Children’s Nature Book Review: Feathers: Not Just for Flying



Feathers: Not Just for Flying, by Melissa Stewart

Book Review by Susan Olcott

Topics – feathers, birds

Summary – Did you know that feathers could be eyelashes or that baby sand grouse can drink from their papa’s feathers? In Feathers: Not Just for Flying, Melissa Stewart uncovers the myriad ways birds use their feathers. She provides an overarching simple storyline and tucks rich natural history into what look like handwritten field notes taped to each page. Sarah Brannen illustrates these notes with portraits of each bird along with lovely details of their feathers. Stewart’s comparisons of feathers’ functions to everyday objects like a backhoe or a life jacket are perfect to help readers understand how each feather works differently. I pull this book out every spring and draw new tidbits from it each time. Having recently met Melissa Stewart at a writing conference, this year I was particularly interested in her Author’s Note at the end about the process of writing the book. She is truly a master of writing clever books about the outdoor world in ways that reach a variety of readers. I highly recommend them all!

Suggested Ages – This book is suitable for pre-K readers who will love the illustrations and simple story, as well as grade school students who can glean more information from her natural history notes.

You can find this book at your local library or link to it here on Amazon…Feathers: Not Just For Flying

Invitations to Nature-Based Play: Gobble Gobble Gourds

By-Laura Grunze Franz


This week we brought home a few gourds from the market, and my son and I were joking about how they looked like birds. Thus was born the idea of turning our gourds into turkeys.

To set up this nature-based invitation, we collected maple leaves, oak leaves, gingko leaves, and maple tree “helicopter” seeds. I added small pinecones and whole cloves to the mix.

First we painted the helicopter seeds red to be used as waddles. gourd7

Next, I thought we could push the cloves into the gourds to make the eyes. I was so very wrong. Nothing can penetrate those gourds, although I did not try a drill. So the boys decided they would like to use googly eyes instead. This was a good, cute choice but the sticky backs wouldn’t adhere to the gourds.


Finally, we decided that the boys would loosely tape their materials (eyes, waddles and feathers) to their gourd turkeys and then I would use the hot glue gun to secure it all when they were finished.

It can be a good learning opportunity to be part of a project that hits roadblocks; it allows for creative problem solving. This bumpy, but creative, process ended in some very cute birds and two very happy boys.

Happy Nature Crafting!

Simple Wooden Birdfeeder Plans: An Engaging Project for the Whole Family!

-Essay By Janimarie Lester DeRose, Birdfeeder Designs and Plans by: Dean Lester

Finished birdfeederI have brought my daughters to swing in their grandparents’ backyard. It is spring and their apple and cherry trees bathe the new fresh green yard in soft light and a sweet nostalgic scent. We all three sit on a large wooden porch swing, dangling our legs, listening. My girls’ usual chatter is silenced by the cacophony of bird song. Everywhere you look are bird feeders, mostly built by my Dad years ago, brimming with seed.

My parents, Dean and De Ann Lester have created an oasis in their urban yard for song birds, humming birds, at times owls and even hawks. Many children comment on the “forest” as they pass by. They have maintained hundred year old trees and replaced them as the yard changed with time, planting thick ground covers and open spaces of bark chips (instead of lawn), creating a lush, protective habitat for birds. While many traditional gardeners trim heavily, they intentionally leave many plants’ seed pods through winter, to help sustain the birds diet. Some beds are planned for the humming birds and butterflies hosting brilliant native penstimon, while other area’s are for scent and edible herbs for the birds’ human counterparts to enjoy!

feeding station bird bath

Throughout their yard, they have placed different types of bird feeders. Some styles feed the birds with a smaller Niger seed, while most host the larger Black Oil Sunflower seed (a favorite) or a more generic mixed seed. They also at times have dishes of jam for Tanagers, Humming bird feeders, and an occasional suet feeder. They also host a bird bath, heated in the winter, to create a small bit of open water in Northern Utah’s frigid or dry months.

No matter the time of year I visit, I find their yard brimming with avian life, inspiring wonder in my children. This article is on how to build your own bird feeder, to help foster a little bit of nature in your own urban landscape.

roofMy father Dean Lester wrote up the blue prints and step by step building instructions, and my five year old daughter and husband Justin were the lucky Nature Nuts to get to help build it!  This is a great project to do with your Family Nature Club!!!


Steps in Building Bird Feeder


  • Step 1-Purchase Wood

saftey protection

  • Step 2-Done safety gear- then Cut Wood to length

Pop Pop and Saw

  • Assemble the seed box
    • Hint: Water proof glue and screws will lengthen life rather than nails

Wood glue

  • Assemble the top frame with roof support upright
  • Connect the Seed Box to the top frame using the 2×2 uprights

staple gun with Justin

  • Put the tongue and groove roof panels together

top view

  • Nail or screw the roof tie bars to the assembled tongue and groove roof panels

Silvia Screwdriver

  • Attach the completed roof panels to the roof support upright and upper frame side bars using nails or screws

Nail gun with Pop Pop

  • Screw the roof cap to the roof support upright with 3” screws
  • Attach eye screws to the roof cap for hanging

feeder  fly through feeder

Congrats-you have now built an awesome feeder as a family!  Now find a tree in your yard to hang it and enjoy observing wildlife in your yard all winter long!!!  Let us know how this project turns out for you-please send us pictures of your feeder hanging in your yard and we will share it on our website.  Send pictures to

Note: This lesson is recommended for children 8 years and up (with a grandparent preferably!)

Children’s Nature Book Reviews: “Nest” by Jorey Hurley

nestNature Book Review by Susan Olcott

Nest is a lovely picture book about the life cycle of a family of robins.  The book begins with the mother and father taking care of the egg and ends with the fledged baby meeting its own mate and taking care of a new egg.  She follows the seasons beautifully and simply with just a few words, which leaves children to their observation skills to look at what changes over time – the leaves, the spots on the young robin’s breast, the food they are searching for, for example.  Hurley includes the story of how she wrote the book for her daughters after observing a family of robins herself, which is fun to share with kids.  She also includes additional facts about robins, all of which is great information that isn’t too complicated. We recommend you try to check this out from your local library but here is a link to Amazon as well….NEST.

Optional Supplemental Activities – After reading this book consider looking at a real bird’s nest if you have one or go for a walk in the woods looking for old nests!

susan nest

Looking at real birds nest while reading the book can be very fun!

Another fun idea that we tried was we went outside and looked for nesting materials and then made nests out of paper bowls that we lined with yarn, sticks, and leaves using glue sticks.  This was EASY and A LOT of fun!

maya nest

Collecting Nest Building Materials

nest 2

Building the Nest!

nest craft molly nest

I also gave my kiddos plastic eggs with a candy peep inside to take care of for a week and then we had a hatching party.

Nature Families Rating:  5 out of 5 Acorns for simplicity and amazing illustrations!

Appropriate for All Ages but recommended for: Ages 3-7

Topics Related to This Book: Seasons, Life cycle, Nests, Birds

Let us know if you like this book and share your ideas with us on how you paired it with fun activities as well!