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Coming up on next week, we are going to announce a giveaway opportunity for some great bird books as well as a PBS Kids Look and Learn Birds kit.  For STEM Friday, let's preview one of the books in the giveaway, Bird-acious (Science with Stuff) by Melissa Stewart.

First of all, the book itself is a fun and educational introduction to birds for young readers. It contains big color photographs and interesting facts. It covers everything from feathers and flying to beaks and eating. There's even a two-page spread that features photographs of cool bird tongues and describes what the various structures are used for.

But this book offers even more. In the cover image above, do you see the brown mass in the yellow oval to the right, just under the title? That is an actual owl pellet for kids to dissect. A bird book with its own hands-on activity included, how cool is that?

Some of you may be asking, "What is an owl pellet?" It turns out that owls can not digest the fur and bones of the animals they eat, and instead of passing through their bodies, the remains are regurgitated back up in the form of an owl pellet, or as it's labelled here, "owl puke."

Where do they come from? Collectors go to old barns and other areas where owls live and pick up the pellets. To get rid of any bacteria, the pellets are baked at high temperatures for four hours.

What are they used for? Students can dissect the pellets looking for small bones. This allows them both to discover what the owls have been eating and also to find out more about skeletons as they identify the bones they find.

For example, in this sample the owl pellet contained three mandibles (jaws) of mice. The orange curved parts towards the bottom are the large front incisors rodents are known for. The mandibles on the left and center also still have a row of smaller grinding teeth. Sometimes those fall out of the bone like the one on the right, but can still be found elsewhere in the sample.

Not sure how to do this? Don't worry, the book has four pages of instructions in the back, including a labelled photograph of rodent skeletal parts found in owl pellets. All you'll need to supply are tweezers, toothpicks, or some similar tool to pull apart the pellet; papers or trays to lay the bones on; and a place for the children to wash their hands with warm, soapy water afterwards.

Bird-acious is a unique way to teach children about birds and what they eat. After they've completed the project, young readers are likely to come back to the book again and again.

Think you might be interested in a chance to win this book? Stop by our giveaway next week.

Age Range: 8 and up
Hardcover: 48 pages
Publisher: Downtown Bookworks; Nov edition (December 10, 2013)
ISBN-10: 1935703900
ISBN-13: 978-1935703907

Disclosure: This 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 link 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.

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

It was a bit cold, cloudy and rainy over the weekend, so I wasn't expecting to find any insects. But there it was.

A praying mantis, bold as can be.

Isn't it interesting how the pink shades on its thorax match the pink flower buds of the fairy duster plant it's resting on?

The cold weather was probably making it sluggish, because it did not move when I ran to get my camera or the whole time I was taking photographs.

Perhaps it is wishing for warmer days.

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"Come in and take a look - if you dare!"

So starts our featured book Animal Planet Strange, Unusual, Gross & Cool Animals* by Charles Ghigna and the folks at Animal Planet. It was recently a finalist for the 2016 Cybils award in the elementary/juvenile nonfiction category.

(*Amazon affiliate link)

Kids go wild over these kinds of books. With over 200 photographs of weird animals, how can you go wrong? Add text by award-winning poet and children's author Charles Ghigna, and you know this is a book that deserves a second look.

First up in the book are the Strange animals. Some of the animals include the blobfish, which was once voted the world's ugliest animal (see video below); the red-lipped batfish, which turns out can't swim very well; and the lowland streaked tenrec, a tiny animal which looks like it got tangled up with the spines of a porcupine. After all the weird creatures in that section, it's hard to imagine what they found for the Unusual, Gross, and Cool animal categories that follow.

Budding zoologists will definitely dare take a look at Animal Planet Strange, Unusual, Gross & Cool Animals. In fact, even the most reluctant reader will want to explore it. Check out a copy today!

Age Range: 8 - 12 years
Publisher: Animal Planet (October 11, 2016)
ISBN-10: 1618931660
ISBN-13: 978-1618931665

This is a regular armadillo. If you think it looks weird, wait until you see the pink fairy armadillo on page 43.

(Public domain photograph by Jean Beaufort)

Suggested activity:  Make an Animal Fact Sheet

Pick a strange, unusual, gross, or cool animal and put together a fact sheet about it. Include facts like the animal's name, its scientific name, where it lives, its habitat, what it eats, how big it is, and how long it lives. Does it have any unique features? Does it migrate? Be sure to include a picture. You can use crayons and markers on paper, or a computer.

Here's a made-up example:

Need help picking an animal?  Here are two suggestions.

Warthogs look pretty strange, but wait until you see what happens when one meets a group of mongooses:

Find out more about the blobfish:

If you choose, share your fact sheet with friends and family.

Additional Activities

Try these two free downloads (may take a little time to load):

Disclosure: This book was provided by the publisher/author 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 link 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.

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