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When we think of gardening with children, the first thing that comes to mind is often vegetable or kitchen gardening. Have you ever considered wildlife gardening? It is a whole new way to enrich your children's lives.

In this vein, Plant a Pocket of Prairie by Phyllis Root and illustrated by Betsy Bowen is an exciting new picture book coming out April 15, 2014. It explores the prairies of Minnesota, but has a much more general appeal and a serious message that can apply anywhere.


The first thing you notice about the book when you open it is Betsy Bowen's gorgeous woodcuts (children might like to see how she does them). They are so clean and vibrant, they make you want to hang the book on the wall.

Phyllis Root's free verse text starts out by explaining,

“Almost all gone now
to farm and town and city,
even before we knew
all of the things a prairie could do.”

She then highlights examples of relationships between specific plants and animals in the prairie ecosystem, such as between foxglove beardtongue (a type of Penstemon) and hummingbirds; monarch butterflies and milkweeds; and goldfinches and sunflowers. The back matter includes lists of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, insects, and plants commonly found in prairies.


Did you know that the prairie is one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world? In the back matter the author also explains that less than one percent of native prairies remain. Her premise is that if you plant a pocket of prairie in a backyard, lot or even in containers, some of the animals she identifies might come to visit. If enough people plant pockets, more struggling plants and animals might survive. If everyone who lives where prairies once occurred were to plant a "pocket of prairie," who knows what might show up. The illustrations suggest a bison, giving the children a concrete idea of the big things that could happen.

Which is really what Plant a Pocket of Prairie is all about, it is a little book with a big idea that could enrich our world by inspiring people to grow native plants.

Are you ready to grow native plants? How do you start?

If you want to start a prairie, of course the first question is:  what is a prairie? The word comes from a French word meaning "meadow." Typically prairies are expanses of grasses mixed with other plants, but with few or no trees.

How would you go about it? Here in Arizona it is not uncommon to see yards with absolutely no lawn, but in most areas an expanse of lawn is still the norm. One step could be to carve out areas from that lawn and start adding beds and borders of a mix of native perennials. Over time, you could continue to expand the beds until you reach the point where you can throw away the lawnmower.

Wonder what it might look like to replace the lawn with a meadow?

Alex-Wild's-gardengardenThis is Alex Wild's prairie yard. (Copyrighted photograph of photographer Alex Wild's meadow yard used with permission. See more of Alex Wild's work at SmugMug.) Includes "black-eyed susans, prairie milkweed, New England aster, ironweed, and blazing star."

Isn't it wonderful? Of course you'll want to include paths so your children can run through and explore. Imagine all the wildlife they would be able to experience first hand.

Not ready to convert the whole yard? If you already have flower beds or pots, simply throw away the geraniums (which produce absolutely nothing for wildlife) and grow plants that are naturally found in your area, such as purple coneflowers and penstemons, instead.

Another idea is to simply not be so neat and tidy. Allow some "weeds" to flourish in the corners and along banks, etc. When you see butterflies or birds visiting, point them out to the members of your community so they become interested, too.

Side note:  Right now people are focused on the plight of the monarch butterfly, because the numbers are declining so rapidly. Although encouraging milkweeds is a wonderful idea to help out, be sure to plant other native plants as well. Diversity is the key.

Because every region has its own naturally-occurring plants, it can be a daunting task to find out what to plant and where to find material. Fortunately most states have native plant societies with information to help out. The American Horticultural Society has a list of native plant societies by state, with addresses and links to websites.

Still have questions or have information to share? If you have ideas about wildlife gardening for kids or if you are interested in learning more, please leave a comment.


Build-a-Prairie is an online interactive game from the Bell Museum that is fun and educational (I recommend consulting the field guides provided :-)). It gives the important message that plant choice is critical.

The Home Bug Gardener blog recounts a transition of a yard in Canada over several years to an "oasis of biodiversity" (check older posts first, as currently the author lives in Australia).

Review of Touch a Butterfly:  Wildlife Gardening with Kids

In the UK? Try the Wildlife Garden Project

And let's not forget our inspiration, Plant a Pocket of Prairie

Ages 5-10
Hardcover: 40 pages
Publisher: University of Minnesota Press (April 15, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0816679800
ISBN-13: 978-0816679805

Thank you for visiting us during Children's Garden Week. Don't forget to check the Children's Garden Week organizational post for updates as well as visit our Gardening/Science Activities for Kids Pinterest board.



Disclosures: This book was provided for review electronically via NetGalley. Also, I am an affiliate for Amazon, and if you click through the linked titles or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.


Come visit the STEM Friday blog each week to find more great Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books.


Amidst the hubbub for Valentine's Day comes the announcements of the winners of the Cybils awards. Since we are also hosting STEM Friday today, let's look at the STEM titles that were nominated in the Elementary/Middle-Grade Nonfiction category, as well as reveal the winner.


Quite a few strong STEM books were nominated for Cybils awards last year and four made it to the finalist round. The three runner-ups were:


The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdös by Deborah Heiligman and illustrated by LeUyen Pham is a rare treat.

This picture book biography explores the life of Paul Erdös, who thought about math all day, even when he was a young boy. In fact, he was so busy thinking about numbers that he never really learned to tie his shoes or other basic life skills (his mother and nanny did all those things for him). It isn’t until he was 21 and attended a meeting of mathematicians for the first time that he buttered his own bread!

The illustrations in this book are ingenious. LeUyen Pham includes three pages of illustrator notes in the back to explain all the math she has incorporated into them. I'm sure we will be hearing more about her work in the future.

Important messages the book contains:

  • Math can be exciting and interesting
  • It is okay to be different from everyone else

Paul Erdös is an amazing, unique human being and Heiligman’s passion for her topic is palpable, yielding a biography as special, lovable and one-of-a-kind as its subject. Share it today!

Age Range: 3 - 8 years
Hardcover: 44 pages
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press (June 25, 2013)
ISBN-10: 1596433078
ISBN-13: 978-1596433076


Volcano Rising by Elizabeth Rusch and illustrated by Susan Swan

Children are definitely interested volcanoes, but too often children’s books focus on the sensational, explosive aspects. Volcano Rising is different, because it explains not only what volcanoes are, but also how they can be a positive force by creating new land and adding nutrients to the soil. The text has two layers, with one layer of simple text meant to be read aloud and the other for those who want to delve more deeply into what volcanoes are all about.

See related post about volcanoes with activities (includes a previous review of this book)

Age Range: 6 - 9 years
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Charlesbridge (August 1, 2013)
ISBN-10: 1580894089
ISBN-13: 978-1580894081


How Big Were Dinosaurs? by Lita Judge

Judge compares dinosaurs to common objects in a fun romp. Children will probably be surprised how small and how big some of the dinosaurs were. In the back is a fold out section that explains more about each dinosaur. If you are going to read this book aloud, you might want to take a gander at that section first, because it contains pronunciation guides to some of the tongue-twister names.

Age Range: 6 - 9 years
Hardcover: 40 pages
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press (August 27, 2013)
ISBN-10: 1596437197
ISBN-13: 978-1596437197

And, now, drumroll please...

This year's winner is a STEM book!



Look Up!: Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate

Cate utilizes a conversational style and humorous cartoon illustrations that are sure to attract children to give birdwatching a try. Although targeting middle grade, it will appeal to a broad range of ages.

Look Up! was also chosen as a 2014 Robert F. Sibert Honor Book.

Activity suggestion:  It would be a perfect book to accompany the Great Backyard Bird Count, which is being held this weekend.

great-backyard bird count 2014

Age Range: 8 - 12 years
Hardcover: 64 pages
Publisher: Candlewick; First Edition edition (March 12, 2013)
ISBN-10: 0763645613
ISBN-13: 978-0763645618


Disclosures:  I am an affiliate for Amazon, and if you click through the linked titles or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.


Come visit the STEM Friday blog each week to find more great Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books.


Want a first hand look at young scientists exploring a recently discovered phenomenon? Plastic, Ahoy!: Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by Patricia Newman, with photographs by Annie Crawley introduces the middle grade level reader to three graduate students who spend nearly three weeks aboard a research vessel in the Pacific Ocean taking samples from what is called the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch."

Plastic, Ahoy!- Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

In August of 2009, Miriam Goldstein, Chelsea Rochman, and Darcy Taniguchi departed on a ship as part of the Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastic Expedition or SEAPLEX (see the blog). The book chronicles their observations and experiences.

You can get a feel for the book in this trailer:



Surprisingly, the students found that much of the plastic in the Garbage Patch is small broken pieces, basically "the size of confetti." The small size is going to make removing the plastic from the water very difficult because any net that is the right size to capture the bits of plastic will also capture all sorts of marine life. The bottom line is that these are not all full-sized water bottles floating around.

The team members also discovered that 9% of 147 the fish they sampled during the trip had plastic bits in their stomachs. Given that there is some evidence plastic bits tend to accumulate toxins from the water, this could have long term negative consequences to food chains. Obviously more studies need to be done.

Not all the news was necessarily negative, however. One study found that sea-going relatives of water striders called "sea striders" are actually doing better in the Garbage Patch because more debris means more places they can lay their eggs (Plastic Trash Altering Ocean Habitats, Scripps Study Shows).

Plastic, Ahoy! can be a jumping off point for many potential science experiments and explorations of your own. Here are just a few ideas:

1. The lifespans of plastic objects

How long will your trash bag live? is an idea for a science fair project that compares the longevity of plastic, paper, and biodegradable plastic bags buried in the ground. This is a long duration experiment (months).

In this article, a Teen Decomposes Plastic Bag in Three Months

2. Preventing plastic from reaching the ocean

Science Buddies has a science fair project idea for looking at the design of storm drains with the idea of keeping trash from getting into the water

3. Floating ocean trash experiments from previous post at Growing with Science

4. The National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration's Marine Debris Program has educational materials such as:

Plastic, Ahoy!: Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by Patricia Newman, with photographs by Annie Crawley is an exciting introduction to science, told through the stories of actual young scientists. You will want to share it with children interested in marine biology, chemistry and conservation. It would make perfect reading for Earth Day (April 22, 2014) or World Ocean Day (June 8, 2014) or a unit on the environment, particularly the marine environment.

Recommended Ages:  8-12
Publisher: Millbrook Pr Trade (January 1, 2014)
ISBN-10: 1467712833
ISBN-13: 978-1467712835

Disclosures: This book was provided for review via Blue Slip Media. Also, I am an affiliate for Amazon, and if you click through the linked titles or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.


Come visit the STEM Friday blog each week to find more great Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books.