Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.
Sky and earth, large scale to small, these books cover the gamut of wild summer fun.
The Kids Book of the Night Sky, by Ann Love and Jane Drake, is a DIY resource for getting to know the summer sky. This one’s packed with stories from around the world (not just Greek legends) explaining the origins of the Milky Way, the waxing/waning moons, and the zodiac. Activities such as using stars to tell time, constellation flash cards, and heavenly word games are accented with four seasonal star maps, a glossary, astronomical riddles, and an interview with a star revealing his life story, from gas cloud to white dwarf.
For more down-to-earth readers, there’s Canadian Wild Flowers and Emblems, by Colleayn O. Mastin. Each page contains a painting of a flower, illustrated by Jan Sovak, and a two-stanza poem outlining the origin of each flower’s name, its distinctive characteristics, and whether it’s edible or poisonous. All provincial flowers are noted, along with emblematic trees and birds. Twenty-five percent of our medicines come from plants and Mastin highlights those used to treat poison ivy, athlete’s foot, headaches, and warts; she also covers plant-based Easter egg dyes. Did you know that sunflower pith is the lightest natural known substance?
A Tree in a Forest, by Jan Thornhill, portrays the life of one tree, beginning with a maple key’s lucky fall into a rotting log sponge-like in its ability to hold water and hide it from squirrels, chipmunks, and mice. Thornhill’s detailed pictures reveal an ecological community: root systems, animals hibernating in the tree, or beneath snow, visiting birds, bugs and wildlife. The maple experiences a forest fire, ice storms and early settlers “sugaring off.” Lightning strikes at age 200, where, even in its decaying state, the tree accommodates forest creatures and a new maple key landing in its decomposing wood.
Ladybug Garden, by Celia Godkin, is also an examination of an ecosystem in story form; however, this one is out of balance. A gardener sprays insecticide to rid his plants of aphids. But it kills only some of the pests and drives the ladybugs away. The remaining plant-juice sucking aphids produce honeydew, attracting an abundance of ants. The bees get lazy and go for honeydew instead of pollinating plants; the honey begins to taste strange. Fewer plants mean fewer flowers, butterflies and fruit, leading to a wasp frenzy. And the multiplying aphids are still there, covering now-mouldy plants. The solution: order up a crate of ladybugs!
Paul Davidson’s photos are what make Bugs Up Close, by Diane Swanson, stand out. The intro deals with the all-important “how to identify a bug as an insect.” Each page is then devoted to a clear examination of one attribute, for example spiracles, legs, wings, antennae, metamorphosis, and body shapes. Impressive facts are sprinkled throughout; for instance, that pesky mosquito noise is made by wings moving at a speed of 600 flaps per second; and an ant can lift 50 times its own weight.
The Insecto-Files, by Helaine Becker, is a great companion to Bugs Up Close. It’s jam-packed with activities: how to read a bee’s movements and imitate its dance; experiments: using the grasshopper as a thermometer (the warmer the night, the faster the chirp); explanations: why ants trail in a line; and fun facts: catnip is ten times more effective than DEET and healthy honey bees’ wings beat to produce the musical note A.
How To Raise Monarch Butterflies: A Step-by-Step Guide for Kids, by Carol Pasternak, is just what the title says. Even a city kid can enjoy the four-week process, beginning with the first neighbourhood sighting of monarchs. It teaches how to find monarch eggs on milkweed leaves and how to make a nursery. Materials are simple: plastic containers and paper towel. Pasternak also gives hints on how to photograph and release them. There’s a bit on migration (50 million to Mexico!), how to create a butterfly garden, and website addresses for further research.
Eco Fun, by David Suzuki and Kathy Vanderlinden, is kind of a catch-all of projects, experiments and games, organized into five sections. The chapter on air includes an air pollution test, and a way to collect “tree sweat.” The water chapter explains how to measure water wasted in home toilets and taps, as well as how to make “green” household cleaners. The earth section gives a veggie chilli sauce recipe, a way to trace back ingredients on can labels, and how to make a wormery, a composter, and a mini-landfill. Projects pertaining to the sun include a solar water heater and an experiment to simulate global warming. The last section on living creatures shows how to collect bugs in a homemade “pooter,’’ animal yoga positions, and grading a home for greenness.
There’s enough in these books to keep busy well beyond the summer months.
On her first day as teacher-librarian, Julie Booker was asked by a five-year-old if that was her real name. She's felt at home in libraries since her inaugural job as a Page in the Toronto Public Library. She is the author of Up Up Up, a book of short stories published by House of Anansi Press in 2011.
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