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Did you know that before author and illustrator Beatrix Potter began her career writing the famous children's classics, she was a scientist?

In her new picture book Beatrix Potter, Scientist (illustrated by Junyi Wu), Lindsay H. Metcalf reveals how as a child Beatrix Potter was curious about plants and animals, but devoted her life as a young adult to studying fungi.

Like the illustration of Beatrix on the cover, the book focuses a lens on her lesser-known years as a mycologist (one who studies fungi). Although Potter had no formal schooling in science, Beatrix Potter was introduced to mushrooms  by a talented amateur named Charles McIntosh. He became her mentor and sent her samples to study. Beatrix made beautiful detailed drawings of each specimen. She also figured out a way to prove that new mushrooms grow from spores, something that wasn't well known at the time. However, like other women scientists in the 1800s and early 1900s, Beatrix Potter encountered resistance when she tried to share her findings.

After finishing the book, educators and parents will likely want to discuss with young readers the pros and cons of how Beatrix ultimately dealt with the rejection.

The back matter is extensive, and includes a section that gives more detail about Beatrix Potter's life and studies, a timeline, a bibliography and suggestions for further reading. It is well worth perusing.

Overall Beatrix Potter, Scientist will appeal to both young readers interested in STEM and also those interested in women's history. Investigate a copy today!

Activity: Draw or Paint a Fungus

What better way to celebrate Beatrix Potter's work than to make a detailed drawing of a mushroom.

First, look at some of Beatrix Potter's illustrations online (for example, here).

You will need some art supplies, such as:

  • Paper
  • Colored pencils
  • Crayons
  • Watercolor paints

Find a mushroom to draw.

Safety note:  A few fungi are poisonous, so avoid handling wild ones.

Fungi obtain nutrients by decomposing plants, particularly living or dead woody plants, so you will often discover them in forests.

The mushroom that we see is called a fruiting body. The fruiting body is like the flowers of a plant because it is how how a fungus makes more of itself or reproduces. The rest of the fungus is made up of threadlike strands called hyphae which form a mat called the mycelium. The mycelium is often hidden within the tree or soil and may grow for years unseen.

When conditions are right, a fungus produces its fruiting bodies. They often prefer cool, moist conditions and fall is a great time to find them.

Photograph by Karen Gibson

Some fruiting bodies have a stipe (scientific term for the stalk part). On the underside of the mushroom in the middle of the photograph you can see ridges. Those are called gills.

Photograph by Robert Pratt

Others form shelves. Sometimes the shelves are soft.

Sometimes the shelves are hard. These fruiting bodies may be called brackets or conks. They can be quite colorful.

If you have trouble finding a mushroom in nature, you may want to examine a cultivated mushroom from the grocery store instead.

Observe the mushroom closely and draw what you see.

You can find out more about fungi in these related posts:

Be sure to check out our ever-growing list of biographies of women scientists at Science Books for Kids.

Grade Level : Preschool - 3
Publisher : Albert Whitman & Company (September 1, 2020)
ISBN-10 : 0807551759
ISBN-13 : 978-0807551752

Disclosure: This book was provided electronically by the author. 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.

Looking for low cost ideas to add some STEAM to your week? How about bird safaris, plant identification chalk art, and/or making a permanent record of the animals and plants in your neighborhood?

Idea 1:  Birdwatching Safari

Have you seen people putting stuffed animals in their windows or yards? Those are part of Teddy bear scavenger hunts for children. Take the idea to the next level:  walk, bike or drive through the neighborhood looking for birds.

Virtually every neighborhood has birds perching, singing, flying, swimming, and feeding. See how many birds you can spot. Write down what you see or record using voice recognition on your phone.

For more bird-related lessons and activity ideas, visit:

Extensions:  If birds aren't your thing, consider an insect safari.

Idea 2:  Sidewalk Chalk Plant Identification

On the same vein, have you seen driveways and sidewalks decorated with chalk artwork and inspirational/positive messages?  Wouldn't it be cool to take those ideas and incorporate a little science? Leave chalk notes about plants you see.

Butterflies love desert marigolds.

In England, "rogue" botanists are using chalk to identify common plants along sidewalks (Guardian article gives details). As they emphasize, when people learn the name of plants they can find out more about them, such as how they provide nectar for pollinators or are food for butterflies.

 

Note:  Make sure you have permission before applying chalk to sidewalks.

Idea 3:  Make a Nature Notebook or Journal

A nature journal is a physical record of your observations.

Below, children's science author Loree Griffin Burns shares a wonderful nature notebook that her children made when they were younger. She explains what they learned and gives suggestions for making your own.

 

Notice that they used both photographs and drawings.

Curved-bill thrasher and grackle

You can choose either or a combination. Be sure to jot down your observations and date every entry, as well.

Suggestions for starting a nature journal

Idea 4:  Start a Nature Blog

If you are more comfortable with the digital world, then keep you journal as a blog that you can share with friends and family. Some platforms -- like Blogger and WordPress.com -- can be free.

From the start of this blog in April 2008, the Bug of the Week has been a photographic record of the insects and plants I've encountered, mostly in my own neighborhood. Why might this be useful?

Firstly, it helps me remember the names of insects, especially those that I don't see often. There are more than a million species of insects, so even experts need help.

Blogs can also be a record of life cycles, for example our recent discovery of lady beetles on brittle bush and two weeks later we found lady beetle larvae.

Because I show the insects I've photographed that day or within a few days, it is also an archive of seasonality of insect appearance.  For example, this week I noticed two damselflies in the back yard.

This mainly brown one perched on the rim of an old flower pot.

Every minute or so it would launch into the air and grab a gnat. Can you see the gnat snack in its mouth?

About two feet away a bluer version perched on some radish flowers.

With a quick search, in years past I had seen damselflies in August and September.

It is fun to look back over the posts and see what was happening.

Which ideas do you find appealing? Be sure to let us know if you try one or if you have other ideas to suggest.

 

Recently, we featured a story time about the solar system for preschoolers. Today our activities are inspired by the upper-elementary/middle grade book Dr. Maggie’s Grand Tour
 of the Solar System by Dr. Maggie Aderin-Pocock 
and illustrated by Chelen Écija. Check out our sister blog, Wrapped in Foil, for a review/details.

Suggested Activity to Accompany the Book: Stargazing

When is the last time you have gone outside at night and looked up at the stars? With less pollution haze, stargazing can be a fun activity right now. Be sure to follow local safety guidelines.

Some things you can point out to youngsters:

  1. The Moon - The Moon is currently waxing, which means you will gradually see more as it heads to the full moon on May 7, 2020. It will be the last "supermoon" of the year and is called the flower moon.
  2. Planets - Venus has been bright lately as the sun sets in the west. You should also be able to spot Mars, Saturn and Jupiter.
  3. Constellations - Different constellations will be prominent depending on how clear your viewing is. Pollux and Castor show up in the west near nightfall. See various websites linked below for details.
  4. Comets- There are three comets in the skies this month; Atlas, Swan, and T2PANSTARRS. They probably won't be bright enough to see without a telescope, but keep an eye on news reports just in case.
  5. Meteor showers- Last week the Lyrid meteor shower was in the news, but the lesser known Eta Aquarid meteor shower should be at its peak right before dawn Tuesday. Unfortunately, the moonlight will probably interfere with viewing all but the brightest meteors. Other large showers include the Perseids in mid-August and the Geminids in December.
  6. Human-made items - Most of us can recognize an airplane flying at night because of the blinking lights. What you might not have seen, however, are the Starlink satellites. These look like points of light that travel quickly in a definite path across the sky ( a photo). Once you spot one, you are likely to see them again and again. According to reports, they should be less visible as they tilt over time and later launches will have built in shades that are supposed to reduce visibility. See them while you can.

For more see our Astronomy category, starting with Three Hands-On Astronomy Activities.

Websites for adults to learn more:

Ages: 8+
ISBN:  978-1-68464-034-8

Disclosure: This book was provided by the publisher for review purposes.

See our growing list of children's books about the solar system at Science Books for Kids.