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Today we have a new STEM title that is sure to elicit a variety of reactions. Before we start, however, I should disclose that I've blogged with one of the authors, Sue Heavenrich, at STEM Friday blog for a number of years. Sue writes about science at Archimedes Notebook.

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Let's take a look at the young adult book (grades 8 through 12)  Diet for a Changing Climate: Food for Thought by Christy Mihaly and Sue Heavenrich.

We all know the food we eat can determine our health, but what about change the health of our planet? Mihaly and Heavenrich make a case that eating certain plants and animals -- a few that are not normally on the menu -- might do just that.

The authors start by revealing some of the plants we think of as weeds were brought to North America from Europe on purpose as food and/or herbal remedies. Dandelions and purslane, for example, are thought to have been been imported and grown intentionally before they escaped from gardens and were labeled as weeds.

Perhaps it is time to turn back the clock and consider eating them again. What could be more local than eating plants that grow readily in almost any yard? To entice the reader to try them, the authors offer recipes, such as for dandelion flower pancakes.

The next step is to consider eating some of the species that have become invasive, for example Asian carp or garlic mustard, which is a weed. They also suggest eating insects and other invertebrates as alternative protein sources.

The authors have thought this through because they offer plenty of cautions. For example, people who are allergic to shellfish may also be allergic to insects. Although kudsu is edible, the plant is a three-leaved vine that closely resembles and grows in the same locales as poison ivy. The ability to identify these plants and animals accurately is critical.

The book has a modern look sure to entice young people. The art director writes about decisions about the cover design on the Lerner blog, which might interest future artists. Inside a number of color stock photographs catch the eye.

Diet for a Changing Planet is definitely "Food for Thought." Given that some young people think meals arise spontaneously and have trouble telling a turnip from a red onion in the grocery store (true story), the idea of foraging for food outdoors and preparing it themselves may be a hard sell. Even so, reading this book may plant some seeds of ideas that will come to fruition later on.

Suggested Activities:

(Edited 10/14/2018)

1. Check out some weed and bug recipes online

(Garlic mustard)

Caution: According to The New York Times, garlic mustard does have traces of cyanide and they recommend limiting consumption and/or blanching the leaves.

2. Foraging for survival

Did you ever read My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George? It's about a boy who goes to live in the Catskill Mountains for a year. He learns how to forage for food in order to survive.

Even if you aren't going to run away from civilization, knowing what is edible in your environment is a good idea. If you become lost in the wilderness, being able to identify sources of food can keep you alive until help arrives.

Research, make a plan, and list what foods you would collect and eat if you are ever lost. Note:  hiking and hunting guides often include information about survival foods.

Curious about how the book came about? Check out Writing as a Team at GROG.

Library Binding: 128 pages
Publisher: Twenty First Century Books (August 1, 2018)
ISBN-10: 1512481211
ISBN-13: 978-1512481211

Disclosure:  Digital ARC was supplied for review via NetGalley. 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.

For STEM Friday this week we have a middle grade science book, The Secret of the Bird's Smart Brain. and More! (Animal Secrets Revealed!) by Ana Maria Rodriguez.

Using a fun format where each chapter reveals a surprise about a different group of animals, the author has found five science stories which often turn conventional wisdom upside down. In the first chapter, the term "bird brain" has a whole new meaning when scientists find that small size has nothing to do with power. In the following chapters readers discover whether birds have a sense of smell, how and why mama bears act during different seasons, and how pig grunts and alligator bellows may have more to say more than we originally thought. The last chapter ends with a hands-on activity for kids to try.

Although it is the animals that draw young readers in (the kunekune pigs are adorable!), the true stars of each chapter are the scientists who are discovering their secrets. The book shows details of how each group of scientists studies the problems, from counting brain cells to recording pig grunts.

The Secret of the Bird's Smart Brain...And More! is the next best thing to taking a field trip with a biologist. Check out a copy today.

Related Activity Suggestions:

Investigate Kunekune Pigs (Chapter 4)

Kunekune pigs are a rare breed from New Zealand. They are prized because of their small size and ability to use grass (to graze) as their main source of food.

Here are two kunekune piglets from the Dallas Zoo:


What do you think the little "tassels" of hair under the chin is all about?

The scientists in the book studied the grunts. You can hear the sounds the pigs make in this video.

Can you hear other sounds in the area besides the pig, like the kids and the chickens? How do you think scientists tune in to just the pig sounds when they want to study them? (See answer below.)

Don't these pigs have interesting colors?  The New Zealand Kunekune Association's page on coat color genetics has a detailed explanation of how genes interact to produce coat colors.

Investigate Bird Brains and Bird Behavior

Age Range: 8 - 11 years
Publisher: Enslow Pub Inc (August 15, 2017)
ISBN-10: 0766088529
ISBN-13: 978-0766088528

Answer:  Scientists trained the pigs they wanted to study to go one at a time into special sound-insulated huts so they could record individual pigs without a lot of extra background noise. Read chapter 4 to find out more.

Disclosure: This book was provided by the 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.

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For STEM Friday we have a 2018 AAAS Subaru Children’s Science Book Prize Finalist, Try This Extreme: 50 Fun & Safe Experiments for the Mad Scientist in You by Karen Romano Young and photographs by Matthew Rakola.

What is extreme about this book? It explores extreme temperatures (for example, the effect of cold on glow sticks), extreme environments (test survival skills) , and extreme animal abilities (for example, exploring the insulating power of whale blubber). It is also extremely engaging.

As we've come to expect from National Geographic Kids, the book is illustrated with fantastic color photographs. What makes it stand out is that it features real kids performing the experiments, and includes some of their comments, plus readers gets to meet all the kid scientists on pages 10 and 11. Seeing their peers doing the experiments draws kids in and empowers them to try some themselves.

The back matter includes all the science standards for each experiment, plus a very handy index.

For busy parent and educators, Try This! Extreme could be a real life saver. With clear step-by-step instructions and using easy-to-obtain materials, children can take the lead with these projects. Plus, it is super cool!

Age Range: 10 and up
Publisher: National Geographic Children's Books (September 26, 2017)
ISBN-10: 142632863X
ISBN-13: 978-1426328633

Let's do a hands-on science experiment for older kids inspired by the book:

Soda Floating and Sinking

Imagine you are working in a restaurant. Someone has filled two taps, one with diet soft drink and one with regular soft drink. Unfortunately, no one knows which is which. The store manager doesn’t want to serve the public the wrong soft drink, and the two taste similar enough that there are some questions. Should she throw out the soft drinks, or can you tell which is regular and which is diet using science?

If you know something about the density of different types of soda, you might be able to help.

Density can be calculated using the formula:

density= mass divided by volume

Materials:

  • Large plastic bin, sink, or tub
  • 4 unopened cans of different flavors of regular soft drink
  • 4 unopened cans of different flavors of diet soft drink
  • Water
  • Table top kitchen scale
  • Calculator

Part 1. Observe the density of soft drink cans placed in a large container filled with tap water.

Do you expect the unopened cans of soft drink to float, sink, or stay in the middle when placed in tap water? Given that the cans likely contain an equal amount of aluminum and fluid, do you expect any differences in how the different kinds of soda will behave?

Fill a plastic storage bin, sink, or tub with tap water. Place the unopened cans of regular soft drink and diet soft drink in the water. Observe whether the cans float or sink.

(For a quick peek at the expected results, see this video)

Did what you observed match your predictions?

soft-drink-bottles
Public Domain Photograph by Peter Griffin at PublicDomainPictures.net

Part 2. Determine the density of unopened cans of soda

  1. Turn on the kitchen scale.
  2. Make sure it reads zero (is tared).
  3. Place an unopened can of soda on the scale.
  4. Write down your data in a table like this one:density-table
  5. Record the kind of soda
  6. Read and record the mass of the can in grams.
  7. Locate the volume of the can in milliliters and record it.
  8. Repeat steps 2-6 until you’ve weighed 4 cans of regular soda and 4 cans of diet soda
  9. Using a calculator, calculate the density of each.

What is going on?

Soft drinks are actually complex mixtures containing a variety of substances such as colors, flavors, acids, sweeteners, preservatives, and caffeine. For example, soft drinks contain phosphoric acid, which gives them a tangy taste. Phosphoric acid can also acts as a preservative, keeping the contents of the bottle fresh.

Which of these ingredients, if any, might explain the different densities observed? Read the nutrition facts of the regular soda and diet soda. Do you notice any ingredients that are contained in large enough amounts that they might result in the differences in density between diet and regular soda? How much of that substance is in regular soda? How much in diet?

Finally, how might you figure out which soda is which in the example described at the top?

Want more? See our growing list of children's books with hands-on science experiments at Science Books for Kids.

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.