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For STEM Friday we have one of the fabulous books nominated for a Cybils Award.

Our choice is a middle grade title from the always high quality Scientists in the Field Series, The Hyena Scientist by Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop.

I have to admit that I wasn't sure I wanted to read a book about hyenas. After all, they have a bad reputation, as the authors say, "widely considered to be dirty, ugly, and mean." The fact the book was one of the Scientists in the Field series, however, convinced me to give it a try (well, that and it was nominated).  I'm glad I did.

It turns out that I knew very little about hyenas. Given their appearance, most people assume they are related to dogs. On the first page we learn that in fact they are more closely related to cats than dogs, and most closely related to mongooses. Mongooses?!

How many other common perceptions of them are wrong? A lot.

They are scavengers that slink around stealing prey from lions, right? Turns out that although hyenas do scavenge a bit, they are smart and formidable hunters. With careful observations, the featured scientist Kay Holekamp discovered that in fact lions steal prey from hyenas more often than the other way around.

Rather than give away all the surprises in the book, let's just say your impression of hyenas will likely change after you read it. In fact, you just might want to go study them yourself.

And if you decide to do that, this book will show you what it might be like. As with the other books in the series, the scientists are at the center. We learn about how Kay Holecamp and her assistants came to study hyenas and how they go about it. For example, on pages 18-19 is the inspiring story of Dee. It turned out many years ago Dee worked at the Saint Louis Zoo and took on Kay as a student volunteer. Kay went off to school and Dee eventually went to another job because at the time women were only allowed to hold limited positions at zoos. However, Dee always loved animals and dreamed of going to Africa. Years later, at the age of sixty-nine she reconnected with Kay and her dreams came true. She now helps Kay at her field site. What an inspiring story.

I should also mention Nic Bishop's fabulous photographs. I have been a long time fan, and I think his work is just getting better and better.

As you can tell, I really like this book. For readers interested in biology or what it takes to be a field biologists, The Hyena Scientist is a treasure trove. Delve into a copy today.

One final note:  as a middle grade title, this really is for older readers. Being about the biology of one of Africa's top predators, there are some mature themes and graphic photographs.

Related:

Younger children can learn more about the spotted hyena at National Geographic Kids.

Although this video should come with a strong "don't try this at home" warning, this video about a family that feed hyenas in Ethiopian city of Harar. They have developed an understanding of hyenas is quite fascinating. At the end are some shots of the area during the day. Click through to YouTube to see a detailed explanation of what you are seeing (in English).

See how big some of the animals are? Can you hear the men whistling to communicate to the hyenas? Hyenas are social creatures. Can you spot any social interactions?

Why do you think it is filmed at night?

Age Range: 10 - 12 years
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (May 15, 2018)
ISBN-10: 0544635116
ISBN-13: 978-0544635111

Interested in learning more about scientists? Check out the books in our growing list of Scientists in the Field books at Science Books for Kids.

Disclosure: This book was provided by our local library. 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. Note: this is a new link as of 10/2018.

Today we have some more of the fantastic nonfiction children’s books that have been nominated for 2018 Cybils awards.

The Girl With a Mind for Math: The Story of Raye Montague (Amazing Scientists) by Julia Finley Mosca and illustrated by Daniel Rieley tells the story of a woman who was denied the opportunity to become an engineer and went ahead and became one anyway.

Raye Montague wanted to design ships, but the college she went to wouldn't allow women into the engineering program. After studying business instead, she landed a job typing for the Navy. Working hard, she learned about computers and devised a program that could design a ship in much less time. Eventually she became an official engineer and took over as head of the department where she had started as a typist.

The rhyming text tells Montague's life story simply and effectively. Eight pages of back matter fill in many details and reveal Montague's "can do" philosophy in the face of a multitude of barriers. The back matter also includes a timeline with historical photographs and illustrations.

The Girl With a Mind for Math is a picture book biography of an upbeat and inspiring woman. Pick up a copy for reluctant readers and they might just catch Raye Montague's infectious spunk.

Age Range: 5 - 10 years
Publisher: The Innovation Press (September 4, 2018)
ISBN-10: 1943147426
ISBN-13: 978-1943147427

Because of the recent popular movie, you might be more familiar with the women featured in Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly and illustrated by Laura Freeman.

Author Margot Lee Shetterly wrote the original bestselling book, Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, for adults. In this picture book for children, she gives a brief summary of each woman's career, interweaving their stories and at the same time emphasizing their similar struggles as human computers for NASA.

"Dorthy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden were good at math. Really good."

In the back Shetterly reveals that that she met many of the women when she was growing up in Hampton, Virginia.

Hidden Figures is a good introduction to these amazing women. It would be a great book to have on hand for both Black History Month and Women's History Month.

Age Range: 4 - 8 years
Publisher: HarperCollins (January 16, 2018)
ISBN-10: 0062742469
ISBN-13: 978-0062742469

Want to read more? Check our growing list of children's books about women mathematicians at Science Books for Kids.

Disclosure: These books were provided by our local library. 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.

Let’s explore another of the fantastic nonfiction children’s books that have been nominated for 2018 Cybils awards.

Someone must have squirreled away Rodent Rascals:  From Tiny to Tremendous -- 21 Clever Creatures at Their Actual Size by Roxie Munro because it took a long time to get it at the library. The good news is it was worth the wait.

What are rodents? Munro lets the reader know right in the Introduction. Named for the Latin verb rodere = to gnaw, members of the order Rodentia are furry mammals that are defined by having a single pair of long incisors on their upper and lower jaws that continue to grow throughout their lifetimes.

The rest of the book goes on to explore rodent diversity. The author/illustrator features examples ranging from the tiny pygmy jerboa to the large dog-sized capybara, all of which are drawn with India inks and colored acrylic inks at life size. Accompanying each illustration is a detailed discussion of the history and biology of each kind of rodent. Although this looks like a picture book, the text is written at a high level and Rodent Rascals has been placed in the middle grade category for the Cybils contest.

People have a divided relationship with rodents. One of my relatives hates both mice and squirrels because they steal bird food and chew wiring. He spends his free time devising traps and barriers to exclude them. Our family is on the opposite end of the spectrum because we've enjoyed having several different kinds of rodents as pets. Rodent Rascals is likely to enthrall children who already appreciate rodents and possibly entice a few more skeptical readers to join their ranks. Scurry on out and get a copy today!

Activity Suggestions:

1. Explore the diversity of rodents

Research the life styles of different rodents, both those kept as pets and those in the wild.

Some rodents live in dry environments like the Mongolian gerbil, which is the ancestor of the gerbils now kept as pets.

Other rodents live in and around water all their lives, like the muskrat or the beaver.

Photo by Steve at Wikimedia

(See our previous beaver science post for information and activities)

Although we think of rodents as being small, some can be large.

Capybaras can reach 100 pounds or more.

We also think of rodents as solitary creatures, but capybaras, beavers, and others are quite social.

Guinea pigs are close relatives of capybaras. They thrive better if you keep more than one. (See our previous post of activity suggestions with pet guinea pigs.)

Rather than living in the trees, some squirrels live in the ground.

And, some squirrels can fly!

Let us know about any surprising things you find out about rodents.

Related previous posts:

Fun science activities with your pet mice

  1. Identification/Classification of Rodents
  2. Food/Nutrition
  3. Making Houses and Toys
  4. Animal Behavior
  5. Mouse Development

Activities for Groundhog Day, most recent and older (shadows)

Age Range: 6 - 9 years
Publisher: Holiday House (January 16, 2018)
ISBN-10: 9780823438600
ISBN-13: 978-0823438600
ASIN: 0823438600

Disclosure: This book was provided by our local library. 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. Note: this is a new link as of 10/2018.