Wednesday, September 2, 2015

A Special Present From Peabody

Peabody is a peacock. He lives with the Whitley family.  He likes to walk around his yard spreading his beautiful blue feathers to show all his golden eyes. But he also likes to squawk and squawk and squawk!
One hot summer day Mr. And Mrs. Whitley did something they almost never do. They left Peabody home alone while they went to the beach for a swim.

Peabody squawked and squawked all day. He squawked when Joey walked by with his dog, Sam. He squawked when the brown box truck stopped in front of the house. He squawked when Felix, the cat, ran through the yard. He never stopped squawking.

All the neighbors heard Peabody squawking and hurried over to tell Peabody to stop squawking. Mrs. Brown was wearing her cooking apron. Mr. Jones was holding his newspaper. Ava and Fletcher and their cousins, Levi and Violet, were wearing their bathing suits. Even the mailman jumped out of his truck to find out what was making all that noise.

Peabody looked for Mrs. Whitley or Mr. Whitley. He did not see them. He was feeling very noisy. Now, there were too many people and they were shouting at him. Peabody was frightened.

He squawked louder.

By the time Mr. Whitley and Mrs. Whitley drove into their driveway, the kids had run home and made signs, “Send this noisy bird away.”

But the Whitley’s loved Peabody.  They did not want to send him away.

“I will leave his gate open and let him walk away,” said Mr. Whitley, said as he blew his nose, trying to hide his tears from his wife.

The next morning Mr. Whitley walked out to Peabody’s big fenced-in yard and opened the gate.

 “Good bye, Peabody.” Mr. Whitley was glad Peabody did not understand him

At first, Peabody just strutted around like any proud peacock. Then he went through the open gate. He wasn’t really going anywhere.  Just strutting.

He chased an orange and black butterfly around the house. Then a gray mouse scurried into the woods. He did not catch the mouse, but he ate an ant, and a lady bug and a cricket. One of his favorite things to do was to look for tasty insects. Peabody liked walking around poking at the ground.

 Soon a gray light crept in around him. It was very dark. He looked for the warm light that kept him warm in his barn. Everywhere he looked, he saw big trees. No light. He knew it was past his dinnertime.

Peabody squawked his goodnight cries, but nobody heard him. He flapped his beautiful blue feathers and landed on a high branch in a tall oak tree.

He shut his eyes and fell fast asleep.

When the sun came up, Peabody flew down to the ground. He found some tasty worms and beetles for breakfast. Then he started strutting again. He held his head up high and walked and walked.

 By the time it was dark again Peabody had not gone anywhere.  He had walked around and around in a big circle. He was very lost.

Peabody wanted to go home.  He wanted to sit on top of the gatepost and feel the warm sun on his back.

Peabody was frightened.

Mr. And Mrs. Whitney sat all day looking at the empty backyard.

It was very quiet. Too quiet.

One by one the neighborhood children walked over to Peabody’s yard. They missed Peabody’s squawking. They missed how his feathers sparkled in the sunlight. They missed the way he strutted around his house. They missed Peabody.

Albert asked, “Can I have one of Peabody’s ’feathers.” One by one the children picked up a feather until every child on Seymour Street was wearing a feather

The children set up a stand. But instead of Lemonade, they sold Peabody’s feathers.

Mrs. Allen bought one for her grandson who was going to visit next week.

Amy-Lynn bought one to remember Peabody.

Jason’s dad bought one to decorate his office.

Soon all the feathers were sold. They had made twenty dollars for the animal shelter.

Then good things started happening to the people who bought Peabody’s feathers.

Mrs. Allen’s grandson won a shiny blue bike at the library raffle.

Amy-Lynn’s parents decided to go to Disney Land for their vacation.

Jason’s dad got a big raise.

When the news of good luck spread through the neighborhood, everyone wanted a Peabody peacock feather.  But where was Peabody? All the feathers were gone. 

Then Albert had an idea. What if everyone brought back their lucky peacock feather to Mr. and Mrs. Whitley, Maybe that will help them find Peabody. Soon Mr. Whitley had a big basket filled with long peacock feathers. Every one had a golden eye at the top.

Meanwhile, Peabody was getting more and more frightened every time the sun went away. He screeched until his throat was sore. Nobody heard him.

When Peabody thought things could not get any worse, it did. It rained and rained and rained. Peabody’s feathers where so heavy he could not fly up to a branch to sleep. He was afraid that a hungry fox or coyote would think he would make a nice meal. He could not sleep. He listened to the strange forest sounds.  Peabody had not heard these sounds before because he was always making too much noise. He heard, “Hoot. Hoot.” He heard, “click, click.” He heard, “croak, croak.”

Then, he heard something special. He heard his name. “Peabody”. Then, “thump.”

 Mr. Whitley tripped over a rock and landed next to Peabody. He hugged and hugged his precious peacock.  This was one time that Peabody wanted to be caught.

“We are going home, Peabody.”

That night when the neighbors heard Peabody’s screeching, they just looked at each other and smiled. “Maybe Peabody had the noisiest voice, but nobody had prettier, luckier feathers. Besides, now they liked his squawking, they liked his golden eyes, and they loved Peabody.

Listen to a peacock like Peabody and look at his beautiful feathers at

You decide. Is his beauty and grace worth the noise?

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Another Tiny Wonder In Nature!

A Bird Every Child Should Know

It is barely 2 inches long and travels over 500 miles without stopping. What is it? If you guessed hummingbird, you are correct.  One quarter cup sugar and 3/4 cup water, a plastic  'dollar store' feeder and a good spot for observing is all you need to watch these amazing acrobats  fly up, down, sideways, and backwards. With precision timing they flutter between "drinking" through their long beak, backing up an inch or two, hovering, and returning to their energy drink.  Unlike other birds, they cannot stand on the feeder’s edge, so they balance and hover while the sugary mix attaches to the tiny hairs on their grooved tongues.
There are 400 varieties of hummingbirds throughout the world. In New England we only have the red-throat hummingbird.  His red throat like his other iridescent  colors come with legends described in Hummingbirds by Adrienne Yorinks.

 If you are thinking about a hummingbird project with a younger child, try Steven Ofinoski's Hummingbirds. In this child friendly book he gives a step by step way to attract a hummingbird that encourages the young reading to follow direction.

Backyard Hummingbirds by Megan Borgert-Spaniol like many of children's nonfiction today, includes internet sites for further reading.

Melissa Gish in Hummingbirds explains how the hummingbird's forked tongue " is slightly grooved and covered with tiny hairs that soak up the nectar..." 
Hummingbirds’ weak feet make it necessary for them to  either spend their time flying or perching. Here is a ruby-throat hummingbird perching most of one Sunday afternoon at my feeder. Either he was displaying his red gorget to attract a female or I was lucky to capture the light rays so that they showed his iridescent colors.

After he gets going he can beat his wings at 80 times a second. How many times does his little heart beat? Find the answer at

This may be the last time my hummingbird visits. Soon he will make the 500 mile trip over the Gulf of Mexico. He will  not stop along the way. It will take him about 18 to 22 hours to reach Mexico.

Happy  Humming!

Breaking science news by James Gorman. On September 8, 2015, he wrote a great article and produced a video  in The New York Times (science) about some new thinking on how the hummingbird’s tongue is shaped and how it allows this tiny bird to drink nectar. Go to

Saturday, April 28, 2012

                                                           The Buttercup

        “Show me a man, who when a boy, did not hold a Buttercup under his own or another’s chin that he, by reflection of its brilliant yellow cup, determine to what degree his subject, “liked butter,” and I will show you a man who has not experienced a full share of the joyous thrills of a genuine, glorious childhood. This custom is an old and popular one, and comes from a
          “Knowledge never learned in schools
                Of the wild bee’s morning chase
                Of the wild flower’s time and place.”
---Wild Flowers Every Child Should Know by Frederic William Stack,
May 1909

            Stack, a field collector for Museums of Scientific Section of Vassar Brothers Institute and of Natural History at Vassar college, penned these word 103 years ago. Yet, they are just as true in our out-of-control 21st century. Who thinks of taking the time to pick a buttercup and hold it under a child’s chin?

Such a simple thing. A moment in time that takes place in an instant but lasts through generations. This is the joy of the simple buttercup. This is the joy of sharing nature with children.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

F Is For Foraging, Fiddleheads And Fun Outside

Kids like funny, disgusting things. What could be funnier than a fiddlehead fern. Sure, it got its name from looking like the end of a fiddle. But after they are cooked, they could double as green worms. Forget the fact they taste somewhat between asparagus, broccoli, and that  dreaded other green, spinach. They look disgusting! Besides the joy of eating disgusting things, collecting anything is one of kids' happiest pastimes. How many stones, shells, sticks and have you stuffed into your pockets on an "expedition," as my granddaughter calls a walk on the beach or through the woods?
Connecting kids and nature with foraging is certainly not a unique idea, but one that some consider too risky. The only edible fiddlehead is the ostrich fern. Gathering information with your child before you forage is just as important as enjoying the end dish. Link to this You Tube video to find out more about the ostrich fern.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Rocks! Rocks! Rocks!

Once again Nancy Elizabeth Wallace, the author of Rocks! Rocks! Rocks! has proved my theory. That is, if you really, I mean, really, want to understand something, read a children's book. Nancy who I have never met but whose bio says she is a Connecticut resident in a town next to  me, has taken the wonderful world of rocks we often climb on, dig up, move, and collect in Connecticut and explains to young children, probably about 8 years old, the facts.
However, even younger children can enjoy and grasp some information about rocks.  Focusing on one rock stop at a time or sharing an activity at the end of the book, or looking a the pictures of the rocks with detailed surfaces and searching for them on a rock walk will interest the younger crowd. After all, if you have ever taken a walk with a child, you know  by the time you reach home, YOUR pockets are filled with rocks, because your young friend is carrying the sticks.

  She takes the reader on a rock walk with Buddy and his mother who visit a nature center and follow the Blue Diamond Rock Trail.  Along the way, they meet Roxie, a Rock Ridge Ranger, who shares lots of interesting facts about rocks. He tells Buddy how, "rock, clay, mud and clay...are pressed and hardened" until this sediment becomes, "over time,"  (and Buddy finishes for  Ranger Roxie"s) "rock!" Buddy is also surprised to hear the ranger use words like, "change, melt, and float" to describe some rocks.

After Rock Stop 5, Buddy and MaMa head home. But before Wallace leaves the reader, she shares a simple rock gift children can make, ways to display rocks, and a way to catalogue, or sort, the different and similar rocks.

 To lighten up the facts, (sorry, I could not help myself) Buddy tells some simple jokes. Buddy asks, "What kind of rock did the pebble like to eat for dessert?" Wallace does not shy away from the three or four syllable rock jargon, but Buddy repeats each work as Wallace writes it phonetically. I learned that a person who likes to learn about rocks is a "pet-trol-o-gist."

Taking a phrase from Wallace, you might say, Rocks, Rocks, Rocks, rocks!

Go on a Rock Hunt. Use Rocks! Rocks! Rocks! to help you identify them.

A Wetlands Story

The Shape of Betts Meadow by Meghan Nuttall Sayres with pictures by Joanne Friar is as much a gem as the story it tells. It is a children's picture book, but the story is ageless.  In this true story Dr. Gunnar Holmquist and his mother, Lavinia, buy a  dry, lifeless valley in eastern Washington state. Dr. Gunnar discovers that his land  was once a rich wetland habitat for plants and animals. But through the years the land's purpose changed. Streams and rivers were diverted to create crazing land for livestock.

  The Shape of Betts Meadow shows how one person can make a difference.  Sayres' poem, along  with Friar's beautifully illustrated landscapes-each one with more details as  plants and animals return to the meadow-takes the reader from barren to fruitful, not only in mind and spirit, but in physical changes that we and, especially, children, can understand through concrete examples.

 Since many of her readers might not be familiar with the "sedges, cheat grass, microbes, or kingfishers." the author also provides a mini key with explanations and pictures of these wetland features.

Finally, Sayres answers,"What is a wetland?" and lists places to gather more information, including an internet source, additional reading, and references.
So much from one picture book!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Skunk Cabbage & Wetlands & Global Warming

Just when you think you've exhausted your search of a particular subject, you come across a term like this, "environmental treasure." This is the description a writer from the Kalamazoo Gazzette gave to skunk cabbage. Now, if you have smelled skunk cabbage, you might have trouble agreeing with this description. But think about it. First, it harbors all the uniques characteristics I have talked about in former blogs. But also, it signals a vital part of earth's well-being,the wetland. Any experienced hiker knows that getting you feet wet when you see skunk cabbage can quickly lead to a pant leg covered in mud. That is because the skunk cabbage constantly draws water from its roots to survive. The connection between global warming and healthy skumk cabbage is an obvious one that we might overlook just because it is right "under our noses" so to speak. Possibly it is this relationship to a healthy earth that gives the skunk cabbage the right to accept the honor as  an "environmental treasure."