Monday, June 29, 2020

Nonfiction Monday

Planet Earth: Finding Balance on the Blue Marble with Environmental Science Activities for Kids by Kathleen M. Reilly with illustrations by Tom Casteel introduces readers in grades four to six to the basics of environmental studies.

An introduction – Welcome to Planet Earth – offers background on environmental problems, defines vocabulary and explains the six steps of good science practices.

Chapter One, Earth: Our Spot In Space, takes a big picture look at the global ecosystem, discusses basic components of the five major biomes, then provides a compare and contrast close-up of each. Deserts cover one fifth of the earth’s surface. Tundra temperatures may drop to -50°. The Aquatic biome consists of all the fresh and ocean waters and makes up 70% of our earth’s surface. Forest biomes are subdivided into groups: rainforests, coniferous, and deciduous with each attracting a unique population of plants and animals. Grasslands are nearly treeless in comparison, but are home to a wide variety of herbivores and the carnivores that prey upon them.

Chapter Two, The Planet Of Air And Water, focuses on the two unique factors that make our planet inhabitable unlike all the other planets in our solar system. Our atmosphere provides air for almost every plant and animal. Mammals, reptiles, and birds breath using lungs. Fish breathe by passing water over their gills which allows tiny blood vessels to transfer up to 85% of the oxygen in the water to their bloodstream. Plants breathe through microscopic stomata on the leaves. The chapter also discusses the layers of earth’s atmosphere, wind patterns, ocean currents, and water cycles.

Chapter Three, Our Star, The Sun, highlights the many ways in which solar power creates natural energy to fuel life on earth, influences air circulation and water cycles, and helps us tell time.

Chapter Four, Life On Earth, takes a closer look at the ways in which life interacts by delving into the classification of animals, exploring the concept of symbiosis, studying adaptations and discussing food chains and webs.

Chapter Five, Pollution, takes a systematic look at the variety of ways that pollution impacts the many different systems that were covered in chapters one through four. Land is contaminated with herbicides, pesticides, garbage, and plastics. Chemicals in the 300 billion cigarettes discarded yearly in the United States kill microscopic animals important to the marine food chain and the plastic filters kill animals that mistake them for food. Air pollution, water pollution, acid rain, and environmental disasters such as oil spills and volcanic activity have a variety of negative impacts.

Chapter Six, Climate Change, begins with an overview to explain the concept and then examines the importance of greenhouse gases. The text invites young scientists to calculate and reduce their carbon footprint, discusses ozone depletion, and the danger of ultraviolet rays.

Chapter Seven, Recycling, focuses attention on several of the ways in which certain materials such as plastic, paper, and glass are recycled. There is also a section offering tips on up-cycling materials. The chapter also takes a look at natural recycling via composting.

Vocabulary is highlighted in Words To Know sidebars.  Related STEM projects are listed at the end to check knowledge and offer hands-on reinforcement for concepts.  Each chapter includes a QR code to enable readers to access primary sources.
Readers are challenged to ask questions and use critical thinking skills in response to calls to action: Essential Question, Try This!,  and Did You Know? Photographs and illustrations enhance content and provide excellent visual interest.

The book is well organized and the content expands on familiar facts and introduces readers to details that are often overlooked. It is not only educational, but is also a pleasure to read. The conversational tone and age-appropriate vocabulary is appealing.
Recommended for STEM home and school libraries.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Nonfiction Monday

The Long and Short Tale of Colo and Ruff by Diane Lang with illustrations by Laurie Allen Klein uses a fictional story as means of providing readers with basic information about a variety of animals in a compare and contrast format.

Colo, a young cougar, relies on her long tail for balance and can jump great distances. Her friend Ruff, a bobcat cub, has a short tail and can’t keep up and worries that there is something wrong. Together the friends set out to see if there is a better tail for Ruff. In the process they discover a lizard, Redtail hawk, skunk, and gopher and those encounters lead Ruff to an important realization.

Following the story text is a Creative Minds section with multiple activities to reinforce understanding of the content.
Cat Comparisons charts comparative facts about cougars, bobcats, and housecats.
Cat Maps illustrates and describes the habitat and range of North America’s bobcats, ocelots, cougars and lynxes.
Tail Adaptations discusses the physical adaptations that influence balance, turning speed and steering, and defense.
Match the Tail challenges readers to pair pictures of tails with their animals.

The book identifies an audience of ages 5-9. Young readers will enjoy the strong visual impact of the images and benefit from reading with an adult or older sibling.
The text was fact-checked by Animal Program Specialist from the Columbus Zoo. Most double-page spreads contain brief paw-print highlighted call-outs with additional information.

Additional Educational Resources are available at:

Monday, June 1, 2020

Nonfiction Monday

ANIMAL SKINS by nature photographer Mary Holland introduces young readers to the variety of furs, feathers, and scales utilized by animals in this addition to her award-winning Animal Anatomy series.

Age appropriate text offers insights into the many ways that animals utilize their skin for survival: as protection from the cold and wet, as camouflage, or as a means of warning away predators. Although written with children in mind, adults will learn new facts as well. Porcupines have three types of hair: underfur for warmth, guard hair that acts like whiskers to alert the porcupine to its surroundings, and quills for protection. Frogs can absorb oxygen through their skin. Many male birds wear feathers that are more brilliantly colored than the females.  Why?

The book identifies an audience of ages 5-9. Younger readers will enjoy the strong visual impact of the images and benefit from reading with an adult or older sibling. Experienced readers will find the text engaging and will discover more information in the final section titled For Creative Minds where readers are challenged to review what they have learned:
  •  “Match The Skin To The Animal” pairs thumbnail photos of skin with the host animal.
  • “How Animals Use Their Skins” asks which animal uses its skin to breathe, crawl, keep warm, defend itself, camouflage itself, and warn others.
  • “Special Skins” discusses some the unusual skin of moles, honey bees, turkey vultures, and the gray treefrog.
  • “Skins and Animal Classes” explains how animals can be sorted into classes by their skin coverings.

The publisher, Arbordale, has aligned this book to NGSS, Core, and state standards. An extensive teaching activities guide is available on
Animal Skins is an excellent STEM resource. Recommended for home, school, and library.

The Gingerbread Cowboy Book Trailer