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

 

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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

Children’s Nature Book Review: Water is Water

Book Review by: Susan Olcott

A Book About the Water Cycle: Water is Water, by Miranda Paul, Illustrations by Jason Chin

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Topics – water, water cycle, poetry

Summary – “Drip. Sip. Pour me a cup. Water is Water.” Thus begins Water is Water, as author Miranda Paul invites us to patter, slide, and seep us through the water cycle. Her simple, lyrical phrases help us to experience water in its many forms. Early readers will identify with the crisp sounds and poetic format of the writing. Jason Chin’s illustrations perfectly complement the text by showing what fun water can provide. The additional information at the back of the book is presented as a glossary of terms with illustrations that is both readable and informative. This is followed by another section of illustrated quick fun facts about the importance of water to our bodies and to the earth.

Suggested Ages – This non-fiction book is appropriate for pre-K children as well as early readers, as there are different levels of information tailored to each level of comprehension.

You can find this awesome book at your local library or here on Amazon!

Nature Explorations: Life Under Logs…Discovering Decomposers!

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Are you looking for a simple and fun activity to get your kids out into the local forest or even the back yard this summer?  Thinking about the living organisms that rely on a simple log can be a great way to learn about decomposition and the soil cycle as well as an excuse to get your hands dirty and get out and explore your forest.  We tried this activity with our family nature club and it was a blast!  This is a GREAT exploration for kids of any age!

Rotten Log Puppet Show:

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The Rotten Log Real Estate Puppet Show!

Rather than just going out to roll logs and see what is underneath we started our activity with a puppet show. A butterfly was a real estate agent and many animals (ants, worms, etc) came looking for a new home (an old wrapping paper roll made the perfect “log”). The log was the ideal place to provide food and shelter for a wide variety of animals. We talked about how the log is a home and the importance of putting logs back after we turn them over.

Children’s Literature Connection:

Next we read A Logs Life by Wendy Pfeffer. This book shows the process of a tree to soil with wonderful illustrations. Through this book we introduced the word decomposition.

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Outdoor Activity:

Before heading outside each child got a sheet of paper with pictures of the animals they might find under a log. We talked about what each animal would eat and determined which were decomposers. As we entered the woods we listened for other animal sounds. When we got to the log, children were asked to feel if it was hard or soft, wet or dry, and use other senses before looking under the log. This helps focus children so the log turning isn’t as much chaos. We turned over one big log together and looked; then children were free to explore on their own.

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At the end, children could draw their favorite living organisms they observed in their nature journals.

Have fun rolling logs with your friends and family and discovering decomposers everywhere!!!!

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Activity Written and Created by: Carey Truebe

Children’s Nature Book Review: Up in the Garden, Down in the Dirt

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Book Review: Susan Olcott

A great new book just came out…Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt, by Kate Messner with art by Christopher Silas Neal.  If you have not seen this book yet we highly recommend it!

Topics – Gardening, spring, seasons, insects

Summary – Following on the theme of Over and Under the Snow, one of my favorite winter books, the same illustrator/author pair have written a lovely book about the secret happenings under the dirt as spring emerges.  I love the idea of what you see and what you don’t see and encouraging kids to use their imagination to think of the busy world that exists underground filled with bugs and worms that all make the vibrance above possible.  Reading this after planting our spring garden was perfect in encouraging patience in waiting for seeds to sprout and wondering what is happening to make them grow.  Spring continues into the fall when things become quiet and dormant again and the natural world prepares for winter’s rest, which gives the book a nice seasonal progression.  At the end, there is a great section at the end of the book that gives extra information on the animals that are part of the story.

As a little girl and her nana plant, tend, and harvest their vegetable garden, they discover that the world in the dirt is just as busy as the world above. While they water the garden, eat fresh green beans, and read under the sunflowers, down beneath the leaves, pill bugs chew, a tomato hornworm rests, and skunks work the night shift gobbling cutworms. This nonfiction title ends with information about the various animals found in gardens.

Complimentary Outdoor Activities: 

-Plant a garden and watch and wait for seedlings to emerge.

-Have a sprouting race by planting the same seeds indoors and out and seeing which ones emerge first – you might be surprised!

-Dig in the dirt outside and see what bugs you find.

For more activities related to this book check out this blog…Chronicle books blog

Suggested Ages:  This is a wonderful book for all ages due to the great illustrations-it has very few words per page so a great book to use with preschoolers on up!

Nature Families rates this book 5 out of 5 Acorns!  Check it out of your local library or add it to your own library–click here to purchase from Amazon-Up in the Garden Down in the Dirt!

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

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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!

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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!

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Collecting Nest Building Materials

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Building the Nest!

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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!

Let the Light Shine

-An Essay for the first day of winter by: Susan Olcott

Here is an excerpt from a blog I wrote five winters ago entitled, “Winter is Hard, Heavy and Slow.”

“In winter, the lightness of being is literally taken away, as you realize when you try to move in all of this gear and feel a bit like you’ve donned one of those Sumo wrestler suits you can put on at a carnival. The spontaneity of things goes away, as you can’t pop in and out of doors with the fluidity of warmer seasons’ constant temperature. There is no grabbing a pair of flip-flops in winter and heading out the door. The physical heft of winter can make you feel the heaviness of daily life in ways that summer frees you from, allowing you to shake off things easily.  Add to that the long, dark afternoons when your Vitamin D levels are critically low and you feel shortchanged by the day length.”

Five years have since passed and I now am the Mother of twin girls who will turn four this January.  While winter is still certainly hard, heavy and slow (often even more so now with juggling boots, snowsuits, mismatched mittens and clumpy socks), my girls have literally shined their light into the dark afternoons.

For most of the year, they are asleep when it is dark, but in winter it is a special treat to go out for walks in the quiet darkness.  We bundle up and bring glow sticks or flashlights.  This time of year, we look at Christmas lights, but other times we search for the moon and the night’s first stars.  These “moon walks” have become a winter tradition for us and have made me look forward to the darkness rather than dread it.  They see such beauty at night, posing poetic questions about the sky like, “I could stick my finger out and poke a hole in the sky to make a star” and, “I think the moon is sleeping under a blanket of clouds.”  How could I not be eager to welcome winter’s darkness with them when these experiences are so rich?  We have recorded these experiences and images through poetry and stories.  Here is an example of a simple book we wrote together about the sky and about our moonwalks.(copy) A new book  If you are interested in this activity, you can download a free app called Book Creator and make books like these with your kids. But, most importantly, get outside on these long, dark afternoons with your children and make it an adventure.  It will bring lightness into your winter.

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The author’s daughters playing on the ice on one of their many winter moon walks.

Finding and Creating the ABC’s in Nature

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Nature ABC”s

This lesson was created for my daughters’ Nature Preschool Class.  I wanted to introduce the alphabet in a way that connected the child’s body and many of their senses with nature.

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Truly “C”ing the Letters in Nature

First, I gave each child a foil letter that they carried with them and referenced to help them create the letter correctly.  Then the children looked for specific letters in the natural world around them.  After observing, we asked them to physically form the letter with natural materials of their choice.

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“Making Letters Following the Template”

We photographed each letter, and later we printed out the alphabet and the children cut and pasted them into a book.  These books can be used to practice writing the letters or collaging images that start with the same letter.  We also printed a large copy and posted it on the wall of the classroom!  This could be a great Family Nature Club Activity for a multi-age group focused on early childhood up through around 7 years old.

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Finding a “Y”!

Lesson Created and Written by: Janimarie Lester DeRose