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17 Nov

The White House’s glass ceiling didn’t shatter last week, but girls and women will continue to fight for their place in society, world, business and academia. It can be helpful to look back at girls and women who defied convention for inspiration, and Jeannine Atkin’s Finding Wonders: Three Girls who Changed Science can help.


Publisher’s Summary:A gorgeously written novel in verse about three girls in three different time periods who grew up to become groundbreaking scientists.

Maria Merian was sure that caterpillars were not wicked things born from mud, as most people of her time believed. Through careful observation she discovered the truth about metamorphosis and documented her findings in gorgeous paintings of the life cycles of insects.

More than a century later, Mary Anning helped her father collect stone sea creatures from the cliffs in southwest England. To him they were merely a source of income, but to Mary they held a stronger fascination. Intrepid and patient, she eventually discovered fossils that would change people’s vision of the past.

Across the ocean, Maria Mitchell helped her mapmaker father in the whaling village of Nantucket. At night they explored the starry sky through his telescope. Maria longed to discover a new comet—and after years of studying the night sky, she finally did.

Told in vibrant, evocative poems, this stunning novel celebrates the joy of discovery and finding wonder in the world around us.

As I read each section, my mind went to other books I have read about these three women of science.

Margarita Engle wrote an excellent picture book about Maria Merian.


Publisher’s Summary:In the Middle Ages, people believed that insects were evil, born from mud in a process called spontaneous generation. Maria Merian was only a child, but she disagreed. She watched carefully as caterpillars spun themselves cocoons, which opened to reveal summer birds, or butterflies and moths. Maria studied the whole life cycle of the summer birds, and documented what she learned in vibrant paintings.

This is the story of one young girl who took the time to observe and learn, and in so doing disproved a theory that went all the way back to ancient Greece.

Several years ago, I read an excellent adult fiction book about Mary Anning, by Tracy Chevalier.


Publisher’s Summary:On the windswept, fossil-strewn beaches of the English coast, poor and uneducated Mary Anning learns that she has a unique gift: “the eye” to spot fossils no one else can see. When she uncovers an unusual fossilized skeleton in the cliffs near her home, she sets the religious community on edge, the townspeople to gossip, and the scientific world alight. After enduring bitter cold, thunderstorms, and landslips, her challenges only grow when she falls in love with an impossible man.

Mary soon finds an unlikely champion in prickly Elizabeth Philpot, a middle-class spinster who shares her passion for scouring the beaches. Their relationship strikes a delicate balance between fierce loyalty, mutual appreciation, and barely suppressed envy, but ultimately turns out to be their greatest asset.

Remarkable Creatures is a stunning historical novel that follows the story of two extraordinary 19th century fossil hunters who changed the scientific world forever.

Finally, local author, Deborah Hopkinson also published a picture book. Hers was about Maria Mitchell.


Publisher’s Summary: Maria’s wish burns as brightly as a star. Maria longs to be an astronomer and imagines all the strange worlds she can travel to by looking though her papa’s telescope. One night Maria gets her chance to look through the telescope. For the first time, she sees the night sky stretching endlessly above her, and her dream of exploring constellations seems close enough to touch.
In this story, inspired by the life of Maria Mitchell, America’s first woman astronomer, “viewers will find the cobalt-blue nights, lit with constellations that make imaginary (and actual) pictures in the sky, every bit as attractive as Maria does.”


Happy Birthday, Bill Nye!

27 Nov

Before Doctor Who made bow ties cool,


there was  Bill Nye!


  Today is Bill Nye’s 60th birthday!

A whole generation of kids  grew up on his TV shows. In addition, he has written a number of science books. His two most recent books have not been targeted at students, but more towards adults, for whom he can break down complicated topics into comprehensibility.

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If you are looking for a good laugh from Bill, you should look for video clips of him reading mean tweets. I won’t post the link her, because I know of at least 1 of my students who reads my blog (HI, Audrey!) and there is some foul language involved in some of the tweets. Apparently, Mr. Nye has a large number of detractors.




14 May

Yesterday, while walking the dogs, a Northern Flicker hopped across the sidewalk less than a meter in front of the girls. The girls, attentively sniffing the grass, barely noticed, but I marveled.


I marveled, too, reading  Fire Birds:  Valuing Natural Wildfires and Burned Forests by Sneed B. Collard.


The photographs captured my attention first, as I saw this book sitting on the shelf of my local public library. Full page photos of fire scenes contrast with close-ups of the birds who help rebuild the forest after the fire.

The opening chapter, “Inferno!”, quickly drew me in. Written in the present tense, it describes a forest fire from the initial strike of lightning to the vast wasteland left behind. It suggests that the forest might not be quite as devastated as it seems. The chapters that follow explain how birds use burn areas. We learn that more than fifteen kinds of birds prefer to nest in burned forests. Here they can find an abundance of food and places for shelter, often in the absence of predators.

 Fire Birds explores the complex  life of a forest after a fire. It contains many features of non-fiction that can be used as models with students including a powerful introduction, a table of contents, index, glossary, text boxes featuring different birds, and interesting headings.

Fall, germs and things we cannot see

13 Oct

Yesterday, driving home, I had a beautiful view of fresh snow atop Mount Hood. The rain has returned to Oregon and Fall is upon us. This is made a daily reality by the number of kids out sick. Last week, one of my girls made it in on Monday, but looked awful. She had enough of a fever on her second visit to the office that they sent her home and she stayed there the rest of the week. I hope she’s back today.

The change of weather and the return of illness leads to the class reminder about germs and hand washing. A nice way to illustrated the point might be to share this book with kids:


Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes is written by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Emily Sutton. The text is simple enough to engage young readers without dumbing it down for kids who are a little older. Davies’ text manages to convey the size and number of microbes in and around us in relatable ways, by comparisons and contrasts. Sutton’s illustrations are magnificent! This book would be a good introduction to microbes.

We don’t see fossil fuels, either, but we are also surrounded by them.


 Buried Sunlight: How Fossil Fuels Have Changed the Earth is the fourth book by Molly Bang and Penny Chisholm to explore the sun’s relationship to life on Earth. Narrated in the first person by the Sun, the book  explores the earth’s ancient stores of fossil fuels and the effect of intense and rapid consumption of these in recent human history. The narrative non-fiction text is enhanced by the detailed pictures. From the opening illustration where the sun introduces the topic


through to the end, the illustrations are vibrantly eye-catching and full of details. Another excellent resource to introduce kids to ideas in science.

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