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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.

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For STEM Friday we have two titles that were recently nominated for Cybils nonfiction awards, both about octopuses.

Octopus-arms(Public domain photograph of octopus arms from Wikimedia)

Octopuses are amazing animals and make fascinating reading. Although they are mollusks, and thus related to slugs and snails, octopuses are quite clever. Some of their other unusual features include:

  • Have the ability to rapidly change color and texture to blend in with their surrounding or startle predators.
  • Have the ability to pass through tiny openings and press themselves into crevices much smaller than themselves.
  • Can drill into shells to extract the food inside.
  • Can also pry shells open with their strong arms.
  • Can produce a cloud of ink and jet away to confuse predators.
  • Can recognize individual humans even if the people are all dressed alike.

Our first book for youngsters is Octopuses!: Strange and Wonderful by Laurence Pringle and illustrated by Meryl Henderson.

A straightforward informational text, Octopuses! gives a wonderful overview of the biology of these fascinating creatures. The author first explains that octopuses are mollusks and discusses some other common mollusks. Then he gives a detailed description of the anatomy of a typical octopus and some of the different kinds. Other topics include what eats octopuses (predators), how they hide by changing colors (camouflage), and what octopuses eat. The author also explains the life cycle in some detail.

Although the text is clear and exceptionally well written, it is the illustrations that really raise the quality of this book. They are colorful, well laid out, and full of drama.

Octopuses! is a wonderful choice for a child interested in ocean creatures or to read to prepare for a trip to an aquarium. It is likely to inspire the next generation of marine biologists!

Age Range: 7 - 9 years
Publisher: Boyds Mills Press (April 7, 2015)
ISBN-10: 1590789288
ISBN-13: 978-1590789285

Our second book for slightly older readers, The Octopus Scientists: Exploring the Mind of a Mollusk (Scientists in the Field Series) by Sy Montgomery and photographs by Keith Ellenbogen, follows four octopus researchers from very different backgrounds as they look for octopuses around the island of Moorea in the Pacific Ocean.

As with the other titles in the Scientists in the Field series, the focus is as much on the scientists who study octopuses as the animals themselves. In the first chapter we meet four scientists  who have devoted their lives to researching these amazing creatures. Canadian Jennifer Mather wanted to study marine biology, but found resistance in what was perceived as a "man's" field. Instead she became a psychology professor and then applied her studies to octopuses. American David Scheel studied lions for his doctorate degree, but when he couldn't find a job working with lions, switched to marine biology. Tatiana Leite is a professor of marine ecology in Brazil. Keely Langford works at the Vancouver Aquarium.

The rest of the chapters document their efforts to find and study the local octopuses, while at the same time revealing details of octopus biology. For example, their excellent camouflage skills that protect the octopuses from predators also make them hard for scientists to track down. Often the scientists look for the shells left behind from when the octopuses feed, piles called middens, for clues of their whereabouts.

If you have ever wanted to don a wet suit and search the ocean floor for octopuses, The Octopus Scientists is the book for you. If not, reading it might just make you want to give it a try.

Age Range: 10 - 12 years
Grade Level: 5 - 7
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (May 26, 2015)
ISBN-10: 0544232704
ISBN-13: 978-0544232709

For ideas for related activities, visit our recent ocean science week link list.

ocean-science-week-badge

Interested in learning more about scientists? Try our list of great titles from the Scientists in the Field series at Science books for kids, as well.

Disclosure: The books were provided by my 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.