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Posts Tagged ‘nature’

For a while now, I’ve been meaning to do a review of these wonderful Smithsonian’s Backyard books that I stumbled across at our library. Time is limited here in chance of books homeschool but another lovely blogger has written about them here so for now I’ll leave you with a link to her review. Enjoy!

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With autumn right around the corner, I thought I’d post a book to help you and your children prepare and know what to look for.  Count Down to Fall is a lovely book about all the changes we start to see when autumn comes.  Written by Fran Hawk and illustrated by Sherry Neidigh.  Each 2 page spread has a short 4 line countdown from 10 to 1 about another change to observe in nature when fall comes.  The illustrations are the real beauty in this book, each page is framed with colorful leaves, tree bark, rocks, and branches.  The illustrator captures the detail of fallen bright leaves, pine cones and acorns.

This book would be good for a wide range of ages.  Preschoolers will enjoy counting the items on each page, finding hidden animals, butterflies.  Older children can challenge themselves with identifying the types of trees, by the bark or leaves.

The writing is very poetic, simple 4 lines to each page,

“Four craggy oak leaves,

yellow, gold, and brown,

tumble with the acorns

that wear rough, shaggy crowns.”

Check out Count Down to Fall to start preparing for your autumn nature studies.

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Jim Arnosky is a well loved author in our house.  Sadly we don’t own any books by him, but I’m always on the look-out at book sales for his books.  He is author and illustrator of more than 100 children’s books with a focus on nature and wildlife.  They are great books for summer time.  Arnosky’s illustrations are always quite different, sometimes just pencil drawings and sometimes more elaborate.  There’s an “All About….” series, by Scholastic that Arnosky writes to focus on one particular species.  “All About Lizards” is pictured below so you can get an idea.  There are many others, owls, turtles, turkeys.

There are a few for the younger kids, I See Animals Hiding which is a smaller size and simpler text simply to encourage looking in nature to find animals.

Then there’s the Crinkleroot series which is older but also very good.  One we enjoy for summer is Crinkleroot’s 25 Birds Every Child Should Know.  Each page has a detailed and accurate drawing of a common bird, with just the name in big bold letters.  Not exactly a story, but great for just teaching basic recognition to younger children.  So it just says “DUCK” and “CARDINAL” nothing more specific.  But it’s a great introduction.  

There are so many Arnosky books that we haven’t read yet.  This week we checked out Crocodile Safari from the library, and I was surprised that it comes with a DVD.  The book is filled with stunning illustrations and great facts about crocodiles told as if we are on a safari with the author.

I hope you can find an Arnosky book soon, and if you do, pop back to let me know how you liked it!

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For my own fun reading, I recently finished Tracy Chevalier’s Remarkable Creatures. I won’t go into details about the book here since it is not a children’s book.  It’s a novel, however, many of the characters were real people and it tells about many real things they contributed to society.

While searching for more information on the setting of that novel, I came across a children’s book in our library based on one of the main characters in Remarkable Creatures…Mary Anning.  Mary Anning did in fact hunt for fossils on the shores of Lyme Regis, England.  Her family sold them in a shop for tourists.  Mary Anning was a young girl who, through her daily hunts on the beach ended up finding some remarkable fossils.  It was highly unusual for women to be interested in this pastime but Mary spent her life finding fossils.  She found the first plesiosaur in England.

Jeannine Atkins has written a beautiful story about young Mary Anning, called Mary Anning and the Sea Dragon. It’s an inspiring story of Mary and her dedication to finding fossils despite the townspeople’s objections.  With the encouragement of her mother and her own desire to carry on something her deceased father had started, she keeps looking and finally finds an enormous ichthyosaur.

Michael Dooling is the illustrator and his paintings are truly incredible in this book.  I love the pages of gray water and sand mixing, giving us a taste for the cold rainy winters that Mary had to endure to keep up her task of fossil hunting.

As it turns out there are several other children’s stories based on Mary Anning.  I hope to get some from our library to review them.  Atkins, though, has done a wonderful job capturing who Ms. Anning must have been and paying tribute to her work for all time.

This would be a great story to read especially if you have a child who is into fossils.  It would also be a nice supplement to various history or science units on fossils or learning about how people dealt with the discovery of extinct animals and reconciled that with their faith.

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Summer is nearly upon us but in our region, we’ve already begun to see the fireflies come out at night!

This calls for a Firefly party!  Let your kids stay up later than usual, get some jars with holes poked in the top and catch some fireflies.

To prepare for your firefly study, check out this Let’s-Read-and-find-Out-Science book:  Fireflies in the Night.  You can find a brief review of this book here when I reviewed the series.  This book is a lovely story with great illustration and gives fun, easy ideas to study fireflies.

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Our family is currently enjoying the world of Chester Cricket, Tucker Mouse and Harry Cat, as told by author George Selden. Selden has a long series of books about these lovable animals, the first is the most well known, The Cricket in Times Square and has received a Newbery Honor.

This book tells the story of Chester Cricket who finds himself misplaced to the subway station underneath Times Square in New York City.  He meets up with Tucker Mouse and Harry Cat, who have already been friends for some time.  Chester Cricket becomes the pet of the little boy who’s family owns the newsstand in the station.  The story tells of some of the adventures of the animals and how one little cricket brings much joy to the hoards of people passing by the newsstand each day.  The devotion and love that the characters show for each other is a joy to watch unfold.

The book is enhanced by the occasional drawings by Garth Williams.  He also illustrated Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little and the Little House books.

Both my 4 year old and 7 year old sons truly enjoyed this book.  We looked forward to hearing about the animals’ adventures each day and the loyalty and honor shown by Chester Cricket sparked from fruitful discussions.

Lesser known, but no less great stories, are the sequels to this first one.  We just finished Tucker’s Countryside in which Tucker Mouse and Harry Cat are summoned up to Chester’s Old Meadow in Connecticut to help him hatch a plan to save the meadow from destruction by builders.  I enjoyed this story even more than the first, perhaps because of the subject, but also because the depth of the friendship between the animals is more complex and described in more detail.  Living next to a meadow, this story hit home for my children and we found ourselves really rooting for the animals to come up with a brilliant plan.  Here’s one of the best quotes from the book, and occurs just after the first day they animals witness a bulldozer, driven by 2 men, starting to dig the earth:

For a minute the hill seemed deserted.  It wasn’t, however.  Tucker Mouse and Chester Cricket crept out from the bushes where they’d been hiding.  “Those men are nice,” said Tucker.

“Most people are,” said the cricket.  “If they just get left alone.  It’s when they all get together that they start doing stupid things– like digging up meadows!”

I could see this book being a springboard for some in depth learning about eco-systems, meadows, grasslands wildlife, and the effects of building in natural areas.  It also tells about the neighborhood children setting up a picket to try to stop the building which could spark some learning about how little groups can influence change. As a family we’ll stop with Tucker’s Countryside as a read aloud, just to move on to something new.  But my son will be continuing on in the series for his own summer reading.  So if you read Cricket in Times Square, by all means, don’t stop there!

You can find the titles for the rest of the books in the series here.  Also, be sure to check if your library has these on audio, they would be great to listen to in the car during vacation trips.

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My almost 7 year old son has been living on his own on the side of a mountain for the past couple weeks.  At least he does every afternoon during his free reading time when he cracks open Jean Craighead George’s My Side of the Mountain. This work of fiction, a chapter book, and Newberry Honor Book is rather a stereotypical innocent boy book.

Sam Gribley is a young boy who decides to run away and live on his own, on the property he had heard about from his father.  He lives in NY city and heads upstate with a penknife, a ball of cord, an ax, $40, some flint and steel.  The novel tells of all his adventures, living in a tree on the side of a mountain.  Teaching himself how to survive with his own intelligence, bravery and sheer determination, even through the coldest winter and blizzards.  I haven’t read the book, myself, but have listened to about half of it on audio.  It reads a bit like journal entries from Sam, sometimes detailing his thought process about trying to find a solution to a particular problem, sometimes his emotions about living on his own, away from his family. I found myself quite taken in by Sam’s story and very curious to find how he could survive on so little.  As the author says in the preface, in most of us there’s a desire to run away at some point and see if we can make it on our own.  In this story, Sam does just that.  For the rest of us, it’s fun just to run away in a book for a while.

I would say the typical age range for reading the book is 9 to 12.  My 7 year old is an advanced reader and loves the idea of surviving in the wilderness, so he’s loving it.  But even my 4 year old enjoyed the audio version in the car.

My son is looking forward to the other 2 books in the series.  In addition, there’s a movie of the same title, although with the way movies made from books go, I’m not sure if we’ll bother with that.  The book has been too much fun.

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I’ll admit it, I hate teaching my kids science.  It’s not the subject that frustrates me or is uninteresting, quite the contrary.  It’s that there is just so much out there and so many different ways to go about doing it that I get overwhelmed.  In our homeschool I tend towards thinking that a science lesson has to be a big production with experiments, museum visits, real life experience, record keeping, etc.  But the fact is, that sometimes the simplest presentation of a lesson works just as well.  Don’t get me wrong, experiments and big productions to teach a lesson are fun, but if a big production is out of the question (because you have sick kids, or a toddler that destroys anything in his path that might resemble a science project, or you simply have run out of time to plan anything), sometimes just finding a decent book to read is a great substitute.  Read the book, talk about it, point things out, ask your kid questions about what they think or to make observations from their own life.  Then if you’re feeling really school-ish you can have them write down something they learned and draw a picture.  That’s it!  Science is done for the day.  Nice and easy.

So where to find good science books?  Well, there are tons.  But if you need a good series to rely on for any topic, my favorite is Harper Collins’ Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out Science series.

These books are appropriate for K-4 set, but I have a 4 year old who has enjoyed listening along with big brother for about a year or so.  This series has a book about virtually any science topic you can think of.  Archaeology, Biology, Botany, Geology, and many more.  They are written as a story, with the facts and ideas woven in.  There are bright illustrations.

Each one is written by a different author.  There are older books, I’ve seen ones as old as the 1980s I believe.  They are still writing books for the series.  The newer books are leveled.  Level 1 is for the younger kiddos, the books are more story-like with characters.  The Level 2 books are more detailed and have more words on each page.  They are more focused on the facts.

Most likely you can easily find many of these books in your library system.  Because they all have different authors, try searching under the series name.

You can find a complete list of the level 1 books here, and the level 2 books here.  At the Harper Collins’ site you can also search by topic if you’d rather narrow it down.

Let me know if your child has a favorite science book, I’d love to hear more ideas!

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Conrad J. Storad has written two great books to help kids learn about specific animals in the southwestern desert regions of the U.S. They were both illustrated by Beth Neely and Don Rantz.

The first one is Don’t Call me Pig!  A Javelina Story.

The story is very poetic with stanzas such as:

My scent is strong and stinky

Sniff…you might smell me near

Look close, you may never see me

Only grunting sounds you’ll hear.

In my opinion, though, the illustrations are the true gems of these books.  There is plenty of realistic detail, with added comical touches.  For instance, on the page I quoted there’s a tiny mouse donning a closepin on his nose running near the sleeping Javelinas.  On another page, the Javelina is staring back at you head on but wearing 60s style big black glasses to illustrate that Javelinas have poor eyesight.

The second related story is Lizards for Lunch:  A Roadrunner’s Tale.

This tale features the ugly roadrunner and his unusual diet of lizards.  In my opinion, the writing in this book isn’t nearly as smooth or poetic, but it’s still well done and interesting.  Again, the illustrations are the best part.

I’m a strong and proud bird

Though great beauty I lack

I have odd, skinny feet

Two toes point forward, two back.

The page, then, features a roadrunner lounging with a magazine entitled “Road Runner’s World.”  In the background is a lizard hiding behind the cactus read a Zen book.

Both of these books are fun to read, not long either.  A few readings of these, and your child will never forget some basic facts about these two unusual animals.  I noticed that Amazon does not currently have these books, but you may find them in book stores at nature centers, and likely your library has them.

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