Educational Books for Kids

Dabchicks and Other Small Grebes

Climate Change Is for the Beans

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As we saw in the post about Victory Gardens, sometimes individuals doing small, almost ordinary things can be a huge help in times of crisis. By simply planting a few beans and tomatoes in their backyards, people were able to help win a war thousands of miles away.

One of the largest crises facing the world today is climate change. And, according to new research, individuals can be a huge help with that problem, too. How? By simply swapping out beef for beans. According to research published in the journal Climatic Change [Add link], if everyone in the country ate beans in place of beef, the US could meet more than half of its emissions goals by 2020.

Most people wouldn’t want to completely give up beef, but just like growing Victory Gardens, a little bit here and there could help a lot. If everyone ate beans in place of meat every now and then, it could help reduce global warming.

Activities and topics for discussion:

Can you think of another problem that people solved by everyone pitching in a little bit here and there?

Are there very small ways you help out at school or in your home that would make a big difference?

Do you like beans? Make up a new recipe using beans as an ingredient.

If you’d like to learn more about the science behind climate change, ask your librarian for my book A Global Threat: The Emergence of Climate Change Science.


photo courtesy Kennth Leung via flickr

Hurricane Talk (and cyclones, typhoons, and Willy-Willies)

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Hurricane Harvey just devastated large parts of Texas (and as of this writing Irma has formed in the Atlantic, her path as yet uncertain). Harvey joins the list of mega storms that have devastated parts of the US in the last century: Sandy, Katrina, Hugo, Irene, Floyd, Ike, Agnes, Camille—hurricanes all. But what about cyclones and typhoons? What are they? And are they different from hurricanes?

These monster storms form in warm, tropical waters around the globe. And like so many things, what they are called depends on where they are. Storms that occur in the Caribbean, Atlantic, and northeast Pacific Oceans are called hurricanes. The same type of storm in the northwest Pacific is known as a typhoon. And if the monster is in the South Pacific or Indian Ocean, it’s called a cyclone. In parts of Australia, they’re called Willy-Willies, which seems to me too gentle a name for a hurricane, but whatever.

You can learn more about hurricanes and other storms (along with lots of stuff about weather generally) in the National Geographic Kids Book Everything Weather by Kathy Furgang, and online at the Hurricane Society.


For further discussion:

Why might people who live in different places but speak the same language have different words for the same thing?

Can you think of something you call by one name and someone you know calls by another?

Can you make up a name for a violent storm that seems like a perfect fit?


If you are interested in donating to victims of Hurricane Harvey, you can fine info about trusted volunteer organizations here


Women in Politics

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I am happy to announce that my book Women in Politics, a part of the Women in the World series published by Rosen Young Adult, is now available in libraries and online.

While women make up roughly half the world’s population, they account for only about 20 percent of the members of the world’s legislative bodies—and a much lower percentage of ministers and heads of states. Women raise children, teach children, run companies, organize in their communities, and do thousands of other important jobs. Yet when it comes to politics, they have precious little to say about running the world.

This books explores why women are so underrepresented in the world’s governments and offers encouragement and advice to girls who are interested in politics—no matter what their beliefs, party, or political leanings.

Politics is not for everyone, and there are many ways to be involved in your world and make a difference. Being active in your community by volunteering and being a good neighbor is invaluable. Being a good mom or an inspiring teacher is one of the best ways to change the world. But girls who want to take part in the political arena need to know that they can, that politics and government leadership are just as viable a career option for girls as for boys. If you or your daughters (or sons!) are interested in the role of women in politics, please ask your school, homeschool, or community librarian for this title.


V is for Victory … Garden

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Does your family plant a vegetable garden? Or do you at least grow a few herbs in pots on the patio? If so, you’re carrying on a patriotic tradition. During World Wars I and II, ordinary Americans made a huge contribution to the war effort simply by growing food.

People planted vegetable gardens, called Victory Gardens, anywhere they could find a bit of land that was not being used—schoolyards, playgrounds, empty lots. City dwellers planted food in window boxes and on rooftops. How could planting tomatoes and corn and green beans in cities and towns in the United States help win a war in Europe?

During World War I, many farmers in Europe were either serving in the military or had been killed in the war, and much of Europe’s farmland had become battlegrounds, so there was not enough food to feed the population. Planting gardens in the United States made it possible for the US to share food with the starving people of Europe while still having enough food left for Americans. Also, because so many trucks and trains were being used to move war materials, it was hard to get food from farms to communities that needed food. Local gardens put food where people needed it.

When the United States entered World War II, Americans on the home front again picked up their hoes and rakes and did their part. Eleanor Roosevelt even planted a garden on the lawn of the White House. (Recent first ladies Michelle Obama and Melania Trump have restarted the tradition of White House vegetable gardens.) Some foods were rationed during World War II. People were able to supplement their food coupons with home-grown fruits and vegetables. According to the National World War II Museum, Americans planted over 20 million gardens during that war, and those gardens provided 40 percent of the produce Americans ate.

Today people plant home and neighborhood gardens for a variety of reasons: to have a source of fresh, pesticide-free food; to save money; to have fresh food in inner-city communities that don’t have easy access to supermarkets; because home gardening is good for the environment and a fun way to get fresh air and exercise. Whatever your reasons for gardening, you are carrying on a fun and patriotic tradition of helping your country and others in need.

For Further Discussion and Activities:

1) What sorts of problems do people face today that can be helped by planting gardens?

2) Do you have a favorite fruit or vegetable? Do you know where and how it is grown?

3) What is your favorite food? Find out where it is grown, and calculate how many miles it has to travel to get to your table. What can you learn about the state or country where your favorite food is grown.

For further reading:

World War II for Kids: A History with 21 Activities. Richard Panchyck. Chicago Review Press, 2002.

A Few Minutes Either Way, and Dinos Might Still Be Here

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Timing is everything. If the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs (and 70 percent of all life on the planet along with them) had arrived just a few seconds sooner or later than it did, it would have landed in one of the oceans, say scientists who are drilling into the impact crater. If the asteroid had landed in the ocean, the dinosaurs (or at least many of them) might have survived—and even still be around today. But would we?

The extinction of the dinosaurs made way for the proliferation of mammals, which eventually led to humans. So if the asteroid had been a few seconds early or late, today’s world just might be populated with the descendants of T. Rex and Velociraptor, but there probably wouldn’t be any humans around to know about it.

To learn what scientists think dinosaurs might have been like if they’d survived and continued to evolve, and more cool things about dinos, read my new book Dinosaur Records. Learn more about the study mentioned above in this BBC article.

Topics for further discussion and suggestions for activities:

1) Draw a picture of what you think dinosaurs might look like if they hadn’t become extinct.

2) Can you imagine a world in which dinosaurs and mammals evolved together? What kinds of creatures do you think would live in that world?

3) Of course, some dinosaurs didn’t become extinct; some evolved into birds. Can you look at a chicken (or a picture of a chicken) and see anything that reminds you of T. Rex?


photo courtesy Tony & Wayne via Flikr