Saturday, May 23, 2015

Woodpecker Wham! A Book Review

I was so excited when I saw April Pulley Sayre was coming out with a new book on woodpeckers. I have admired her other books, checking out all that she has to offer from our local library. When I realized that I was the one with Vulture View  checked out as I wondered who checked out the same books as me, I knew I had to go ahead and buy it. I like the simple, yet VERY informative writing that engages the reader. I do many nature programs for young children and adults. The words are interactive and engaging. Woodpecker Wham! delivers the same vibe. As a plus, it is set in a similar habitat to our area.

I have enjoyed getting to know the different woodpeckers in our midwest area. We put suet cakes out sometimes to attract them even more, yet also see them frequently as we live in a very wooded area. I found it curious that the jacket cover is quite different from the hardcover of the book. Both are gorgeous! I am VERY impressed with the illustrator's ability to truly show the details on these birds with cut paper and paint. Check out those feet on the pileated woodpecker! It's neat to see that flash of red in the woods behind our house.

Each page has about 4 lines of text, with three to four words each. It doesn't sound like much, yet each word is carefully chosen to teach about the birds. Rhyming words help with the message. The illustrations support the words with great detail. Action and/or sound words help bring the book to life as they are read, giving an interactive aspect to the pages. The author shows how red bellied woodpeckers communicate through tapping on trees, insect are eaten, holes are drilled for sap, bird clean, hollow cleaned out, eat berries, babies crack eggs, feeding fledglings, storing acorns, and making a hole in a tree. I am amazed at how much she packs in with so few words. 

At the end, she gives more detailed information on woodpeckers in general, sharing information on chisel shaped beaks, how they hitch and hop, send instant messages, use their tongues, how seeds pass through their digestive tract, how many survive in one forest, attracting woodpeckers to our yards, keeping secure homes, raising families, and more! There are also labeled illustrations of all the woodpeckers that are highlighted at the back of the book. 

Personally, I will use this book for my own understanding of woodpeckers and in programs with children in preschool through grade 4 or so, realizing that it is a picture book. While it's simple, it teaches so much. A simple read aloud can have a big impact on children. I read her book, Vulture View, on a hike with adults one time and a turkey vulture soared above our heads. I could see the adults gliding along with the turkey vulture as I read. Reading these books to adults can reinforce the concepts presented.

See a pileated woodpecker in action here
See pictures from the book here
Here is April Pulley Sayre's website


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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Nurturing Acorns: Environmental Art

What a fun session of Nurturing Acorns at Woodlawn Nature Center that we had recently. We started out with a little letter and shape work, matching letters on rocks to an alphabet chart and drawing with sidewalk chalk letters, shapes, lines, etc. Since we have 2 year old to 5 year olds, we like to give options for various abilities. We flip flopped how we normally do things, spending more time outside as the downpour was coming.

Then we made large circles and mostly made "nature" faces, using the circle as our base and filling in with wood chips, sticks, dandelions, etc. for facial features, hair, and more. The guy on the left is quite the realist, though. He was making an insect with three body parts--head, thorax, and abdomen, which ended up being a lady bug that he colored red. While hesitant at first, once he got going he was on a roll! 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Finding Nature While Hunting for Morels

A good friend took me morel hunting the other day. It was a great way to get outside and a tasty treat later. He shared a bag of morels to take home. After frying them up with the boys (see the blog post here), the middle two were very interested in finding more. Since it was later in the day, we just went to our nearby nature stomping place (which my 6-year-old said was his FAVORITE--glad to hear it! It reinforced my thought that we all need a quick, go to nature spot.). It's a preserve, so we weren't looking on keeping the morels, but to see if they were up and if we could actually find them. They blend in so well!

I'll go ahead and tell you we didn't find the morels, but we had a great night exploring! We scanned the ground as we walked. They blend in so well, it's hard to tell they are there sometimes. Once we passed the meadow and entered the woods, we happened upon a dead raccoon rather quickly. It looked like squashed fur, bones, and a tail. Yes, this is really cool to a passel of boys! Aren't you glad we shared this right away?

We had followed a smaller trail around the pond in the woods. It might look like an animal path; however, there was a bench along it, so we felt legit. There are several large trees that are down, which make a perfect place for climbing. In the following pics, it's hard to tell but these are several feet off the ground. They have to bend, twist, grab, and challenge themselves to get in these spots! I love watching them figure it out and then the feeling of triumph as they tackle something challenging. Our children need to learn to negotiate risk and to rise to the challenge of difficult situations. Nature is a perfect spot to do that! 

Saturday, May 9, 2015


Earlier this spring, a friend took me under his wing to learn about morels. We went in late April or early May, before the big rush appeared. We only found 5 while we were out that day, yet he was able to share his MANY years of experience morel hunting with me.  He lives over in LaGrange, so took me places he knows, like Mongo Fish and Wildlife Area and the woods near his house. He told me stories of hunting the woods with his family as a child and a special time hunting with his aging father in a patch closer to the road. My friend grew up with morel hunting as a way of life and has only missed a few seasons in his 70 years.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Book Review: Aviary Wonders Inc.

Aviary Wonders Inc. may seem comical; however, it is a serious warning of our world may be coming to. Subtitled, Spring Catalog and Instructional Manual: Renewing the World's Bird Supply since 2031. It even gives a date of when we might have issues! The author, Kate Samworth, creates a fictitious catalog for buying customized bits.

The author shares dangers birds face, including insecticides, habitat loss, exotic pet trade, and cats! Tongue in cheek, the book reads, "I know we can't replace the birds that have been lost.  But we can provide you with the opportunity to create an exquisite alternative: your very own bird, a work of art you'll treasure for a lifetime."

The book is divided into various bird parts, such as feathers, bodies, beaks, tails, legs and feet, flight patterns, wings, and collars and crests. There are assembly instructions at the end, as well as an FAQ and an order form. Each section shows examples of different bird body parts, such as the following. 
Bodies: swimmers, perchers, waders, birds of prey
Beaks: carnivores, insectivores, herbivores, piscivores
Legs and Feet: flightless, birds or prey, perches, swimmers and waders

While much of Aviary Wonders Inc. is fictitious and the artwork is imaginative rather than realistic, I found the tongue in cheek approach of dealing with a serious matter interesting. I also found it informative in showing the many bird body parts and habits. The artwork is colorful and detailed, but not like many of the birds we typically see, which is the point. If there continue to be unchecked dangers, the birds as we know them may not be as accessible to view in the future. 

Personally, I would use this book with upper elementary aged students. Younger children still need hope in the natural world without worrying about the doom and gloom just yet. However, it is more developmentally appropriate for 3rd grade on up, depending on the children. The book can help give a wake up check of dangers for birds and the reality we may face. 

Here are a few resources:
The author's website and preliminary sketches
Flying Wild Training

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Book Review: Draw!

I happened upon the book, Draw!, by Raul Colon at our local library recently. I was truly mesmerized. It is a wordless book with a young boy reading a book about Africa on his bed with a sketch pad in his hand.

As he draws and explores the deserts, he is actually transported to the desert. He gets up close to the elephant for sketching and riding. He uses binoculars to see zebras as he is perched on top of the elephant. He draws giraffes as they run by. He draw the lions as he sits in a tree, with the elephant nearby. He draws gorillas and hippos. He swing through the air on nearby vines. He is chased by a rhinoceros. Monkeys draw him. 

Near the end, he hugs the elephant and is transported back to his bedroom full of sketches. Soon, he shares his artwork in class, enriched by his experiences visiting the desert. 

I loved the imagination and creativity in Draw! I have a little artist and explorer, as well. I love watching him try things out with line and movement, so could see my own little boy in this book. While I fully advocate learning about the animals right in our back yards and local areas, I found this delightful because of the artwork, creativity, and imagination. I loved the points, lines, and scratches that provide depth, color, and texture to the artwork. The artist shares a note at the end explaining living in NYC and Puerto Rico as a child. Having ready access to paper, books, and info on great artists, he became an artist. He ends the note with "By blending the visual of life in the wild with my childhood memories, I dreamed up the images in this book. Now I hope these images inspire others to have their very own  dreams, and just draw--draw away." I was certainly inspired! 

The book reminds me that we can all explore no matter where we might be, as books give us a portal. Through art, we can record our journey. Wordless books can be a delightful journey as we tell the story ourselves while interacting with our audience. I can imagine the dialogue as the young boy says goodbye to his friend, the elephant. 

Want to learn more about the artist's inspiration and process? Read an interview with him here
More about the author.
Video of the book, with one reader's words to go with the book. 
I might extend this to imagine life in a forest or pond, as our perspective might be different if we're the illustrator along the way. Also, I wonder if this could be a type of guided imaginary experience with children to "wonder" what all the animals are doing in an area. Of course the book lends itself to various art applications, through trying the artist's scratch technique, sketch book work, art exhibitions, etc. 

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