‘Prehistoric Actual Size’ – Tuesday’s Look at THIS Book!

* Every Tuesday we introduce you to a favorite book from our secret book room…


Today’s great book: Prehistoric Actual Size by Steve Jenkins (2005, Houghton Mifflin Company)

About the Author: http://www.stevejenkinsbooks.com/

Teacher Resource:  http://www.teachingbooks.net/tb.cgi?tid=23811&a=1

Time to Read: informational, facts and figures; great illustrations!

Summary:  from Scholastic.com…”What is it like to come face-to-face with the ten-foot-tall terror bird? Or stare into the mouth of the largest meat eater ever to walk the earth? Can you imagine a millipede that is more than six feet long, or a dinosaur smaller than a chicken? In this “actual size” look at the prehistoric world, which includes two dramatic gatefolds, you’ll meet these awe-inspiring creatures, as well as many others.”

Best Quote from the Book:  “In this book you’ll see what these prehistoric animals, along with many others, may have looked like at actual size.”

Our View:  Written and illustrated by acclaimed author Steve Jenkins, Prehistoric Actual Size is the award-winning sequel to another of our favorite books by the author, Actual Size.  The book is full of great and intriguing information about prehistoric animals and includes detailed illustrations that give readers a sense of just how enormous (or tiny) many of these animals were.  There is also an index of information with more details about each animal.  We bought this book because our nephews are drawn to such informational books right now and devour them quickly and then talk about them for days on end.  Jenkins’ books are especially captivating and truly bring to life some amazing information.  This is a unique book that dads can purchase and give away whenever they have the opportunity.  

Baby Frederico, Scientist!


*Every Thursday we introduce you to another quick bedtime story (or book review or movie) from our family’s favorite resident reptile – Baby Frederico. His backstory can be found here.  Enjoy!

Baby Frederico loves his Momma Mia and Papá Frita, his buddy Grenelda the Grasshopper, blue crayons, popcorn and…science night. Here’s his story:

From the moment his Papa began teaching his “science for kids” courses at a nearby college, Baby Frederico wanted to be a part of it. He was constantly asking his Papa, “When is science night? How much longer until science night? Is it science night yet?”

Science night was the final event of each semester and was a time for Papa’s students to create all kinds of physics, chemistry, and biology projects for kids to enjoy. There were things like homemade race cars and medieval catapults, live animals like roosters, snakes and sugar gliders, paint and liquids of all kinds to mix, ramps and balls, microscopes and magnifying lenses.

The best part, though, was becoming a Science Detective. It was amazing. Every student created their project around this one idea – how to help the kids (Baby Frederico included!) learn the ways that scientists think. There were hypotheses to discuss and investigations to consider, experiments to think through, and conclusions to make.

Baby Frederico loved this class and he loved his Papa’s students. They were slowly but surely teaching him just what it might feel like to be the Sherlock Holmes/Albert Einstein of his day!

And one day…someday….that just might be who he would become.

The Wisdom of Miss Frizzle

“Where the road ends, an adventure begins.” – Miss Frizzle, The Magic School Bus 


  Several years ago, we found ourselves completely lost. It was my wife and I and our three daughters in our Chevy Uplander.  The new-to-us GPS had somehow discovered a proverbial road-less-traveled and we were now on it. It was midnight in the far northeast corner of Kansas, just ten minutes from our destination. We were tired. I was not happy. And then we began to sink…a long, slow rain throughout the preceding day coupled with the darkness of the night and that blasted evening-sky mode of the animated GPS screen all worked together to disguise the mud-soaked portion of a path that we were nearly mired in.

Last week, our 8-year old came home from school and excitedly told me about the latest Magic School Bus book they had read in class that day.  It was a good book that she enjoyed from start to finish, but what she was most interested in was one quote by the famous, veteran science teacher of this venerable series, Miss Frizzle.  Our daughter was so “surprised by this quote I had to write it down dad.  She said, ‘Where the road ends, an adventure begins.’  Can you believe that, dad?  Right when I heard it, I took out a piece of paper and a pencil and wrote it down so I wouldn’t forget it.  Isn’t that the greatest sentence ever…Where the road ends, an adventure begins.”

What could it be about that sentence that so enthralled our third grader?  What could it be about that sentence that so enthralled her 40-something year old father?

It took me back all those years ago to that muddy swamp of a road that we found ourselves on during a “dark and stormy night,” a night that ultimately ended with no harm at all.  I took the road slow and easy and followed squarely in the ruts, just like my farmer grandfather taught me, and a few miles later we were back on the most wonderfully paved highway I had ever seen.  In no time, the whole event had become a great family story.

“Where the road ends, an adventure begins.”

May it ever be so – in a book, on a road, at work or play, among a family.  May it ever be so.




‘No More Worksheets!’ Thursday Stories with Baby Frederico

*Every Thursday we introduce you to another quick bedtime story about our family’s favorite resident reptile – Baby Frederico. His backstory can be found here.  Enjoy!

 BF 2

Baby Frederico loves his Momma Mia and Papá Frita, his buddy Grenelda the Grasshopper, blue crayons, popcorn, and…microscopes; but he did not like to do worksheets.  Here is his story:

Baby Frederico loved his microscope more than any gift he had ever received in his life.  It was painted entirely in black, except for the small yellow dial that brought things into clear focus under the lighted lens that opened up a whole new world of tiny objects to him.

He used it to investigate all kinds of things, from locust legs to butterfly larvae to tadpoles, water, sand, marshmallows, and leaves.  The microscope included long plastic beakers with bright red caps and small clear plastic boxes with magnifying lenses for covers.  There was a pair of tweezers for extracting pieces too small to hold with human fingers and a long metal probe that helped him move things around on the microscope lens.  It was everything he needed with which to experiment and investigate and wonder. He loved this microscope.

What he did not love was worksheets.  In his estimation, these pieces of paper were among the most horrible things ever to be invented; they held such massive power and, if not completed by the end of the class period, could wreck a kid’s evening or ruin his entire weekend.  Worksheets were just asking too much of him – to work on them all day at school was bad and boring enough, but then to come home to toys and comic books and snacks and video games and a microscope and have to do more homework – what were they trying to do him?

This particular month at school had also presented him with a brand new teacher.  She was soft-spoken and calm with long red hair and lots of very bright white teeth set inside a smile that seemed nearly permanent.  But Baby Frederico knew those kids of teachers well, all happy and grinning those first few weeks and then barking out orders and frowning for the rest of the year.  He wasn’t about to be tricked this time, so he kept his distance and waited and wondered when the worksheets and frowning would begin.

As the classroom clock ticked down to the final minutes of Friday’s math lesson and the end of another week at school, the teacher reminded them that their science lesson on observations was due Monday.  Baby Frederico had completely forgotten about the assignment.  And homework, on a weekend.  He let out a frustrated and sorrowful sigh.

When he arrived home, he sat at the kitchen table and looked through the mail that his Mama Mia had left for him.  Baby Frederico didn’t often receive much mail, but on this day there was Cricket, his favorite magazine of interesting stories, and a letter from….his teacher! The postage stamp was of a big, colorful commemorative illustration and inside was a long list of the most interesting objects that included things like marshmallows, roofing nails, hair, postage stamps, fingernail clippers, socks, ladybugs, water, bread, apple skins, dirt, leaves, and lipstick.  At the bottom of the list was a note from the teacher.  It read, “Hi wonderful student!  I love being your teacher and I thought it might be fun to send you this note about your homework assignment for the weekend.  We are learning how to get better about using a great science skill – observation.  On this list are just some of the ideas I want you to observe and write down some interesting things about.  Tell me their shape and size and color and texture.  What do they smell like?  Are they soft or hard, cold or hot, wet or dry, stinky or wonderful?  And if you have a magnifying lens or even a microscope – tell me even more about what you see!”

Baby Frederico was nearly speechless.  Here was a teacher who was asking him to use his favorite toy in the whole house, his microscope, for homework!  No worksheets or fill-in-the-blanks or questions at the end of the chapter…but real live THINKING to do!  He immediately got to work and would soon discover a tiny world he had never known.

That night as he was brushing his teeth and getting ready for bed, Baby Frederico looked in the mirror and noticed that he was smiling.  He was content with the day and his hard work.  Maybe this year, with this great teacher, would turn out alright.  Maybe he would get to think again, and again, and again, and again.

He said to himself, “No wonder that teacher smiles so much!”

BF 1

9 Brains are Better than 1

Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr (as he sees all the brains in Dr. Necessiter’s lab): “I’ve never seen so many brains out of their heads before! I feel like a kid in a candy store.”

The Man with Two Brains (1983)



I was never much of an invention-minded boy growing up, but that has completely changed now that I have children.  There is rarely a year that goes by in our daughters’ educational journey that doesn’t require that we put our heads together and come up with something creative and/or innovative – whether it be an erupting volcano, a launching rocket, a creative topic for an essay, or a hundred other school-themed ideas that are all set to expand their developing vision and grow their maturing brain…which brings me to the story of our most recent and very own family brain-academy-around-the-kitchen-table experience in which we were determined to build a slick air-powered water bottle with compact discs for wheels.

At our house, the one middle school constant (beyond the normal crowded hallways, remembering of locker combinations, cafeteria dramas, and excessive homework) has been this anxiety-provoking assignment to create a fully air-powered vehicle that will travel straight ahead and go no less than 15 feet.  Sure, the internet makes this assignment much less problematic, but we agreed to refuse to look up anything about it and forge ahead to see what we might create.

As she worked through this process of invention, our daughter decided that it would be interesting to invite as many family members to join her around our kitchen table (grandfathers and grandmothers, great-grandmothers and great-grandfathers, cousins, parents, sisters, you name it)…for a meeting of the minds to tackle this particular project.

We ended up with a house full of brains and a kitchen table full of ideas and crafty objects of all kinds, but all deciding that in the end it would be entirely up to our daughter to choose from the best ideas among them and build the final grade-worthy car.The final result was super and our daughter passed with flying colors, making it nearly 18 feet with her balloon-powered water bottle and straws and chopsticks and cd-for-wheels car.

But the best part – the best part – was that spontaneous meeting of the minds.  Everyone laughed and talked and debated and offered their wisdom in the project, and that made it worth the whole thing.

Have you ever visited a science lab?  There are no one-room offices with one person working away on a project; there are a dozen people in a big room all working together.  So why let your kids do some assignments (especially those that allow for a large measure of creativity and invention) by themselves when you can offer them an extra set of ears and hands and thoughts and…brains?  Why sit idly by when you can be creating a moment with them and then watching them thrill at the victory that might come?

I’ll never forget sitting among these generations of people around this kitchen table tackling such a problem.  The noise and the thinking and the telling and the wondering – they get an A+ in my book. Once again, I am learning that it is the process of the learning that matters far more than the product of the learning.  Who knows?  This kind of cooperation among us just might come in handy for even bigger things someday.

And the dad exclaimed, “I’ve never seen so many brains…”