National Oyster Day

August 5 was National Oyster Day. If you are a fan of eating oysters, lots of restaurants were having specials, some for the whole weekend, so you might still have a chance to enjoy a discounted meal. However, if you missed it, or like me, are not a fan of the taste, I invite you to check out my book instead. You see I am a big fan of oysters, and especially oyster reefs, and I explain why in Oyster Matters: A Keystone Species Story. This book is best for grades 2-5 and has a lot of backmatter for older readers and adults. It tells the story of oyster abundance before colonization of the Chesapeake Bay, how overharvesting, disease and rising temperatures have severely affected the population and how scientists, shellfisheries and oyster farmers are solving the problem. But equally important it explains how a keystone species protects a myriad of other plants and animals and keeps an ecosystem healthy. I hope you will check it out.

You can augment the book with information on oysters from The Chesapeake Bay Foundation or oysterrestoration.org, which has a cool video showing how as filter feeders, oysters clean the water (about halfway down the page). Many schools close to the bay raise oysters or get their students involved in oyster restoration. Knowledge is power. I hope you’ll enjoy some oyster facts as well as their taste.

I also wanted to share some good news. I entered the Science-Me-A-Story contest – an outreach project coordinated by non-profit organization The Society of Spanish Researcher in the UK (SRUK). My story, Goldilocks and the Science Experiment was a finalist. From the announcement email:

“Every year, we try to publish the finalists’ stories along with the winners’ in the University of Liverpool Literature and Science Hub website. This year we will try to do the same. Depending on the amount of work from the University, the stories will be published from September and we will let you know when they are live.”

 So, if and when this happens, I will share the link with you.


My Big Book of Outdoors

Dedicated to “everyone who stayed indoors in 2020”, My Big Book of Outdoors by Tím Hopgood (Candlewick Studio, 2021) is a large, colorful and inviting guide to getting everyone outdoors. At 115 pages, this book is sure to have something for everyone. Grouped by seasons, My Big Book of Outdoors has engaging mixed-media illustrations, poems, plenty of vocabulary words to learn, outdoor exploration activities, recipes and crafts.

Within each seasonal section there is information on birds and other animals you might encounter. There’s a little bit of soil science and ant biology, cloud types, pond life, life cycles, a shell primer, winter birds, constellations and more. It really is choked full of information as well as some fun activities and crafts – I bet you’ll want to try the cress heads!

I will note that the author is from England so you will need to caution your young reader that it is very unlikely they will find a hedgehog in the back yard! You can also look up which birds mentioned are not from your area of the world.

My Big Book of Outdoors is perfect for learning, planning and exploring – all that a good guide book should be. If you are wondering where to start as you contemplate getting outdoor with your young reader, especially if covid got you out of practice, this book will lead the way.

The Little House of Hope

I met the author of today’s book at a mid-Atlantic Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators in DC a few years ago. Terry Catasús Jennings is immediately likable – a supportive and encouraging fellow writer – and it is no surprise to me that The Little House of Hope by her and illustrated by Paúl Colón (Neil Porter Books, 2022) is full of a similar support and joy.

It is surprising (though ultimately understandable) then that Terry reports in the Author’s Note that she wrote the book in anger. A realtor had once told her that he would not rent to Hispanics because they lived with multiple families to a house and destroyed property. Terry knows he is wrong because of her own story – an immigrant from Cuba who came to the United States in 1961, living in a house with three families. Arriving with $50 to their name, they built lives and careers. All became gainfully employed and citizens. So, with pride, Terry wrote The Little House of Hope to show what really goes on in those crowded homes.

The illustrations are done in watercolor and Prismacolor pencils. The color palette is pleasing to me with a lot of blues and greens with scenes that show a beautiful combination of hard work and joy – they portray a lot of love, kindness and pride. It is not a typical experience for Americans anymore to have multiple generations or even unrelated families sharing a home. This book is a wonderful example of a different home make-up that shouldn’t feel strange or be discouraged. Perhaps what is strange are the huge homes we build for 2-4 people! I hope you’ll share The Little House of Hope with your young reader.

What’s Inside a Flower

This week’s book is quite busy compared to last week’s simple story about a sunflower. What’s Inside a Flower? And Other Questions about Science & Nature by Rachel Ignotofsky (Crown Books for Young Readers, 2022) is loaded with information and geared toward third graders through middle school – or anyone who doesn’t know plant biology basics. I wasn’t sure at first about this book because I do not like when books are too busy. However, despite the subtitle, the author/illustrator sticks to flowers and plants so I realized that what I object to about business is when just snippets of information are provided and I have more questions. What’s Inside a Flower? is so busy because it going into great detail and therefore, answering those burning plant questions.

The illustrations are whimsical and even the sun and moon sport smiles on the page. What’s Inside a Flower? is a book that calls for slow reading, pouring over each page to catch it all. It covers habitats where flowers are found, sizes, shapes and colors, anatomy, what’s happening underground, plant and insect interactions, photosynthesis, budding, pollination and pollinators, flower anatomy, germination, fruit and seed dispersal and more. Yep, you’re going to want to slow down and enjoy What’s Inside a Flower? I hope your young reader is fascinated.

A Seed Grows

A Seed Grows by Antoinette Portis (Neil Porter Books, 2022) is as simple as it gets, yet that is the beauty of this book. A Seed Grows is perfect for introducing the life cycle of one plant, the sunflower, from seed dispersal to seed dispersal. The illustrations are visually captivating which allows the reader to linger a bit on each page rather than speed through the limited text. Various print making techniques are used for this effect and include gel printing, linocutting, potato stamping and printing with a celery stalk. I want to try celery printing!

There are two pages of back matter to augment the basic text and which can satisfy a reader who finishes the book with questions. I think this book would be a wonderful beginning book for ages 2-4 and can be a springboard for learning about other seeds and how they germinate and disperse. Oh, and A Seed Grows is definitely a springboard for learning about printmaking. I’m off to buy some celery.

Marjory Saves the Everglades

I finally had the chance to share Oyster Matters: A Keystone Species with children this week at my local library. With no school visits because of covid, I have not had the chance to read it aloud to a group. The director chose this book to share because the children are learning about clean water this summer. While all my books are connected to water, Oyster Matters is a great one to read because not only do oysters need healthy water, they also, through the manner in which they feed, clean the water. I had a lovely time – the kids were engaged and asked a lot of questions.

I also had a delightful time reading this week’s review book. Marjory Saves the Everglades: The Story of Marjory Stoneman Douglass by Sandra Neil Wallace and illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon (Simon & Schuster, 2020) exudes joy from cover to cover. I believe this book can inspire young readers – showing them how one woman followed her passions her whole life.

While I associate Marjory Stoneman Douglass with The Florida Everglades, I admit I didn’t know much about her. She led an amazing life always seeking justice and trying to help others. She moved to Florida a few years after graduating from Wellesley College and after a divorce from a short-lived marriage. There she reunites with her father (her parents separated when she was 6 years old) and starts working as a newspaper reporter. She used her voice to write about the environment and to advocate for women’s rights. I continued to be both awed and inspired by her story as I read. She was . . .

               The first Florida woman to join the US Naval Reserve.

               Active in Europe during WWI with the Red Cross helping refugees displaced by the war.

               An environmental activist instrumental in getting The Everglades designated a National Park.

               So curious she discovered that the Everglades was not a swamp, but a river of grass.

               So committed she continued to fight for protection of the Everglades until her death at 108!

The illustrations are bold and whimsical, rendered in colored pencil and acrylic ink. There are a few pages of back matter that include a timeline, further resources and a page of animals found in The Everglades. If your young reader ever wonders how one voice can make a difference, please share Marjory Saves the Everglades with them. She was a remarkable woman and role model for all of us.


Time for a Little Estivation

If the heat’s already slowing you down, then I have the perfect book for a slow afternoon read. Wait, Rest, Pause: Dormancy in Nature by Marcie Flinchum Atkins (Millbrook Press, 2020) is a beautiful overview of many examples in nature of hibernation, estivation, plant dormancy, diapause, torpor and brumation – all ways that plants or animals stop growing and conserve energy when conditions are not ideal.

Examples include ladybugs, arctic ground squirrels, alligators, plants, and earthworms. The book is illustrated with stunning photographs that I think young readers will enjoy. There is a back matter page that defines all the kinds of dormancy and ‘who’ does it. For example, dormancy in reptiles and amphibians is sometimes called brumation, and estivation is what I want to do right now because it’s TOO HOT!

Whether you save this book for winter’s hibernation or share it with a young reader on a hot summer afternoon, I hope you enjoy.

I Am Quiet

I am Quiet: A Story for the Introvert in All of Us by Andie Powers and illustrated by Betsy Petersen (bala kids, 2022) is a wonderful way to show young readers what may actually be going on with that shy kid. Or of course your young reader may be an introvert and will love seeing him or herself in the pages of this book. I grew up accepting the label that I was shy, not really understanding that I was an introvert until I was a young adult. This book would have helped me reach that understanding much earlier in life and empowered me to bravely accept who I was and not try to mold myself toward other seemingly more acceptable modes of behavior.

The blurb on the back of the book says it best:

               “Emile may seem timid and shy on the outside, but on the inside he is bustling with imagination. While grownups and even other kids may see Emile as the shy kid who doesn’t raise his hand in class, we know that Emile is actually a high-seas adventurer, a daring explorer, and a friend to wild beasts.
This story honors and encourages the beauty of knowing ourselves for exactly who we are. Emile’s world shows us that the mind of a quiet child can be as rich, expansive, and bold as that of any other (more extroverted) child.”

Many children are actually a mix of introverted and extraverted either at different times in their development or under different circumstances. That makes I am Quiet a valuable read for all children. I hope you will check it out. Quietly of course.


Everything and Nothing

The book I found to review this week speaks to our longings to learn, grow and experience the world, which is all too often juggled with the demands of making a living. However, it also speaks to just being in the world, as opposed to doing. I find just being important yet difficult to ‘do’. I have just returned from four days in Ottawa because my husband was giving a talk at a conference. I love getting to tag-along and wander new places, often solo because he is busy. I did not take any work with me – just play (some paints and a goal to write haikus in my journal to document my memories). I am not sure this is play as I clearly needed to have something to do besides just wander. So, Let’s Do Everything and Nothing by Julia Kuo (Roaring Book Press, 2022) is a perfect book for me to ponder right now.

With pleasing colors and digital illustrations, Kuo shows us an imaginative journey between a mother and child that appears to span a day. It is sweet and whimsical. At first reading I felt that the author was speaking to the power of books to take us anywhere while we are in the comforts of our home. But on subsequent readings I sense it’s about the power of doing nothing but daydreaming. I realized that I was/am best at this when in the presence of a child. How the days lingered with a toddler in tow! Sometimes this frustrated me, but I know they are powerful formative hours for children – lingering at the tea parties, stopping for every small something that catches their eye on the trail, one more story before getting dinner ready, and lingering in the bathtub. And the main reason such moments are powerful is because they are spent with a caring adult – time is after all the best gift we can give each other. I think Kuo is sharing the importance of just being with someone, though I am still pondering my initial thoughts of longing and balance and arm-chair traveling. Ultimately spending time with Let’s Do Everything and Nothing can enhance both your doing and your being in the world.


Flowers are Pretty Weird

A few weeks ago, I reviewed Pretty Tricky: The Sneaky Way Plants Survive, so when I saw Flowers are Pretty Weird by Rosemary Mosco and illustrated by Jacob Souva (Tundra Books, 2022) I knew I might learn something new. However, I didn’t know I would be in for a silly treat at the same time. Narrated by a bee, Flowers are Pretty Weird is full of fun illustrations and lots of bee puns. And I did learn of a plant new to me that is pollinated by termites!

Having the bee narrate is pretty clever, and young readers will learn about bees even though the core of the book content is about flowers. Also, our bee narrator directly asks the reader questions along the way about whether to keep reading or not.  I think is a fun effective way to engage reluctant readers with the text.

It would be useful to look up the flowers after reading the book to compare photos with the illustrations. This book would be great to read before visiting a botanical garden greenhouse where some of the plants might be encountered or to have the categories used in the book for stimulating further classifying ideas with the flowers seen at the garden. And it will be hard to not use a lot of bee puns in the days after reading. Flowers are Pretty Weird might be just the thing to add some whimsy to your bee-utiful summer!

PS. I had a great week with the students from Natural Bridge Elementary. They loved getting in the water and we got to sample for macroinvertebrates on two days and I got to share The Hidden Life in Streams with them on the last day. They all got a signed book to take home. I know I had a meaningful watershed experience and I am pretty sure they did too.