STEM Friday

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Books


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Parrots Over Puerto Rico

Parrots-over-Puerto-Rico1Parrots Over Puerto Rico, by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore, is everything good about picture books. The book is unique and colorful and had me reacting with grins and smiles and gasps.

A few of the newest picture books I’ve read have had some novel approaches to the genre. This 2014 publication from Lee & Low Books is one of them. It is aligned sideways. or rather, longways. Meaning, when you open the book you have to turn it so you are flipping pages up, rather than to the left. This format is necessary to accommodate Susan L. Roth’s stunning collage illustrations, which show the height of the trees, and the birds far up in them. The collages are intricately detailed and vibrant; they are simply gorgeous.

The story of the Puerto Rican Parrots is also the history of the island. It walks through people’s habitation and use of the island, the wars and changes in nationality that washed over those shores. We learn how this once prolific species of native parrots was slowly hunted and captured, their forests cuts, and their nesting trees overtaken by invasive species. As per usual with humans, it wasn’t until there were only twenty-four parrots counted in the wild, that people finally decided to turn things around. The last third of the book shows the process that scientists took, and are taking, to build safe aviaries, hatch eggs in captivity, and protect the wild population.

Most awe-inspiring to me was that scientists taught the captive raised parrots how to avoid raptors on the hunt. They made a little leather protection vest to put on a parrot, then set a hawk loose on it, to demonstrate to the other parrots what an attack looked like. The parrot with the leather vest was protected, and the other parrots got a good show. Predator-aversion training, they called it. Who knew?

Parrots Over Puerto Rico, though non-traditional in some ways, still has the requisite last pages of actual photos and more detailed information about the scientists’ work with the parrots, a timeline of parrot life on the island, and a final hopeful attitude about what’s next for these birds. The goal remains that by 2020 the parrots will no longer be listed as endangered. It’s books like this that make me think we just might get there.

STEM Friday

It’s STEM Friday! (STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)

 Copyright © 2014 Amanda K. Jaros All Rights Reserved.

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All About Turkeys

I’ve been thinking about turkeys. No, not the ones many people ate yesterday, rather, the ones I saw scuttling through the woods all the years of my childhood. The ones I see now running across the road, traveling through meadows, and huddling together in the farms as we drive over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house. When I came across Jim Arnosky’s All About Turkeys, I thought it would be a timely read.

Arnosky has so many books and so much experience that it was impossible to expect anything but the best from this book. And he didn’t fail to deliver. His illustrations are beautiful, accurate and colorful depictions of wild turkeys. He shows some actual size parts of the birds, as well as enlarged images with a great depth of detail. Readers can learn much from the illustrations alone.

All About Turkeys is not the most original title for a book, but it does indeed tell us all about turkeys. Arnosky offers numerous facts about wild turkeys, both in the main text, as well as in small tidbits thrown around the pages. We learn that turkeys have binocular as well as monocular vision. We see the actual size of turkey feet and heads. And we discover how turkeys got the name gobblers. My favorite fact, however, was something I did not know: A turkey’s head can change color. It is featherless and when calm, it is grayish violet. When the bird gets worked up about something, the head turns red, white and blue! This change can happen in less than a minute.

The ability for turkeys to change their coloring is astonishing, but equally astonishing is that I didn’t know this! It reminds me that there is so much left to learn, for me as an individual, but also for the whole of humanity. Scientists know more about our earth than I ever will, and yet there is also so much more to learn that in a hundred or five hundred years, humanity still won’t know it all.

I hope we never stop studying, exploring and seeking to understand the workings of this astonishing planet around us. For me, as I considered turkeys, I was pleased to discover All About Turkeys, which shows me there is always one more wonder of nature to be grateful for.

 

STEM Friday

It’s STEM Friday! (STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)

Site Meter Copyright © 2014 Amanda K. Jaros All Rights Reserved.


Galileo’s Leaning Tower Experiment

What I love about science is that it is accessible to anyone. Any interested student can observe the world around them, create theories and test those ideas. Wendy Macdonald’s Galileo’s Leaning Tower Experiment, illustrated by Paolo Rui, is a picture book that invites readers into that world of observation. Here, learning science is not some foreign, exclusive club that only a chosen few get to study, rather, readers, both young and old, can participate.

Galileo’s Leaning Tower Experiment is about a young, fictional, boy name Massimo, who is interested in the speed at which things fall. He meets Galileo, a professor at the University of Pisa in 1589, and the two work to figure out if Aristotle’s previous theory was wrong.

Legend has it that Galileo dropped things off the Leaning Tower of Pisa to prove his new theory, which displaced Aristotle’s old theory. It is this event that the picture book centers on. But throughout the book, as Massimo and Galileo theorize, experiment, and make deductions, they show the reader how science works. It’s this progression of deductive thinking that makes this book resonate as more than just a recounting of an old story.

This is what a nonfiction picture book should do, engage children (or us older readers) so that they feel they are not being preached to, or lectured, or bored by irrelevant historical information. Macdonald is highly successful with that. In the course of 32 pages, the characters drop many things to compare their speed. By the end, I got up and started dropping things. Just so I could participate too.

STEM Friday

It’s STEM Friday! (STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)

Site Meter Copyright © 2014 Amanda K. Jaros All Rights Reserved.


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John Muir: America’s First Environmentalist

One of my all time favorite quotes comes from John Muir- “People need beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.” It’s weird to think a person like John Muir can be reduced to a quote, but you’ve got to admit, it’s a good one. The quote comes up in John Muir: America’s First Environmentalist by Kathryn Lasky, illustrated by Stan Fellows, as Muir falls in love with the California Mountains in the 1860’s.

This picture book from 2006 is a comprehensive look at John Muir’s life. It includes the requisite flash over his childhood that writing for children must have these days, his long walk to Florida, his days herding sheep in the Sierras, and his love of ice and storms. The book is arranged chronologically, and attempts to show how Muir’s love and respect for nature grew throughout his life experiences.

Most striking about this book are the illustrations. They balance between painting and sketchbook, vibrant color and pencil scratchings, and close detail and pictures fading to blurs. Fellows did a remarkable job capturing moments of Muir’s life in a truly beautiful way.

It’s always interesting to me how those on the forefront of the environmental movement are generally discounted as “quacks,” “ignorant,” or “unscientific.” Muir was captivated by glaciers, and conducted studies and made observations to show that glaciers actually move in Yosemite Valley. Yet, the scientists of the time called him a “mere sheepherder.” Were those scientists so bent on maintaining power over the science that they could not concede someone else might have unearthed some truth? Were they that scared of admitting their own mistakes? Or were they simply ignorant quacks themselves?

Hard to say, but I can see that we humans have a strong resistance to change, and an even stronger resistance to accepting our place in the nature of the earth. Thankfully, John Muir didn’t seem to have this problem. His work altered the course of so many natural places in this country; he caused thousands of acres of land to be preserved. And I for one, am so thankful to have those places where nature may heal and cheer and give me strength.

STEM Friday

It’s STEM Friday! (STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)

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Rachel

Next week, April 22nd, is Earth Day. But what exactly is Earth Day? What are we meant to do on this day? Isn’t Every Day Earth Day, as the slogan goes? I aim to live my live in concert with my planet, and so I wondered what I should do differently on this day, as opposed to any other day.

So, I did the usual. I stopped by the Tompkins County Public Library to troll the shelves for science books. A few weeks ago I wrote about Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. And now, again, I come back to Rachel.

In 2003 Amy Ehrlich published a book called Rachel: The Story of Rachel Carson, illustrated by Wendell Minor. This vibrant picture book takes us through Rachel’s life from her early nature explorations, to her biology studies at college, to her continued devotion to having science in her life by the Maine sea. The book is divided into chapters, a page each, with joyful illustrations capturing a moment in Rachel’s life. It includes her writings, and her magnificent Silent Spring, but the focus is Rachel’s life. It is simply written, and yet draws the reader in completely.

In 2012, Laurie Lawlor published a book called Rachel Carson and Her Book that Changed the World, illustrated by Laura Beingessner. Oddly, this more recent book is a bit more wordy, but it too tells Rachel’s story with color and clarity. There is more focus on Rachel’s struggles supporting her family, and her place as one of few women working in the sciences. By the end, Lawlor is showing more overtly the challenges and triumphs of Silent Spring.

Both books present the essence of Rachel and her work with honesty, and both share the impact that she had on our world. Both also made me fall a little bit more in love with Rachel Carson. She was a woman of her times, yet she defied those times to pursue her passions- nature, science, writing. She did what she had to do to care for her family, to work her way through the publishing world, and to create work that she was proud of, and in the process she ended up changing the world.

Earth Day sprouted from the environmental movement that Rachel started. And perhaps it is to the new growths of spring that we should return. Earth Day is a day to plant spinach seeds, to walk in the woods with a child, to petition our government to use less energy, to stand up and defend our planet, defying our times if necessary. Whatever we do on Earth Day, let us look to the bugs, beech trees, rain clouds, and bird-song-filled spring sunshine surrounding us and be grateful for it all.

“It is a wholesome and necessary thing for us to turn again to the earth and in the contemplation of her beauties to know of wonder and humility.”  Rachel Carson

STEM Friday

It’s STEM Friday! (STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)

Site Meter Copyright © 2014 Amanda K. Jaros All Rights Reserved.


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Meeting Trees

Meeting Trees by Scott Russell Sanders, illustrated by Robert Hynes, is truly a book after my own heart; color, depth of imagery, and a slow, heartfelt story.meeting-trees-scott-russell-sanders-hardcover-cover-art

I find trees to be spectacular. I hug them, I lean on them, I have always had special trees in my life. I so appreciate that this book touches the emotion of what it means to befriend trees. 

It’s a simple story, based on Sanders’ childhood experiences walking in the woods with his father. It’s atypical in the current picture book world of cartoon and fast-paced action meant to rival screen media. Instead, this book captures what it is like to walk in the woods, learning tree types, noticing things, paying attention. A kid with his dad. Meeting Trees is a picture book for young kids, but it comes across to me as a poetic short piece of creative nonfiction. 

The book is beautifully illustrated by Robert Hynes. I met Hynes two years ago at Highlights Nature Writing Bootcamp. He shared his illustrating experiences and got us attendees to pick up a pencil and draw something (which is saying a lot for me!) The images in this book are true to reality and full of life. 

Clearly, I love this book. It was published in 1997, and like I said, is very different than the current trend in picture books. But this is the kind of special story I aim to write and share with the world. After, that is, I take some time and go out and hug a few trees.

STEM Friday

It’s STEM Friday! (STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)

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Come See the Earth Turn

We have one in our local Sciencenter. Next to the water play area. When my boy was younger I used to sit on a near by bench while he played, watching the pendulum swing back and forth. As my sleepy boredom increased, the moments of my son’s childhood passed by, the earth spun silently beneath us. Now we take it for granted and walk by it every time we go to the Sciencenter. Of course the Earth is turning. What’s the big deal? But it still enthralls me, Foucault’s Pendulum.

Come See the Earth Turn: The Story of Leon Foucault by Lori Mortensen, illustrated by Raul Allen shows what a big deal Foucault’s Pendulum really is. It tells the story of Foucault’s youth in the early 1800’s, as a boy who was a bit behind in the intelligence arena. Yet, he found his calling in working with his hands creating machinery. By the time he was an adult he was creating unique things. 

The book is detailed, easy to read, with original illustrations. But the book itself is overshadowed by Foucault and his work, almost as if you forget you are reading a book but are instead inside the man’s world. It goes on to show how Foucault’s experiments, his playing around with mechanical things, gave him the chance to discover. And, as happens with science, one of those experiments allowed him to find a new reality for the world.

At the time, it had only been recently accepted that the Earth did indeed turn on an axis. A hundred years before it was believed that the Earth (and the men who inhabited it, who were after all were the most important beings in the universe) was the center of the galaxy and all the far reaches of space revolved around them. In Foucault’s time many people were beginning to believe the Earth was the turning object, but it seemed an impossible thing to prove. Thus, many scientists and religious men held fast, like old men are oft to do, to the ideas that they “knew” to be truth.

Foucault’s Pendulum was solid proof that the Earth does turn in space, a realization that altered the way people saw their world. Still today it makes me wonder whether we should not hold so fast to our beliefs, but rather let them go and keep the enquiring mind active.

Foucault answered questions for the people of his age, but he raises more for those of us living centuries later. The Earth has turned without fail since my child and I spent those sleepy days at the Sciencenter; the pendulum continues to swing, and I wonder, what do you think we “know” today that in five, fifty, a hundred years, will be proved by science to be wrong?

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