STEM Tuesday

STEM Tuesday–A Partridge in a Pear Tree and other Birds this Holiday Season– In the Classroom

I admit it. I have yet to see partridge in a pear tree. I have seen a turkey on a fence, a great blue heron on a play set, and a groundhog in an apple tree. I love watching birds and other wildlife in my backyard. I recently asked my #KidsNeedMentors 4th grade class if they’ve ever watched birds in their yards. Sadly, most of them had not. Perhaps reading some of this month’s great list of bird books will get kids excited to look for birds on their own.

For this week’s post, I was inspired by three books that covered different bird-related topics.

Snowy Owl Invasion!

In this book, author Sandra Markle covers one episode in 2013, when snowy owls showed up in lots of places that were outside their normal range. Sightings by citizen scientists alerted researchers to this phenomenon. They were then able to take a closer look at the situation and determine what drove the owls to wander so far afield.



Woodpeckers: Drilling Holes and Bagging Bugs

Author Sneed Collard’s photographs illustrate this exploration of different types of woodpeckers. The book explains why woodpeckers do what they do, along with adaptations that allow them to do things that would injure other animals. (Namely banging their heads repeatedly against hard objects.) I especially loved that Collard included photo outtakes, proof that it takes many tries to get that one great photo.



Crow Smarts: Inside the Brain of the World’s Brightest Bird

This book is part of the Scientists in the Field series. It follows Gavin Hunt as he researches New Caledonian crows both in the field and in a research station. This book not only provided amazing information about crows. It raised questions about what sets humans apart from other animals. It looked into the age-old question of nature versus nurture. It also touched on different scientific methods. The book contained a combination of photographs and illustrations. I love that the illustrations were created by a graduate student working with Gavin.


These books could springboard into many interesting and fun activities. Here are just a few…

Be a Citizen Scientist

Citizen scientists play a big role in the collection of scientific data. It was citizen scientists who alerted researchers to the snowy owl “invasion” in 2013. There are many citizen science opportunities related to birds. One that my family has repeatedly participated in is the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC – The next GBBC is slated for February 14-17, 2020. When you sign up, you commit to watching birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more of the days. The sightings can be in your backyard, at the local park, or wherever you happen to be.

The GBBC website has lots of resources, including instructions for participation, bird guides, and a photo contest. It also explains why scientists need and how they use data collected through citizen science efforts.

This effort started as a joint effort between the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Audubon Society, both of which have lots of great bird resources on their respective websites. The Cornell Lab powers All About Birds (, an incredible online resource for anyone who is looking to find out more about birds.

GBBC is not the only citizen science opportunity related to birds. Cornell has a list of other projects here: There are also lists of projects provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:

Keep a Bird Journal

While citizen science efforts mainly focus on counting birds, keeping a bird journal can be scientific, creative, or both. There is an interesting article that looks at the difference between field notes and journals in Bird Watcher’s digest –

When keeping field notes, like in Crow Smarts, it is often important to know which individual animal is being observed. This means that it is important to take note of size, coloring, and identifying marks associated with a specific individual. Behaviors and vocalizations may be specific to one particular individual. This may not represent the species as a whole.

In bird journaling, it is up to the individual keeping the journal to determine what is important. This can be an opportunity to practice some artwork or come up with a story inspired by bird activities.

As I was reading Crow Smarts, I loved the names the author and researchers gave to the various birds. Names like Little Feather and Crow We Never Got Around to Naming made me smile. What names would you give to birds you observe and why?

Build a Bird House

Specifications for bird nesting boxes vary from species to species. Check out this page from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for information about building and placing bird houses in general, as well as some specific dimensions for different bird species:

The Cornell Lab has a good resource for bird houses here: This points to a page on NestWatch – – that includes plans for a long list of specific birdhouse plans. I love that this gives specific instructions not only for how to build a box, but also how to mount it.

Make a Bird Feeding Station

Just like people, birds have to eat. Making a bird feeding station could be as simple as setting out the right food to attract a certain type of bird or as involved as designing and building a bird feeder. This could be turned into an engineering challenge by providing students with raw materials and specifications for a bird feeder. It could be a research opportunity, where students have to figure out how to attract specific bird species. They would need to figure out where to place the feeder and what to stock it with.

The Cornell Lab has a recipe for bird seed “cookies”: These could be used to decorate a tree with cookies shaped to match whatever holiday a class or family happens to be celebrating.

If you poke around the internet, you can find lots of ideas for different kinds of bird feeders. Here are a few to get you started. (And keep in mind that you can usually substitute sunflower butter for peanut butter if you have a peanut-allergic person to keep safe.)

A pinecone bird feeder:
Tin can bird feeder:
Milk carton bird feeder:

I hope these activities got you thinking about ways you can take off with these bird-themed books.

Janet Slingerland loves learning about science, history, nature, and (well) everything, which she then turns into a book. She loves looking out the window next to her writing desk and seeing birds doing what birds do. Janet sometimes helps out with conservation projects – at left, she’s helping cut reeds to stock an insect hotel. To find out more about Janet and her books, check out her website:

STEM Tuesday–A Partridge in a Pear Tree and other Birds this Holiday Season– Book List


Happy December! We’ve decided to have fun with the holiday song featuring a partridge in a pear tree and highlight some of our favorite middle-grade STEM titles about birds. Take a “gander” at these books for the budding ornithologists in your classroom.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgKakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot by Sy Montgomery, photographs by Nic Bishop

The last remaining Kakapo parrots live on a remote island off the coast of New Zealand. Explore recovery efforts in this Scientists in the Field title by noted author Sy Montgomery.


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Beauty and the Beak: How Science, Technology, and a 3D-Printed Beak Rescued a Bald Eagle by Deborah Lee Rose and Jane Veltkamp

Discover the uplifting story of how one bald eagle was treated with a 3D-printed prosthetic beak after a devastating shooting.


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgMoonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95  and  The Race to Save The Lord God Bird both Phillip Hoose

These two titles from a National Book Award-winning author tell the stories of two fascinating birds. Moonbird is a banded bird, who has flown the equivalent mileage of flying to the moon and halfway back. In The Race to Save The Lord God Bird Hoose recounts the dramatic story of the ivory-billed woodpecker.

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Snowy Owl Invasion!: Tracking on Unusual Migration by Sandra Markle

If you found Moonbird fascinating, this title will also keep you turning the page. Markle’s book describes the unusual sightings of snowy owls during 2013 and the reasons they were found outside of their native Arctic home.


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Crow Smarts: Inside the Brain of the World’s Brightest Bird by Pamela Turner, photographs by Andy Comins, with art by Guido de Filipppo

If you think that the term “bird brain” is an insult, think again. Turner investigates the intelligence of crows in this Scientist in the Field title. Readers will never look at a crow in the same way again.


Support Independent Bookstores - Visit I Love Birds: 52 Ways to Wonder, Wander, and Explore Birds with Kids by Jennifer Ward , illustrations by Alexander Vidal

Ward offers some great activities for young birders in this early middle grade.



Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Owling: Enter the World of the Mysterious Birds of Night by Mark Wilson

While we’re sleeping the night is alive with creatures, including owls. Wilson brings the night alive in this book about these nighttime predators.



Like Phillip Hoose, Sneed B. Collard III is an author who returns to the subject of birds again and again. Check out these three titles:

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Fire Birds: Valuing Natural Wildfires and Burned Forests

Natural forest fires impact many human and animal species, including birds. Sneed reveals the complex relationships between fire and thriving plant and animal communities.



Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Warblers and Woodpeckkers: A Father-Son Big Year of Birding

Discover Collard’s birding expeditions with his 13-year old son. A wonderful book about a passion for birding and a parent-child bonding experience.



Support Independent Bookstores - Visit Woodpeckers: Drilling Holes and Bagging Bugs

It’s always a treat to watch a woodpecker pound a tree with its beak to reach a tasty meal, but how do they do it without getting brain damage or harming their beak? Collard delves into the world of woodpeckers in this book.


STEM Tuesday book lists prepared by

Nancy Castaldo has written books about our planet for over 20 years including, THE STORY OF SEEDS, which earned the Green Earth Book Award, Junior Library Guild Selection, and other honors. Nancy’s research has taken her all over the world from the Galapagos to Russia.  She strives to inform, inspire, and empower her readers. Nancy also serves as the Regional Advisor of the Eastern NY SCBWI region. Her 2018 multi-starred title is BACK FROM THE BRINK: Saving Animals from Extinction. Visit her at 

Patricia Newman writes middle-grade nonfiction that empowers young readers to act on behalf of the environment and their communities. A Sibert Honoree for Sea Otter Heroes, Newman has also received an NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book Award for Eavesdropping on Elephants, and a Green Earth Book Award for Plastic, Ahoy! Her books have also received starred reviews, been honored as Junior Library Guild Selections, and included on Bank Street College’s Best Books lists. During author visits, she demonstrates how young readers can use writing to be the voice of change. Visit her at


STEM Tuesday– CSI – Forensic Science and Anthropology- Interview with Author Chana Stiefel

Welcome to STEM Tuesday: Author Interview & Book Giveaway, a repeating feature for the fourth Tuesday of every month. Go Science-Tech-Engineering-Math!

Today we’re interviewing Chana Stiefel, author of FINGERPRINTS: Dead People DO Tell Tales.

Mary Kay Carson: How’d you come to write this book?

Chana Stiefel: Enslow Publishers was doing a series on True Forensic Crime Stories and the editor contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in writing a book about fingerprints. I was instantly intrigued–mainly because I was a fan of the TV show CSI, I’d never written about forensic science before, and was excited to take out my magnifying glass and dig into the research. That’s one of the best parts of being a science writer: You often get to research and write about topics you know very little about–until you feel like a mini expert.

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MKC: Did your exhaustive research lead to some interesting finds?

Chana: Oh my goodness, yes! Fingerprints are so fascinating. Did you know that…

  • No two people on the planet (not even identical twins) share the same fingerprints. This has made fingerprints a great tool for solving crimes since the early 1900s.
  • Fingerprints develop as a baby grows in its mother’s womb—by the 19th week of development! The variety of patterns of fingerprints is determined both by genes and the movements of the fetus’s fingers inside its mother. Tiny movements affect the growth of dividing skin cells on each finger.
  • Fingerprints may have evolved to increase friction (for instance, helping early humans grip tools).
  • As we grow and age, our fingerprints stay the same! That’s why a fingerprint might help solve a crime years after it’s committed.

I could go on and on! Ever since writing this book, I have never looked at fingerprints the same way. So think before you spray Windex on that mirror or countertop! 🙂

Chana Stiefel is the author of more than 25 books for kids about exploding volcanoes, stinky castles, and other fun stuff. Recent non-fiction titles include ANIMAL ZOMBIES…& OTHER REAL-LIFE MONSTERS (National Geographic Kids, 2018), which was selected as a Top Ten YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant YA Readers in 2019. Chana’s next picture book, LET LIBERTY RISE (Scholastic, 2021), illustrated by Chuck Groenink, is the true story of how children helped build the Statue of Liberty. Chana loves visiting schools and libraries and sharing her passion for reading and writing with children. To learn more, please visit and follow @chanastiefel on FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram.

MKC: Do you choose to specifically write STEM books?

Chana: I’ve always been passionate about science and nature and I love to share my interests with kids. After college, I earned a Master’s in Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting at NYU School of Journalism. (That’s where I met the awesome Mary Kay Carson and many other talented science writers.) While there, I got an internship down the block at Scholastic’s SuperScience Blue, an elementary science magazine (also a Mary Kay hangout) and later became an editor of Scholastic’s Science World, a biweekly science magazine for middle schoolers. Since then, I’ve written several STEM books on tsunamis, earthquakes and other natural disasters, as well as books on wild weather and cool scientists. Last year, my book Animal Zombies and Other Bloodsucking Beasts, Creepy Creatures, and Real-Life Monsters was published by National Geographic Kids.

MKC: Who did you write this book for?

Chana: This book is geared toward middle school and up. I hope to spark kids’ interest in forensics by making the science as interesting and relevant as possible. For example, many schools are using fingerprinting to have students securely sign in. Theme parks have also used fingerprinting to ensure that season passes are only used by the purchaser. I also wanted to include plenty of information so that readers could debate the merits of fingerprint science. It’s not foolproof. Many innocent people have been wrongly convicted based on fingerprint evidence. Also, some people feel that creating a national fingerprint database invades privacy. (ie, Who has access to your fingerprints? At what point does a process that increases security invade privacy? Are you willing to give up some privacy in order to stay safe?) Finally, I included various jobs related to fingerprint science that might intrigue readers, including crime scene technicians, fingerprint examiners, and so on. In general, my goal is to open kids’ eyes to the wonders of the natural world and help them see how science plays a role in our daily lives. Sometimes the coolest facts are on the tips of your fingers!

Win a FREE copy of FINGERPRINTS: Dead People DO Tell Tales!

Enter the giveaway by leaving a comment below. The randomly-chosen winner will be contacted via email and asked to provide a mailing address (within the U.S. only) to receive the book.

Good luck!

Your host is Mary Kay Carson, author of The Tornado Scientist, Alexander Graham Bell for Kids, Mission to Pluto, Weird Animals, and other nonfiction books for kids. @marykaycarson