Perfect to read for National Weed Appreciation Day (March 28) and then have on hand for National Poetry Month (April) is the gorgeous new picture book Moving Words About a Flower by K. C. Hayes and illustrated by Barbara Chotiner.
At its simplest, this book is about the life cycle of dandelions. Open the first pages, however, and you will be surprised and delighted. It is filled with bright, bold shape –or also called concrete– poems. The words form images in many fun and creative ways. For example, in this spread can you find lightning and rain?
After the rain, a dandelion grows in a crack in the sidewalk in the city.
When the dandelion plant is mature, its seeds fly out to the countryside, where we learn more about how dandelions grow and what happens to them.
The back matter has a lovely diagram of the life cycle of a dandelion, when it blooms, how the seeds fly, and their value as food.
Young readers will want to explore Moving Words About a Flower again and again. Use it to inspire lessons on life cycles, poems, and art.
1. Why appreciate dandelions?
Dandelions can survive almost anywhere. Blowing on the white, puffy seed heads is a common childhood experience and almost everyone can identify a dandelion.
Although now treated as a weed in our culture, dandelions were once revered in the garden. Let’s explore some reasons to let these hardy plants grow once again.
1. You can eat dandelion greens. They are featured in the book Diet for a Changing Climate (previous post). You also make dandelions into tea.
2. They are associated with spring, but they flower through summer and fall. Late-blooming dandelions are an important source of nectar for honeybees (previous post) and food for wildlife.
3. There’s growing evidence that dandelions improve the soil and make nutrients available to other plants.
Disclosure: Electronic galley 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.
You may not have heard of Marianne North, but she was a fascinating woman. She grew up privileged and sheltered in England. Her father was a member of Parliament who owned multiple homes. On the other hand, her parents said she had no need for an education and insisted she get ready for marriage. Instead, Marianne taught herself to paint and immersed herself in nature whenever she got the chance. After her father passed away, Marianne began to travel the world. She made up for lost time by accurately painting every plant she could find. In the remaining years of her life, she produced more than 848 paintings, most of which she donated to Kew Gardens (see photograph of some of the display below).
Why is North’s work considered to be scientific? It is because she advanced the field of botanical illustration. Her technique of painting specimens in their natural environment rather than isolated on a light background was groundbreaking. The fact, she documented so many rare plants with such accurate detail that several of them are named in her honor.
As for the book, Becca Stadtlander’s lush illustrations are a fitting tribute to Marianne North’s art. Readers will want to get lost in them. And Marianne North’s story is captivating. Readers will want to visit it again and again.
Fearless World Traveler will appeal to a variety of young readers, including those interested in history, travel, plants, art, and science. Pick up a copy and join the adventure!
Suggested STEAM Activities:
1. Make a botanical illustration.
For inspiration, first visit the Kew’s Virtual Gallery to see scans of Marianne North’s paintings, organized by place and by plant type.
Gather some plants. Consider houseplants or vegetables, too. Note: avoid sampling plants you can’t readily identify because some plants can be poisonous. Also, make sure you have permission to gather plants. Collecting plants can be forbidden in certain public spaces, such as parks.
Examine the plants from a scientific standpoint. What kind of plant is it? Does it have any unique features? Identify the parts of the plants (previous post) and other details (inside plants post).
There are many instructions for drawing and painting plants for different grades or ages online. The video below has a nice introduction to botanical illustration and explains how to use plaster cloth to make a botanical impression.
The lesson is available for download as a PDF at the Blick website.
2. Incorporate scientific illustrations in a nature journal.
If you are interested in nature journals, speed over to the Exploring Marianne North website. Toward the bottom of the page they are currently offering a PDF booklet put together by volunteers. It chronicles some of North’s travels, a wonderful mix of history and art. The illustrations are amazing!!! Caveat: the text is in old-fashioned cursive, so may be difficult for young children to read.
LitLinks blog also has some great ideas about how to introduce children to the art of keeping a nature journal.
3. Make a leaf collection
There are many, many ways to make a leaf collection.
Reading age : 6 – 9 years
Publisher : Holiday House (May 11, 2021)
ISBN-10 : 0823439593
ISBN-13 : 978-0823439591
Public domain image of the Marianne North Gallery at Kew Gardens from Wikimedia.
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.
If you are familiar at all with rainforest biology, you know that the forests are structured into layers.
The Leaf Detective book is as multilayered as a rainforest.
The trunk of the book is the biography of Margaret Lowman, an incredibly brave and determined biologist who developed new methods for studying the tops of trees, the canopy and emergent layers. Using ropes and a harness of her own design, she climbed up into the great unknown.
We had already been to the moon and back and nobody had been to the top of a tree.
The branches of the story are Meg Lowman’s findings. For example, she discovered that most of the herbivores in the rainforest she studied were nocturnal, eating leaves at night and hiding during the day. To learn more, she climbed up into the trees at night.
The roots of the story comes after Meg realized that for all people didn’t know about trees, they were still destroying them at an alarming rate. She started to come up with innovative ways for people to use intact forests as a source of income and thus making it economically viable to save them.
Let’s not forget the leaves. Sprinkled throughout are leaf-shaped sidebars filled with interesting facts and additional details. So cool!
The illustrations are as green and lush and complex as a rainforest, too. The reader could get lost and spend hours in them. My favorite shows Meg sitting in her office, but the wall has disappeared and has become part of the natural world outside. It emphasizes that we aren’t separate from the natural world, but we are part of it.
The bottom line? The Leaf Detective is perfect for young readers who are budding scientists, adventurers, conservationists, interested in women’s history, the list goes on and on. Pretty much everyone will find something to explore in it. Pick up a copy and see how it resonates with you.
Activity Suggestions to Accompany the Book:
1. Investigate Leaf Age
One way Meg Lowman studied trees was to investigate leaf ages.
In areas where trees lose all their leaves in the fall, leaf age isn’t a big question. However, some trees may be evergreen, or in warm climates may keep their leaves year around.
If you’d like to find out how long the leaves live on trees or shrubs in your neighborhood, choose some freshly emerged leaves and mark them with an acrylic marker. The young leaves are a lighter, brighter green color and are often softer in texture.
If you don’t have a marker, you could also mark the leaves with tags or ties, anything that won’t wear or fall off or interfere with normal leaf development and photosynthesis. Record how many leaves you tag, when you tag them, and roughly where they are in the tree.
Check your leaves periodically. You might want to mark more leaves each time if you see new, fresh ones. This is a long-term project, so be patient.
We marked some of the new leaves on our lemon tree, which is evergreen here, a few years ago. Our marked leaves remained on the tree through one entire year. The tree dropped a lot of leaves a couple of times, but our marked ones held on. Unfortunately, our marked leaves were lost before the experiment was finished when someone — who didn’t know about our experiment — trimmed the tree.
Let us know what kind of tree or shrub you choose and how long the leaves last.
2. Be a Fallen Leaf Detective
If you live in an area where the leaves come off in the fall, you can do a lot of leaf investigations. For example, you can figure out which leaves came from which trees.
Gather a good tree identification guide that shows both leaf shape and bark patterns. Identify the leaf by its shape, then find the tree by its bark pattern, color, and general shape.
Start with some trees you know well to practice then move on to unknowns. Remember that leaves blow around. Look for nuts/seeds to match with the trees that produced them, as well. Treat it like a game.
During a quiet moment, take a good look at the trees. Once the trees have lost their leaves, other aspects of their structure are revealed, such as the texture of the bark, the shape of the branches, even the leaf scars on the twigs. Compare different trees. Close your eyes and feel the bark. Listen. Smell the wood. Do trees smell differently? Talk about your findings.
Disclosure: This book was provided electronically 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.