Skip to content


Our Weekend Science Fun is inspired by the book Inside Hurricanes by Mary Kay Carson. The book is reviewed is at Wrapped in Foil.

We were excited by the story of a unique dome-shaped beach home that survived when Hurricane Ivan hit Pensacola Beach, Florida in 2004. The owner had designed it so that winds blew around it and that storm surges could pass under. It turned out that the home with an interesting design passed the hurricane test. We decided to try out some of these ideas on our own.

Activity:  Does building shape influence level of damage by hurricane-force winds?


  • computer paper
  • access to a computer and printer
  • tape or glue
  • scissors
  • hairdryer, to supply "hurricane winds"

First we will make structures of three different shapes:  rectangular, circular and a pyramid. (See photograph below.)


Go to and print out the Great Pyramid pattern. Cut it out and assemble. Tape or glue tab.

Paper House - Rectangular

Start with a piece of computer paper.

(If you have difficulty seeing these instructions, let me know.)


Cut another sheet of computer paper roughly in half lengthwise. Lay both layers on top of one another (we're trying to keep the weight of each house roughly the same). Bring the ends together to form a cylinder and tape or glue to hold.

Predict which of these shapes can withstand wind the best.

Find a flat surface that is near an electrical outlet, so you can plug in the hairdryer. Now place a penny or other marker on the flat surface. Rest one of the buildings on it. Plug in the hairdryer. If possible record how fast and/or how far the building travels when you blow the hairdryer on it. Try to stand a consistent distance from the building with the hairdryer. Repeat with the other buildings, making sure to place them on the same mark each time.

If you aren't seeing any differences between the buildings, try lowering the setting on the hairdryer and/or standing farther away.

Extensions:  Try modifying the shape of the building, changing the weight of the paper you use to construct the buildings, or changing the speed of the hairdryer.

Photograph from NASA Images

Isn't it fun when reading a book makes you want to try out something yourself?

More about Inside Hurricanes:

It is part of the Inside Series
Publisher: Sterling
Published: October 2010
Age range: from 8 to 12
48 pages (has 10 fold-out pages)
ISBN: 1-4027-7780-9
ISBN13: 9781402777806

This book was provided for review.


Today let's use the recently released book  Astro: The Steller Sea Lion
by Jeanne Walker Harvey and Illustrated by Shennen Bersani to explore an interesting sea mammal. Astro-the-steller-sea-lion

Astro, who was orphaned at birth and raised by humans, has become an ambassador for his species. If we could interview Astro, here's what he might have to say:


Interviewer (from now on in bold): Can you start by you telling our audience what kind of animal you are?

Astro (plain text):  I am a Steller sea lion.

Does that mean you are stellar, like a star?

No, my species is named for Mr. George Wilhelm Steller, a famous explorer and naturalist who discovered us in Alaska in 1741.

I have been to California and seen California sea lions, are you one of those?

No, my species tends to be larger and lighter colored. We are also much less common. In fact, those of us that live along the eastern Pacific coasts are threatened, and those along the western Pacific coasts are endangered.

What does that mean?

It means that if people aren't careful we could go the way of the Steller's sea cow.

What is a Steller's sea cow? I've never heard of it.

The Steller's sea cow was another sea mammal named by Mr. Steller in 1741. They looked sort of like the manatees now found in Florida. They were gentle plant-eating giants. Because the sea cows were good to eat, they were extinct only 27 years after Mr. Steller found them.

Yikes, that is sad. Hope that doesn't happen to your species.

With luck, this new book will help inform many people about us.

Tell me about "your" new book.

Jeanne Walker Harvey has written the story of my life up to now. She explains how I was orphaned at birth on an island off the coast of California. A scientist found me and took me to the Marine Mammal  Center. The humans took really good care of me. In fact, whenever they tried to send me back to the wild, I just kept coming back to them. Finally, they found a home for me at the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut, where I live now.

And you know the best part?

What's that?

Jeanne is donating a percentage of the royalties from the book to both the Marine Mammal Center and to Mystic Aquarium.  Think of all the sea creatures like me that will help.

Anything else about the book?

What I want to know is how Shennen Bersani did those fantastic illustrations. She always shows my best side.

Hey, I thought I was asking the questions.

Didn't you write to her?

Yes, I asked her how she made the illustrations and here's what she said:

"I've been using colored pencils for a long time, I've even taught classes and workshops on their use... so most of what you see in Astro is colored pencil on Arches watercolor paper, with a splash of acrylic paint."

How are the colored pencils so rich? They look like photographs, only much more luminescent.

"Layers!  Layer upon layer of pencil is used with a 'toothy' paper.  Layers are the best way to explain it.  Does that explanation help?  I use a graphite pencil, nothing fancy there, to draw out the image on the Arches.  (You can see some of my actual sketches turned into coloring pages on the Sylvan Dell website under Astro Teaching Activities.)  Then I color them in with the colored pencils, and highlight some areas with acrylic paint."

Many of the people look like my real friends. How did she do that?

About the models, Shennen Bersani said:

"I traveled cross-country to step in Astro's, umm flippers.  I met with some of the actual people who worked with Astro - and included likenesses of them when possible. I also had fun including my family members, friends, neighbors, and myself."

Isn't that fun? We should tell the children in the audience to check out Shennen Bersani's picture in the back of the book and on her website, and then look for her in the illustrations. It will be our little secret.

Would you tell her that I appreciate all her hard work?

I think she knows. So, Astro, do you think there will be a sequel to your book?

Actually, I was thinking I'd make a great movie star!


If you are interested in using this book as a teaching tool, visit Sylvan Dell Publishing's Astro page for Teaching Activities in the form of a .pdf booklet.

Check out how you can use zoo or aquarium observations as a science project at Dragonfly TV.

The Sea World Education Department has downloadable .pdf teacher's guides on Seals, Sea Lions, and Walruses (scroll down page for links), as well as other ocean-related topics.

Have you ever seen the California sea lions at Pier 39 in San Francisco, California?


The California Academy of Sciences has a video that explains why their numbers have recently decreased and also why tagging certain individuals gives us useful information.

And here's a video of Astro in action. I think he's right, he would make a great movie star.

Disclosure: The book was provided for review. 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.


Children interested in trees? Thinking of doing a tree study unit? Here are some great books about trees for children. We're posting this list to celebrate the Festival of the Trees blog carnival that we're hosting this weekend.

Nonfiction Books:

Life Cycle of a Tree The Life Cycle of a Tree by Bobbie Kalman, Kathryn Smithyman, and Barbara Bedell (illustrator) has beautiful photographs and full-color illustrations. The chapters cover such topics as what is a tree, what is a life cycle, and how seeds move. This is a great informational book.
A-Log's-Life A Log's Life by Wendy Pfeffer, and illustrated by Robin Brickman is for young children who enjoy turning over rocks and looking under logs. This book talks about the importance of the tree, and the log that remains after the tree falls, to the community of animals, plants and fungi around it. The illustrations are unique 3D paper sculptures.
A-tree-is-growing A Tree Is Growing by Arthur Dorros and illustrated by S.D. Schindler is suitable for a range of audiences. It follows an oak tree through the seasons. Along the way are interesting sidebars of other species. Did you know that baobab trees store water in their trunks and actually swell up? The paper is dark and the illustrations are not the bright primary colors associated with picture books, but are very lifelike.
be-a-friend-to-trees Be a Friend to Trees (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out, Stage 2) by Patricia Lauber, and illustrated by Holly Keller, is part of the popular Let's-Read-and-Find-Out-Science series. The emphasis of this book is how useful trees are. Starting with products and foods we use that come from trees, Lauber then devotes several pages to how many animals need trees for food and homes. Finally she moves to less concrete benefits of trees, such as holding soil and water, and producing oxygen. The last three pages are devoted to simple ideas of how you can be a friend to trees through activities like recycling and planting a tree.
Tree-of-life Tree of Life: The World of the African Baobab (Tree Tales) is written and illustrated by Barbara Bash. The baobab tree survives in a harsh environment and is leafless for most of the year. In fact, legend says that the tree was planted upside down. From this beginning, Bash relates the story the life cycle of the tree and all the creatures that depend on it. The watercolors are beautiful.
cactus Hotel Cactus Hotel (Big Book) by Brenda Z. Guiberson and illustrated by Megan Lloyd discusses the life cycle of a saguaro. It's easy to forget that a cactus like a saguaro can be a tree. Once again, this book covers the life cycle of a unique plant found in a harsh environment that is home to many creatures.
planting-trees-in-kenya Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai (Frances Foster Books) by Caire A. Nivola tells the story of Wangari Maathai, who won the Nobel Peace prize in 2004. Maathai returned to Kenya after studying abroad, to find the trees gone and the people struggling. She encouraged everyone to plant trees again to restore their environment. The nice thing about this book is that it is printed on recycled paper.
tell-me-tree Tell Me, Tree: All About Trees for Kids by Gail Gibbons
Starting out with general information abut parts of trees, such as seeds, leaves, bark and roots, Gibbons emphasizes identifying trees. She illustrates the overall shape, leaves and bark of sixteen different trees (although she also identifies leaves and trees throughout the earlier pages as well.) At the end she shows how to make your own tree identification book with pressed leaves, and leaf and bark rubbings. The last page is full of unusual and interesting facts about trees, sure to entice children to want to find out more.
life-cycle-oak-tree Life Cycle of an Oak Tree (Life Cycle of a...) by Angela Royston. Starting out with an acorn, and following an oak tree through its life cycle until it is hundreds of years old, the young reader learns both about the developmental process and the vocabulary needed to discuss it. The centerpiece of the story is an English oak, which can live for 900 years. What a venerable tree!Illustrated with clear, colorful photographs, and with a timeline on each page, the book is visually appealing.
Sky-tree Sky Tree: Seeing Science Through Artby Thomas Locker and Candace Christiansen follows a tree through the seasons. Although frankly more about art than science, this book is likely to lead to discussions of art techniques and the changes that occur during the seasons.
poetrees Poetrees by Douglas Florian is as the title implies, a book of poems about trees. Florian includes poems about trees from around the world like the banyan and monkey puzzle, not just common North American ones. The layout consists of vertical, two-page spreads, giving the feel of looking at a tall tree. If you are familiar with Florian’s illustrations, you will recognize his unconventional art.
Leaf-man Leaf Man (Ala Notable Children's Books. Younger Readers (Awards)) by Lois Ehlert is inspiring because the author is such a wonderful artist. In this book, we see leaf shapes with added plant materials that form a funny leaf man. When the wind comes up, who knows where the leaf man is going to go.

If you would like to see more information about each book, click on the linked title, which will take you to the Amazon website. See the financial disclosure page for more information about my affiliation with Amazon.Please let us know if you have any favorite books about trees to add to the list.

This-Tree-Counts This Tree Counts! by Alison Formento and illustrated Sarah Snow is a counting book that shows all the creatures that depend on the oak tree behind the Oak Lane School. After counting all the creatures and learning about uses of trees, the children plant "baby trees."
we-planted-a-tree We Planted a Tree by Diane Muldrow and illustrated by Bob Staake is a picture book with poetic text. It shows two families who plant trees, one in New York City and one in Kenya, then follows with trees growing throughout the world.
Our-tree-named-steve Our Tree Named Steve by Alan Zweibel and illustrated by David Catrow is a bittersweet story about the loss of a tree that meant a lot to a family. You might want to read this one first if your children tend to be sensitive, to see whether it is appropriate.
Leaf-and-Tree Backyard Explorer Kit: 3-in-1 Collector's Kit! by Rona Beame is for children who love hands on activities and want to learn more about trees. The kit includes a 3 1/2 by 8 inch Leaf and Tree Guide to trees (that will conveniently fit in a pocket or backpack), a plastic leaf-collecting bag, and an unbound 25 page Leaf Collecting Album. The guide has information about trees, how to identify a number of common species (with color photographs of specimens), and 16 hands-on activities.
Trees, Leaves and Bark Trees, Leaves & Bark (Take-Along Guide) by Diane Burns and illustrated by Linda Garrow is useful as a first identification guide to a few common North American trees.
leaf-jumpers Leaf Jumpersby Carole Gerber and Leslie Evans is a simple, poetic introduction to identification eight types of fall leaves. Leaves shown include ginkgo, sycamore, and basswood. Then the children sweep up leaves and jump into the pile.

Edit: If this list is hard to read or becomes outdated, we are now maintaining it at Science Books for Kids.