Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Science of Ice

In Matthew Kirby's Icefall, there is an abundance of ice. It become almost a character, sealing the fjord, groaning and growing, and it certainly plays a tremendous role in the climax of the book. And there's no shortage of ice in Mr. Popper's Penguins either! Let's take a look at ice from a scientist's perspective and explore some of its proprerties. This is a double experiment since it fits with two of our books, and it will show four different properties of ice. Bonus!

Experiment 1:

Ice Property #1: Ice is less dense than water.

Ice Property #2: Ice can preserve things.

We'll test both of these at the same time. First, take some fruit and separate it into two samples. Half of the fruit will be frozen and the other half will be left in the air. Which one do you think will stay more fresh?

Take half of the fruit and put it in a clear, plastic container. Add water to the container until all of the fruit is covered, but be sure that the container isn't full! The ice will need room to expand. Fill a tall water bottle about 2/3 full, then mark the water level on the side of the container with a marker or piece of tape. Predict where the water level will be after it has frozen to ice, then mark your prediction.

Put your fruit container and water bottle in the freezer (and let the other fruit sit out at room temperature) for about 24 hours. Then take your containers out of the freezer and mark the actual level of the ice in the water bottle. How close was your prediction? Leave the fruit container at room temperature and allow the ice to melt. (If you're anxious, you can further explore the properties of ice by chipping away at it or finding ways to melt it faster, such as a hair dryer. But be sure to wear safety glasses!)
Once the ice has melted (but before it gets soggy), compare the once-frozen fruit to the fruit that was left at room temperature. The ice preserved the fruit in a couple of ways. Fruit spoils because of chemical reactions that take place in the air, mostly with oxygen. The ice slows down these chemical reactions by keeping the fruit at a colder temperature where chemical reactions occur much more slowly. It also slows down the process by physically separating the fruit from oxygen.

Experiment 2:

Ice Property #3: The freezing point of water is 32 degrees Fahrenheit (or 0 degrees Celsius). When water reaches this temperature, the water molecules start to lock into place instead of moving around freely.

Ice Property #4: Adding salt lowers the freezing point of water. (So does adding sugar or almost anything else.)

Take a plate of ice cubes and divide it in half. Sprinkle salt on one half and leave the other half salt-free. (You can sprinkle salt on the salty half throughout the experiment.) Watch the ice, and listen too! You'll actually hear the ice cracking as the crystals change their geometry. As the ice melts, you'll see a definite difference in your salted ice cubes. You'll even see little holes where each salt crystal landed. This is because some of the ice at the surface is always melting, but a little is re-freezing too. The salt (or sugar, or whatever happens to be there) keeps the ice from going back into its crystal shape, which keeps it from freezing again. So that spot can't re-freeze, and then the ice just below it melts and can't re-freeze, and get the idea. :) And now you know why they put salt on icy roads in the winter!

For more kid-friendly information and ice experiments, visit here or here. For a fun video that explains why water expands when it freezes, click here. And for a gorgeous ice art project, visit here.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater

From Goodreads: The Poppers unexpectedly come into possession of a penguin, then get a penguin from the zoo who mates with the first penguin to have 10 baby penguins. Before long, something must be done before they eat the Poppers out of house and home!

A classic of American humor, this story of a gentle housepainter and his high stepping penguins has delighted children for generations.

My Two Cents: This classic is a fun, fast read that has aged remarkably well. It's unusual to see a middle grade book with a middle-aged man as the main character, but Mr. Popper is silly enough and the penguins are center stage enough that it totally works. And while the conclusion might not be totally ecologically sound, the idea that wild animals should be in the wild and their needs should come before those of their "owners" is a nice additional layer.

Grade Level: 2-4

Additional Resources:
More to Read:
  • Another classic about an average family whose life takes a turn toward adventurous: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming
  • Another book about birds and letting them live where they really belong: Hoot by Carl Hiaasen
  • Another great book about letting pets into your life, even when it doesn't go smoothly: Mason Dixon: Pet Disasters by Claudia Mills

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Ready or Not, It's My Agent Story!

Today I'm taking a break from book reviews and science activities to post something personal, something that I've been hoping to post for a long, long time.

I have a literary agent!!! And not just any agent, but the agent who has been at the top of my list ever since I had a list!

If I put that in an appropriate font size to express how excited I am, it would not fit on your screen. I am beyond thrilled!

Here's the quick(ish) version of the story: I wrote a book. I set it aside for a year and had a baby. I got invited to join a critique group, and knew from that point on that writing was something I loved, something that I didn't want to set aside or treat casually. It was too important to me, too much a part of who I was and who I wanted to be.

So I started querying. This book was NOT ready to query by any means! But I was a rookie and a couple of people in my family had read my book and liked it, so why not? [Insert many, many reasons why this is a terrible idea.] And on 11/11/11--yes, that long ago--I queried my dream agent.

And then I waited. I had various requests and rejections, and about a month later, Dream Agent emailed me to request the full manuscript. I was thrilled! But I knew that I had a long wait ahead of me, since Dream Agent was devoted to her existing clients. And it was a good thing, because I finally realized that THIS BOOK WAS NOT READY TO QUERY BY ANY MEANS! At this point, I emailed Dream Agent and asked whether she would mind waiting to read now that I knew some changes I need to make. It kills me that I asked this, and it kills me in a whole different way that she was kind enough to say that she'd be happy to wait until I was ready.

In the meantime, I revised like crazy, over and over again. I entered contests and sent queries and slowly, my book evolved. It got so much better. Eventually, I sent it to Dream Agent again, and she read it and regretfully passed and offered to read it again if I was willing to revise it. I was totally thrilled that she was willing to take another look! But I had learned my lesson (finally!) and decided not to send it to her again until it was really, really, really ready.

And then, a few months and two revisions later, I got another offer of representation from a smart, talented, awesome agent. And at that point, I thought, "Ready or not, I've got to send it to Dream Agent." So I did.

Three days later, I was teaching my smart little second grade math group when I received an email. Once the kids were happily working on their graphs, I opened it up. And it was from Dream Agent. And she used phrases like "hit it out of the park" and "phenomenal"! And those sweet little second graders were so focused on their ordered pairs that they didn't even notice my happy dance, which is absolutely for the best.

I talked to Dream Agent the next day and almost said yes right there on the phone, but thanks to this post by Krista Van Dolzer, I felt like I should contact some of Dream Agent's existing clients first. I'm glad I did, because Mike, Anna, and Jen are amazing and made me even more sure of my decision. After letting things settle over the holiday weekend, I felt a strange combination of elation and peace as I emailed the other offering agents, the agents still considering the full manuscript, and most importantly, the Dream Agent, who is none other than...

Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary Agency!

I can't even tell you how happy I am to be working with Joan and to be the newest member of the EMLA family! And I absolutely have to thank all of the people who made this dream come true for me. My incredible critique partners, Rosalyn, Tasha, Helen, and Joy; my beyond-awesome beta readers, Kate, Dee, and Jeni; amazing green-penned editor and friend Taryn; contest judges Ruth, Cupid, Miss Snark, Dee (again), and Erica, who took a chance on me and Isaac; Matthew MacNish for cleaning up my query, my fabulous sister Ally, who referred me to Joan in the first place; and most of all my family, especially my husband and my parents, who have supported me and believed in me every step of the way.

For those that like to see stats:

Queries sent: 48
Rejected queries: 24
Full/partial requests from queries: 19
Full/partial requests from contests: 15
Offers of representation: 4

Monday, February 18, 2013

Icefall by Matthew Kirby

From Goodreads: Trapped in a hidden fortress tucked between towering mountains and a frozen sea, Solveig, along with her brother the crown prince, their older sister, and an army of restless warriors, anxiously awaits news of her father's victory at battle. But as winter stretches on, and the unending ice refuses to break, terrible acts of treachery soon make it clear that a traitor lurks in their midst. A malevolent air begins to seep through the fortress walls, and a smothering claustrophobia slowly turns these prisoners of winter against one another.

Those charged with protecting the king's children are all suspect, and the siblings must choose their allies wisely. But who can be trusted so far from their father's watchful eye? Can Solveig and her siblings survive the long winter months and expose the traitor before he succeeds in destroying a kingdom?

My Two Cents: Icefall won plenty of awards, all of them well-deserved. (2012 Edgar Award Winner for Best Juvenile Mystery, 2011 Agatha Award Nominee, New York Public Library 100 Books for Reading and Sharing, 2012 ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults). The setting, the characters, and the plot are all extraordinary, and it really does defy characterization. It's a little bit fantasy, there are (lighter) elements of romance, and definite doses of mystery and suspense. But the part that really won me over was the coming-of-age story, which is really unique and touching. I think young readers who are ready for a little bit of a challenge will really be drawn into this one. I know I was!

Grade Level: 4-6

Additional Resources:
  • Matthew Kirby's website
  • Learn more about real berserkers here
  • Fun Norway facts, maps, sightseeing guide, and more at Time for Kids
  • Learn about some of the Norse mythology found in Icefall here 
  • Tell a story as a group (like Alaric and Solveig). One person starts, then someone else takes over. If you need help, use one of these Story Starters for Kids.

More to Read:  
  • Another story of a princess far from home but not far from danger: Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
  • Another story of young people trapped by the snow with a big mystery to solve: Capture the Flag by Kate Messner
  • Another story of royal siblings saving the day in the absence of their parents: Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Another Snow Treasure: Ice Cream!

To go along with this week's book, Snow Treasure, we're going to make a snow treasure of our own: ice cream! I love this activity because it gets kids outside, even in cold weather, and can be tailored to a really wide age range. And you can incorporate as little or as much science as you want!

This is a great way to introduce states of matter (solids, liquids, and gases) and the way they change with temperature. Ice cream is a solid with tons of tiny air (gas) bubbles inside (that's why it doesn't taste the same if you melt it to a liquid and re-freeze it--no gas bubbles!) Check out this music video and this printable introduction to get you started. (If snow isn't available where you live, you can make ice cream in a plastic bag using the simple ingredients and simple instructions found here.)

The activity portion of today's post was written by a good friend of mine and an outstanding mother/blogger, Chelsea Gambles. Take it away, Chelsea! :)

When fall turned to winter this year, we were all very anxiously awaiting the first snow fall. It seemed like every morning we woke up to find our hopes dashed with more sunny weather, and only brief hints of snow. FINALLY! After months of waiting we finally got our first real snow fall, quite late in the season. We were determined to not let a single snowflake go to waste...but alas little bodies can only take so much cold. We wanted to find another way to make use of this glorious, free and super fun sensory material from mother we made ICE CREAM....from snow!

Here's how you can do it too:

In a big bowl combine:
  • 8 cups of snow
  • 1 can of sweetened condensed milk (14 oz)
  • 1 tsp of Vanilla

Just stir it up, add your favorite toppings, and it's ready to serve!

I was shocked just how good it tasted.

(1 billion sprinkles optional)

Thank you, Chelsea! Can't wait to try this with my kids.

Check back next week for another great winter book review and science activity!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan

From Goodreads: In the bleak winter of 1940, Nazi troops parachuted into Peter Lindstrom's tiny Norwegian village and held it captive. Nobody thought the Nazis could be defeated--until Uncle Victor told Peter how the children could fool the enemy. It was a dangerous plan. They had to slip past Nazi guards with nine million dollars in gold hidden on their sleds. It meant risking their country's treasure--and their lives. This classic story of how a group of children outwitted the Nazis and sent the treasure to America has captivated generations of readers.

My Two Cents: This is a little bit of a sentimental pick for me. My grandmother, who taught first grade for over twenty years, gave me a copy of this lovely little book long ago. Snow Treasure has been in print since its first publication in 1942. Although the story is fiction, McSwigan based it on newspaper reports in 1940 and states in the author's note "that she [had] tried to be as accurate as possible in describing how the children carried the gold on sleds." Whether real or fiction, this book is suspenseful and adventurous. This book reads as a "classic" from another era due to the tone and tempo, but I think that's a valuable thing for kids to experience. As a reader and as a parent, I was really impressed by the bravery, patriotism, and selflessness of Peter and his friends.

Grade Level: 3-5

Additional Resources:
  • Scholastic's Snow Treasure discussion guide
  • Norway facts and photos from National Geographic
  • Learn about the physics of sledding with this fun activity.
  • Make a difference like Peter and his friends did! There's a great list of ways here that can give you ideas and get you started.
More to Read:
  • Another World War II story, this time from Denmark: Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
  • Another story of kids who bravely stand up to powerful grownups: Flush by Carl Hiaasen
  • Another winter classic about an intrepid boy on a sled: Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Six-wise Symmetry of Snowflakes

This week's book, Anne Ursu's Breadcrumbs, is full of snow. In fact, Hazel watches the snow fall in the very first scene and admires its "perfect geometric patterns." So let's take a closer look at the geometry of snowflakes!

Most snowflakes have hexagonal symmetry, which means that there are six lines you could draw through the center where one side would be the mirror image of the other. (Or six ways you could fold it so the sides would overlap each other.) Try it out on any of the snowflakes in the picture! Three of these lines will be along the "arms" of the snowflake, and three will be between the "arms." Check out some more beautiful photographs of single snowflakes here and look for the lines of symmetry in each flake.

Follow this link to learn how to make paper snowflakes of your own that actually have hexagonal symmetry. You can use any piece of square paper to start, but origami paper is perfect for this one since it's a great size and usually has a white side and a colorful side. (If you don't have the supplies or you're not feeling crafty, you can even design a virtual snowflake here.)

Once you've gotten the process down, challenge yourself! Can you picture or sketch the snowflake you want to make, then fold and cut to make it happen? Can you fold and cut, then draw a prediction of what your snowflake will look like before you open it?

Like all good scientists, doing one experiment might just make you ask more questions. Here are some questions you might have, and a good place to find the answers:

Do all snowflakes have hexagonal symmetry, or are there other types? Answer here.
Does artificially-made snow have hexagonal symmetry and pretty snowflakes? Answer here, then scroll down to "Artificial Snow."
Why are snowflakes symmetrical anyway? And how do the arms "know" how to match each other? Answer (sort of) here.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

From Goodreads: Once upon a time, Hazel and Jack were best friends. They had been best friends since they were six, spending hot Minneapolis summers and cold Minneapolis winters together, dreaming of Hogwarts and Oz, superheroes and baseball. Now that they were eleven, it was weird for a boy and a girl to be best friends. But they couldn't help it - Hazel and Jack fit, in that way you only read about in books. And they didn't fit anywhere else.

And then, one day, it was over. Jack just stopped talking to Hazel. And while her mom tried to tell her that this sometimes happens to boys and girls at this age, Hazel had read enough stories to know that it's never that simple. And it turns out, she was right. Jack's heart had been frozen, and he was taken into the woods by a woman dressed in white to live in a palace made of ice. Now, it's up to Hazel to venture into the woods after him. Hazel finds, however, that these woods are nothing like what she's read about, and the Jack that Hazel went in to save isn't the same Jack that will emerge. Or even the same Hazel.

Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen," Breadcrumbs is a story of the struggle to hold on, and the things we leave behind.

My Two Cents: Breadcrumbs is a lovely book. It's full of allusions to classic children's literature--Hans Christian Andersen, of course, but also Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, The Phantom Tollbooth, The Chronicles of Narnia, His Dark Materials, Coraline, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, A Wrinkle in Time, and probably many more that I missed. (There's even a Star Wars reference.) It's rare to find a middle grade book with such a selfless main character, but Hazel's earnest and endearing love for her friend is the core of this story. Hazel's quest to find Jack and ultimately, to find herself, is really touching and well-crafted.

Grade Level: 3-7

Additional Resources: 
More to Read: 
  • Another book about a girl who has to rescue her best friend from an evil lady--and learn something about herself in the process: The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire Legrand
  • Another book about a girl and a boy with a changing and sometimes challenging friendship: Shug by Jenny Han
  • The Complete Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tales, including The Snow Queen, The Red Shoes, and The Little Match Girl
  • The whole library of books alluded to in Breadcrumbs (and listed above.)

Friday, February 1, 2013

February: Four Winter's Tales

I'm so excited to introduce February's theme--Four Winter's Tales! I'll be reviewing four books this month that are perfect to snuggle up with when it's cold outside. There are two classics and two recent releases among the four, plus four fun activities. So check back all month, and remember, all comments and new followers in February are automatically entered to win one of February's books! (Winner's choice.) You can even comment on this post. :)

While we're on the subject of winners, let me announce January's winner, as chosen by And the winner is:


Yay! Libby, let me know which of January's books you'd like and whether you'd like a paper copy or an ecopy.

Thanks so much to everybody who participated, and come back Monday for my first Snow and Ice book review! Here's a hint: I very recently gave it a five-star review on Goodreads...