bright photos and sections of text make the book fun and engaging, while back matter includes additional information about desert plants and animals, an index, glossary, and for further information sections.

Activity 1

Organisms living in a desert environment must be well-suited for arid life. Choose one of the organisms and research the specific adaptations that allow it to live successfully in the desert.

Activity 2

Use this site to create your own desert food chain

Activity 3 For younger students

Choose an animal from the book. Make a chart showing what the animal eats. Then make another chart showing what eats that animal.

This movie shows desert food chain interactions.

This site has a good explanation of the energy flow in food chains.

See my other posts about this food chain series at



I visited the Sonoran Desert in college during a January term for desert biology. I loved the plants and animals and will always have a special place in my heart for this desert. These food chain books by the Wohans have generated more interest than any of my posts, so I felt I had to do one more. All the books in this series are fascinating and distinguished by the wealth of organisms they include. 

National Science Standard: organisms and environment

  Books provided by Lerner.

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.


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