Skip to content

We've been focused on storms here on Earth lately, but there's been activity on the sun, too. On Wednesday last week (September 6, 2017), the sun produced an unusually large solar flare. This flare results in an increased likelihood of auroras lighting up the night sky here on Earth. To learn more about how this works, let's look at the timely middle grade book Stories of the Aurora: The Myths and Facts of the Northern Lights by Joan Marie Galat and illustrated by Lorna Bennett.


As the title suggests, Stories of the Aurora is a combination of science and folklore. On the folklore side are legends from Inuit, Norse, Greek, and other cultures. On the science side, readers learn about the Earth's magnetic field, how the auroras form, how they behave, and the environmental effects of auroras.

It's a surprisingly informative mix. For example, on page 18 we learn that the Sami (also called Laplanders) call the aurora "The Light You Can Hear." This might not make sense until the sidebar on page 30, when we learn people for centuries have reported hearing crackling and hissing sounds during bright auroras. In 2012 scientists were able to verify the sounds and lights were related and began to piece together how they are created.

In this video you can hear some recordings of the sounds (towards the middle of the lecture, about 1:30).

Sometimes they sound like clapping. Isn't that amazing?

Auroras making sounds is just one of the cool things readers will discover in Stories of the Aurora. This award-winning title will surely light up the faces of youngsters interested in finding out more about their world.

Science of Auroras

The Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) and Aurora Australis (Southern Lights) occur when waves of charged particles traveling as solar winds from the sun strike the gases in the upper atmosphere of the earth and make the gases glow. The Northern Lights typically occur around the Arctic Circle, but large flares can cause a glow that can be seen throughout Canada and into the northern United States. Here is a photograph of an aurora taken in Wisconsin.

Photo from NASA Images

Activity Suggestions:

  1. Predicting when an aurora will occur is difficult, and at best happens only two or three days after an observed solar flare. Often scientists can only give about 30 minutes notice. Check the NOAA Aurora website to learn about current predictions.
  2. Visit the author's website for a list of links to cool aurora and general astronomy sites to visit.
  3. Collect images of auroras. Make a poster, lapbook, or slide presentation explaining how they form and facts about them. For example, find out why are some auroras green, some red and some a mix of colors. Share your results.
  4. Try an art project with colorful auroras as a backdrop to arctic animals. Oil pastels on black paper can give a lovely effect. Add some black silhouettes of trees or land forms to the bottom for contrast.

The book is the 2017 SCBWI Crystal Kite Award winner for the Canada region and 2017 Skipping Stones Honor Award winner.

Age Range: 11 - 13 years
Series: Dot to Dot in the Sky
Publisher:  Whitecap Books; 1 edition (September 6, 2016)
ISBN-10: 1770502106
ISBN-13: 978-1770502109

Disclosure: Book was provided by the publisher for review purposes. Also, I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title or cover links and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.

Looking for more children’s nonfiction books? Try the Nonfiction Monday blog.

1

We are hosting STEM Friday this week, the gathering of children's books about Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. We are featuring two new books by Elizabeth Rusch, Eruption!: Volcanoes and the Science of Saving Lives, with photographs by Tom Uhlman and Volcano Rising, illustrated by Susan Swan.

volcano-rising-bigger

Children are definitely interested in natural processes like volcanoes, but perhaps too often children's books focus on the sensational, explosive aspects. Volcano Rising is a picture book for younger kids that explains not only what volcanoes are, but also how volcanoes can be a positive force by creating new land and adding nutrients to the soil. Rusch has created a two layer text, one layer that is meant to be read aloud with lots of action verb and sounds, and the other for those who want to really delve into what volcanoes are all about.

Susan Swan's mixed-media illustrations add another clue that this is a special book (see the cover above and an example at Charlesbridge). The illustrations give the look of a picture book, and also create a uniformity of scale and appearance that would not be possible with a collection of stock photographs.

Eruption-bigger

On the other hand, Eruption!: Volcanoes and the Science of Saving Lives (Scientists in the Field Series), is all about the blast. Written for ages 10 and up, this book follows the experiences of USGS volcanologist John Pallister and his team from of the Cascades Volcano Observatory as they participate in VDAP or the Volcano Disaster Assistance Program. VDAP is an international effort to provide assistance to any country impacted by volcanoes that asks for help in monitoring and predicting eruptions. The program was formed after the deadly eruption of Colombia’s Nevado del Ruiz in 1985.

Rusch reveals how VDAP works by closely following the heart-pounding, nail-biting events of the Mount Pinatubo volcano eruption in the Philippines. She shows the science of positioning and monitoring seismographs, determining  gas content and amount of ash, and even how satellite images can help predict when the next volcano will erupt. The case study also demonstrates that human responses to orders to evacuate are almost as unpredictable as the volcano itself.

Elizabeth Rusch has shown she has done her research and also that she is a versatile children's writer. Looking for information on volcanoes? Wanting to learn more about the science and scientists behind volcano eruption predictions? Elizabeth Rusch has the books for you!

Let's investigate some hands-on science activities inspired by the book:

1. Floating volcanic rock

Pumice rocks are lava from volcanoes that has cooled so quickly that they often contain pockets where air bubbles had been.

Gather:

  • Pumice and other igneous rocks, such as granite or obsidian.
  • Container
  • Water

Examine the rocks and predict whether they will float or sink. Fill the container with water and then place each rock in the water to see what happens.

If you can't do this in real life, try this virtual rock floating test at Science Kids.

For older kids, add a lesson about density.

2. The classic erupting volcano.

I almost skipped this one, because it is so overdone, but then realized that just because we adults find it has lost its novelty, doesn't mean kids who haven't done it should miss out.

a. Make a volcano cone.

This can be a simple as a mound of sand in the sandbox, or an elaborate cone made out of clay, paper mache, or a variety of other materials. Embed some type of container in the cone, such as a plastic bottle or cup to contain the reaction chemicals inside the cone.

b. Gather red and/or yellow food coloring (optional), baking soda and vinegar and some measuring containers. If you have a group of kids, go for the mega-store sizes, because you will be doing this again and again.

c. Have the children measure some baking soda into the container at the center of the cone. The amount will depend on how big your container is. You can adjust after you try it a few times. Add the a few drops of each food coloring to give an orange lava color. When you are ready pour the vinegar into the container with the baking soda. Be prepared to jump back if necessary.

This video shows an example. Science Bob suggests adding dish detergent to the mix, for more foaming action. Although he says to pour in the "water," I think it is probably vinegar. Of course you can try it with water, too, just to see if it works.

 

 

Now I'm going to share our family's top secret volcano formula. Instead of baking soda and vinegar, we use elephant's toothpaste. The reaction is slower, but lasts longer and gives off real heat!

Do you have another way to dress up the standard volcano eruption demo?

Need pumice? You can find pumice at rock shops, some science educational supply catalogs and even online at Amazon:

 

Disclosures: Volcano Rising was supplied by the publisher for review. Eruption was from our local public library. I am an affiliate for Amazon, and if you click through the ad and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog, as well as to buy more vinegar and baking soda 🙂

 

Come visit the STEM Friday blog each week to find more great Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books.

Once children have begun to be aware of how important water is to our planet and to living things, it is time to investigate how water recycles.

the-water-cycle

Our post today was inspired byWater Cycle (Pebble Plus: Earth and Space Science) by Craig Hammersmith, which is a picture book that introduces many important concepts and vocabulary words pertaining to the water cycle, such as evaporation, condensation and precipitation. Along with a glossary and an index, there are instructions for making a "mini-earth" in the form of a terrarium. (A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher, Capstone.)

The first step to understanding the water cycle in understanding the states of matter. Water is an ideal substance to study because it exhibits three of the four states of matter (solid, liquid, gas) at relatively normal temperatures.

Solid Water (ice, hail, snow):

Gather:

  • Plastic tubs of different sizes, food molds, ice cube trays, clean milk cartons, etc.
  • Access to freezer
  • Water
  • Food coloring (optional)
  • Spray bottle (optional)
  • Springs of herbs, flower petals (optional)

Put some water in different-shaped containers and freeze it. Allow the children to help pick containers and fill them. For added enjoyment, add a few drops of food coloring to the water. Or you can add bits of edible flowers such as roses, or leaves of herbs as decorations. Explain that the liquid water is going to become solid.

On a warm day, take the ice outside and use it to build ice sculptures. Remove the ice from the containers by briefly immersing in water if it won’t just slip out. If you don’t have time to make special shapes, simple ice cubes can work great for this, too.

Have the children pile the ice to make buildings, animals or abstract forms. You can lightly mist the finished products with water containing food coloring. Then watch the sculptures melt. Predict how long it will take. Explain that the solid water is becoming liquid water by melting.

Older children can design inventions to protect the ice from melting, and then build and test their invention by seeing how long it takes for the ice to melt inside the device versus unprotected.

(See a previous post about snow science, too.)

icicles

 

Liquid Water:

Learning how to make a water siphon is a fun and useful way to learn about some of the properties of liquid water.

Gather:

  • Small amount of tubing, such as clear plastic aquarium tubing - about 18 to 24 inches long
  • Water
  • Two bowls or other containers large enough to hold tubing submerged, or even a large glass and a sink
  • Food coloring (optional)

Fill one of the containers with water. Add a few drops of food coloring (optional). Submerge the tubing under the water and jiggle to remove air bubbles until the tube is filled with water. Place your thumb tightly over one end of the tube and move it to an empty container, ideally slightly lower than the first. Release your thumb and the water should start moving from the filled bowl to the empty one via siphon action. It may take some practice if you have never done it before.

You can also put two straws together to use instead of tubing, as shown in the first video (Note: there is a pop-up ad):

 

The video below by Doctor C shows how a siphon works using a chain model. (Note:  The narrator takes a sip of the water at the end. You might want to turn the video off before you reach that point to prevent copycat behavior.)

 

For older children, time how long it takes to fill a container of known size and calculate rate of flow. Figure out how long it would take to empty a ten gallon fish tank with your siphon. How about an average swimming pool?

pool-water-texture

(Pool Water Texture by Petr Kratochvil)

Water as a Gas
:

To study water in the gas form, you will need water, paint brushes and a sidewalk or driveway on a hot day. If you must stay indoors, a chalkboard will work too. Simply paint the water onto a flat surface and then time how long it takes to evaporate. Explain that the liquid water is turning into a gas as it disappears and is rising up into the air. That is called evaporation.

To show the gas water turning back into liquid, set out a glass full of ice water on a warm day. The gas should condense into liquid around the outside of the glass after a few minutes, creating droplets. This is called condensation.

Water_cycle

The USGS has child-friendly information about the water cycle, including a printable poster.

If you would like to make a terrarium as a model of a water cycle, see our previous post.

See how a man kept a plant in a bottle for years without adding water or air (Note:  website has numerous ads and images that might not be child-appropriate).

You could spend a lifetime studying water. Next week we're going to find out where the the water in your home faucet comes from and how it gets to the tap.

Water Cycle (Pebble Plus: Earth and Space Science) by Craig Hammersmith

Age Range: 4 and up
Publisher: Capstone Press (August 1, 2011)
ISBN-10: 1429671424
ISBN-13: 978-1429671422


Disclosures: The book was provided for review purposes. Also, I am an affiliate for Amazon. If you click through the linked titles or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.

 

Come visit the STEM Friday blog each week to find more great Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books.