Bears in the Backyard – Oh My!

Backyard Bears by Amy CherrixLynn: Question: what does a wildlife biologist use to bait a live trap for a bear? Answer: day-old doughnuts! This may sound like a joke but it’s true and it is also only one of many fascinating things I learned in Backyard Bears: Conservation, Habitat Changes, and the Rise of Urban Wildlife (Houghton, 2019) by Amy Cherrix.

As human populations expand into what was once wild territory, more and more animals are now forced to live in close proximity to people. A prime example are the growing numbers of black bears who live in and around the city of Asheville, North Carolina. So far, black bears and the people of Asheville seem to be tolerating each other well but there are many questions about how best to manage this coexistence! 4 wildlife biologists set out to do a 5-year study of Asheville’s urban/suburban bear population. Author Amy Cherrix was invited to come along with the scientists as they carried out their work which included live-trapping bears for assessment and equipping them with radio-transmitters. The opening chapter chronicles the darting of a mother bear and extracting her tiny cub from a den high in a tree!

Packed with fascinating information about bears and human/bear interactions, the focus of the book, as in others in the Scientists in the Field series, is a clear look at the scientists doing this important work and a detailed look at how they carry out their research. Cherrix’s lively text is as captivating as the furry subjects of the research. But make no mistake, as people-tolerant as Asheville’s bears have been, they can weigh up to 700 pounds and be both destructive and dangerous. As Cherrix reports, this study hopes to answer many questions to help with the future of both bears and people.

Cindy: According to the chapter “A World Going Wild,” black bears are not the only creatures making their homes in urban areas. Whether it is leopards in Mumbai, India, wild boars in Berlin, Germany, or less threatening chickens, roosters, and turkeys in many areas, it’s clear that our human environments are encroaching on wildlife and learning to co-exist is paramount. A section in this chapter highlights the problems being caused by the murmurations of European starlings that are an invasive species here in the United States. A flock arrived in my backyard last fall making me think I was in Hitchcock’s The Birds movie

Backmatter includes tips for how to behave in a bear encounter, ways to be bearwise, web resources, glossary, and notes and index. Another fine entry in this stellar series.

Hop to It – Cynthia Lord’s New Rabbit Books

Lynn: Things are really hopping at Newbery Honor author Cynthia Lord’s house. As proof, we offer her two new enchanting books that both feature rabbits. They also happen to have the most enticing and adorable covers EVER! In fact, we think all you’ll have to do to promote these is to set them face out on the shelf and stand back. And, since you may never get much chance to read them once the kids see them, here’s what is happening inside those covers.

Lord and her family foster rabbits rescued by Maine’s Cottontail Cottage Rabbit Rescue. They help rescued domestic rabbits learn to trust humans and live in a house so they can be adopted. In her new nonfiction picture book, Borrowing Bunnies: A Surprising True Tale of Fostering Rabbits (Farrar, 2019), Lord tells the story of when two Netherland dwarf rabbits joined the family. Lord’s husband, professional photographer John Bald, decided to photograph their steps toward adoption. It was quite a surprise when one of the rabbits gave birth to four tiny babies. Sadly two of the babies died but the remaining two, Fezzi and Dodger, prospered.

The book introduces the original two rabbits, explains what fostering is and how rabbits are helped to feel safe and comfortable. The story then documents the surprising arrival of the babies and follows their growth and development. Lord uses clear simple text suited to young readers, focusing on rabbit behavior.

The wide format and white background provide the perfect format for John Bald’s enchanting photographs of these irresistible creatures. And if all this cuteness wasn’t enough, charming sketches from illustrator Hazel Mitchell skip through the pages. What reader will not instantly yearn to add a rabbit to their family immediately? Happily, Cynthia Lord was well aware of this and has provided an important final page titled, ” Do You Want Your Own Rabbit for Keeps?” Here she emphasizes the need to do additional rabbit research and offers 5 important questions to answer before becoming a bunny owner.

Cindy: The cover art drew both Lynn and me to Lord’s fiction title, Because of the Rabbit (Scholastic, 2019) and it’s sure to attract young readers. Each chapter opens with a torn scrap of lined paper with a rabbit fact, which also coordinates with the focus of the story in that chapter. Emma’s homeschooling is coming to an end as the book opens. It’s the night before she is off to start 5th grade at a public school and she is nervous about finding a friend and setting a good first impression. Her school supplies are ready, but is she? That night she accompanies her game warden father to rescue a bunny caught in a fence. When they do, they discover it’s not a wild rabbit that can be released, but a pet breed that may have an owner looking for it. Emma convinces her dad that they should take it home to foster until they can find the owner. In addition to bunny wrangling, Emma gets paired with a boy named Jack for a big project. He is on the autism spectrum and friendship doesn’t come easily. As a storyteller, I really enjoyed the integration of trickster bunny Monsieur Lapin’s tales that Emma recounts from her grandfather’s storytelling. Lord writes books that children connect with, and this one will find a ready audience.

Publisher’s Weekly published a Q&A with Cynthia Lord earlier this month that will interest readers who want to know more about Lord’s fascination with bunnies and other animals and her personal experiences that informed her storytelling.

Inventor of Nothing: Rube Goldberg for Kids

Cindy: Just Like Rube Goldberg by Sarah AronsonI’ve long been a fan of Rube Goldberg’s crazy impractical inventions but knew little about his path to producing them. Just Like Rube Goldberg: The Incredible True Story of the Man Behind the Machines (Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane, 2019) by Sara Aronson delivers the goods, and with much less meandering than Goldberg might have used. Children who know nothing about Rube Goldberg or the game of Mousetrap that his work spawned, will still be attracted to the book by the zany cover art that turns the inventor’s name into one of his own silly inventions.

Rube’s childhood interest in art and desire to grow up to be a cartoonist met with dismay and horror from his German immigrant parents who feared for his future. He earned an engineering degree from the University of California, Berkeley and became a city engineer but quit after six months, hating the work. He kept drawing while he did grunt jobs at the San Francisco Chronicle but he never quit drawing. After the 1906 Earthquake, he ended up moving to New York City where his cartooning career took off. His favorite comic work was perfectly timed with the industrial revolution as machines took over many jobs. Goldberg invented nothing useful as he used absurd pulleys, levers, and other more oddball additions to make a simple task very complicated. For instance, a machine to put holes in doughnuts starts with a goat chewing a carrot, that moves a ghost to scare a bird to lay an egg that eventually results in a cannon blasting a ball up through a lump of dough tossed above it by “Professor Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts,” Rube’s cartoon alter ego.

While aimed at a younger audience, older readers (and STEAM teachers) will delight in this introduction to Rube’s work.

Lynn: Sarah Aronson does a wonderful job of bringing readers a sense of Goldberg’s personality, his curiosity, and clear-eyed appreciation of the ridiculous. As he said, machines were a “symbol of man’s capacity for exerting maximum effort to achieve minimal results.” I love illustrator Robert Neubecker’s colorful humorous illustrations that do such a terrific job of capturing Goldberg’s manic style. Kids will be captivated and motivated to create their own Goldberg-type designs.

We can’t resist concluding our post on this engaging picture book by mentioning another tribute to Goldberg and his spirit. The Rube Goldberg Machine Contest is a competition held annually at Purdue University. The history of the contest dates back to the 1930s when it began as a competition between two engineering fraternities. Today the contest has been expanded beyond just the university level to include elementary, middle, and high school students and can be done either as a physical or online creation. The competition is meant to celebrate Goldberg’s spirit as well as to encourage and develop an interest in engineering, design, problem-solving, and having fun.

This year’s challenge is to put money in a piggy bank – in as complicated a Goldberg way as possible. Take a peek at this video of the Purdue University team’s solution to the 2017 challenge of putting on a band-aid!

But, wait! There’s more...check out these other titles to extend the learning and the fun:

The Art of Rube Goldberg: (A) Inventive (B) Cartoon (C) Genius (Abrams, 2013) by Jennifer George (Goldberg’s granddaughter)

Build Your Own Chain Reaction Machines by Paul LongBuild Your Own Chain Reaction Machines: How to Make Crazy Contraptions Using Everyday Stuff (Quarto, 2018) by Paul Long. Every MakerSpace or STEAM classroom needs this book.

Rube Goldberg Inventions (Simon & Schuster, 2000) by Maynard Frank Wolfe

Ruby Goldberg’s Bright Idea (Simon & Schuster, 2014) by Anna Humphrey. A middle grade novel about a 5th grader who builds a Rube Goldbergesque machine for her school science fair.